Today's fireworks on the road to Aprica continues a modern Giro tradition of... fireworks on the road to Aprica. Let's look back ever so briefly in time to 2010, where the entire Giro hung in the balance as the protagonists exited the Mortirolo descent and began the gentle but persistent march to Aprica.
1. I see you there, Ivan Basso
The race winner in 2010 was Ivan Basso, who notched his second career Giro d'Italia overall victory two days later in Verona. That day, Basso cruised into the ancient Verona amphitheater comfortably ahead of David Arroyo, who couldn't keep pace on the day and barely hung on to his second place overall. But the real drama happened on the Mortirolo and the road to Aprica, where Basso came from behind -- well behind -- to chip away and finally take the maglia rosa from Arroyo's shoulders, confirming his pre-race favorite status.
For Basso to win here was hardly a shock. Though it seemed like an eternity ago, Basso confirmed his Italian alpha dog status on the very same course, or most of it anyway, four years earlier. That day, it was a Gavia-Mortirolo Giro classic, a day where the crushing of dreams was clearly on the docket. Basso had separated himself from the pack of the 2006 Giro on stage 8, when he won solo at Passo Lanciano in Abruzzi, putting himself some two minutes up on a number of his top rivals, including Gilberto Simoni, then entering the twilight of his cycling days, even if his verbal game was still prime. Basso won stage 16, to Monte Bondone, and steadily pushed out his lead to nine minutes as the Giro wrapped up. The final coup came over the Mortirolo, where he and Simoni stayed together, followed by Basso allegedly asking Simoni not to drop him on the descent into Aprica, the implication being that the pair could stay together whereupon Simoni could get a valuable stage win while Basso -- with two wins already pocketed -- could cement his lead in the 2006 Giro for all time. Simoni complied, but Basso did not, staying together for 16km until Basso simply upped the pace a bit more, cracking Simoni one last time. Basso rolled home 1.17 ahead of the disappointed Gibo, holding up a photo of the baby his wife had birthed the night before... whereupon the fun began. Basso's directeur sportif Bjarne Riis said "Basta!" to more gift-giving. Simoni called Basso an "extra-terrestrial," code for a doper, and nobody liked anyone else much that evening.
Meanwhile, cycling journalists barely had time to digest Basso's win and apparent overall title, as they began sifting through the meaning of a Spanish police investigation begun four days ealier at the offices of Kelme doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
2. I see you there, Michele Scarponi
The stage winner on this day in 2010 was not actually Ivan Basso. Four years after both he and his directeur defiantly declared "no more gifts!" Basso could be said to have given one to Scarponi on this day. The CN headlinereads "Scarponi Gifted Stage Win by Liquigas Leader," so there's that. Scarponi rode with Basso and his young lieutenant Vincenzo Nibali throughout the Mortirolo and Aprica climbs, and comes by the Liquigas duo with 150 meters to go, with no real resistance.
Scarponi was another of the guys returning to life after Operacion Puerto. It took a year after events unfolded for him to confess to his doping sins, and he only returned from "vacation" in 2009, whereupon he immediately resumed his promising career. Prior to Puerto, Scarponi's notable results were limited to the climbing classics and one-week races, but with Italian cycling stripped down by doping scandals and retirements, he rose to the top almost by default.
A year after this stage, Scarponi won one of the worst Giro victories imaginable. By this time he was with Lampre, one of the supposed voices of sanity in 2006 and after, but by then a team engulfed in the Mantova affair, which cost them their credibility and their long-time manager Giuseppe Saronni. The Lampre squad was only allowed to start with riders who were not implicated in Mantova, meaning the ex-Puerto guy Scarponi carried on, but without the generally respected former Giro winner Damiano Cunego...who was later cleared of wrongdoing (while Scarponi would go on to be suspended for working with Dr. Ferrari in 2012. Idiot.)
The race became a funeral march after the tragic, horrible death of Wouter Weylandt on stage 3, and news of another tragedy, the death of Xavier Tondo while home training in Spain just two weeks later.
