Do I have a problem with lists? Is there such a thing as list-dependency? Should I see someone about it? This and many more questions answered in today's list column!
1. Vincenzo Nibali
All that's left is for the Shark to seal the deal. No easy task, but there is plenty of evidence which says he can and will. First off, last time he rode a Giro uphill ITT, he won it. So that's Thursday's stage, tilted in his favor. Friday and Saturday are the standard/extreme array of high mountain passes in the Dolomites where, again, he's had plenty of success. Then there's the fact that right now, he is climbing as well or better than anyone else in the race. Oh, and you want to make up time on him? Plan on doing it on the final climb. Because of his descending skills, it's pointless to get much of a lead earlier in the stage.
Speaking of which, it's funny that this was the decisive factor in Week 1 of the Giro, but promises not to be a factor in the hair-raising descents of the Dolomites. Evans, the closest challenger, is no slouch headed downhill. Sammy Sanchez, creeping back into contention, is another crack downhiller. I wish I could say more about the other guys on the GC (other than that Domenico Pozzovivo apparently isn't so hot at it), but regardless, Vinny's ability just shrinks the real race down to a couple very, very small margins.
2. Carlos Betancur/AG2R
On stage 8's long time trial, Betancur dropped 5.19 to the stage winner and 4.58 to Nibali, dropping him a ways down the general classification. He presently sits 5.15 out of the maglia rosa, unable to gain much time on Nibali (except in a bonus), but check out his performances in the interregnum: second (to Belkov) at Firenze, second (to Uran) at Montasio, third (behind Nibali and Santambrogio) at Bardonecchia, and second (behind Visconti) on the Galibier. Did I say nobody was climbing better than Nibali? Hm, might revise that slightly.
The trick will be for him to nail the uphill time trial, and he doesn't have much history of doing so, but he's also only 24 and that Nevegal ITT (won by Nibali) was when Betancur was a 22-year-old stagiare. He took 15th in the Pais Vasco rolling event, a good sign, so maybe Betancur can at least hold his own on Thursday. Meanwhile, for AG2R it's another triumphant Giro, possibly trumping 2011 when they got John Gadret on the podium (a year later, after Contador was DQ'd). Pozzovivo is doing his usual back-of-the-top-ten thing, so the excitement is all about the young Colombian. But as France's delegate to actually doing something at the Giro, AG2R are padding their resume... and raising a grand tour threat of their own to boot.
3. Team Sky/British Cycling
Their Veni, Vidi, Descendere Simile Femina act didn't win Team Sky the dominant sequel to last year's Tour de France they aimed for, but the last week wasn't nearly the disaster for British fans that one might be tempted to assume it was. First off, they re-signed Richie Porte, who will almost certainly deliver the team a grand tour this summer, presumably to someone besides himself. Porte is Levi-Plus right now, a guy who thrives on a strong team in a low-to-medium pressure role. And while it's a bit difficult to picture him off and winning the Tour de France (just yet), it's not that hard to imagine him being completely overlooked while other teams chase down Wiggins and Froome, and occupying a dangerous position. Or at least shredding the field en route to launching the team captain.
And speaking of captains, nobody made out better this week than the British Press. Whether that's a win for anyone else is hard to say, but this, um, institution lives for two things: to catalogue the daily movements of the Royal Family (in case of any signs of human failings) and to make the rest of the world's press look calm and measured. [Want proof? No you don't.] Well, this week we saw the full-on launching of the Wiggins-Froome polemica that -- mark my words -- will devour the 2013 Tour de France. Or at least the media coverage of it. Really, sometimes polemici are a bit oversold... but even that's a win for... wait for it... Team Sky.
As to the merits, Sky have been quite adamant up and down the chain that Froome-dawg is the leader for the Tour. So there you go. Wiggins has consistently gone slightly off the script -- not challenging Froome but not disavowing his own ambitions. And honestly, it's hard to see how he wouldn't. He's the reigning winner. I don't recall him promising Froome this year's win if he gave anything up last year (LeMond, recall, gave up a near-certain win of the '85 Tour for Hinault). Froome certainly deserves his chance but I don't see why Wiggins can't go for it too.
