At the end of every major race, we at the Cafe like to play a little game called "accountability time." I started this column to poke the major media, who rarely throw out predictions and NEVER go back to take their lumps, but it can get a little tedious, and frankly I'd like to move along. Unfortunately, a certain sock-horned bovide mountain mammal has a little too much time on his hooves to let this one go. So, whatever...
1. (1) Denis Menchov, Rabobank ↔ ↓ ↑
The distant past: "if he gets an advantage and can follow wheels over the last week, well, he's done it before in a three-week race, which is more than you can say for most of the guys on this list.... against the more threatening Astana and Liquigas teams I'd say he's slightly undermanned. I also think he will lose some important seconds in Cinque Terre. But he has a real chance."
Mid-Race: "And now they will have to literally rip the jersey off his back."
Summary: Very little to add. Ultimately the race was extremely well suited to him, and Menchov knows how to capitalize on clear chances. Well, at least until the final KM, but even then if he's done well enough for the first 3,000 or so it doesn't technically matter. We have seen Menchov lose time in the Alps, so a higher-altitude version of the parcours might have reduced his chances, but in this field (Contador-less) he was simply the best man. And none of this was surprising to anyone.
Girbecco says: "Let's see, Rabo send a great team to a race they're desperate to win, pull all kinds of nonsense, and get killed. Then they send a mixed team to a grand tour, play a low-key role for a while, and win. Does that make management feel great, or irrelevant?"
More on da flip....
2. (3) Danilo Di Luca, Lpr Brakes ↑
The distant past: "If the climbing on the Cinque Terre stage keeps him in contention, with his clever team it just might all come together for Il Killer. A safer bet is that he starts the Block Haus with an eight minute deficit and rides for the heroic stage win, to get him up to maybe fifth place.."
Mid-Race: "if the mountain stages continue to be just semi-selective, he could claw back into pink on time bonuses. He also has a tough, frisky, veteran Giro team at his disposal. This thing isn't done. But I really, really don't like his chances in the final ITT."
Summary: No question, Di Luca was the surprise guest on the podium. But perhaps we should revise a (OK, my) regular diss, wherein a certain rider is deemed a classics guy (Cunego, Valverde, Di Luca) and not a grand tour winner. Di Luca at least certainly can ride a three-week race; it's just a matter of whether the course soars upward to the heavens, beyond his reach, or not. For that reason he will never win the Tour, but the Giro occasionally suits his style. On this course, he could muscle his way up the biggest stuff and not go too deep into the red. I suppose it bears mentioning that his deficit to Menchov in the two time trials more than exceeded Di Luca's overall deficit, so arguably Di Luca was the best of the climbers. Even if you subtract out the bonuses.
3. (5) Franco Pellizotti, Liquigas ↑
The distant past: "Like I said, the total package. He was fourth overall last year, and the guys who finished ahead of him are all gone or off form. So he's the incumbent, more or less. Another candidate to drop a little time over the Cinque Terre stage, and not a great enough climber to make it up on the Block Haus. Then there's his illustrious teammate."
Mid-Race: "he fact that Pellizotti moved up so high in the classification today makes him all the more dangerous when team tactics begin."
Summary: I have already opined on how DS Robert Amadio deserves a good deal of credit for managing his two stars, even to the point where the lesser one -- who's actually a better rider for the race -- is able to finish higher than the presumed boss, who really isn't suited to such a punchy course. Pellizotti is a perfect expression of Giro riding, climbing beautifully up to a certain point, as long as the road doesn't rise too much or at least not too many times in a row, and throwing down respectably (if not brilliantly by any means) against the watch. If I described a rider's skillset in terms that matched Pellizotti's, you'd immediately think I was speaking of an Italian rider, no? Well, maybe if we added a blistering finish. Anyway, the mark of a great Giro rider is how poorly that skillset translates in France, so stay tuned to see how Liquigas constructs their July squadra.
Girbecco says: "Did he successfully resist the urge to tell Amadio 'I told you so'? Is he that big a person? Is anyone?"