Scarponi won the Giro in 2011 without any distinction whatsoever. He watched as Alberto Contador stormed to a dominant win in real time, as the Spaniard seized the lead on stage 9 at Mount Etna and didn't relinquish it again until... February 6, 2012, when WADA finally ruled on Contador's clenbuterol positive from the 2010 Tour de France, vacating his subsequent results and making Scarponi the Giro champion. Scarponi won no stages at the 2011 Giro, coming closest with a second at stage 7 to Montevergine di Mercogliano. While standing atop the podium in Milan, Contador, Scarponi and Nibali listened while the Giro accidentally played a version of the Spanish national anthem featuring lyrics favored by Generalissimo Franco, which had long been ditched as the official anthem.
But hey, at least Scarponi does it all with a smile on his face. In sum, I guess there's a lot to be said for that.
3. I see you there, Vincenzo Nibali
Ah, now we are getting someplace. Nibali is a victor in all three grand tours, a feat he sealed with his unexpected Tour de France win in 2014. Most of his career excellence has been unexpected. Certainly in May, 2010, none of this was expected.
Then, Nibali was a leader-in-training, but one who had shown only limited potential in a pair of Giro top-20s and a more impressive sixth in the 2009 Tour de France. Nevertheless, the Shark had a cool nickname and enough of a pedigree in both the climbing and descending fields to be taken quite seriously as both an overall contender and a perfect teammate for Basso's last hurrah. What was to be expected was unknown, as Nibali had been yanked off the sidelines at the last moment when Franco Pellizotti was busted for irregular blood values (leading to the annulment of his only cool accomplishment,
his perfect hair his Tour KOM jersey win. Anyway, Nibali seemed ready to ride when inserted into the squad, despite the upended schedule, and I know he caught the Cafeista's collective eye with a totally awesome descent off Monte Grappa to win stage 14, assuming the mantle of Coolest Daredevil in the mold of Savoldelli. But on stage 19, Nibali's role was more dutiful.
With David Arroyo holding the race lead but Basso having dropped him on the Mortirolo, it was Nibali's job to shepherd his teammate (a poor descender) down the back side to begin the climb to Aprica. Basso managed it safely, following the lines laid out by Nibali, though it still required a massive effort on the last bit of road to Aprica to seal the win. There, with Scarponi in tow, Nibali put all he could into the climb, as the three Italians outdistanced the rest of the podium challengers to cement their tripartite success. Nibali would ascend to team leadership in 2011, and while his first Giro win didn't come til 2013, he exited 2010 with perhaps his most defining moment -- victory in the Vuelta a Espana, fending off a blistering challenge from Ezequiel Mosquera in the climb to Bola del Mundo, where Mosquera seized the virtual lead from Nibali, only for the Sicilian to reach deep down into some dark place only true cyclists know, and respond with a ride where he nearly caught Mosquera for the stage. While Nibali's motor was once questioned (by teammate/rival Roman Kreuziger), nobody would question his heart and desire again.
4. I see you there, David Arroyo
Arroyo came so close to a Giro victory in 2010 that people would have talked about as one of the most deserved and/or improbable in recent times. The Caisse d'Epargne all-rounder had made something of a career of being the Spanish guy riding reasonably well in the Italian grand tour -- a supporting cast role on the Spanish Caisse d'Epargne/Movistar team, to be sure, but a valuable one... points are points. Arroyo had been tenth and 11th in two previous Giri, and with few major stars on hand he figured to move up some. I distinctly remember not mentioning him in the race preview and hearing from Jens about not sleeping on Arroyo to finish decently.
Everything about this Giro -- written off as Basso's to lose from the get-go -- turned on its head during the stage 10 ride to L'Aquila. Intended as a long march to the earthquake-devastated regional city, the stage ended 262km after it began with Evgeni Petrov sprinting for the win ahead of a couple dozen riders from the day's long, long break, which included names like former Tour winner Carlos Sastre and future Tour winner Bradley Wiggins. Arroyo finished eighth, seven seconds down, while his GC rival Basso finished... 54th, a full 12:45 down on Petrov. Following the stage Basso sat nearly 12 minutes out of the lead, held by Giro rookie Richie Porte, but more importantly 10.07 back of Arroyo, then lying second. [The aging Sastre was at 7.09 and Wiggins 8.14, if you're scoring at home.] Arroyo was playing the role of Roger Walkowiak, or was he? A known commodity, spotting Arroyo so many minutes was a risky move for Liquigas.
