It's been a tough Giro to analyze up til now, with a million little stage storylines and no headlining acts to speak of, but as the race heads in the direction of Venice and eventually some real mountains, the stories -- big and small -- are starting to take shape. In general, we have a fantastic Giro d'Italia on our hands, full of colorful characters on stage efforts and deliciously muddy waters when it comes to the overall classification. That said, we can cull out a few early winners and losers. So this won't be a poll per se, more like a who's up/who's down.
As for how to make such judgments, let's say this is about general expectations and particular ambitions, not simply who's primed to win the overall. You can read the current GC for yourself and come to those conclusions. [You could probably come to all of your own conclusions without my help, but hey, someone has to start the conversation.] So here we go. Oh, and by the way, grand tour coverage is always a team thing. Thanks to Susie and Jens for picking up stage detail help! And in that vein, let me call on today's guest commentator, Girbecco's Ghost!
"Thank you. It's nice to be back."
The Early Winners! In Order
1. Etixx-Quick Step
What? Why? It hardly bears mention, but three stage wins and three separate maglia rosa wearers is a record other teams will be hard-pressed to match by race's end. Granted, some of this is low expectations, since Team Lefevre hasn't contested a grand tour since Girbecco's Ghost was still alive.
Girbecco's Ghost: "Hey!"
OK, anyway, they are winning in part by playing the low expectations game. But however you view it, EQS have had the most to celebrate so far. And that's saying a lot, given how much pressure they were under following a moribund classics season, and having spent the budget of half the Pro Conti teams combined to buy Kittel's contract in the offseason.
OK Great, But... Kittel has already gone home. Jungels has about as much chance of holding the maglia rosa as Brambilla did, which is to say, not very much. His turn in pink might resemble that of a young Cadel Evans, and if his longer range outlook does too, that's worth quite a lot. But he has a better chance at the white jersey, which he's been wearing for most of the race anyway. And that is something to look forward to.
Girbecco's Ghost: "Charly Gaul sends his congratulations, but also says Jungels should be on the lookout for spoiled fish in the buffet after the Bibione stage."
What? Why? I said this wouldn't be about who's going to win per se, but I didn't say I wouldn't take a peek in on the GC. And here is a developing story -- in my mind, at least: Steven Kruijswijk sits third overall, tied with Alejandro Valverde, without having lifted a finger really. The individual time trial, a possible thorn in his side, was effectively neutralized by rain. Oh, and the team scored a victory in the ITT, with Primoz Roglic avenging his microscopic loss in the opening ITT by taking advantage of the dry portion of Sunday's affair. And if you're wondering how they got the #2 spot over #3, let's also remember that this is the only Dutch team and the first three stages were a rollicking, popular trio of stages in the Netherlands. Couldn't have gone better.
OK Great, But... Kruijswijk doesn't move into the favorites position based on the first ten stages. It's great that he's kept himself in perfect position, but his rivals are right there too. Still, I am coming around on him. It's tempting for us armchair quarterbacks to look for a particular quality in a guy -- like, storming Alpe d'Huez to win the Tour -- and when we don't see it, to overlook the loads of other qualities the guy actually does possess. In Kruijswijk's case he's been around for a while, which is a knock if you think he should have won a grand tour by now, but... he's been around. He's one of the world's most capable climbers still, he's not exactly old (turns 29 soon), and from interviews it sounds like he's a Giro guy. Every race has its own physical features and rhythms, and Kruijswijk seems to like the Giro's. This could get very, very interesting.
Girbecco's Ghost: "Unfortunately, after 2009 his team doesn't have a soul to sell in exchange for victory."
What? Why? Stage wins. Two for the Gorilla, one for Tim Wellens. Not much to add to that.
OK Great, But... Well, Greipel is still in the race, and Kittel isn't. He's the hochst hund of the sprinters' pack, since none of the usual Italian suspects has shown anything. So Greipel could even make it to Turin in the points jersey, with the stage finishes in the mountains unlikely to favor any single rider. That'd be a pretty big feather in his cap, going with his Vuelta points victory from '09 to give him two thirds of the Big Three. A very winnable, wantable goal.
