Pavé would like to thank Laekhouse for supporting our coverage of the 2011 Giro d’Italia.
Ah, the rest day – when we finally get caught up with the weekend’s racing, and begin our work day without keeping one eye on the Gazzetta stream. Let’s take a quick review of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday’s racing at the Giro d’Italia:
- It was a weekend that started to shake out some of the contenders as the Giro moved from rolling hills into some serious mountains. Friday’s Stage 7 set the bar for an exciting stage, with Bart de Clerq holding on to a slim margin after an attack from 8 kilometers out. I don’t think there’s anything more exciting than an uphill finish with climbers charging after one stubborn holdout up the road. A Who’s Who of power-climbers were happy to oblige: Michele Scarponi (Lampre), Roman Kreuziger (Astana), Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) were pounding away in the big ring. De Clerq held out, crossing the line a half-wheel in front of a bike-throwing Scarponi and punching the air in celebration or relief. The climb wasn’t enough to cause much GC upset – Rabobank’s Peter Weening stayed in pink.
- On Saturday’s Stage 8, sprint trains lined up in the final kilometers, hoping to deliver some fast finishers to the line first. This year’s Giro, however, is unfriendly to sprinters. Bumps and bruises in the final kilometers leave many opportunities open to attackers. Farnese Vini’s Oscar Gatto’s late dig paid off, but it was Alberto Contador who followed him with a kilometer and a half to go and took second after they opened a gap over the sprinters (Alessandro Petacchi, continuing to declare himself the fittest and strongest sprinter of this year’s Grand Tour season, took 3rd). It was a leg-tester for Contador, who had some fireworks planned for Stage 8 on Sunday. In the final kilometers, during the stage’s second ascent of Mt Etna (which kept a lid on its eruptions for the day), he blew everybody else out of the water, charging up the climb dispatching competitors left and right. Michele Scarponi was, initially, the only person able to follow, but was dispatched not long after Contador’s attack. Only Jose Rujano of Androni Giocattoli, who had been up the road in a breakaway, was able to cling to Contador’s wheel as he blew by.
- It was a GC determinator: Stefano Garzelli was climbing with a cohort of racers ten years younger – Vincenzo Nibali, Roman Kreuziger, and Igor Anton all had decent days, finishing less than a minute behind Contador but limiting their losses together. Not all GC hopefulls were so lucky – Denis Menchov (Geox) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) both lost over two minutes that they can’t really afford. Carlos Sastre only lost two minutes, which puts him at nearly 5:00 behind Contador – too much to make up, probably, but not enough to be allowed up the road for a mountaintop stage win. Scarponi, Menchov, Rodriguez, and Sastre may be out of the running already. Look for them to lose more time this week to bring stage wins into the picture. Movistar’s Vasili Kiriyienka is up there, too – since he’s climbing admirably, look for him to win or podium one of the climbing stages yet to come.
- We couldn’t help but notice that Petacchi was on the front or much of the final ascent of Mt Etna on Sunday. Contador was content to let Lampre control the field, and Petacchi was put to work. That performance, plus his sprint after Saturday’s short, sharp climb suggest he’s really got his climbing legs – reminding us of George Hincapie a bit – and finishing 3 minutes ahead of his rival, Mark Cavendish. His fitness may matter more for this Giro (with more opportunities to impress than to win outright) than the Tour, however.
- And finally, and most importantly, we wonder: Too Soon For Alberto? With his performances this weekend, Contador showed everybody what cards he’s holding: he wants to win the Giro and he’s got the legs to make his competition lose time in the mountain. But did he go too early? Clusters of mountainous days still remain in this Giro – ongoing shake-ups are imminent. Contador is used to riding on teams built to support his Grand Tour hopes. Is Saxo-Bank strong enough to defend Contador’s pink jersey for the better part of two weeks? And, is Contador too used to the more conservative racing of the Tour de France? This year’s Giro is designed for unpredictability. Anything can happen on its long climbs – though Contador has the explosive power to gain :50 on mid-length climbs, rivals have stronger teams that might be able to keep such attacks in check, and who can forget Nibali’s plodding climb that neutralized the repeated attacks of Ezequiel Mosquera at last year’s Vuelta? Bottom line, though: though Contador’s victory may be a safe bet, I’m convinced there’s possibility for upset.
What are your thoughts on the Giro thus far? Share ’em below.