Far be it from us here at the Cafe to waste a rest day checking in on riders saying things like "the Giro isn't over" and "the Giro is over." Nope, we've got a hog-wild, hatter-mad Giro smackdown brewing over the next six days, and it's time for Podicci and I -- and you -- to take a good, hard look into the eyes of each of the remaining contenders...for signs of fear.
- David Arroyo, CdE
- Richie Porte, Saxo, at 2.35
- Ivan Basso, Liquigas, at 3.33
- Carlos Sastre, Cervelo, at 4.21
- Cadel Evans, BMC, at 4.43
- Alexandre Vinokourov, Astana, at 5.51
- Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas, at 6.08
- Michele Scarponi, Androni, at 6.34
Not much point in talking about anyone else. Since we've done the Zoncolan, the names listed here have proven themselves to the point where contemplating Damiano Cunego making up nine and a half minutes -- with "two" time trials included -- isn't something I have scheduled time for. Nor has Podicci. So let's get cracking...
Pros: He's in the lead. He's experienced and presumably as ready for a win here at this Giro as he'll ever be. He doesn't do anything poorly, staying in hailing distance of the climbers on all types of stages.
Cons: Too many. First, he leads Basso by 3.33, less than the amount of time he gave back to the liquigas leader just on Monte Zoncolan. OK, that's a crazy stage, but it isn't hard to imagine further losses in dribs and drabs, even some time bonuses. Also, his time trialing is nothing special -- last year in Rome, over a shorter course, he lost 30" to Basso, and presumably he was trying, given that Arroyo was protecting a top ten finish. And let's face it, we wouldn't even be discussing him were it not for that 12 minutes he gained in Abruzzo. Fair play, but that number has come down precipitously ever since.
Verdict: Not gonna happen. Third podium step at best.
Pros: Richie Porte is 25?? All week long I've imagined him as a wide-eyed youth -- and not for nothing, considering last year he was running in something called the "Baby Giro d'Italia," a race run on tricycles around Italy, with two hour pauses in mid-stage for nap time and books. He finished 14th in that event, despite competing mostly against guys who have since been returned to their parents. Anyway, his big advantage is he doesn't remember how awful any of the coming climbs were in the last few Giri.
Cons: Seriously, he's a developing talent and has a bright future, showing some ability against the watch and on the hills, but he's going to be out of his depth in the third week of a crushingly difficult grand tour.
Verdict: Going backwards.
Pros: Seems to be getting stronger. Smarter too, digging deepest on the eve of a long-overdue rest day. He has eight teammates left, which is mind-boggling after all the crashes and bizarre activities in this race. More importantly, nobody else climbed like he did yesterday, at any time in this race. Oh, and he has the luxury of chasing the pink rabbit rather than being the pursued.
Cons: He still can't really time trial that well, and given some of the other big names, he'll need to keep his 1'+ advantage through Saturday to salt it away. Liquigas will still be under pressure to run things, even without the jersey, since they've done that almost every day whether forced to or not. I'm picking nits here... he's a makeable 3.33 away from winning the Giro.
Pros: On form, he's a great climber in a field of guys with weaker resumes going uphill. Which the peloton is going to spend much of the week doing.
Cons: He doesn't look like a guy about to spring a massive third-week peak on anyone. Basso put nearly five minutes into him over the last two stages. Climbing stages. Sastre was equally enigmatic last year, winning two major mountain stages while chunking time on the Block Haus. It's just really hard right now to imagine him riding consistently enough the rest of the week to pin back a minute on Basso.
Verdict: Possible podium
Pros: Nobody this side of Jens Voigt exhibits more grit on the bike (or does more violence to it) than the World Champion, and at times Evans has looked like the strongest guy around. He's a sure bet to put up a massive fight all the way to Verona... where his crono skills could put him over the top.
Cons: Basso cracked him yesterday like an egg. The highest peaks have always been just beyond Evans' grasp, so it's hard to like his chances over the next week. Except the two cronos. Yeah, I said two. Evans FTW tomorrow! But ultimately there are seconds to be had against the watch, and minutes in the mountains.
Verdict: Basso will step on his dog Friday.
Podicci (s)beaks: "Shouldn't we be careful about saying things like 'Evans is a fighter'?"
I Am Vino
Pros: Like Evans, you can't count him out of any particular type of stage, and if he got hurt on the Zoncolan, well, I suppose it gets a tad easier from here on out. I can totally picture him doing well tomorrow and nailing the final time trial, perhaps even more so than Evans who sometimes runs out of gas at the end of three weeks.
Cons: He's 2.20 behind Basso, and at least half of that needs to disappear before Verona, on terrain where he probably would do well just to match Basso. Also, has anyone come back from a two-year (cough) vacation and been on full power for three weeks? Basso is living proof that it helps to spend a year shaking off the rust.
Verdict: Outside shot at a podium.
Pros: Believe it or not, he's the only guy on this list who rode the Plan de Corones time trial in 2008. Basso, Vino and Scarponi were all suspended; Arroyo, Evans and Sastre took a pass; and Porte was trying to find a prom date. Vinny could vault himself back into the realistic portion of this conversation, rather than the longshot section in which he currently resides, by taking advantage of his suitability for uphills and time trials (so, presumably, uphill time trialling) and also seizing the one opportunity to ride for himself with no consideration of Basso's chances. If he doesn't make up serious time, look for him to spend the rest of the week talking about how he wasn't supposed to be here.
Cons: When the Plan was used in 2008, the top ten were separated by 90 seconds -- peanuts to a guy who has to pull back at least that and more before they line up for the last ITT. And if he doesn't do it on the Plan, team dynamics will force him into an uncomfortable supporting role. All or nothing tomorrow.
Verdict: Nothing. Much as I'd prefer otherwise.
Pros: Not dead yet. In fact, placing third on the last two stages is something a lot of other guys on this list would gladly accept. Honestly, he's having his best Giro ever, particularly on the big climbs.
Cons: Simply too much time to make up, especially for a guy who time trialis like an Italian climber.
Verdict: Top five, maybe. Someone from a small Italian team has to crack the top five.