Girbecco's Ghost: "By the way, there's a special place up here for Belgian teams' GC ambitions. It's more of a large container than like a room or something."
What? Why? Easy -- nobody has as serious a two-rider GC threat hanging over their rivals as Movistar. Andrey Amador recovered some lost 90 seconds in the time trial, and spent today looking determined to take over the race lead from a faltering Brambilla. Amador was fourth overall last year, and looks as strong as ever. Is something special happening here? Could he be the team's GC leader if things keep up? W
The answer is probably no -- by all accounts Valverde is riding like one of the strongest guys in the race, if not #1. We will know more after the Alpe di Siusi ITT. So the early movements are presumably a bit of misdirection and tactics. But Movistar are playing from a very, very strong hand now, and having two real threats is the best way to attack your rivals.
OK Great, But... They could use a bit more depth, after losing Javier Moreno. Visconti has been working hard on stage efforts, and Betancur is maybe or maybe not reliable. And that's what counts as a "problem" for Movistar right now.
Girbecco's Ghost: "Betancur will do big things before he retires."
Wait a second... why does being a ghost give you future insight?
Girbecco's Ghost: "It just does. As far as you know."
What? Why? Apologies if this is thin gruel, but we are still mostly concerned about the maglia rosa, right? And what team with hopes for overall success did the best job of staying intact? That's right, Astana. Nibali recovered from his bit of slippage early on by gaining a few seconds back on the time trial and sitting two seconds behind Valverde right now. Fuglsang, Kangert and Scarponi are all going OK, and while only the Dane is close enough on GC, the other two are far enough back to be let go in a break, only to wait up the road for the Shark, say, after a blistering descent.
OK Great, But... Name one thing Nibali does better than Valverde right now. Well, besides win. Also, see entry #4.
Girbecco's Ghost: "No love for Ciccone? Bardiani have made up their mind... they're keeping their baby."
Three Headed Down
Now for the not-so-good news.
What? Why? Yeah, they held the maglia rosa after Dumoulin "won" the first stage and regained the jersey for real in stage 4. But they had higher goals for Doom, and things went from bad on Saturday to worse on Sunday, when instead of extending his lead with his uniquely awesome ITT skills, he did little to regain the time he chunked on the previous day, cursing the bad weather. Cycling is cruel... and now Doom is a stage hunter.
OK Great, But... um... Preidler looked good in the break today?
Girbecco's Ghost: "Doom has a lot of fans up here. Just sayin."
2. Sky and Cannondale
What? Why? Obvious enough, both of them lost their leader, Sky literally and Cannondale just figuratively. And though Sky sounds worse, it's actually Cannondale who should be licking their wounds. Joe Dombrowski is 31 minutes back, for some reason. Uran is in contention but hasn't shown any reason to believe in his chances. Formolo is five minutes behind Jungels for white. And their kits are ugly.
OK Great, But... Er, Nic Roche is free to go hunting for his own pelts.
Girbecco's Ghost: "The other day I passed by Roche's ambitions as a GC rider."
3. Trek Factory Racing
What? Why? Because you can't kill it for all of winter and all of spring. It's cycling. Eventually something has to go wrong.
And everything has gone wrong in this Giro, at least as far as teams with multiple purposes go. Ryder Hesjedal is about as convincing a GC threat as Girbecco's Ghost.
Girbecco's Ghost: "Really? Was that necessary?"
Sorry GG. Cancellara, set up nicely for a last big star turn in Italy, continues his damp squib of a farewell tour, if you consider second in Flanders a bad result, as he does. Is this it on Italian soil for the Great Tony Spartacus of partial Italian descent? Pretty much.
OK Great, But... I suppose Hesjedal is still hanging around. As is Nizzolo. Hope isn't dead. Unlike Girbe... no.
Girbecco's Ghost: "That's it, I'm out of here."