4. (4) Carlos Sastre, Cervelo Test Team ↔
The distant past: "This Giro isn't right for Carlos, ergo he won't win. It's right for Menchov, almost, so we'll see about that.."
Mid-Race: "He trailed the Tour at a similar point last year by about 1.30. Now he's got to make up double that, without a monster team or an Alpe d'Huez on the schedule.."
Summary: Sastre was easily the best of the riders who were pretty much eliminated when the course was devised, or at least revised. It just seemed like there was never all that much for him to do. Attack in a mountain sprint? Maybe but probably not. Saunter away on a 10km climb averaging 6%? Only if everyone is exhausted already. His stage wins at Monte Petrano and Vesuvio were impressive, but rarely did a stage look like it was designed with him in mind. Even the Block Haus (which he didn't handle well anyway) was far from the five-mountain escapades where his best work is done.
Girbecco says: "Hey, at least we had July weather. We could have snowed on your ass, you know."
5. (6) Ivan Basso, Liquigas ↑
The distant past: "He is bringing a very strong team whose number one objective for the year (possibly ever) is to win this race. He may still be the best grand tour climber in attendance. He may solo away on the Block Haus to infinite glory.."
Mid-Race: "Given his time trialing, there's almost no way he crawls out of a three-minute hole without some help from Levi and Mencho."
Summary: Not to cast aspersions or anything, but it's hard not to wonder if we're seeing the real Ivan Basso, finally. Another excuse would be that he hasn't done a three-week race in a couple years, and that is a truly valid excuse. But the old Basso used to kill all the climbs, while this one was often just hanging on. He was better on certain days, so I suspect as he does more long stage races his recovery will improve. Really, the clean Basso could be a future Giro winner, for certain. The Tour? meh. The time trial was gonna kill him anyway.
Girbecco says: "That giant sucking sound isn't jobs headed over the border; it's the mass exhaling of relief from the RCS offices that Basso didn't win."
6. (2) Levi Leipheimer, Astana ↓
The distant past: "Exactly what kinds of climbs suit which riders is the kind of detail I can't quite get my head around, but Levi has had good success in the Pyrenees over the years (as opposed to the Alps), and the Giro climbs are not quite Alps material. Weaknesses: The occasional jour sans, and his tendency to hold back until July... and by that I mean the last three stages of the Tour.."
Mid-Race: "Levi has had good success in the Pyrenees over the years (as opposed to the Alps), and the Giro climbs are not quite Alps material.."
Summary: Is there a top GC rider whose form is anywhere near as brittle as Leipheimer's? Or put another way: does anyone know what Levi has to do to stay on the front for an entire three week race? This is barely a criticism; you work with what you have. And what Leipheimer possesses is a world of cycling talent, tempered by a less scintillating ability to recover. Give him a single, solitary target for the year and he has a chance of staying fit throughout. See the 2007 Tour or 2008 Vuelta. But complicate his year at all with further demands and you can expect him to thrown down a jour sans or two. And truly, this must be what it is, right? I mean, he was fit enough to ride a fairly awesome crono over the Cinque Terre, only to suffer off and on for the entire third week. Again, this is NOT a criticism... but as an American fan, Levi's talents are kind of an annoying tease.
Girbecco says: "Leipheimer: just another victim of the Podium Cafe's prediction machine, which has littered the roads of Italy with carcasses the last three weeks."
7. (NR) Stefano Garzelli, Acqua e Sapone ↑
The distant past: "Some days he climbs like an angel, but there are too many other days, especially in the higher mountains. Also, his time trialing is only adequate when the road goes up."
Summary: See my Di Luca review. Garzelli's suitability to the Giro is a little less obvious, and his career a little more checkered. But this was his best Giro performance since 2004, another year when the race tilted more toward the lowlanders. Has he stated a case for inclusion in the Italian worlds team this year?
Girbecco says: "New symbol of cycling career longevity: a mangy wolf!"
8. (7) Michael Rogers, Columbia ↓
The distant past: [crickets].
