Ever since Marco Pantani romped away on stage 15 of the 1998 Tour to all but ‘win’ the Yellow Jersey to add to his Giro d’Italia title, the Giro-Tour double has sat unclaimed, untouchable, banished to the murky depths of cycling history. However, this year one rider has once again pinned his banner to the mast and stated that he will ride to win the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France. That rider is Alberto Contador.
The list of seven riders who have achieved the double is certainly a who’s who of top riders over the past 70 years. Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, Roche, Indurain and Pantani were, no doubt, the best riders of their generation and if the feat is ever to be achieved again the rider who does will certainly be at the top of their particular class. Now, this isn’t the place to discuss Alberto Contador’s credentials to that title but it is certainly the place to discuss the in’s and out’s of the 98th Giro d’Italia.
So, here we are again. The classics have been wrapped up and now we can tuck into the real meat of the cycling season sandwich. The route, as ever with the Giro, is full of surprises and drastic uphill finishes. What stands out immediately, however, is a difficult first week which could easily shake out the GC contenders right away. The 59.4km time trial and the and the climbs of Passo Daone, Mortirolo and Colle delle Finestre in the final week will be the real testing ground to any Maglia Rosa contenders.
Giro d’Italia 2015 – Route Map
Lets have a look at the main contenders and some you may not have considered. Alberto Contador is the bookies favourite, yet his 2015 season has been one of little concrete success. His mind has been on the Giro for a long time and having not raced since the Tour of Catalyuna in March, he’ll undoubtedly be fresh. His usual swashbuckling attacks in the mountains are nailed on as he will have to limit his losses in the 59.4km individual time trial.
Richie Porte is next up! A rider whose form is plain for all to see. And yet, it would take a very confident fan to tell you that Porte can win this Giro. Prone to a jours sans and only ever finishing in the top 10 of grand tour once before mean that he is far from nailed on! Team Sky bring Leopold Konig too who arguably has more consistent form in three week races. Rigoberto Uran, a solid if not spectacular second last year (arguably he could have won it after a cheeky move by Nairo Quintana) sits third favourite. A move to Etixx-Quickstep has bought success but at the detriment of team strength. Maxime Bouet, David de la Cruz and Pieter Sierry isn’t the most formidable line up of climbing domestiques and he’ll certainly have perform well to follow the wheels of the main favourites.
A quick comparison of competitive days raced, for each of the three main contenders, is very interesting. Contador sits on 19 days racing, Uran, 25 and Richie Porte, 33. Now, it could be said that Porte has built up to the race nicely and Contador sits undercooked, underaced, underprepared. However, it would take a very brave man to bet against Contador. He could easily ride himself into scintillating form, snatching the Giro and thus putting him in great shape for a tilt at the Yellow Jersey.
Fabio Aru, Domenico Pozzovivo, Benat Intxausti, Przemyslaw Niemiec and Ryder Hesjedal make up a merry band of outsiders that are in the frame to win the pink jersey. Aru’s supposed ‘problems’ have been well documented whilst apart from himself and Hejesdal the others have no real top notch form in Grand Tours to speak of. In terms of real outsiders, how about Davide Formolo to make an impression or Steven Kruijswijk to finally break through the glass ceiling that has been holding him back.
Who’s your tip to win the Giro? Get in touch on Twitter @CyclingShortsUK or @BywaterLawrence
From Saturday May 9th to Sunday May 31st 2015 the pain begins for the riders, the 98th edition of Giro d’Italia will start from Regione Liguria with a 18km team time trial. The full route of the race will be announced on the 6th October.
Winning and losing in sport is often portrayed sensationally as a matter of life and death. In the case of Italian cyclist Marco Pantani he lost, and sport arguably took his life. Casting aside the rumours, the conjecture, the very Italian polemic surrounding the passing of one the country’s great sons, his death remains a great lost to the sport of cycling. James Erskine’s Accidental Death of a Cyclist provides a more generalist view of Pantani’s story and is worse for it. Pantani and Italy, so intertwined so passionate and yet the film understates this symbiotic relationship.
