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2016 Giro: Cruel Race or Cruelest Race?

Luk Benies

Entering today, editorialists everywhere had only one story to write about the 2016 Giro d'Italia: the arrival of LottoNL-Jumbo's Steven Kruijswijk. The Dutchman had owned the race more or less throughout the three weeks of activity, riding smartly until it was time to kick ass, then kicking every ass he could find. Sure, there were details to argue over -- had his operation really turned his career around or was Kruijswijk due to succeed regardless? Could he go on to Tour de France success? -- but whatever that would look like, it sure beat another funeral march for Vincenzo Nibali's prime years or a look at the excitement around 36-year-old Alejandro Valverde.

Then today happened.

It was the slimmest of margins between disaster and survival -- just a pedal and maybe a shoulder into a snowbank -- but as any skier knows, and Kruijswijk now does too, those roadside snowbanks aren't soft and fluffy; they are slightly more forgiving versions of a concrete wall, or maybe eve slightly more treacherous. Concrete would not have grabbed hold of his pedal and flipped him, necessarily. If it were only a concrete wall that he grazed ever so slightly, maybe he would have bounced off and back into balancing his bike.

This mistake of mere inches turned into a wound that would never close, but would surprisingly grow and grow until it was a full-on gusher, doing deadly damage to his hopes of winning the Giro d'Italia. Those hopes are still hanging on, mind you, and before today if you had to say who would be the best man on the road back to Italy Saturday, you would probably have tabbed the Dutchman. But the energy expended in trying to recoup his losses today will weigh heavily on him as they head into the race's highest roads, and as Kruijswijk tries to dispatch Esteban Chaves, a natural climber who was literally born higher up in elevation than 99.9% of this Giro. It doesn't look good.

Should Kruijswijk be unable to recover that precious minute-plus he needs tomorrow to recapture the maglia rosa all of Holland was sure he would be bringing home, it would rank as one of the biggest grand tour disappointments of the young(ish) Millennium. For comparison's sake, let's put it up against some other recent anguishes.

2016 Giro d'Italia (provisional)

Winner and Loser: Esteban Chaves/Steven Kruijswijk

Magnitude of Reversal: From -3:00 to +1.05

Circumstances: Clipped a snowbank, slowly fell to pieces

Tragedy Rating: Well, the final chapter is unknown, but Kruijswijk was verbally conceding defeat after the stage. So I'll go with ... hmm... a lot of tragedy? To put this in terms of great tragic movies (fiction only), let's say it's up there with Faye Dunaway getting gunned down by her dad in Chinatown.

2015 Vuelta a Espana

Winner and Loser: Fabio Aru/Tom Dumoulin

Magnitude of Reversal: From -0.03 to +3.46 (sixth place)

Circumstances: Dumoulin finally met a mountain he couldn't climb, or at least not at the same pace as all the so-called climbers, who he'd been shadowing for 2.9 weeks.

Tragedy Rating: Low, like when Robert Redford hits the home run at the end of The Natural and breaks everything, which is a dumb ending -- No, wait! I mean the book version of The Natural, where he strikes out, like he should have. That kid was throwing darts, and lead poisoning is a real thing.

2012 Vuelta a Espana

Winner and Loser: Alberto Contador/Joaquim Rodriguez

Magnitude of Reversal: From -0.28 to +1.52

Circumstances: Pretty shocking, as Rodriguez finally looked like he would take the elusive grand tour win, until Contador slipped the noose and joined some teammates on a small climb, then hammered home the advantage over an exposed J-Rod. Valverde did the same eventually, and Rodriguez slumped to the bottom of the podium.

Tragedy Rating: Very high, in terms of history's arc, though less so as far as the day itself went. Middle mountain stages require paying attention and working hard, and maybe some teammates to boot. But since this was J-Rod, whom you haven't heard the last of, let's put it on par with Hachi: A Dog's Tale. Everyone loved that dog.