By stage 14, Porte had faded and Arroyo began conceding time, but not much, and he now had the maglia rosa to keep his spirits up. On stage 15, Basso won atop Monte Zoncolan, and Arroyo saw his lead eroded to 3.33 with a few tall tests remaining. The Plan de Corones time trial on stage 16 saw the lead go to 2.27. Conventional wisdom held that the Mortirolo stage could be his undoing, but the gap held until that stage. All the pressure was on Basso, and his furious pace up the Mortirolo started to get the job done. By the summit, some two minutes had been chopped off and Basso was seconds away from the virtual lead.
Then Arroyo showed another sign of his character, with a hair-raising descent of his own to close the gap down to a mere 41 seconds. Taking more than a minute out of a group led by Nibali (and dragged down by Basso), Arroyo passed Cadel Evans (a fine descender), as well as Sastre and Vino, on the wet, technical turns. His virtual lead was safe, as long as he could finish the gentle climb to Aprica in good shape.
But cycling factions are complex, and Arroyo's lacked the cohesion of the one put together on the front. Two teammates is a tough combination to beat, and Arroyo had Evans, Sastre, Vino and John Gadret for company, and while they may have their individual merits, this group never gelled. 41 seconds became 3.06 on the line, and Arroyo's improbable pink dream was gone.
5 (HTC). I see you there, Marco Pinotti
OK, first off, I get it, there are two #5s. So sue me.
The Professor hung around the Giro in 2010 long enough to notch his first, and last, top ten performance on home soil. He got lots of Giro starts, for one iron-clad reason: he was Italy's best time traillist and the Giro included a TTT, in 2010 and most years. That he went on to score points for HTC with a ninth place overall was.... well, HTC. That team scored points just by getting out of bed.
5 (COF). I see you there, Leonardo Duque.
Duque was a mere flash in the pan on this day, when he ended up 23rd on the stage after joining the early break. Nothing special. But he was Colombian, before it was cool to be Colombian. And he was the best classics rider in this triptych. Duque actually became the first Colombian to complete Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. He also owns a 4th place in E3 Prijs Harelbeke, and a win in the Druivenkoers. Not too shabby!
6a and b. I see you there, Steven Kruijswijk and Bauke Mollema
In 2010 Rabobank were stilll likely in shock after what happened the previous year when their top rider... actually won the Giro. Kruijswijk and Mollema were quiet interlopers on GC, only to have the race pare itself down leaving anyone who could climb in the top 20.
7. I see you there, Cadel Evans.
This 2010 Giro was instrumental in getting the team an invite to the Tour de France, where big teams go. BMC came into the season as a newly refurbished existing team, decorated with fancy new names, soon to be saddled with expectations. They also were home to a new world champion, the first Australian to bring home the title. Evans' Rainbow Campaign was going noplace in particular until he won a fantastic seventh stage of the Giro d'Italia, in the mud of Tuscany. From there, Evans hung around the podium until he was told to get off the stage, by the performances discussed above. By then, ASO had been convinced it was enough to include BMC in the Tour. The race was awarded for its patience by the following summer, when Evans utilized a perfect buildup to gain his one and only Tour victory.
8. I see you there... Branislau Samoilau?
And I don't really have much to add.
9. I see you there, Vino.
Please go away.
10. I see you there, Carlos Sastre
Sastre's presence means that no less than five Tour de France winners (before and after) took the start in Amsterdam at the 2010 Giro. Along with Sastre were Evans, Nibali, Wiggins and Chris Froome. And to think we didn't care much for the quality of the field at the time.
OK, this needs to end.