4. Mauro Santambrogio
I've kind of talked him up enough this week, you can see what he's done. Unlike Betancur, Santa's not hitting the time bonuses, which is a bummer for him given that he's one second off the podium at the moment. But there's plenty of cycling left to do.
Is Danilo Di Luca a good teammate? You always want to have a guy up there with you, and I don't know enough about their personal interactions but I assume it's good. Still, when your teammate tends to launch himself alone, I mean, I guess there's some value there if he succeeds in exhausting someone else's guys from the chase. I dunno. Di Luca, in his defense, should be worthless in the high mountains anyway, so whatever you get from him should probably be considered a bonus.
5. Mark Cavendish
Here's what I said about the guy ten days ago:
By my estimation, he needs to get to the line and take a top-two spot in 12, 13 and 21 to be in range of the 150 points it'll take to win this competition. My guess? He falls short.
Here's what he did in stages 12 and 13:
- Stage 12: win
- Stage 13: win
Any questions? I think they have the bit between their teeth now. Still gonna be close. [See this fanpost for exactly how close.]
Bonus! Samuel Sanchez
He's back from the dead, that much I know. Will the resurgence continue? Will we all be happy if it does? Hell yeah.
1. Bradley Wiggins
Apart from the polemics, I do think Sir Bradley took a hit this week... to his credentials as a patron. He came to Italy looking to add another jersey to his collection, like a good patron would and should do. Wiggins' ascension comes a bit late in his career to go on a big run of grand tours which would earn him real patron standing, though he's so powerful that you could maybe picture him putting together a dominant phase. Worse, his own team isn't going to make that easy for him. Worst of all, though, is that the single most compelling story of the Giro is how Wiggo's toolbox apparently doesn't come with a descending widget. You can't be a patron if you show weakness in one of the major elements of cycling.
2. Robert Gesink
Speaking of weakness... WTF? Is it time to downgrade Gesink, the biggest talent of the recent wave of Dutch talent, to one-week and one-day excellence, with a side of meh-ness in the big tours? It's possible he's got one in him, but that all the pieces have to fall perfectly into place. Someday he'll join the list of the Carlos Sastres and JJ Cobos of the world who get their due on a very big stage, perhaps. But it won't be this month.
3. Ryder Hesjedal
Hesjedal is approaching an awkward position in his team, following this Giro where he got sick or something and went home. Did he get sick or did he just burn himself out in week 1? Not sure we'll ever know the details, but let's face it, Hesjedal was always on the cusp of grand tour ability. Thru determination and guile he got his Giro last year, and on a good day the guy kicks some ass. But after this, one has to ask, should Garmin shift its focus significantly toward starting the Talansky Era and away from supporting secondary threats from Hesjedal?
4. Fans/ the Giro
What do Hesjedal, Gesink and Wiggins have in common, besides poor performance? They were the respective reasons we were all so extra excited about this year's Giro GC, anticipated as the most competitive in years. Well, now it's more of a two-man race, and one of them looks like a strong bet to win. Familiar?
Rain is the primary culprit. It's ironic, the Giro had some new roads built in places like Abruzzo where the smooth tarmac would have been grand tour worthy on a dry day... but instead turned into a skating rink as oil seeped from the fresh surface. Rain made it fun for a bit... for the fans. But the incessant rain has sapped the strength of the race a bit. From what I know, it is simply more depleting to the body to race in cold (especially wet/cold) conditions like this. Not good for business. As great as the first week was, last week was kind of a downer.
And let the record reflect that Jens did not arrive in the region until late Thursday. "It was like that when I got here," he claims.
Let's face it, they're what keep USA Today in business. And that's not a good thing.