As we hit the final rest day (#3, actually), we can officially say this is the most wide-open Giro in some time? How much time? Let's scroll backward:
- Last year Vincenzo Nibali was scarcely bothered en route to an easy win.
- 2012 was a pretty riveting two-man battle between Hesjedal and J-Rod, with Thomas De Gendt and some Italians not too far off.
- Contador crushed the competition (on the bike anyway) in 2011.
- In 2010 Basso and David Arroyo(!) staged a rather brilliant battle, with Nibali figuring prominently.
- In 2009, Menchov held a slim lead for the last ten days or so.
- 2008 was the famous Contador-off-the-beach Giro. Ricardo Ricco was his main foil.
I could do this a bit more, but let me cut to the chase and offer up 2005 as the last truly wide-open Giro. There, Paolo Savoldelli was coming off a few quiet years, but inherited the maglia rosa when leader Ivan Basso got sick, supposedly from chugging cold water or something. Anyway, setting aside the mysterious (cough) nature of Basso's ailment, Savoldelli remained in pink to Milan, despite a penultimate stage when Gilberto Simoni briefly inherited the virtual lead. Simoni would eventually lose by 28 seconds overall, with Jose Rujano at 45" and Danilo Di Luca at 2.42 after stalking Savoldelli well into the final week.
This time around, we have fewer known dopers interlopers and a very nice knot of legitimate contenders hovering around the front. Fully seven riders are within about three minutes of the lead, with maglia rosa Uran pursued by Evans, Majka, Aru, Quintana, Pozzovivo and Kelderman. None of these guys are out of contention. Sure, Pozzovivo and Kelderman didn't look like they were headed in the right direction today, but the other five all made relatively interesting cases for their candidacy, coming into the high mountains.
Right, week three will differ significantly from the last few forays into the mountains. Will has covered this extensively. Still calling for snow on the Stelvio Tuesday, so we'll see about that stage.
Anyway, Jens may want to offer his own analysis of all the favorites, but at this point it's hard to say what will happen. Mostly we can offer guesses and hunches. And here's mine.
Uran is a pretty strong front-runner, and he confirmed today that he has been ceding small amounts of time to Aru and Quintana as long as he's been able to distance Evans and Majka, who sit closer to him on GC. Uran is playing the conservative game, matching wheels and limiting losses. I bet he does that all the way to Trieste.
And will it be enough? Tough question. Quintana at his best is capable of putting minutes into these guys, all of them, on climbs such as what's ahead. If he's not at his best, Uran is capable of keeping his compadre in sight and maybe getting every last ounce out of what was once over a three minute lead on Quintana, who will be suffering on the longer climbs just like everyone else. Uran may even gain time in the final uphill time trial.
If so, this leaves Quintana having to open it up and try something dramatic. Chances are, he doesn't feel compelled to do so before next Saturday, but by then he'll have no choice. And by the time they reach Monte Zoncolan, he'll presumably have shaken the effects of a cold. He might suddenly re-grow the wings that carried him to glory in France last July. If I had to bet on which scenario happens... I would keep my investment small. And put it half-heartedly on Quintana to win a glorious race on the Zoncolan stage.
What do you see happening?