Belated Giro review…

My holiday had an inconvenient side effect of taking me away from wifi and 4g for the final weekend of the 2022 Giro D’Italia.

I had left for the solitude of a boat on the Norfolk broads with Richard Carapaz of Ineos looking the likely winner in Verona.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

The race had started back on 6th May in Hungary which put on its best sights and weather for the arrival of the race. A year or so late due to Covid, of course.

Mathieu van der Poel did his thing avoiding a tumbling Caleb Ewan to get the first pink jersey before Simon Yates shocked the peloton in the next days time trial.

The Brits were 2 from 3 in the Hungarian stages as Mark Cavendish kept the “will he won’t he?” Tour de France narrative going by outsprinting his rivals in Balantonfured. The debate is still raging as that was the high point for Cav with no other stages wins. He did make the finish though and has taken that form into the most recent Belgian semi classics.

Stage 4 had the first mountain finish of the race and Leonard Kamna showed his class by taking the win on Mount Etna. Juan Pedro Lopez of Trek took the leaders pink jersey at this point and despite being a relative newcomer to the top table of world cycling was able to hang on for 9 days.

As we journeyed up the West coast for a few days Arnaud Demare put Cavendish, Ewan et al. in their place with back to back wins. This was enough to win the points jersey at the end of the race.

A couple of midi montagne stages followed with typically swashbuckling breakaway wins from Koen Bouwman of Jumbo (with a massive assist from Tom Dumoulin) and Thomas De Gendt.

De Gendt won in the way only he can, dangling off the front in a group that was pretty dysfunctional but just about had enough time to win it.

A sign of things to come was shown on stage 9 with Australian Jai Hindley winning the showpiece finish on Blockhaus. He would stay within a few seconds of the race lead until the final weekend.

Jesi is a place I know so it was great to see more barriers broken down by Biniam Girmay. Let’s savour his win for now and hope the eye injury he got post stage won’t affect him long term.

After no stage wins in 10 so far, the home nation of Italy got a pair on consecutive days with Alberto Dainese winning a sprint before Stefano Oldani showed his Etna breakaway was no fluke with a brilliant win in the port city of Genoa.

Demare and Yates won more stages as Lopez finally conceded the leaders jersey to Carapaz.

The race settled into the mountainous final week with more breaks winning stages. Santi Buitrago was the standout with a thrilling counter attack after crashing on a downhill.

Perennial trier Dries DeBondt showed his ‘new De Gendt‘ credentials as we headed into the key final stages.

All eyes were on the Marmolada stage where Allesandro Covi crossed the line first to save the race from a UAE Team Emirates perspective. The drama was behind though with team mate Kamna dropping back from the winning break to set a fierce pace for Hindley.

It was too much for the pink jersey and Carapaz was dropped for good seeing a late in the race new leader in the Aussie.

The final time trial was a lap of honour for Hindley who put the hurt of losing on the last day 2 years ago behind him. It was a great win and well deserved.

RnkPrev▼▲RiderTeamUCIPntTime BonusTime
11 HINDLEY JaiBORA – hansgrohe85040021″86:31:14
22 CARAPAZ RichardINEOS Grenadiers68029014″1:18
33 LANDA MikelBahrain – Victorious5752403:24
44 NIBALI VincenzoAstana Qazaqstan Team4602209:02
55 BILBAO PelloBahrain – Victorious3802004″9:14
66 HIRT JanIntermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux32019015″9:28
77 BUCHMANN EmanuelBORA – hansgrohe26018013:19
88 POZZOVIVO DomenicoIntermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux22017017:29
910▲1 CARTHY HughEF Education-EasyPost18016017:54
109▼1 LÓPEZ Juan PedroTrek – Segafredo1401506″18:40
from Procyclingstats.com

Milan San-Remo

I never know how to truly feel about this race.

Once the peloton head to the coast and start to chase down the inevitable breakaway hopefuls it feels like the season has started in earnest.

This year there was a bit more excitement with the break holding that vital 1 minute per 10km left to race advantage until they went into the climbs at the back end of the race.

There were negatives. I felt a sort of inevitability about Tadej Pogacar just riding away from everyone to win either on the Cipressa or the Poggio and that made me sad.

People who win too often or are too dominant are now subjected to a scrutiny that exists in no other sport. The stars of tennis don’t have to continually justify their sporting cleanliness in the same way as cyclists.

I want to believe in Tadej. But the history of the sport means there is always an asterix. That’s just how it is and I hate those juiced up 1990’s cheat for that.

As it happened the rest of the race ganged up on Pogacar to ensure that he didn’t win. The speed of the race over the Cipressa, a pace set by both UAE and Jumbo, meant that the break was absorbed but that no-one could sneak away.

