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The Giro of Redemption

It's been an uplifting start to the grand tour season in Italy. Just ask the teams who've won.

Luk Benies, AFP/Getty

If there's a theme emerging yet at the Giro d'Italia, it's maybe a Big Three GC battle... we shall see about that. More certainly, though, it's been a Giro of redemption for teams that came in a bit down on their luck. Or a lot.

Take Orica-GreenEdge. They represent the low end of the redemption spectrum, with wins by Michael Matthews in Paris-Nice and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, as well as two more wins by Michael Albasini in the Tour de Romandie. Add in their big splashes in Australia and Asia and the Oricans have a healthy 15 victories. Not that they can compare their season to Katusha's, or Etixx-Quick Step's spring campaign, or Movistar's steady excellence, but for doing battle with the big budget squads it's not too shabby.

Orica-GreenEdge repeated its splashy success of last year at the Giro by winning the team time trial and putting Matthews back into the maglia rosa, which he promptly honored by winning a stage sprint. Maybe you had noticed their earlier victories, and maybe you hadn't. But as of stage 4 of the Giro, when they had passed the leader's jersey on from Gerrans and Matthews to Simon Clark, Orica-GreenEdge had more or less dominated the race. You couldn't miss them anymore.

By the end of stage 5, another squad shook off its own lower profile, as well as a pretty profound streak of futility, when Davide Formolo got Cannondale-Garmin its first win of consequence (depending on how you rate stages of Criterium International or Circuit de la Sarthe). The team's paltry three-win total puts them tied for 44th in cycling, with teams like Tabriz Petrochemical, KSPO, and the Kuwait Cycling Project. I don't spend enough time parsing tweets to know how this poor start affected the morale of the newly-reformed team, made up of the American Garmin squad and some refugees from the Liquigas-Cannondale outfit, but it's impossible to imagine anyone feeling great about the season prior to Tuesday. Formolo's riveting solo win is sure to give them a shot in the arm, more so than some random sprint in a faraway land. This wasn't merely needed, it was really good stuff.

Today another team joined the Relevance Party, the long-running Lampre project, whose Jan Polanc escaped from the escape and survived the Abetone climb for the race's latest dramatic solo victory. Lampre now function as Italy's only official World Tour team, a bizarre and troubling circumstance considering the USA has three. What's even harder to comprehend is that, despite being Italy's most durable top-level cycling project, apart from Michele Scarponi's overall win in 2011, awarded a year later after Alberto Contador's Clenbuterol suspension and annulment of his apparent Giro title, Lampre hadn't placed a rider on the podium of their home tour since Marzio Bruseghin in 2008. This is the cost of chasing Damiano Cunego's ambitions for a decade or so. [In fairness, Cunego's sixth in the 2011 Tour was actually pretty impressive.]

Nice stories, all. And they have one common thread: 1992. That's the birth year of Polanc and Formolo. It's the birth year of the Yates twins, who aren't here because they are threatening to make Orica relevant at the Tour de France (in some respect, at least). Each of these examples serve as reminders that the talent cycle of our fair sport never stops churning away... if French boys are overly drawn to football, then along come the Colombians or the Brits or another country from outside the traditional circle to inject new life into cycling. Australians have, of course, played a major role in the mondialisation of the sport, going back many years, so the slow but steady rise of its first top-tier squad is a long time coming. If they've been dominant this week, it's fitting enough as their own youth program starts to pay dividends. Matthews came up through Orica's unofficial feeder team, Jayco, before a brief Rabobank detour and a trip back to Oz. He's been better for all that.

And if some other kids help bolster their teams' sagging fortunes, well, the Giro is all about putting on a show at a level that doesn't conflict with the Tour de France. It's a chance for people to show their worth without the very best competition on hand... but with enough of it to make any success an important and lasting one. The Giro is full of opportunities you won't find anywhere else, and it's refreshing to see who's on hand to capitalize.