Giro d’Italia 2014 – Preview

Ah the time of year when I dust down the coffee machine, plump the cushions and try to avoid doing absolutely anything between the hours of 13.00 and 16.30. Yes, its Grand Tour silly season in the world of professional road cycling. Whilst the general classification contenders have been preparing on some hors categorie climbs, I have been gorging myself on the Hors d’oeuvre’s of cycling’s seasonal menu. One day classics and short stage races have been a relative amuse bouche ahead of the full 21 course tasting menu of a grand tour.

There is nothing in the world of sport that is longer or warrants such investment than the Giro, Tour or Vuelta. As a result I, like you, I hope, have numerous ‘jours sans’. This usually involves a perfectly concocted TV montage set on repeat. The breakaway going hell for leather, the delightful landscape, an ambling peloton, the faint noise of the helicopter or motorbike engine… riders’ legs going up, and down, up, and down, up, and down….. Suddenly it’s the end of the stage and the top 10 for the day flashes up on the TV – I’ve missed the whole stage!!! Like a Bardiani-CSF rider aiming to get in the breakaway, I shall try again tomorrow!

Route

So we come to the first of grand tour of the year the Giro d’Italia, perhaps confusingly for the uninitiated, starting in Ireland! The spaces and landscapes of the Giro never disappoint and the dash through the Emerald Isle will certainly match the vistas of Italy. It may even be capable of halting my usual mid stage slumber mentioned above! Judging by the stages planned the racing shouldn’t fail to satisfy either. The route starts with a team time trial around Belfast and finishes with a stage to Dublin, after which comes the 1st rest day for travel to Italy.

 

 

Giro d'Italia Route 2014

Giro d’Italia Route 2014

 

Ultimately the route this year is one primed for climbers – yet unlike recent years the profiles tend to build gradually rather than shoot for the hills right away. Stage 8 in the Apennines mountain range should bring the first shake up for the general classification. The Carpegna climb is back loaded towards the end of the stage and final climb at 13% should be a treat. A nasty trio, the Passo Gavio, Stelvio and the Monte Zoncolan are all attempted in the final week and the final mountain time trial will ultimately destroy some riders hopes.

Contenders

Four previous Giro winners line up this year and the smart money suggests none of them will be in contention come Trieste. Ivan Basso and Michele Scarponi are the wrong side of 35, whilst Ryder Hesjedal and Damiano Cunego have not shown anything to date to suggest they can repeat their victories of 2004 and 2012 respectively. Of the old guard perhaps only Cadel Evans has a right to warrant a contender badge after a productive spring cumulating in GC victory at the recent Giro del Trentino.

So, roll up roll up how about a brand new grand tour winner? The bookies favourite, Nairo Quintana, looks a good bet to at least match his podium finish from last year’s tour. He has had a solid preparation in the run up, landing the win at the Tour de San Luis, second at Tirenno and 5th in Catalunya. This combined with his eminent climbing ability, solid time trialling and a world class Movistar line up ensures he certainly warrants favouritism.

Rigoberto Uran, 2nd last year has a good chance too. He has kept his powder dry this season with only a 3rd in GC at the Tour of Oman the only result of note. The Omega-Pharma quickstep team is built around him with no Mark Cavendish. If Thomas De Gent and Wout Poels and can provide suitable domestique support in the mountains he may have a shot. Joaquim Rodriguez, the Raymond Poulidor of our times, could at last win the general classification at a grand tour. This may be his last chance as he enters the last few golden years of his career and he probably missed his best chance in 2012. The time trial on stage 12 does him no favours. Daniel Martin, Domenico Pozzovivo, Rafal Majka, Nicholas Roche and Wilco Kelderman could all make a step up this year after showing glimpses of what might be. All must ride their luck and have the best of legs to usurp Quintana et al.

My Giro d’Italia Top 5:-

  1. Nairo Quintana
  2. Cadel Evans
  3. Rafal Majka
  4. Nicholas Roche
  5. Daniel Martin

Stage Win – Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol)

Wiggo & Cav’s Triumphant Homecoming – ToB Stage 8

Did you go? Were you there? In case you left the country for a couple of weeks, you would have struggled to avoid seeing that the Tour of Britain hit the streets of this great cycling nation, and even with the inevitable inclemency of the weather, it appeared to be a great success. Cycling Shorts were lucky enough to be invited to London by Jaguar to see how the final stage all panned out, and did we ever pick a good day to go…

The first thought that occurred, when we arrived for the Johnson Health Tech Westminster Grand Prix was how busy the circuit was, even at half ten on a Sunday morning. The sizeable crowd was treated to the spectacle of the pack trying to attack Hannah Barnes for the best part of an hour, but their efforts were fruitless, the national crit champion relentlessly driving the bunch to cover chase after chase, with a final, full-blooded effort by Lydia Boylan and Nicola Juniper failing to stick after putting a big chunk of time on the peloton. The pack was all together for the finale and there was only going to be one winner in the sprint to the line, Barnes taking the win to popular delight. Two observations occurred – firstly, even when you have a standout favourite like Barnes, the racing can still be fantastic. And secondly, if you have any questions over the popularity of women’s racing, put them to one side – this race was massively popular.

The next event was the IG Gentleman’s TT, over one lap of the full 8.8km course, where pairs consisting of a pro “pacer” and a celebrity “gentleman” teamed together with the gentleman’s time over the line being the one that counted. Honours went to Andrew Griffiths and Francis Jackson with a respectable 11:47, tonking second placed Olly Stephens and Alex Stephenson by 47 seconds, with Gavin Morton and Steve Carter Smith another 7 seconds further back in third. I’ll be honest with you – I thought it was a really cool concept, but with very few exceptions (Lee Dixon, Dermot Murnaghen, Ned Boulting), I didn’t know who the celebrities were, although that may say more about me than anything else…  A good idea, though – maybe next year get Boris and Ken to get involved, add a bit of local colour and create a budding sporting rivalry.

But the main event was always going to be the final stage of the Tour of Britain. On a pan-flat stage, no-one was likely to make a race-winning break big enough to take the gold jersey, but that didn’t mean it was a dull affair, Pete Williams and Angel Madrazo joining a six man break in a frenzied battle to take the points jersey, the Spaniard taking it to add to his mountains jersey when Williams was DQ’d from a sprint for some overly lively riding. Inevitably however, the pack hunted them down and despite a late and valiant dash for glory from Alex Dowsett, it was all about the sprint, and there was only ever going to be one winner there, Mark Cavendish rocketing to his third stage victory. With Sir Bradley following him safely home to seal the overall, Whitehall went nuts in celebration – which is not a phrase you’ll hear often!

It’s hard to see the tour in general and stage 8 in particular as anything other than an unparalleled success. Certainly, all day long the crowds were both full and vocally happy, whilst the results were what everyone wanted. But more than just being a showcase for the extraordinary talents of two of Britain’s brightest stars, riders who fly comparatively lower on the radar than Cav and Sir Brad also received rapturous welcomes, riders like Alex Dowsett, Dan Martin and Nairo Quintana. It was great to see that, not only were they recognised and their names known, people were genuinely happy to see them, regardless of nationality. A year on from the Olympics, it’s clear that cycling has as firm a place in the heart of the sporting nation as it has had for many years, and all the signs show that it’s here to stay. Happy days…

Huge thanks to Claire and all at Jaguar UK for their hospitality on a fantastic day #ToB2013 #ridelikeapro @JaguarUK

 

 

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