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A Wee Bit of Perspective

Giro-main_small_mediumGavia will likely have more to say about today's epic Giro stage, but I thought I would steal a moment from my three-day meetingathon to offer a little historical take on the GC inversion we witnessed earlier today. Grand tours are fickle beasts, even to those fans who cut their teeth on the horribly dependable Lance Years. You needn't look very far to see examples of riders coming from pretty far back to win. There's Oscar Pereiro, allowed back into the 2006 Tour out of indifference, only to win (ahem!). There's Greg LeMond crawling back against a surprising (not after that) Claudio Chiappuci got some 9-plus minutes on him in the 1990 Tour. Lance had to grind down the late Andrei Kivilev after conceding 18 minutes to the relatively unknown Kazakh in the 2001 Tour. There have been other epic stages, like Andy Hampsten's ride in 1988, where weather washed away the best laid plans of the main contenders.

But to me today was a bit different. In these examples you have heavy favorites chasing down guys from the rank and file. Or in Pereiro's case, a middlin' favorite set free out of lack of respect. Rarely do you see legitimate GC favorites like Carlos Sastre sink to great depths early in a grand tour, only to come roaring back and retake huge gobs of time on another set of legitimate favorites. But it happens...

In the 1962 Giro d'Italia, Franco Balmamion was playing second fiddle to Nino DeFilippis on the Carpano team, but this order was more out of seniority -- Balmamion was a second-year pro -- than reality. DeFilippis was a classic Italian semi-climber who could sprint, winning stages regularly but lacking the pure climber's pedigree of Balmamion... and 1962 was a climber's Giro. Carpano propped up DeFilippis' ego for a while, but the team held out hope that Balmamion, the Eagle of Canavese, was ready to soar.

In the first ten days Balmamion conceded over 20 minutes to the leaders, and by stage 14 Balmamion was still some 14 minutes out of the maglia rosa, six-plus minutes back of DeFilippis and 8' back of Imerio Massignan, Charly Gaul, and other more serious contenders. Team leadership ostensibly flipped to DeFilippis. But snow moved into the Dolomites overnight, and conditions were wild on the fateful next stage over the Passo Duran, Forcella Staulanza, Passo Cereda and Passo Rolle. Gaul gambled on the stage being annulled and climbed off his bike. Lots of others did too, but Balmamion rode ahead in a small break, and those who survived found Balmamion only a couple minutes back. With the main climbing threats in distress or out, Balmamion climbed higher and higher, seizing the lead two days later.

Big swings happen. The race is terribly cruel and unpredictable. Today was another chapter in the wild history of cycling.