Mid-Race: "Solid turned to meh today, which should tell you all you need to know about Columbia's hopes of ever seeing the maglia rosa again.."
Summary: Rogers will always suffer from comparisons to those early-career expectations, exaggerated by the sight of him in the rainbow jersey for three years worth of time trials, but the fact remains that he just bagged his career-best placing in the general classification of a grand tour. That's not to say he's on a new career trajectory which ends with him in rosa or oro anytime soon. It's more a note that if we were to judge him fairly, we might say he's having a very good year. The lone disappointment was that he didn't make his move over the long ITT. Perhaps he can win a Vuelta someday if they give him a 40km flat surface to make up some time against the watch. But Rogers rode very consistently across the course. After various setbacks, he is just now in his prime, so look for a few more years of Rogers hanging around the grand tour GC periphery, waiting for the chance to move up when the bigger stars aren't in control.
Girbecco says: "Which team was quieter over the last week of the Giro, Columbia or Silence-Lotto? Be honest!"
9. (NR) Tadej Valjavec, AG2R ↑
The distant past: "[more crickets]"
Mid-Race: "still more crickets."
Summary: Is he shy? Valjavec seems to manage to race just far back enough to elude the cameras, but he never, ever disappears. At least as consistent as Rogers, though his time trialing leaves much to be desired. Anyway, last year he ran 13th over a much harder Giro course, then took 9th at the Tour. So his year is just revving up.
Girbecco says: "Eighteenth in the 2007 Tour, then ninth in 2008. At this rate he has to finish 0th this year, right?"
10. (8) BROOOOOSE!!!, Lampre ↓
The distant past: "more crickets."
Mid-Race: "He's a solid candidate to move up a spot or two at the end, maybe even threaten the top five, though I doubt it.."
Summary: I defer to Gavia and others running traps on insider Italian intelligence concerning why Bruseghin was so much less of a factor this year. I would like to point to his lack of race days prior to Venice, but in 2008 he had an almost identical preparation, riding Tirreno-Adriatico, dropping out of the Pais Vasco, and polishing up at Trentino. Last year it worked perfectly; this year, the unusually early mountains and lack of a long, flat ITT seemed to ace him out. You wouldn't ordinarily compare this year's parcours to last year's, then categorize Bruseghin as less of a climber than a cronoman, and still maintain that 2008 was a better course for him. But there you have it.
Girbecco says: "Every sponsor dreams of having their guys come from way back to land in tenth place."
11. (NR) David Arroyo, Caisse d'Epargne ↑
The distant past: "Time trialing. He's not bad in the uphill variety, so I doubt he'll lose six minutes in the Cinque Terre stage. But he won't be among the favorites. ."
Summary: Another anonymous plugger in a race with a decent number of them. He definitely wins the prize for most predictable performance, respectable GC-guy division. The difference between him and Valjavec or Bruseghin, however, is that Arroyo is just starting his GC prime, not ending it. He should keep paying dividends for several more years, maybe even bag a Vuelta podium.
Girbecco says: "Are he and Mick Rogers on speaking terms yet?"
12. (10) Lance Armstrong ↓
The distant past: "I just don't think he's at full strength, and he will likely defer to Leipheimer's objectives.."
Mid-Race: "Getting stronger... flying higher... gonna fly... FLY... FLIIIIIIIIIIYYY!!!"
Summary: Not that anyone could tell how Lance would go, but in hindsight this was about all you could hope for from an older rider coming off a collarbone injury, right? Not that anyone in the US media will retain a shred of perspective when July rolls around. But I suppose we can table the subject til then.
Girbecco says: "Lance comes back, doesn't win Giro... It's the feelgood story of the year!"
Hon. (NR) Kevin Seeldrayers, Quick Step ↑
Summary: I'll defer to Ursula to rate the kids, but the BCS just took 14th in his second-ever grand tour, at age 23. Scary propsect for Patrick Lefevre: he might have to staff up the grand tours someday.
Girbecco says: "Nice going kid! Don't get too comfy in that QSI kit..."