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Giro Gossip!

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Giro GossipIn this edition: Wind is discovered. Also, gravity. A "rotten dumbass" wins the day, and some people are kept up way past their bed times.

It’s been a whirlwind opening three days in this Giro, which hasn’t even raced in Italy yet. The Giro with no Italia? The Netherlands looks nothing like Italy. So confusing. And has it only been three days? So much bike racing in so little time. Really, I feel like we’ve had Giro for as long as I can remember. I think I’m a goldfish.

Already we have splits opening up among the riders for the overall classification. Alexandre Vinokourov, Vincenzo Nibali, Ivan Basso, Stefano Garzelli, Linus Gerdemann (I’m being nice), and Michele Scarponi currently hold the advantage, nearly even on time. Cadel Evans sits under a minute behind Vinokourov, within easy striking distance of a return to the leader’s jersey, which he wore on Monday. Carlos Sastre will have work to do when the race hits the mountains, but has yet to lose all the marbles at 1:40. Is Damiano Cunego a rider for the overall? He claims not, but still sits 2:00 down on Vinokourov, while his team-mate Gilberto Simoni dropped well out of the Pink Jersey race. No matter, Simoni wants a mountain stage. Likewise for David Moncoutié, who hates crowds and dropped nearly 15 minutes in a single stage on Monday. Bradley Wiggins sits 4 minutes behind Vinokourov and considers his Maglia Rosa chances over. Anyone else who may have had general classification hopes has left them behind on the roads of the Dutch countryside. Cruel, this bike racing.

Of course, everyone’s talking about crashes. The roads in the Netherlands are narrow. Also, there is wind. Apparently, these things were previously unknown phenomena. Who didn’t see the parked cars, speedbumps, and narrow roads at the Amstel Gold Race? It’s not like these stages were exactly a surprise. An enterprising rider or sports director could drive the roads and have a look-see at the possible hazards. Cry me a river, bike racing is ever a dangerous affair.

Always there are crashes in the opening days of the grand tours. So many riders all peaked out and ready to go, and so many team managers yelling from the cars, get to the front. Well, the whole field really can’t ride at the front, of course. Ivan Basso, hardly known for stellar bike handling, managed to stay out of trouble. So did Alexandre Vinokourov, who now wears the jersey of race leader. Vinokourov credited his team, and rightly so. It’s no accident that the big budget teams who want to win grand tours pay and pay well for support riders for their general classification leaders. When he rode for Bjarne Riis at CSC, Basso had a personal escort in Giovanni Lombardi. Lombardi had one job: Keep Basso at the front and get him safely to the finish. The team leader with weaker or less experienced teams have to scrap for it, and sometimes the results are not what anyone wanted.

Of course, you need a little luck in bike racing. Certainly, Christian Vandevelde does not have the luck when it comes to riding the Giro d’Italia. Perhaps someone needs to send him a four-leaf clover. Do they come in tricolore? Again, a crash at the Giro has thrown the American’s Tour preparations off course. He’ll have to make short work of it to return to form in time.

For his part, Bradley Wiggins had full team support throughout the day, only to crash inside 10 kilometers to go. At the line, Wiggins conceded four minutes and his chances at a high general classification finish. On the polemica watch, the match between Wiggins and Cycling Weekly continues. After Monday’s stage, Wiggins called out the Cycling Weekly chaps for what he viewed as overly critical coverage of his team’s performance. His team wasn’t weak, said Wiggins, they just had bad luck.

The same crash that took down Wiggins also delayed Cadel Evans, whose BMC kept him in the front group through the much-advertised crosswinds, but ran short on legs by the end. Evans, wearing the Maglia Rosa, had to do it alone, and chase he did. It’s a lonely thing sometimes to wear the jersey of race leader. Can anyone really ever again call Evans a wheelsucker? The Australian has always fought for his results, though sometimes his rivals have left him little choice but to hang on to their wheels by his toe nails.