2012 Giro d'Italia

Winner and Loser: Ryder Hesjedal/Joaquim Rodriguez

Magnitude of Reversal: -0.31 to +0.16

Circumstances: Rodriguez, the climber who really sucks at time trialing, couldn't pad his lead over Hesjedal, the reasonably good cronoman, with a final-stage ITT to Milan looming over the Spaniard like a piece of spoiled jamon in his stomach, waiting to wreak vengeance.

Tragedy Rating: Low. Like Forrest Gump, a movie that got more ridiculous as it went on to the point where it was pretty hard to care about how anyone turned out in the end. Hesjedal had some skeletons in his closet, and as for J-Rod, would it kill you to spend a few days on the aero bike?

2010 Vuelta a Espana

Winner and Loser: Igor Anton/Vincenzo Nibali

Magnitude of Reversal: From -0.45 to DNF

Circumstances: Anton had been climbing expertly, and with only Zeke Mosquera and an unproven Nibali hanging around, this was his moment, the first Vuelta victory for a Basque rider since Olano in 1998. Then he slipped on a paint strip and went home to get his collarbone fixed.

Tragedy Rating: Maximal. Titanic levels. Like that movie... Titanic.

2010 Tour de France

Winner and Loser: Alberto Contador/Andy Schleck

Magnitude of Reversal: -0.31 to +0.08 (or 0.39 in the final GC)

Circumstances: Chaingate! The details are known to all: Contador accelerates as Schleck misses a gear, or Schleck misses a gear and Contador accelerates. Bert is either a lucky/smart racer or history's greatest monster, depending on which internet forum you consult.

Tragedy Rating: Romeo and Juliet levels. In part because they were both very nice to each other, and in part because Schleck lost only for Contador to have his win stripped away. Also because the Montagues and Capulets are still probably arguing with each other.

2010 Giro d'Italia

Winner and Loser: David Arroyo/Ivan Basso

Magnitude of Reversal: -2.27 to +0.51

Circumstances: Arroyo was the surprise leader and was hanging on against Basso, the superior climber with the stronger team, until the Gavia-Mortirolo-Aprica stage. Arroyo had been part of a huge breakaway in Abruzzo that had put 13 minutes into the favorites, and he was just strong enough to protect his lead as Basso rose up the standings in the high mountains. Even on this stage he'd done enough in the descent off the Mortirolo to save his hopes of a huge upset win, but Nibali and Basso, working together with Michele Scarponi, crushed those hopes on the road to Aprica.

Tragedy Rating: Middlin. Like Betty Blue, which was cool while the fun lasted but you knew all along it wouldn't turn out well.

2008 Tour de France

Winner and Loser: Carlos Sastre/Cadel Evans

Magnitude of Reversal: -0.41 (to Sastre) to +1.34

Circumstances: Saxo Bank had poor Evans surrounded all month, and while the Aussie looked like the best rider, it wasn't enough to overcome team tactics and a strong Sastre, who blasted away on Alpe d'Huez and gained enough to hold off Evans in the subsequent time trial, by 0.58 at the end.

Tragedy Rating: Low. Sastre was a deserving winner, his team won with panache, and Evans got his scalp later on anyway. Sort of like Ghost, where Patrick Swayze comes back to life, or goes to heaven, or whatever that mess was.

2002 and 2005 Giri d'Italia

Winner and Loser: Paolo Savoldelli/Every other Italian rider

Magnitude of Reversal: From (pick any number) to +0.28 and 1.41, Savoldelli's two winning margins

Circumstances: The 2005 Giro was Basso's for the plucking until he "drank some ice water" and blew 45 minutes on the Stelvio and the subsequent day. The 2002 Giro, you'd need a scorecard to keep track of all the victims. Evans rose up from the ranks of the MTB world, only to be smacked right back down. Gibo Simoni got sent home because his aunt sent him sweets from Colombia. Stefano Garzelli got popped for regular ol doping. Francesco Casagrande got sent home for a road rage incident in a sprint. Basically, everyone kept falling off until the Falcon was the last man standing.

Tragedy Rating: Zero. And there couldn't possibly be a better analogy than Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Final Decision?

If Kruijswijk doesn't recover, it's easily top three with Anton's Vuelta loss and J-Rod's entire career. What say ye? Got any others?