In this edition: A pop quiz and a surprise package. Also more about wind. And a lesson in pronunciation. I like the surprises.
More Giro, more Gossip. Actually, I hate the Giro. I’m just faking it here with all this enthusiasm. No? Don’t believe me? Plainly, I need to work on my bluffing. We’ve had an eventful two days since the Giro returned to Italy where it belongs. No offense Dutch People, but it is called the Giro of Italy, not the Giro of the Netherlands. Please don’t klopt me with your wooden shoes. Or your windmills. Because that would hurt and stuff.
I wonder what language Alexandre Vinokourov uses for the cursing. Certainly, his team-mate Gorazd Strangelj now knows, and I doubt "rotten dumbass" had anything to do with it. I could imagine Russian having a quite colorful array of cursewords, actually, though for my own part, I confess to an affinity for a solid Anglo-Saxon.
On Wednesday Vinokourov put on a textbook exhibit of how not to ride a team time trial.
Pop quiz: If you are the strongest rider on your team, do you?a) Take long pulls to ease the pain and suffering of your team-mates
b) Ride as hard as possible to drop all of your team
c) Ride really really hard, blow up your team, then curse at their frail weakness
d) Forget the whole thing and wait for the Tour de France.
Vinokourov chose the third option for this week’s team time trial, an option we do not recommend trying at home. See? We're looking out for you here at the Gossip.
So maybe you’ve been thinking that being a pro cyclist sounds like a good job. Me, I’d rather haul pig shit all day on the farm than be the poor schmuck who got dropped in the final kilometer of the Astana team crono. There was Vinokourov sprinting for the line like a dog after a fat piece of ham. Yum, ham. Two riders managed to cling to his wheel, but the fifth rider Strangelj, the all-important fifth rider, was well and truly dropped. Vinokourov looked all badass at the front, but it was all for nothing. Newsflash, the clock stops on the fifth rider, not the first. Perhaps in his two year absence from the sport, the Astana leader forgot this essential detail. Details, they’re just so difficult. Rules, so hard to understand, and even harder to follow. Certainly, the Astana finish provided a heart-warming moment of team unity that did much to burnish the public image of the team’s captain Alexandre Vinokourov. In an alternate universe, that is.
But it was not all tears and curses at the team time trial. Liquigas had a champagne party on the podium to celebrate their victory. Newly pinked race leader Vincenzo Nibali got rather soaked in the proceedings, which must have made the succession of post-race interviews chilly and damp. I’ll leave you to come up with the suitable metaphor here. Nibs and his stiletto sideburns were all smiles, though, as the last minute change in his race program netted him a very nice souvenir. Nibali admitted he hadn’t prepared specifically for this Giro, but promised to do everything possible to hang on to the lead. He also deferred gracefully to his co-leader Ivan Basso, though it’s clear that Nibs is a rider with big ambitions. I’m not supposed to be here! But since I am, I really wouldn’t mind winning, if that would be okay with everyone.
By the way - and I know this dilemma has kept you from sleeping at night - it’s NEEB-ah-lee. Which should under no circumstances be confused with Nee-BAH-lee. Totally different, you understand. Apparently, the Italian media has suffered some uncertainty on this question. The young Maglia Rosa helped them out after Thursday’s stage. My name is NEEB-ah-lee, you KEE-lled my father, PREE-pare to die.
Déjà vu all over again for Ivan Basso, who is not left-handed and has been pimped in the press as the Liquigas team leader. For the second year running, he faces a challenge from within his team. In his post-race comments, the 2006 Giro d’Italia winner* acted characteristically diplomatic. He called his team "grandissima" in the crono, and praised their "fantastic" efforts on the tricky roads in the Netherlands. Both Basso and Nibs arrived at the finish each day at the front and out of trouble. Fantastic, indeed, since many of their rivals could not say the same. Basso promised that he has arrived at this Giro with his best form, but he also praised Nibali’s talent. "Nibali è un grande," said Basso. Translation: That punk, he’s going to take my lunch money.
