... gang aft a-gley. Or so they say in Scottish, when they really mean something about the Gods of Cycling messing with their sh
eite. This aspect of cycling, in remission for some time along with natural blood values, has come back with a healthy vengeance at this year's Giro d'Italia, and several teams have seen their fortunes rise and fall like the tide at full moon: several times a day and worse than you expected.
All of which makes now a good time to check in on my pre-race team snapshots and see how each team's ambitions are being met, or not. As always, Podicci is here to help. That's his job. He likes it.
Acqua e Sapone
But with Stefano Garzelli heading up the team for the last 35 years you can always count on them to keep an eye on how the overall is shaping up, and how their aerodynamically coiffed leader's legs are working....Garzelli is always good for a stage win, as soon as the maglia rosa slips away. After that... lots of long attacks.
Podicci's Verdict: "Love the helmet. Nothing says 'hungry' like a squirrel."
Hey, they're a French team racing in Italy, falling back on anonymity shouldn't make them too uncomfortable. It's all about July for this pretty-decent squad. For now, look for Alex Efimkin to hang around in the KOM comp.
Reality: Alex Efimkin remains tied with me, Podicci and Mont Ventoux in a blue hat on the KOM competition, but sitting 12th on GC he probably doesn't feel too sad about that. AG2R have shown well here, with Gadret placing third at the Plan de Corones and three riders in the top 25. They might even make a play for top three in the teams comp as long as Efimkin, Gadret and Dupont keep plugging away on the climbs. Could they give French fans something to care about in July? I mean, there's no TTT in the Tour.
Podicci's Verdict: "Respectable French teams in Italy. What will they think of next?"
Androni Giocatolli Etc
Oh, they have ambitions. Look for the endlessly named ones to place more riders in the top 50 than any other team. Michele Scarponi is the leader, Jose Serpa is the quiet challenger, and one or two of the Berts (Bertagnolli, Bertollini, Bertogliati) will add to the list of unexciting respectability.
Reality: I definitely undersold this team. Serpa and Jackson Rodriguez look like guys who belong in the Show, the latter being a 24 year old kid who we might hear from eventually. Scarponi, meanwhile, is having a quietly excellent Giro, going third-third-fifth over the trio of mountain stages in the last five days, and finishing well in the mud of Montalcino. And forget L'Aquila -- give him back the 2.24 he lost in the team time trial and Scarponi would be honing in on the podium. This is a slightly noisier brand of respectability than I would have guessed.
Podicci's Verdict: "Wow Chris, not even close. Are you sure you are a fan of cycling?"
Do they ever lack GC ambitions? This year they may even chase the Grand Tour Triple Play, if Alexander Vinokourov's run of form carries on.... Anyway, surrounded by seasoned pros and unburdened with any expectations in July apart from helping Alberto Contador, Vino absolutely cannot be overlooked for the maglia rosa. It's not a great parcours for him though.
Reality: He's shed a few of those seasoned pros along the way, but I Am Vino is clinging to podium relevance with a seventh placing and the outside chance of clawing back some time in the final ITT. He might even win the points comp if he can nab a stage. Otherwise, apart from a decent TTT, the Pajama Boys haven't made a huge impact.
Podicci's Verdict: "Nice call Chris. Just predict everyone could win, in theory, and you're covered all the way to Verona."
Zip. Thomas Voeckler likes to putter around Italy in May to get fit for the Tour. That's it.... William Bonnet typifies the approach of a top French team to the Giro: he sets foot in Italy about twice a year, at most, and doesn't usually come home with points. He'd be their stage threat if he cared.
Reality: Nailed that one. Bonnet hasn't come any closer than sixth, and since Yukia Arashiro flirted with Japan's first win in a grand tour on stage 5, Bweeg have been hard to spot anywhere near the front of the race.
Podicci's Verdict: "Even the blind pig finds the occasional acorn."
Cadel Evans comes in as a top favorite, clad in rainbow and with his fans willing him on to challenge for that first elusive (and realistic) grand tour win. He has a very young team around him, apart from Jeff Louder!* and Florian Stalder, but then Evans has never really counted on a ton of team support.