Based on Matt Rendell’s widely acclaimed book The Death of Marco Pantani, the film is bolstered by fantastically chosen archive footage and interviews with key players in his story but unfortunately weakened by laughable reconstructions. Covering all the major bases, the film provides a good overview of Pantani’s rise through the ranks, his early successes before a career threatening crash, the high point of his Giro-Tour double of 1998 and his subsequent decline with all the entrails between.
The grainy films of a nervous, young Marco are real insight into the man behind the ‘Il Pirata’ mask. A man whose eyes Greg Lemond looked into and saw, ‘those of a kid.’ One particular clip that springs to mind is Pantani getting back on his bike after his career threatening crash at Milan-Torino. A childish grin spreads across his face as he nurses his bike around a garage in a full Carrera team tracksuit. “Well, I can still ride a bike,” he quips. In another a younger Pantani, arms folded is effectively asked if he is a good climber. “Yes, I am not bad on the climbs,” he shrugs with huge understatement.
The re-enactments meanwhile add little to the story. Pantani played by an actor is often pictured climbing on the hoods of his bike rather than the drops which was his trademark – an elementary mistake. These clips add little to the otherwise expert insight from Matt Rendell himself, journalist Richard Williams, Tonina Pantani and Greg LeMond amongst others.
Pantani provided all of his adoring Tifosi the chance to escape with him and that is just why they loved him so. Roving escapes at the bottom of mountain climbs, breaking the shackles of the metronomic Armstrong or Indurain, you can see how easy it must have been to be caught up the whirlwind that surrounded him. Reverberating Italian commentary accompanies some of Pantani’s best in race moments and these are the real pièce de résistance of the film, immediately making your hairs stand on end. Just how much he resonated with the Italian public is clear to see in the aftermath of his death with seas of people, stunned, weeping; bandana’s tied round their arms in remembrance. “Cycling has lost its number one,” is one comment.
What’s strange in this new epoch of cycling is how past riders are remembered. Somehow, Pantani despite the allegations and his positive test is still revered. Idolised as ‘the best climber the sport has ever seen’ or a ‘rider whose like has never been since’, yet somehow he escapes the criticism levelled at most riders of his generation. Arguably it was his sad death that elevated him above the riders who cheated but never paid the ultimate price, riders like Lance Armstrong who is painted as the chief villain of the EPO era and is widely criticised and chastised as a result.
Given the recent news that the police are to reopen the case into his death in light of recent evidence provided by his mother Tonina; the Marco Pantani story is set to run on and on. Certainly this says as much about Italians love for conspiracy and conjecture as it does about their idolisation of Pantani. Here’s hoping recent Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali can capture the heart and minds of the ever passionate Tifosi once again.
The Real Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro
by Charly Wegelius
Reviewed by Lawrence Bywater
Pro road cycling is feted for its heroes, its superhuman efforts, its panache filled endeavours and mainly its winners. Yet perhaps what is most captivating about this sport in terms of its individual personalities are the efforts of a band of self-sacrificing, selfless riders who perform the tasks unseen by the uneducated cycling fan. Domestiques. They serve their glorified leaders day in day out; they perform the often thankless tasks of sheltering lead riders from the wind, becoming their waiters with food and bidons and generally being at the beck and call of others. Ultimately they make cycling the team sport that it is so often not credited for. Charles Wegelius was one such domestique who carved out a (successful) career in this role.
His book Domestique: The Real Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro, co-written with his partner in ‘crime’ from the 2005 World Championship in Madrid, Tom Southam, is an eye watering expose into the professional peloton in which he inhabited through the 2000’s. The starkest tones of his story show just how much he was willing to sacrifice in order to make it as first an amateur and then a pro. Arguably it was this mentality that made him such a cherished domestique by teams in Europe.
From the first enquiry to his mother to ask whether she could write a letter to his headmaster to allow him to train during sports afternoons at school, to leaving York to join Vendee U in France as an amateur, Wegelius’ passion and drive for the sport jumps from the text on the page and virtually smacks you in the face. His mentality and feelings are laid bare for all to see and arguably what makes this different from the standard Bradley Wiggins or Mark Cavendish story. Ultimately, no other recent cycling autobiography is more revealing. Perhaps only David Millar’s Racing Through The Dark (read our review here) and Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race come close to revealing what it is really like inside professional road cycling and both of those almost entirely focus on the doping aspect of the support. His constant unhappiness and lack of contentment despite success is a telling thread which runs throughout the book. Indeed, insecurities are never far from the forefront of Wegelius’ mind.
