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Giro Rest Day Emergency Last Week Roundtable!

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A recurring, disorderly, occasionally informative discussion of the latest thing in cycling.

Luk Benies

Time now for our recurring RoundTable segment, where an appropriate quorum of PdC Editors is gathered to discuss the big topics of the day. Today we have myself, Jens, Conor, Susie Hartigan (a/k/a Tifosa) and Willj on hand. Susie is our reporter from the scene, as she has been for too many Giri d'Italia to count. Will lives near the scene of next weekend's big stages, and is probably out cycling them right now. What the rest of us bring to this table is up for debate.

*****

Chris: HELLOOOOOOOO   ... ooooo ... oooo

Will: sono qui , I am here

Susie: Ciao!

Conor: Chow? Don't mind if I do.

Chris: We are one Swede away from a quorum

Will: Any member of ABBA or jenscer

Jens: Buongiorno!

Chris: Bellissimo!!

Will: damn was hoping for ABBA

Chris: I'd like to start with a little local color and ask Susie to step in here. Susie, you've been to several Giri, do you perceive any differences in the crowds this year?

Susie: Here I am, fresh from the Dolomites!  The mountain crowds seem about the same as usual to me.  And as usual, the Italian tifosi seem to be very connected to cycling, and recognize and cheer for a wide variety of riders.  One thing I've noticed this year is that the Cunego fans are out in force again, more visible than they have been for the last few years.

Jens: Much like the Prince himself

Chris: Indeed.

Susie: Exactly!

Conor: I don't know, the blue is harder to see than that lurid Nippo kit.

Susie: The Cunego tifosi don't seem to have any trouble picking him  out.

Chris: Conor, you're talking about a guy who was able to disappear in Lampre colors, so...

Jens: I haven't heard of retirement but his Giro so far has a "one last big effort" feel to it.

Will: What sort of police presence is on the hills?  The Tour has gendarmes everywhere.  Are all  the *runners" this year just par for the course?

Susie: The police presence in the mountains is, as far as I can see, nothing more than usual.

Chris: Ah, runners. My favorite subject. I am always ready to overreact, particularly since the US fans have taken it to such ridiculous extremes, but I bet if I watched some magically reproduced footage from, say, 1958, it'd be just as enthusiastic, just maybe without the chicken suits. I guess my complaint is not the excess of enthusiasm, it's the "hey-look-at-me" disease that's so disturbing. Do these people even like cycling?

Will: I believe most of us here are old enough to grumble and moan and complain about millennials/ Conor.

Conor: Why is there an age limit for grumbling about me?

Susie: Did you see Nibali side-arm that guy yesterday?  You don't mess with the Shark, especially when he's in a bad mood.

Chris: Yep. But that's an old scene.

Jens: There is some great film somewhere on youtube of Merckx on Tre Cime with enthusiastic men running along side him in trenchcoats and typical 70s looking outfits. No wacky costumes though.

Chris: Aren't typical 70s outfits today's wacky costumes? If I ever run with riders, I'm dressing like Elton John

Jens: They looked more like Barney Miller than Elton John as I recall.

Check it out, 1974, no difference:

Will: I miss the old days when all fans wore fedoras to races.

Chris: If I've learned anything from US politics, it's that when I feel mad I don't have to acknowledge facts. So nice try Jens.

Conor: Is the amount of outrage about runners really necessary? Bad thing? Yes. Would I do it? No. But my TL is full of people going on and on about runners. Aren't there bigger problems?

Will: Exactly, like selfie sticks that aren't long enough.  Well said Conor.

Chris: No, there are no bigger problems anywhere.  This is worse than Trump.

OK to a more serious topic. Before the Giro we had some discussion about the parcours being a bit Tour-like, or the Tour becoming a bit Giro-like. Now we see some long stages and of course the Giro may be decided in France. And yet, do we really see this year's course as resembling Le Grand Boucle any more than usual, which is to say not very much?

Jens: I think it has been a very slow pot to bring to a boil. If it is TdF like, I don't know but the favs seem to have been very much in wait and see mode. Until  Corvara that is.

Conor: Sure. I've seen people saying how great the Giro has been so far. It...hasn't been? It's been hovering around okay, right?

Will: From a high mountain point of view, one could argue that the Italians are using the French Alps better than the French.  Whereas Galibier, Alpe d'Huez, Tourmalet, etc.  appear in the Tour with breath-taking repetition, how often have we seen French giants like Agnel (Agnello), Lombarde, and Bonette,  Rarely.

Nibali mechanical on Alpe di Siusi Luk Benies

Susie: Well, the three mountain stages coming up are all pretty short, but that seems to be a trend with all three grand tours.  One difference that persists is the Giro's love of the cronoscalata.  You don't see nearly as many mountain time trials in the other two grand tours.

Chris: Yeah I was trying to remember the last one in the Tour. 2004?