Reality: Very little to add here. Evans' team has become all-too-familiarly brittle, though Brent Bookwalter has been terrific in the opening ITT and in support of the captain. In the end, though, Evans will either win or go down (ahem) swinging. [How do you lead the points comp after punching someone? Don't you get docked like 25 points? He even hit an Italian for god's sake!]
Podicci's Verdict: "Us avian types want to know: is this where they get the phrase 'red herring'?"
If you eliminate the top nine riders from last year's Giro you'd have two guys on the podium. Unfortunately, I don't think this course is good for Marzio Bruseghin, nor do I see any reason why David Arroyo will get much beyond his customary tenth place.
Reality: Hey, if you dock him 12 minutes from the L'Aquila st... I can't. I blew this one, straight up. When Marzio Bruseghin disappeared after stage 5, I thought for sure this was going to be a quiet month for the Boys in Black. Arroyo's quest is one of the better grand tour stories you'll see -- top ten guy seizes unusual opening and tries to cling on to the lead for dear life. My money is still on Basso coming around him, but there's nothing inevitable about it right now. Anyway, the team as a whole is taking up the bit now, at least on the rare occasion Liquigas doesn't feel like hammering the peloton.
Podicci's Verdict: "Seriously. What have you done with the real Chris?"
Cervelo Test Team
Carlos Sastre is another foreign vet with a huge pedigree whose presence at the Giro is hard to ignore. In past years he hasn't always shown full commitment to winning in Italy, but then he's almost always had the Tour bug, or the duty to defend his title last year, holding him back. For the first time he just might decide he's got nothing to lose by going all-out in Italy, over a course that suits him very, very well.
Reality: The nightmare season continues. Haussler comes back, falls down, goes home, gets busted. The Giro busts wide open but Sastre can't keep up with the climbers, even after pegging back nine minutes in the Abruzzo madness. On the plus side, the entire team is intact, so the possibility of some shenanigans or a stage win is still there.
Podicci's Verdict: "Ah, another 'he could win' call. A broken watch is right twice a day, which is two more than this column of yours."
Gah! Last time David Moncoutie scored points in Italy was 2004.... Leo Duque should be heard from in a sprint or two, though he hasn't raced the Giro in four years.
Reality: Dookie has been nonexistent; meanwhile, Julian Fouchard nearly won a stage and Damien Monier broke the duck with his winning attack Wednesday. Not an inspired prognostication on my part. Then again, outside France, guessing at what these guys will do is just dart-tossing.
Podicci's Verdict: "When does Jens Keukeleire start a grand tour? Will he be shaving yet?"
Domenico Pozzovivo is looking to make the leap to A-list challenger this year, after missing the Giro in 2009 when his CSF team was excluded for corrupting the 2008 race (cue Captain Renaud "shocked!" routine).... As a smaller team, Colnago probably won't be counted on for much peloton leadership, so Pozzovivo can chase his dreams in relative peace. He comes into the race on fire. Pretty solid bet for the top five, if not higher.... Pozzovivo could also hunt for stages if something goes terribly awry early on.
Podicci's Verdict: "No I didn't."
Reality: Yes you did.
Podicci's Verdict: Players.
Podicci's Verdict: ...
Reality: On the plus side, they got their stage win when Manuel Belletti delivered in Cesenatico last Friday. So not a total loss. Pretty close though.
Try not to get made fun of so much for their kits.
Podicci's Verdict: "They're wearing kits? I should get my eyes checked."
Tyler Farrar is... don't get me started, unless you want to see words like "crush" and "Greipel" in a sentence. Sminer has taunted me enough for now. But Farrar is trucking the large leadout. Just sayin. Oh, and they are already talking up the TTT.
Reality: Farrar and his leadout scored two powerful wins before Tyler packed it in, which is about all you can expect in this crazy, sprinter-unfriendly race. Left in his wake were guys like Greipel and Petacchi and McEwen, though everyone has a story as to what when why. These two wins don't settle the "who's number two?" debate, but they certainly count. Vande Velde's collarbone was a senseless tragedy, however, so I dunno how happy Garmin can be right now.
Podicci's Verdict: "Suck it Sminer!"
