To anyone studying the art of stage racing the 2013 Giro d’Italia’s first week is the perfect case study. Since the first stage in Naples the fireworks have been going off in the peloton. This first week, which many argue is the easiest in this year’s race, has really highlighted what a different race this Grand Tour is to the Tour de France.
Naples, the first stage of the race and the final result? Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma) took the stage and the leader’s jersey. A straightforward sprinter stage when just the result is looked at, but nerves within the bunch and the technical circuit led to many crashes. Notably David Millar (Garmin Sharp) came down and also French rider Laurent Pichon (FDJ) in a spectacular crash that saw him sliding spread eagle on the road. The riders who were thinking of the final classification in Brescia in three weeks time all stayed out of trouble looking to the Team Time Trial that was on the menu for the second stage.
Team Time Trials are always an interesting and dramatic event, with the second stage of the Giro living up to this. With the two major favourites for the race, Wiggins (Team Sky) and Nibali (Astana) going head to head to see who had the strongest team. Team Sky showed their dominance, but only managed to put 14 seconds in the Astana. The British Team in black and blue took the leader’s jersey, but not with the margin that many predicted. Of note Garmin Sharp, the team for reigning champion Ryder Hesjedal lost 25 seconds to Team Sky. A significant result when you think that the boys in Argyle won last years Team Time Trial. Another team of note, BMC Racing, with Cadel Evans, lost 37 seconds. All of these times gaps were small, but could be the difference between victory or not in three weeks time.
Stage three, and those who lost time the day before, Hesjedal and Evans, struck back. This medium mountain stage saw early moves by General Classification contenders. The technical run in, with short sharp climbs, was ideal for a late attack. It was Kastusha rider Luca Paolini who won the stage and rode into the leader’s jersey. The result was overshadowed by the battle of the GC riders, something that would rarely be seen this early in the Tour de France. The chaotic nature of the Giro, with its hard route, leads to a different style of racing. In the end of the day both Hesjedal and Evans broke even with their attacks, gaining back the majority of the time that they had lost the day before. But what is yet to be seen is whether burning matches this early in the race will have an effect on them later.
Stage four was a monstrous 246km medium mountain stage. After over six hours of racing a select group of GC contenders came in for the win. It was Italian Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox) who took the stage win. Causing a shock British favourite for the final victory Wiggins lost 17 seconds on the stage. Team Sky’s management cited a crash in the final 3 kilometres as the cause of the delay, which would normally mean that the rider caught up would be given the same time as the leaders. Not the case as the race jury argued that Wiggins had already been distanced before the crash. Again 17 seconds is not the end of the world, but it just adds extra burden to the stages later in the race.
Stage five and six were both classified at flat stages by the race organisers. Both led to bunch sprints, but both were also affected by bunch crashes late in the race. The inclement weather that had settled over the race in its first week continued and the technical run in to stage five saw the front riders go down in the final corner. This led to Degenklob (Argos Shimano) taking the victory, with nothing of note happening with the GC riders.
Stage six had a full bunch crash in the final 20 kilometres of the race. Wiggins, who was coming back from a bike change, got caught behind and promptly put his team to work chasing back to the front group that contained all the other race favourites. A gentleman’s agreement was made and the front group waited, but it was another incident where Wiggins had bad luck, leaving him on the back foot, something that was not seen at the Tour de France last year. The stage went to Manx man Cavendish winning in a perfect sprint. He dedicated his win to Weylandts who tragically died in the race two years ago.
Stage seven was more rain and more mountains. The day’s long breakaway exploded in the final kilometres with Aussie Adam Hanson (Lotto) taking a gutsy win from the group. With riders crashing on the slick, sinuous roads, gaps slowly appeared on the descents. Wiggins who had been slightly distanced on the final climb was clearly struggling in the conditions on the descents, with downhill ace Nibali taking advantage of this and pushing hard. The inevitable happened and Wiggins came down in a hairpin. Though no major injury was sustained, Wiggin’s confidence was severely knocked and his slow pace on the final descent saw him lose 1:24 to the GC favourites. A huge disadvantage going into the following day’s time trial. Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Movistar) rode into pink as Paolini struggled with the conditions.
Stage eight was a leg breaking 54.8km time trial. This was the moment where everyone expected Wiggins to use his strength to gain time on his main rivals. It was also the day that many thought Team Sky would take the jersey and ride, as they did in the Tour de France, to numbers, controlling the race. As normal with the Giro things did not work out as thought. Brit Alex Dowsett (Movistar) did a perfect ride to take the stage win, though he was slightly overshadowed by the GC battle behind. From the start Wiggins did not look comfortable, clearly nervous on the twisty descents in the first half of the race. A bike change did not help his effort, but it saw him sitting around a minute down on main rival Nibali at the first time check. With the second part of the course suiting the reigning Olympic time trial champion, Wiggins powered on to claw back time, finishing only 10 seconds off of the pace of Dowsett. More importantly Nibali limited his losses to Wiggins to just 11 seconds, seeing him ride into race leadership, whilst Wiggins moved back up to 4th.
Stage nine was the final stage of the first week of the race and another with mountains and wet roads. A break was allowed up the road, which eventually went on to take the stage. Russian rider, Maxim Belkov (Katusha) taking the win. Again all eyes were turned to the GC contenders who were clearly struggling, the combination of the previous day’s efforts, the cold weather and tough route taking its toll. First rider to crack was Wiggins, again struggling on the descents. He rallied his team around him and got back to the GC group, not losing any time at the finish. Reigning champion Hesjedal had a very bad day in the office. Cracking in the final of the race and losing 1:06 to the GC group. This is a large advantage to give the others fighting for pink going into the tougher weeks of the race.
Monday is the race’s first rest day, so time for the peloton to lick their wounds and reflect. Recovery being the word of the day because with two hard weeks of racing to follow, after the already dramatic first week, will see some who aimed for pink cracking in the hard stages to come.
Author: Phil Gale