UAE kept this speed up on the flat coastal road between the final two climbs. In a way it telegraphed their team leaders motive and to no-ones surprise Pogacar jumped before half distance on the climb.

He was actively marked by Wout van Aert who later admitted that had stunted his ability to deliver maximum power at the finish. Mathieu Van der Poel on his first racing day of the season also committed much to stopping Pog from winning.

As they reached the top of the climb it was all fairly close with a large number of riders, including former winner and sprinter Arnaud Demare in contention.

The race was won on the descent with Matej Mohoric shrugging off that horrific crash he has last year in the Giro in Italy, by riding away on the tight turns using every bit of road and some driveway to get clear.

He was using an MTB seat post to get more aero but the way he rode I think he would have been too good for the rest on a chopper not a dropper.

He even survived dropping his chain in the last KM to out last the fast closing Anthony Turgis who will be desperate for a classic win soon to avoid becoming the next big thing not to win a big race.

Was this a brilliant race? Not really but then the drama in Milan San-Remo is always condensed into the last 10 minutes, not the proceeding 6 hours. However, we had a worthy winner and a positive performance to start the monument season, and I am happy with that.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 MOHORIČ MatejBahrain – Victorious5002756:27:49
2 TURGIS AnthonyTotalEnergies4002000:02
3 VAN DER POEL MathieuAlpecin-Fenix325150,,
4 MATTHEWS MichaelTeam BikeExchange – Jayco275120,,
5 POGAČAR TadejUAE Team Emirates225100,,
6 PEDERSEN MadsTrek – Segafredo17590,,
7 KRAGH ANDERSEN SørenTeam DSM15080,,
8 VAN AERT WoutJumbo-Visma12570,,
9 TRATNIK JanBahrain – Victorious100600:05
10 DÉMARE ArnaudGroupama – FDJ85500:11
from procyclingstats.com

Videos released highlighting Grand Tour struggles…

The three grand tours this summer/autumn/winter were very different in a host of ways.

The timing was one thing, the readiness and sharpness of the riders was another. Lots of pundits and experts were even confused by the shadows and lighting with the usual bright yellow sun and fields of sunflower for the Tour de France long since having gone over ahead of the changing colours of the leaves.

Some of the worlds biggest teams have been taking to YouTube to diarise what their experiences were and in the name of research (and to avoid watching Strictly Come Dancing at the weekend) I have studied most of them and come up with a shortlist of one film per race.

First up is the Tour de France through the eyes of the Deceuninck QuickStep team.

This was an interesting film as it covered the fast start of Julian Alaphillippe before moving on to cover the stage and green jersey winning powers of Sam Bennett.

It’s well shot and tells the story in stages, although it does miss out bits and pieces from when Alaphillippe lost a lot of time in the GC battle.

The EF gone racing series by the popular hipsters team in association with kit sponsor Rapha is seen as the benchmark of this type of fly on the wall documentary and this one is no different.

The best one they ever made was Lachlan Morton riding the GB duro gravel race and this isn’t as good. But it is still a decent watch.

The final big race of the year was the Vuelta and it featured a nervous sense that the race might not make Madrid along with some terrible weather.

Like the Tour and the Giro it featured a brilliant battle to see who would win with Primoz Roglic and Richard Carapaz going to the final kilometer of the final climb the day before the finish before we knew for sure.

After his final weekend loss of the Tour de France, the Jumbo/Visma team car is the best place to watch that GC competition play out. It’s safe to say they are nervous, all of which adds to the quality of the film.

All three are a great waste of an evening so make sure you have a watch and enjoy.

Tour ’20 – Stages 18&19 – Kwiatkowski gets his reward

Polish domestique deluxe Michal Kwiatkowski got due reward for his years in service of Tour de France winners when he took stage 18 after a long breakaway.

With team mate Richard Carapaz, they took flight from the days break along with serial escapee Marc Hirschi of Sunweb.,

The most active rider of the race was keen to add to his stage win last week but crashed on a descent leaving the Ineos pair alone at the head of affairs.

With the gap big enough and the favourites not interested in attacking they had the luxury of sorting out who was going to win on the run in to the finish. It was brillant to see a clearly emotional Kwiatkowski cross the line for a rare, but really popular win.

Stage 10 saw Soren Kragh Andersen win the stage after a day that was only brightly animated by Remi Cavagna in a long lone breakaway that was always doomed but was entertaining enough to avoid switching the TV off.

Late in the stage a breakaway did escape including a number of good classics riders. Luke Rowe , Nils Pollit, Tim DeClercq and the king of Flanders Greg Van Avermaet made the split.

However Andersen was able to repeat the feat as he did on the way into Lyon escaping to win his 2nd stage of the Tour.

All eyes now move to the final weekend of the race and its opening and only time trial.

