Since the next two stages are the Grand Tour equivalent of sliced pickled ginger, I am itching to launch into the weekend agenda. But first, a mass-disclaimer: the race is cursed, and as a result virtually anything can happen.
Like most of the oldest races in Cycling, the Giro is a wonderful mirror on Italian culture, and in this case the image reflected is opera: beautiful and dark. The race has been a visual feast and an endless, heart-thumping mystery. But lurking behind that pretty picture are all the freaking crashes and uninterrupted shitty weather. I don't know what exactly it is about Italian tarmac, but a little moisture and it's Pinerolo, 2007 everywhere you look. Forecasts for the rest of the race aren't much better.
The effect on the race cannot be understated:
- Caisse d'Epargne, looking like a juggernaut a week before, essentially crashed out of the race before it even started. Seriously, their luck has sunk to Ullrichian levels. Did anyone think they'd be looking up at Saunier Duval?
- CSC weren't a GC team per se; instead they brought a very frisky team which looked ready to threaten most of the first 13 stages, until Brad McGee and Stuart HTFU O'Grady both went into a ditch, and home.
- Slipstream didn't make it off Sicily before their great hope for a very prestigious first-and-last stage-win sandwich went out the window, courtesy of a frightening crash by Dave Zabriskie.
- Barloworld also lost their mojo right away, as Mauricio Soler went down a couple times, futzed around a few more days, and packed it in today. One might be tempted to think Soler shrunk away rather meekly; a more likely story is that he only came here to get ready for the Tour, and now thinks he'd like to stay in one piece.
- LPR were in the midst of hatching a pretty clever plan this afternoon by getting third-placed Gabriele Bosisio up the road, closing in on a successful break, and riding into the virtual maglia rosa in the process... only to watch the glory and a few patches of skin evaporate on a little lefthander.
- Quick Step, meanwhile, had little chance of pegging Bosisio back, had he stayed away. Current leader Giovanni Visconti was struggling already, then hit the deck in the last hour.
- Astana got off easy: their putative leader Alberto Contador only has to ride the rest of the race with a broken elbow.
- Saunier Duval jefe Riccardo Riccò seems to be OK, though he almost ended his Giro before it began, landing on his wrist in stage 1.
Those are the ones I can recall; doubtless there are others. Hopefully this will end, the northern tarmac will contain better friction coefficients, and whoever has placed a curse on this race will relent. But I'll believe it when the race is over and nobody else has gone down. Until then, every prediction I make will have an asterisk next to it: *if he stays upright.