Jens: Feels like that one was the latest but I bet I'm forgetting one. [Ed: nope, you weren't. 2004 was the last pure cronoscalata at the Tour.]

Susie: I was there for that one, Alpe d'Huez in 2004.  That was a crazy scene!

Chris: Maybe a bit too crazy, IIRC?

Susie: Yeah, that one did get a little ugly, apparently.  Though, when you consider how many people were on the mountain that day, it was pretty tame.  Imagine that many football (European or American football) fans all in one place at the same time.

Jens: I keep claiming the cronoscalatas are a way to put in TTs without hurting the generally TT -challenged Italian home favorites. But then the French should have used that too?

Chris: Indeed, it's a stage where Thibaut doesn't have to descend.

Will: Pinot has requested that the Tour avoid downhill Time Trials

Jens: Pinot has totally gotten over that I will have you know.

Chris: Will, what's the forecast for these stages happening next weekend? I suspect the roads are in good shape and it's just a matter of waiting til Wednesday maybe before we can say what that day's weather will be?

Will: Good news:  Agnello and Bonette have opened officially.  Bad news:  It snowed last night.  Good news:  it should be fine for Friday and (probably) Saturday.   There are storms in Sunday's forecast.  Let's hope they stay there.

Jens: At least mountain weather is easily predictable!

Will: The amazing thing about stage 19 and 20 is how difficult it would be to reroute either of these stages in the event of terrible weather.  Imagine getting stuck in France?  Maybe stage 21 could be moved to the Champs-Elysees? :)

Chris: OMG! Best Giro finish ever!

Jens: So do we think there are Plan Bs in case the weather acts up for 19&20?

Will: There must be plan B's.  But very few ways to cross the French/Italian border at that point in the Alps.

Chris: Col d'Eze.

Let's turn to the GC battle. Speaking of descending, that may be Nibali's last remaining weapon. But when I've noticed it seems like Kruijswijk has that arrow in his quivver these days as well. Is there anything besides a "jour sans" or really shit luck that can stop him?

Kruijswijk and his jersey Luk Benies

Conor: No. There has been nothing to suggest that Nibali has been his equal in anything except team strength, and that will quickly become irrelevant. All hail LottoNL-Jumbo, GC winning team of dreams.

Chris: Thus endeth the competition for Least Likely Sentence of 2016

Susie: Kruijswijk is certainly looking good, and he said at the press conference yesterday that he only felt tired in the last two k of the time trial.  He's mentioned a couple of times that he was at his strongest in week three of last year's Giro, so he seems pretty confident going into this last week.

Will: There are some huge, huge stages remaining.  Can Kruijswijk really climb that well, for that long?

Jens: I still think the final stages are so tough that I wouldn't count any chickens yet. And we have only seen one big mountain stage so far.  Kruijswijk is going to have a bad day. Question is only if it's a 30 second bad day or a five minute bad day?

Conor: Why not? He stuck with the best last year, and his biggest contender wasn't Chaves.

Susie: Well, all he has to do is climb as well or better than Chaves, Nibali, and Valverde, and so far, that hasn't been a problem for him here.

Chris: Speaking of big contenders, Wikipedia tells me that Kruijswijk is five inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than Chaves. But I guess the real question is whether one or the other is better suited to French Alps climbs

Will: I have no idea what an inch or  pound is

Jens: And twelve inches wider at the shoulders.

Jens: I hear French Alps are much gentler in gradient.

Will: Chris, I am being micro-agressed by Jens

Conor: And so fell the last resistance.

Chris: Jens, that's a two-minute minor for micro-aggression. But since Philip isn't here you can have him serve it for you.

Jens: One Canadian gets in the convo and suddenly rules turn all hockey-like? Humpf.

Will: May I say, I don't care what the idiot that wrote the mountain difficulty rankings says ...... Colle dell'Agnello is the toughest climb in the Giro.

Chris: Chaves might be built like a classic climber, but we actually have zero idea what he can do in the French Alps, at least in the Grand Tour context. Whereas with Kruijswijk, he's started three Tours, and rode decently last year in his first Tour post-arterial surgery.

Susie: I think Jens is right that things can change quickly and dramatically on stages like 19 and 20.  Saturday's stage especially, with the climbing starting from kilometer zero, could take someone out of the game in a big way.

Conor: Yeah, that'll be Valverde.

Jens: I'm quietly shocked that Valverde folded so quickly when the mountains came. Maybe I was fooled into thinking he had some super form?

Chris: You were giving in to your worst fears

Jens: It just felt like he had sacrificed some certain results in the classics to come here in peak form and it had worked. Apparently not.

Susie: I wouldn't write Valverde off yet (sorry, Jens!).  He had a bad day Saturday but looked good yesterday.  I think he could at least get on the podium.

Will: Does Chaves have any sort of high-altitude pedigree?  Remember Agnello and Bonette are the 3rd and 4th highest paved mountains passes in Europe.  Gasp.