Recall the Giro d'Italia début of Evans back in 2002. That year, Evans, in his first full season on the road, took over leadership of Italian powerhouse Mapei after a doping positive removed team leader Stefano Garzelli from the race. Inexperienced in the grand tours and without all that many road kilometers in his legs, Evans proceeded to ride himself into the ground. After sixteen stages, he wore the Pink Jersey of race leader. The next day, on the steep slopes of the Folgaria Passo Coè, the 25 year old Evans went to pieces, conceding more than 15 minutes to the stage winner Pavel Tonkov. It was agonizing to watch, but Evans never quit. He finished that Giro, though team owner Giorgio Squinzi gave him the option to stop.

Eight years later, Evans drove hard on the front in the closing kilometers of Monday’s stage, the Pink Jersey on his back. He couldn’t defend it, but certainly he has kept himself in the race for the overall. Evans refused to be drawn into polemica at the finish, saying he didn’t know who was up ahead or who would likely take over the race lead. He simply rode to defend his jersey and keep his hopes for final victory alive. Evans couldn’t entirely avoid the polemica, though, when asked about the crash that forced him to chase. "I saw all of Team Sky on the ground. They all fell right in front of me," Evans said. Bad luck Bradley or poor bike handling? Impossible to know for sure.

Unlike at the finish of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the fans had nothing but applause for the new Pink Jersey Alexandre Vinokourov. It was all applause and party time in the Netherlands. What’s not to like about the Giro paying you a visit? I can’t think of anything. Vinokourov credited his team with his success, and seemed especially pleased to have the final starting position for Wednesday’s team time trial. In a moment of snark, Cycling Weekly claimed that Giro had gotten the leader it deserved. Gazzetta dello Sport skipped the snark, but couldn’t be counted on to pretend amnesia about the doping scandal that evicted Vinokourov from the Tour de France. No doubt there will be many people hoping that Saxo Bank, Garmin-Transitions, or Liquigas out-ride Astana in the team time trial. First year pro Richie Porte sits second on same time with Vinokourov, while Millar trails by 1 second and Nibali by 5 seconds. It should make for an unusually entertaining day of racing as team time trials go.

Focused on the difficult business of staying upright and finding the finish line, the general classification favorites haven’t had much time for smack talk. Leave it to the sprinters to fill the void. André Greipel, pissy at his lack of form, criticized Monday’s winner Wouter Weylandt for failing to work on the run-in to the sprint. Brah... what? Greipel wasn’t talking with his brain here, since Weylandt had no reason to contribute to the pace-making. Adding silliness to idiocy, Greipel reportedly called Weylandt a "rotten dumbass" at the finish. Greipel, learning his insults from cartoon characters. CyclingNews had the English, the German press used mieser Blödmann. I might go with "miserable fool" for that one, but it’s not entirely clear what language Greipel used in his take-down of the Belgian. Also, rotten dumbass. That’s poetry right there.

The revenge from Weylandt came in the post-race show. With a smile on his face Weylandt said, "I was thinking that Greipel would let Goss go." Oh yeah? I’m a rotten dumbass? Well, you don’t even belong in the sprint. A subtle jab delivered with a smile. Move over Ivan Basso, there’s a new smiling assassin in town. Monday marked the first victory of the season for Weylandt. American Tyler Farrar, meanwhile, missed Monday’s sprint, but celebrated his first Giro d’Italia win during Sunday’s opening road stage.

The Giro now returns to Italy accompanied by the usual complaints about transfers and late nights. Oh noes! Two hours in a plane! Oh noes! A late din-din! You’d never imagine that tomorrow was a rest day, or that pro bike racers riding the Giro d’Italia actually get paid for their efforts. Oh me, oh my! Where’s my teddy bear? I’m afraid I’m just not feeling it, boys.

Wednesday it’s on for the team time trial. No doubt at least one general classification rider will wish he’d stay in bed that day. Who will it be? As if I know the answer to that. You’ll be wanting Clair Voyant, two doors down on the left. She might be able to help you out. Me, I’m not qualified for such things.

À presto!
~Gav.