Pretty interesting race today, with none of the favorites able to fly away on the 12%+ slopes of the Passo Fedaia, the fifth of five major climbs. Understandable enough; the question is, what does it tell us about the stages to come? More immediately, who's looking good for tomorrow's ridiculous uphill time trial to the Plan de Corones?Such an unusual event can be hard to handicap, given the paucity of meaningful data points, particularly among the Italians. But we know what we're seeing this weekend, and we do have last year's uphill Oropa time trial, in which most of these guys participated. So let's break it down, in reverse, a/k/a start order:
10. Emanuele Sella +4.41
Good lord, could he possibly have anything left in his legs at this point? I flippantly remarked that his Saturday win wasn't suspicious but if he won Sunday it might be cause for concern. That's not really my position... but after two days on the escape, if he can win on the Plan de Corones, one way or another it will be an otherworldly performance. More likely, he'll guard his position and let someone else hog the glory for a day.
9. Domenico Pozzovivo +4.04
We might be hearing more from this kid over the years, he's ridden extremely well even while looking after a teammate (occasionally at least). At 25, he's got many passes ahead of him. But no history at uphill time trials to speak of, besides a middlin result last year at Oropa. I'd pick him for a top 25, but nothing more spectacular than that.
8. Jurgen Van Den Broeck +2.50
The unknown... he has a history of decent time trials, lots of top-20s, though one glaring exception is a 50th place on the Oropa corsa last year. Still, at age 24, results of a year ago aren't especially useful. He's ridden very well in every discipline, and might move up a few more placings before this race is over.
7. Franco Pellozotti +2.27
A B-list team captain, but one who's shown all the tools needed for a grand tour. He was somewhat aggressive today, if lacking in the explosive power necessary to really get free. Fifth at Oropa last year while working for DiLuca... so you know he can get a competent result.
6. Gilberto Simoni +1.26
Who the hell knows anymore? His time trial result last Tuesday, combined with his ability to go up virtually anything, would ordinarily make him a top favorite for the stage. But he's looked every bit his age the last two days. Perhaps the shorter course will enable him to unleash that climbing prowess - and sustain it. I'll say yes. Top 3.
5. Denis Menchov +1.20
A favorite to win. Not the fave, but he's looked as strong as anyone else, and likes this discipline. My only hesitation is that he's not the kind of pure climber you'd like on a 24% slope, but it's pretty hard to identify anyone a course like that actually favors.
4. Marzio Bruseghin +1.18
The favorite until we hear otherwise. First, he's won the last two Giro time trials of consequence, including the supposedly telling Oropa event. Secondly, he's ridden well in the Dolomites so far. At some point it's time to stop betting against him. As long as nobody else flies up the last mega-incline, he should be the man to beat.
3. Danilo DiLuca +0.55
Grinta personified: he outdistanced Contador on a course where you wouldn't be shocked to see him lose 3'. The guy just keeps gritting his teeth and willing himself up higher. Another guy who might find the course short enough to battle his way home. I'd bet on a top-7, let's say.
2. Riccardo Riccò +0.33
Putting aside his abhorrent time trialing, nobody -- including the maglia rosa himself -- is climbing better than the Cobra. [Well, Sella maybe.] If today is any indication, he should be poised to do something big, including a run at the jersey if Contador continues to struggle. But... it's a time trial. And he was just as sucky in the Oropa event last year as in any of his flat-course debacles. So can he pretend he's attacking away from Contador and ride like he did today? He'd better, or he really will see Contador's shadow coming up. The race's entire outcome is in the balance.
1. Alberto Contador
If you weren't watching and just looked up the GC today, you'd assume the Giro was in the bag, and the Accountant was in position to demoralize his remaining rivals tomorrow. But our eyes tell a different story: he's been battling gamely, but clearly is not on top of his game. Time trialing is a real strength, and he's no worse than anyone else at super-steep slopes. But Riccò, not he, has been the strongest man in the race. I'd say he loses time, but probably not the jersey.
And that is about as ambiguous and indecisive a preview as you'll read here. We're being treated to something special: an extremely challenging course that nonetheless results in a really competitive, unpredictable race. It's hard to write about with much confidence, but awfully easy on the eyes. Enjoy!