In the happy surprise category, Cervélo TestTeam went good to keep Carlos Sastre in the race for the overall classification. With oodles of mountains left in the race, Sastre sits just over 2:00 behind race leader Nibali. With the Terminillo, Zoncolon, Plan de Corones, and Mortirolo on the menu, Sastre should have plenty of road to play. The BMC team of Cadel Evans also did a solid ride, though the Australian dropped some time to Sastre, time he may wish he had back when the Giro heads into Italy’s steep mountains. Evans is a manageable 1:59 behind Nibs. Underestimating the World Champion would be a bad idea. Really, I should be a DS, don’t you think?
On the subject of surprises, everyone said it would be a sprint finish to Thursday’s stage. Sometimes, everyone is wrong. The stage finished on a long circuit around Novi Ligure, and the course followed narrow roads through undulating terrain. For best results, the sprinter teams need wide open highways to organize their chase, and as the kilometers ticked down on Thursday, the chase looked ragged. The break of three riders kept the faith and refused to lie down. A tailwind may also have helped the break.
Bike Geek Alert! Let’s talk about tailwinds for a moment, shall we? For the final hour of the race, the Giro had a tailwind. Tailwinds are fun on a bicycle. A light rider on a climb with a tailwind will fly. Suck it, gravity. Go ahead, try this at home, it’s fun! In a pack, a tailwind can make for an easy ride, or a very difficult one. A tailwind lessens the advantage of drafting, because everyone is blown along from behind. So, if the dudes at the front go really really fast, and you’re feeling tired, it’s not going to be super fun. In a headwind, of course, the guys on the front are sad, because they are riding in the wind. Boo! And the guys at the back are smiling, because they are hiding from the wind behind the guys in the front. Yay! It pays to be short and at the back in a headwind.
What does this mean for a breakaway? The tailwind gives the breakaway a somewhat better chance of staying away, because the Big Scary Bunch doesn’t get as much advantage from its bigitude. Bigitude only helps for the drafting part. With a tailwind, the drafting doesn’t work quite as well, and consequently, the chase loses some of the advantage its numbers would normally grant it. Wind, it just adds that super special something to a game of bike racing.
The break also benefitted from a big effort just after the Red Kite by Japanese rider Yukiya Arashiro of Bbox Bouygues Télécom. With the bunch breathing hard behind them, Arashiro put in a big dig. Jerôme Pineau of Quick-Step, he doesn’t win all that often, but he’s a canny bike racer. He saw the chance Arashiro was offering and joined. Julien Fouchard of Cofidis followed, and the three sat just ahead of the sprinters as they rounded the final corner. A sharp right-hand bend just outside 600 meters to go made for havoc among the sprint trains. The sprint slowed to a crawl, and the gap to the break shot out. Pineau saw his chance, put his head down, and rode like he stole it. He received his reward, a stage victory, the second for Quick-Step in this Giro. Smile Lefevre, your team’s actually winning!
Not smiling, sprinter Alessandro Petacchi had his pouty face on. Nobody would help us chase, he complained after the stage. The Italian press has dubbed Petacchi the Gentleman Sprinter. Where’s the stiff upper lip? Really, does anyone do a sad face better than Petacchi? To be fair, his Lampre team did a huge amount of work on the front of the field throughout the stage. So too did the Garmin-Transitions team of Tyler Farrar. Quick-Step? Jerôme Pineau in the breakaway meant a lazy day for the Quick Steppers. HTC-Columbia contributed laconically to the chase, but didn’t seem super committed. A vote of confidence in their sprinter André Greipel, perhaps? Greipel has not shown the race-winning legs so far this Giro. Little wonder that HTC-Columbia had that not-so-determined look for the chase. In the main, the course made it difficult to organize a solid chase, and the tight corner in the finale offered the break one last chance to survive. Good luck and smart riding gave Pineau the win, the sprinters will have to try another day.
And now it’s time for me to go, so that I can come back and write another day. These grand tour things are quite an ingenious invention. Every day, there’s a bike race. And we’re just getting started. I mean, we haven’t even seen a mountain yet. Mountains, yes... I quite like the sound of that.