Chris: He is from Bogota, which is at 2600 meters. I know early childhood physiology isn't the only factor but if it helps, that's one in his favor. It's almost comical that he's battling a Dutchman.

Jens: He was 2.27 behind Pinot (and slightly faster than you) on the Rettenbachferner last year. That's high, right?

Will: Colle dell'Agnello is at 2744 metres.  So I am assuming that is 2740 metres higher than Kruijswijk's hometown.

Jens: Or 2748

Chris: Yeah, Nord-Brabant isn't as high as Amsterdam. Or at least some of the people in Amsterdam.

Will: Indeed, Rettenbachferner is very high.  2675 metres or something.

Esteban Chaves kisses Luk Benies

Chris: Susie, is it me or does Chaves lead the Giro in personal magnetism? How can anyone not like this guy?

Susie: Chaves is insanely likeable, it's true!

Jens: He has typical unlikable millennial hair

Will: He has hair

Jens: I sense there is a small but vocal non-hair crowd here

Conor: I'm too contrarian Esteban. Sorry.

Chris: Still, I think it's important to recognize that Orica-GreenEdge have dragged themselves out of the Grand Tour dungeon in the most conventional way: by hiring a Colombian. Which raises an important question: how can the Podium Cafe hire a Colombian?

And don't say Sofia Vergara, I asked her agent, she's too expensive

Will: My wife is from (British) Columbia and really likes Jens

Jens: We have (occasionally) a Brazilian. Maybe we can get him to move?

Conor: Nairo Quintana, that guy looks pretty old. It would be an okay retirement plan...

Chris: Yes! And he knows a few things. Maybe he can loan us Dayer for the Tour?

Conor: That's my area this year Chris. I'll drive a hard bargain and get Nairo as well. He can do the ENECO Tour instead.

Chris: YES

OK, with an eye toward wrapping up, I've got one last observation: Giro-love is in good shape right now, at least from a distance. There seems to be a rapid growth in Giro-media, which combined with the beauty of Italy and the existence of a good race, is big news. Not sure that translates into higher ratings and saving RCS from bankruptcy or whatever, but you can't swing a tagliatelle without hitting a fresh podcast from somewhere in Italy nowadays. Thoughts?

Will: The Dolomites stage on a weekend was great publicity for the region and the race.

Dolomite stage 14 Luk Benies

Susie: True, it's been all happy-happy, joy-joy so far, but with the looming scandal of Lupo Wolfie being banned from French soil, the old adage about any publicity being good publicity may be tested.

Conor: I must say, I'm on the side of the farmers.
(Yes that was a setup for an Irish joke)

Jens: Just listened to the guys who cover the Giro for Danish TV. They have had rights for the last 2-3 years I want to say and they were gushing about how the interest beyond the TdF (which has always been their BIG thing) is growing and how they all had the Giro as their actual favorite race. I think it is gaining ground in the "mainstream" audience overall, the ones who used to only know about the Tour.

Conor: Really? I wouldn't share that view.

Chris: There's an inherent coolness factor that is sure to translate abroad, I'd think? You know, once we all agree en masse about one thing, people gravitate to something else as the cool alternative? Also it's too easy to market everything from Italy, just add five seconds of Roberto Begnini and presto! Anglos flock to it.

Will: Pink Jersey >  Yellow.  But Polka Dot > Blue.

Chris: Of course

Conor: I feel we're woefully neglecting the Vuelta's combined jersey.

Susie: I disqualify myself from this poll because of inherent bias.

Chris: Poor Conor, it's a long wait til the Vuelta

Jens: Quick, which is your least favorite country, Italy or France?

Will: That's like asking which is your least favourite between two beers.  They are both awesome
Chris: France

Wait!

Jens: heh, no one ever says Italy

Chris: But for the Giro to grow it has to be a race that the hardcore fans can take seriously, which is why I started two weeks ago contrasting the very non-serious Giri from the 2000s with the last few years.

Jens: Why do you call them non-serious? Because they were  only seriously contested by Italians?

Chris: Yes, that plus the poor state of Italian policing of the sport. Pretty hard to appreciate in hindsight. Obviously there were good moments but that type of race wasn't going to grow much internationally

Susie: Yeah, who you callin' non-serious?  Not my beloved Gibo, I hope!

Chris: Alas, he might have been the only serious one. Well and Cunego.

OK, we've reached the beers and Simpsons jokes portion of the Round Table.  Last thoughts? Mine is: hey Lupo Wolfie, va fa Napoli.

Will: Helpful hint to look smart among your cycling friends:  Stage 18 finish town Pinerolo is NOT the home to Pinarello bikes.

Jens: Not even Chinese made ones?

Conor: Wuh? Sorry, I was online shopping for selfie sticks.

Jens: Wait!!! We forgot to take the Points competition seriously!  Kinda like the riders.

Chris: And we are done!

Jens: Grazie everyone. Now to make-a the risotto. Or something