Before British Cycling’s track success was replicated on the road with the BC Academy/Team Sky etc, Wegelius had to do what all other British road riders had had to do over the previous few decades to be successful – make a go of it in Europe. The classic stories emerge of ramshackle houses provided by teams, the culture shock of European life, but also the young Wegelius showing how passionate he was about success. A classic example: He asked his then manager Jean-Rene Bernaudeau to allow him to race (his French racing license was currently in limbo at the time) at an event – he drove to the event in a team camper, set the bike up himself and travelled without a masseur. To his teammates incredulity he duly won the race. Yet again insecurities arise. Wegelius writes that on winning the Under-23 national Road Race and coming second in the European Time Trial Championships as an amateur he felt “victory wasn’t something special that I felt I should sit back and enjoy.” He actually felt that, “a win was simply another box ticked in what was turning out to be an infinite list of boxes I had to tick to be content.”
His meticulous approach to life as an amateur transcended from keeping his bike clean after every ride, washing it with diesel, to competing with another amateur on who could spend the less on everyday essentials. Yet, Wegelius comes to recognise that, “society’s admiration for athletes is based entirely on the achievement of an ideal.” He realises that the sacrifices he has made to become the athlete he so desperately wanted to be, has made him a difficult person to be around.
Throwing all the personal anecdotes aside the book still fantastically illustrates the idiosyncrasies of the pro peloton. Obviously given his career with Italian teams, Mapei, De Nardi and Liquigas the majority of incites have a distinct flavour to them. Old riders tales such as wearing as much clothing whilst training are very enjoyable and occasions such as the 2005 Vuelta, where temperatures were heading into the 40°C Spanish riders were seen warming up on rollers with woollen hats, leggings and arm warmers are a delight to read. The book finishes with a wonderfully poignant tale which is topped by a realisation that Wegelius had found the truth about being inside the professional peloton: “it’s no f***king fairytale.” Overall, a delight from start to finish; perhaps the only thing missing is a further insight into life on the Giro d’Italia in which Wegelius was so well versed.
CyclingShorts Rating: Star Buy! – 90%
Domestique – The Real Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro
Hardback Price: RRP £16.99
Paperback Price: £8.99
Kindle Price: £8.99
To coincide with the early mountain stages, Multipower Sportsfood, the sports nutrition partner of the Giro d’Italia, have provided Cycling Shorts with a series of four technical, nutritional and physiological infographics depicting the challenges undertaken when competing in the mountains.
This is the forth and final in the series of four.
Rest days have been a part of the Giro since its inaugural edition in 1909. Back then, riders would ride one stage and then have two, sometimes three, days between the next stage. It’s not hard to see why: in 1909, the average length of the eight stages was 306 kilometres, as opposed to 162 kilometres across 21 stages in 2013.
This year’s Giro will have two rest days – the first after stage nine, the second follows stage 15. Two rest days have been customary in the race since 2002, although as recently as 1998, the Giro was held without a single day off across the three weeks.
Although riders will not be racing on the rest days, they will still ride their bikes for one or two hours. This prevents muscle stiffness and will help flesh out metabolic waste from the previous day’s stage. In recent years, some teams have opted to ride on their turbo trainers as opposed to heading out onto the road.
Riders will continue to eat foods high in carbohydrates and proteins on rest days, although some teams in the past have been known to give their riders a treat if the final rest day falls after the last decisive stage on the general classification. Burger and chips is a favourite within the Garmin-Sharp team.
Throughout the three weeks of competition (3-26 May) Multipower Sportsfood, is also offering cycle fans the chance to get their hands on a variety of prizes in an easy to enter daily prediction competition. Prizes include signed race jerseys, Giro d’Italia drinks bottles and the ultimate prize of a Cannondale Pro Cycling Super Six EVO Team Edition professional race bike worth £6,499.
To take part in the competition entrants simply need to visit the Multipower website, www.multipower.com/uk/giro , and vote for their stage favourite before the 10km to go marker.