Weekend Preview – From Italy to Californ-I-A

Pavé would like to thank Laekhouse for supporting our coverage of the 2011 Giro d’Italia.

Fotoreporter Sirotti

 

With the first truly, ferocious weekend of the Giro d’Italia and the exciting conclusion to the 2011 Amgen Tour of California, this weekend offers a feast of exciting racing to fans everywhere. Here’s what to look for when scheduling your viewing plans:

1. In Italy, it looks as if everyone’s racing for second place at the 2011 Giro d’Italia as the event appears to lack someone able to challenge Saxo Bank’s Alberto Contador. And life doesn’t get any easier for the peloton after today’s finish atop the Grossglockner, as the Giro has two more summit finishes in store. Tomorrow’s 210-kilometer trip departs from Lienz and then tackles three categorized climbs before the Cat. 1 Monte Crostis really gets things started. Ironically, the Crostis has received more press for its descent than its ascent—so much so that the organizers have taken special precautions to protect the riders on the narrow, winding, gravel descent.

Saturday’s stage would be incredibly dramatic if it ended at the bottom of the Crostis—but it doesn’t. Instead, the day concludes with the now-legendary climb of Monte Zoncolan, the scene of several dramatic stages including Ivan Basso’s Stage 15 win last year. It’s hard to say what we can expect. On one hand, a breakaway could escape early and assuming it contains no challengers for the GC, could ride away to take the day’s glory. Several riders have wondered if the Giro’s difficult parcours will neutralize itself at some point, and tomorrow’s one of the days in which we could see it happen.

On the other hand, for Scarponi, Nibali, and Kreuziger, tomorrow’s a good chance to put Contador on the defensive. I would attack him on the Crostis—after today’s effort, he might be a little depleted making him susceptible to a flurry of accelerations. Contador’s also proven himself to be mentally weaker when the proverbial s*** hits the fan. Waiting until the final climb plays right into his hands. But should his rivals attack him on the Crostis, pressure him on the descent, and never let up until he either cracks or goes deeper than he wanted, they might just reveal some chinks in his armor before beginning the Zoncolan.

Next, all eyes will be on Sunday and its 229-kilometer trek from Conegliano to Gardeccia-Val di Fassa. With another 5 climbs on the day, this long stage includes the Giro’s Cima Coppi—the highest point of the race—and a tough final climb to the finish line. Of the two, Sunday’s stage might perhaps be more suited to a breakaway of lesser favorites than Saturday’s. And with so many climbs on offer, it’s also a perfect opportunity for someone to stake a claim to the green jersey as the Giro’s best climber.

On Saturday, I see Michele Scarponi getting the win over Vincenzo Nibali, Alberto Contador, Jose Rujano, and Roman Kreuziger. Sunday, look for Emanuele Sella to go the distance—or perhaps Stefano Garzelli. They’re both strong enough—and just far enough from the top of GC—to receive a long leash.

2. As for the ATOC, the race should see it’s first GC reshuffling since Sierra Road with this afternoon’s 24-kilometer individual time trial around the picturesque town of Solvang. Team Radio Shack’s Chris Horner claims to be worried about losing his lead to teammate Levi Leipheimer, but I just don’t see it. Things to watch for include UnitedHealthcare rider Rory Sutherland’s bid to be runner-up and the Best Young Rider battle between Garmin-Cervelo’s Andrew Talansky and HTC-Highroad’s Tejay Van Garderen. In the end, look for Taylor Phinney to take his first win of the season—he’s had practically all week to prepare, and has already defeated Levi Leipheimer once to take the 2010 US National Championship.

As for Saturday, the Queen Stage of this year’s ATOC has to be the Stage 7, which finishes atop Mt. Baldy, a climb many of the riders have pre-ridden and all agree will be difficult. I doubt we’ll see a surprise, as most of the men at the top of the GC are also the event’s best climbers. Maybe Sutherland takes a dramatic stage win to secure his place on the podium? Or maybe Andy Schleck takes his first win of the year—a perfect dedication to his fallen teammate, Wouter Weylandt. No matter who wins, it will likely produce one of the most dramatic days the race has ever seen. As for Sunday, look for Oscar Freire and Peter Sagan to battle for the win.

With such a great weekend on tap, I’m recording just about everything and staying up late both nights to enjoy the show long after the rest of the family’s gone to bed.

Share your comments, predictions, and viewing strategies below!

About Whit

My experiences might easily fit many cycling fans' definitions of “living the dream.” Since getting hooked on the sport watching Lance Armstrong win the 1993 U.S. Pro Championship, I've raced as an amateur on Belgian cobbles, traveled Europe to help build a European pro team, and piloted that team from Malaysia to Mont Ventoux. As a former assistant director sportif with Mercury-Viatel, I've also seen the less dreamy side of the sport – the side rife with broken contracts, infighting, and positive dope tests. These days, I live with my lovely wife in Pennsylvania and share my experiences and views on the sport at Bicycling Magazine, the Embrocation Cycling Journal, and at my own site, Pavé.
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