It’s been a really decent Tour so far so let’s hope for an exciting final weekend of action.

Tour ’20 – Stages 3 & 4 – Cousin evokes memories of old

Jerome Cousin of Total/Direct Energie was keen to push on with the stage 3 breakaway to Sisteron. The two other members of the move were more interested in accumilating KOM points and then not contributing so with around 130km to go Cousin pushed on.

His wonderful curly mullet and posh Scott specs make him look every inch the 1980’s retro pro as his long lone breakaway brought back memories of a couple of rides of that era.

Most notably the 1989 breakaway in the first week by Joel Pellier of the BH team. He managed to go the distance and was greeted by his family at the finish. They’d never seen him race as he had a disabled brother who needed constant care and this was the first opportunity for someone else to help out with that and allow his parents to watch the Tour live. It was one of the great stories of any Tour.

Back to 2020 and Cousin managed to stretch his advantage to 4 minutes but the peloton were never feeling generous enough to give him any more of an advantage. Shame.

There were times in his ride where he looked a bit bored riding puppy paws through the lovely scenery. I think he knew from quite a long way out that he would be caught and that didn’t really help his morale.

The catch came in time for Caleb Ewan to fly through the sprinters and take an easy win. It was a great finish to watch from the over head camera and he zig zagged through the group to beat Sam Bennett who left us in no doubt how upset he was by his reaction in crossing the line.

Lot’s had been written about stage 4 and the finish at Orcieres-Merlette. Luis Ocana and Steven Rooks are pretty decent names for a town to have on its palmares of stage winners and in Primoz Roglic 2020 added to that list.

The stage itself wasn’t a classic despite friend of Fendrien Krists Nielands being away until the final climb.

For a mountain stage there were a lot of riders in the group coming into the last 2km. I wonder if this is down to the lack of racing and everyone being at a mostly similar level perhaps?

Jumbo were taking no prisoners and the speed they went into the latter metres of the stage was more than sufficient to deter any attacks. Adam Yates admitted as much in his post race interview.

Sepp Kuss provided the perfect platform for Roglic to outsprint the other favourites and make a real statement of intent for the remainder of the race.

Tour ’20 – Stages 1 & 2 – From high farce to sublime

After all of the issues with Covid-19 and the delay in starting the race, the last thing the fledgling Tour de France of 2020 needed was storms on the tricky descents on the opening stage.

It made the stage 1 a bit of a joke with the majority of GC teams not wanting to race. Conversely, a number of opportunists or medium mountain stage experts wanted to take one of the few opportunities to demonstrate their skill set in this years event.

You had the likes of Pavel Sivakov and George Bennett, key riders for their leader in the coming weeks, on the deck and injured. Miguel Angel Lopez, whose Astana team were one of the few who wanted to go for it in the rain, managed to face plant into a road sign and that was enough to see a general truce until the 20km to go marker.

There was still time for a crash under the 3km banner and that took down French star Thibault Pinot. His morale has always been classed as fragile in the media and it was sad to see him showing his frustration like a three year old in Toys-r-us.

One bright spot however was the win for Alexander Kristoff. Now classed as a veteran, the Norweigan produced a perfectly timed run for line, shutting out all of the madness unfolding behind him to get the yellow jersey.

The organisers will have been delighted to see the warm and sunny conditions for day 2 and they were rewarded with a much better stage as a result.

The main breakaway of the day duked it out for the King of the Mountains points splitting and reforming on the scenic terrain around Nice. Peter Sagan also made an appearance but still seems to be a little way short of his best. There was no smiling and waving when he got dropped. He just carried on waiting to get caught by the chasers.

The famous Col D’Eze was the place that the stage hunters has targetted as key to getting to the front on. It was a bit of a strange few KMs on the run in with Jumbo. who’d been on the front all day, almost seeming to want to keep the break clear to avoid chaos on the climb.

This tactic failed and the first attack that stuck was Julian Alaphillippe who shot out of the pack with Marc Hirshi of Sunweb sticking to his back wheel like glue.

When it became clear that this pair were going to get away, Adam Yates zoomed across from the peloton and the trio remained clear to contest the finish. They got to the final few hundred metres before the messing about started.

It was a good job they did wait until late on to open the sprint as they were almost closed down by a group behind hurtling towards the line.

Alaphillippe would have been thinking about his recent defeat to Wout Van Aert at Milan-San Remo on a similar finish and opened the sprint first this time holding off a late run from Hirschi.

After the farce of day 1, the emotion of the win and yellow jersey for the Frenchman was really important for the race. Having lost his Father during lockdown the first iconic image of this years Tour was Alaphillippe pointing skywards to his Dad and shouting “I did it Dad”.

Like many I am sure, I shed a tear.