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The Wednesday Session

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Wednesday SessionThis week, a tasty mash-up of Worlds talk and Giro rumors.

The Wednesday Session, she has a mind of her own. Sometimes, she shows up on Wednesday, sometimes Thursday, sometimes not at all. Fickle and capricious, she is.

A little like victory, or so Gazzetta dello Sport tells us. "Victory, she is a fickle and capricious goddess." So began a lovely valentine of an article to Cadel Evans, the new World Champion. The Australian has known better than most the fickleness of fate, at least when it comes to bike racing. On the mountain bike, he won seven World Championship medals, but never a gold. He has flatted, bonked, and crashed out of grand tour contention, while Fate has chortled and schemed, pulling her threads and weaving her tapestry.

As a rider, Evans has never played especially well with others, and it seemed fitting that he celebrated his most important victory alone at the line. Evans benefitted from the stare-down among the other favorites. Fabian Cancellara played his cards on l'Acqua Fresca and its descent and hardly wanted to drag fast finishers Alejandro Valverde and Damiano Cunego to the line. With Joaquím Rodríguez up the road, the Spanish sat, which well suited Valverde, who likes to wait for the race to come to him. Valverde, he believes in the benevolence of Fate. Certainly, she has smiled on him of late granting him a win at the Vuelta a España and the magical disappearance of that inconvenient Italian problem. To Cunego, meanwhile, Fate shows her caprice. No Rainbow Jersey for the Italian, who set off after Evans, only to have Philippe Gilbert come with him and end his hopes. Perhaps Fate regrets her early generosity to the piccolo Italian. No gifts, she says now to the rider who won a Junior World Championship and a Giro d’Italia in too-rapid succession. Cunego is a marked man in these races, and it will take a day of brilliant legs, a bit of cunning and a generous helping of good luck for him to win the Rainbow Jersey he covets and the monument, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, he lacks. Of course, that’s what it always takes. Just ask Cadel Evans.

In the Women’s race, the Americans grabbed the race by the throat, and pinned it to the road. The attacks came few and far between as lap after lap, Evelyn Stevens drove the bike race up l’Acqua Fresca. Emma Pooley attempted one of her trademark escapes, but never gained much ground over the relentless tempo of the Americans. The Italians rode in their characteristic attacking style, and surely Noemi Cantele would have liked company when she went up the road for her solo break. The Americans and the Italians provided a study in contrasts, a strong team determined to make the race hard and a strong team bent on attacking to win. The results tell the tale: Making the race hard will only get you so far.

Tatiana Guderzo, who set up the winning move at the Beijing road race last summer, attacked hard on l’Acqua Fresca to set up the winning move at Mendrisio. Marianne Vos proved quick to follow. The World Cup overall winner this year, Vos knows a winning move when she sees one. Kristin Armstrong also followed and it looked like the American tactic would yield a medal. But the Italians weren’t done yet, and once Noemi Cantele joined the winning break, it was the Italians’ race to lose. Guderzo, the race-maker, countered off a set-up from Cantele, and won solo. Armstrong knew better than to drag Vos to the line and like Evans, Guderzo benefitted from the neutralizing influence of a fast sprinter in the break. Vos easily took the sprint for second, while Cantele added a bronze medal to her silver from the time trial. After last year’s disappointment in Varese, where the Italian women finished out of the medals, they had plenty to smile about in Mendrisio. For the Americans, it must surely have been a bittersweet finish. Armstrong just missed the podium after the team rode the front for most of the day. Fate, she is cruel.

On the subject of cruelty, rumors are a-swirl that next year’s Giro course will involve some silly hard climbing. The Zoncolan and the Plan de Corones have sent their acceptance for next year’s May party. Reportedly, the Giro will climb the Zoncolan from the Ovaro side. A new climb will provide a zesty antipasto to the Zoncolan, and the stage will likely start in Mestre. It’s not clear when exactly the Zoncolan will show up, but late in the second week sounds most likely. The Plan de Corones, meanwhile, will host a cronoscalata on Tuesday of the final week on 25 May. The stage will follow the same course as the last edition, which Franco Pellizotti won.

A stage running from Brunico to Pejo Fonti may follow the cronoscalata and could include the Passo de Mendola. A finish in Pejo Fonti sounds relatively definite, at least as definite as course rumors ever are. Stage 17 also romps around Trentino. Rumor claims the Giro will race over the Gavia and the Mortirolo. An early rumor put a stage finish on the Gavia, but the lack of stage finish sort of infrastructure makes this idea unlikely. Anyway, the Gavia pairs with the Mortirolo like a nice Brunello and a plate of Penne alla Puttanesca. A press release from the province of Sondrio suggests a stage between Aprica and Bormio is in the works, a route that would almost certainly include the Gavia Pass.

If these third week rumors are correct, the Giro will arrive at its climbing finale in the Northern mountains and the Lombardia region. This pattern narrows the final stage possibilities, since a repeat of last year’s Roma finish would require a massive transfer over half the length of Italia. Cue rider protest in 3... 2... Of course, it wouldn’t be Giro without transfers, and rumor suggests that the Terminillo will also grace next year’s edition of the Giro. The Terminillo is in the Appennino in the Abruzzo region. If the rumored final week in Trentino is correct, the Terminillo would have to appear early in the second week to allow time for the Giro to make its way back up to Mestre for the suffering on the Zoncolan.

What about the first week, you ask? Yes, we are doing this backwards. The Session shows her caprice.

The Giro heads to the Netherlands for the start on 8 May. All the rage lately, these Netherlands. After three stages with Dutch people, the Giro returns to Italy. Two stages in Piedmont follow, including a tribute to Fausto Coppi which will visit Novi Liguri. The other Piedmont stage is rumored to visit Fossano. The rumor mill doesn’t seem to know what happens next, though a southward course seems likely from Piedmont, especially if the Giro truly intends to visit the Terminillo in Abruzzo.

Back of the envelope sketch: Three stages in the Netherlands, followed by a transfer/rest day. Two stages in Piedmont. Some stages south, perhaps along the Ligurian Coast before turning inland to arrive in Abruzzo for a hot date with the Terminillo by no later than midway through the second week. Perhaps second mountain stage in Abruzzo, since all good things come in pairs. A turn back northwards, with a transfer/rest day for good measure. Late in the second week, a visit to the Zoncolan with a start in Mestre, which is not far from Venezia. Then, a difficult and mountainous third week jaunt including the cronoscalata on the Plan de Corones and two mountain stages, with the Gavia and Mortirolo providing the climbing finale. A time trial has to fit in there somewhere, of course. Last, a finish in Milano, which is conveniently located near the northern mountains.

The official announcement comes on 24 October, and we can trust Zomegnan to have a surprise or two on the day. Why be predictable? Fickle, all the rage.

Lance Armstrong has also decided to play the unpredictable card. Rumors are flying that the American may ride the Giro d’Italia instead of the Tour of California. The two races run concurrently next season. I blame El Niño. In any case, Armstrong may skip the American race in favor of the Italian party. No doubt appearance fees will decide the deal. Last year, the Giro offered 2 million euro for Armstrong’s presence, but it’s not certain they will repeat such generosity this year. Armstrong to Tour of California: Don’t take me for granted. Me, I expect this story to play out until the last possible moment, generating constant stream of headlines and raising Armstrong’s asking price. He does like his headlines. I’ll be surprised to see Armstrong in Italy, but Fate does like to have her fun.

Next week, the Session will strive to appear on Wednesday, though predictability is not our strong suit. After all, striving and doing are so not the same, and a dash of fickle and a dab of caprice keep the dullness at bay.

Until next week!