Lampre Farnese Vini
Much as I like Farrar, a part of me can't wait for this "battle for second-best sprinter" to be settled rather decisively by the old master of Giro stage victories, Alessandro Petacchi. He doesn't seem to be on any great form, but that shouldn't matter, he always answers the bell. Oh, and add Danilo Hondo to your list of guys who you maybe didn't want to see ever again that might win a stage or three.
Reality: Bell 1, Petacchi 0. Petacchi said he wasn't feeling well, and went home ages ago. The old flu bug is a pretty fool-proof way to sluff off poor performances, and in fairness at this level even the slightest loss of energy is the difference between victory and oblivion. But not feeling like being a fool, I do want to flag this as an extremely easy excuse. I'm not singling anyone out, just saying maybe we shouldn't just nod every time someone says "I wasn't feeling well." On the plus side, the Simoni hiring was a stroke of PR genius, if not competitive smarts. Simoni's rolling lovefest is Giro nirvana. Cunego looks like he might have a stage win in him as well, which would pretty well match his ceiling in this race.
Podicci's Verdict: "The 'everyone could win' was your strategy for the sprints too? Nicely played! Swish!"
A bit up in the air, depending on where either Basso or Nibali are in their preparations for the Giro. Basso says he's behind, but that's gotta be sandbagging. Nibali, on the other hand, was pulled away from his ATOC plans at the last second. Nevertheless, this is a maglia rosa squad, whether they can pull it off or not.
Reality: It wasn't merely sandbagging, it was transparent, lazy sandbagging. Basso the communicator lacks subtlety, in addition to spelling and grammar (English version, though his English > my Italian, so there). But he doesn't lack for climbing ability any more. Long gone is the rust of 2009 from his two-year break, and Basso looks like a favorite for the win, while Nibali has lit up the race as much as you could expect from a guy who wasn't supposed to be here. Better still, guys like Szmyd, Agnolli and Kiserlovski have formed a lime armada at the front of every important stage, even when not defending the jersey. They're the best GC team at the Giro, by a long shot.
Podicci's Verdict: "Ooohhh, don't stick your neck out or anything. Yes, Liquigas will contend for the GC, but may or may not win. Yep, that about covers it."
Omega Pharma Lotto
Daniel Moreno is usually pretty competent at the Vuelta, but I would expect him to ditch the GC in his first Giro for some nice, juicy uphill attacks. With nobody worrying about him, his stage prospects are good.
Reality: Weeeeellll... Moreno's big stage attack didn't quite work yesterday. Not that anyone has paid much attention, but Matt Lloyd's successful solo win on stage 6 has kept him in the KOM lead for two weeks (and possibly to Verona, though I doubt it) and just out of the combativity prize, behind hammer-hero Jerome Pineau. So the Quick Step-Lotto rivalry extends to the lower classifications of the Giro d'Italia too... why isn't Sporza all over this?
Podicci's Verdict: "Credit where credit is due: you tried. And failed. The lesson is, never try."
Wouter Weylandt needs to do something right for his Quick Step career to continue, and no time like the present.
Reality: I didn't actually predict Weylandt would do anything, just implied that he might want to. So no credit to me for his stage 3 win -- which was in Rotterdam, a good place for a Belgian to win a Giro stage. Pineau has been very aggressive and was rightfully awarded with the win in stage 5, along with leading or contending for a handful of minor classifications. Considering where this race ranks in their priority, Quick Step has had a nice face-saving Giro. And if Dario Cataldo pulls back 12 minutes on Richie Porte (not likely) so he can pull on white in Verona, it'll be a downright awesome month for Lefevre's struggling lot.
Podicci's Verdict: "I see I've beaten you down enough to the point where you're ready to finish the job yourself. My work is done here."
No Menchov, no party. With the race starting in Amsterdam Rabo have to go all in for some stage performances anyway. Mollema will look to show something on the big slopes, maybe even go for the Young Rider comp (there is one, right?)
Reality: Eh, Bauke Mollema is that YR combatant, and he's off the podium at the moment, 12.40 back of Porte, though riding well. Meanwhile, Rabo sit a close second behind Liquigas in the team category, which is either a great showing or a massive indictment of that classification. Anyway, losing Freire was fatal to their hopes of an early stage win on home soil. Poor Dutch fans: a second grand tour on home soil in the last year with no Rabo stage wins. Boo frickin hoo. I guess Rabo will have to settle for trying to win a Tour stage instead.
Podicci's Verdict: "These grand departs... does someone in Amsterdam have naked pictures of every grand tour race official? Actually this makes total sense."
Sky Professional Cycling Team LLC
I'd fancy seeing Wiggo have a proper go at it, but at the end of the day they'd get a right duffing in the press if he were knackered for the Tour.
Reality: Bah Wiggins! I'll take credit for spotting a GC poseur here. Oh, if he found himself five minutes up on the field, then maybe, but he's got the Tour bug. Not much to like for Sky, who are very proficient stage-hunters who despite the reduced field haven't won a stage since the prologue. See you in July.
Podicci's Verdict: "Predicting a British team won't win the Giro? Nice work if you can get it."
VN is running an interview with Andre Greipel (long, unedited transcripts at VN now?) which declares it safe to say that the German is arguably the second best sprinter in the world. I agree: it's safe to say there will be arguments. Maybe with Greip and Farrar and Petacchi all squaring off, we might finally get to the bottom of this argument.
Reality: Nice call VN. Greipel rewarded their confidence by temporarily losing his sprinter job to Matt Goss (who promptly won a sprint). Supposedly he wasn't well early on. Also a dog ate his homework, and there was a terrible flood (OK, that part's true). Greipel won today with ease... over Tyler Farrar's leadout man, Alessandro Petacchi's lieutenant, and a Liquigas foot soldier. He's done nothing to dissuade his detractors, and everything to feed the "shite wins" criticism. Still, HTC have a few things to like: the young Goss primed to take Greipel's spot when he jumps ship; a fully-functioning leadout train; and no team leaders jeopardizing their Tour hopes in the madness of the Giro. Pretty tidy month even before we count the Tour of Cali and Pinotti's likely win in Sunday's time trial.
Podicci's Verdict: "Welcome to Italy Andre. Nice of you to make it, eventually."
Vlad Karpets was 13th in the Tour last year, which could turn into a real Giro threat, but his strength is more in the cronos than the long climbs. In general I could see him on a Giro podium, but this doesn't feel like his year.... Fallback -- All Pippo, all the time.
Reality: Pippo Pozzato has indeed made his presence felt -- just ask Graeme Brown, who was ready to punch him with 2km to go today. Brown remembered in time that punching the tricolore in the Giro wasn't going to end well for him and kept the action down to head-nudging. Anyway, Katusha can't dislike their results, with Pozzato winning a Giro stage as the reigning national champ (check), another stage win from a long break (Petrov in L'Aquila, check), Ignatiev lugging long hours out front (check), respectable GC man (Karpets, 15th, check), and all of their Tour cards still left to play (J-Rod etc., check).
Podicci's Verdict: "Given that Pippo was involved, I would assume Brown's nuzzling was out of love."
Linus Gerdemann finally gets a chance to show off his climbing skills, freed of the need to do much against the watch or against superior, more battle-hardened competition. Well, not entirely, but it's not like he has to chase down Contador and the Schlecks. On the other hand, he's completed just two grand tours, and however great he may look one day on the highest ascents, it's possible he is better suited to races of 9 days or less.
Reality: I guess you can add Gerdemann to the list of GC guys who probably has his eye more on July than the race he's ostensibly "racing" in. It's hard to know what's in a guy's heart, but in some cases you can almost predict it. If a GC guy who's from outside Italy says he's "coming to the Giro to win," you can rest assured he's here to train for the Tour. If an Italian GC guy says he's out of shape at the start of the Giro, you can tell he's timed his training for a massive second- or third-week peak assault on the maglia rosa. Cyclists can be great interviews, but the one exception is asking them about an upcoming race, when they switch into telling you what they want their rivals to believe, which is almost never the same as reality.
Podicci's Verdict: "Sandbagging: art or science? You decide."
Team Saxo Bank
Stages. Haedo can poach the odd sprint. Gustav Larsson should win the first and/or last ITT. Otherwise... meh.
Reality: Meh to my "meh". They've got a death-grip on one jersey, a stage win, and some great experience bringing along their young protege. That podium step will almost certainly be toast by Verona, but let's not get greedy.
Podicci's Verdict: "[squawk...] huh? you were still talking?"