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Chinese Gooseberries, Movistar’s Dilemma, and Less is More: My 3 Concluding Ramblings on the Giro

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage Thirteen Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

1. High Profile Kiwis

This Giro caused the most media attention for a Kiwi, in both person and fruit form, since Sir Edmund Hillary scaled Mount Everest

As to the person variety, noted New Zealander George Bennett placed 8th in GC, which by my calculation is the best placing of any New Zealander in the Giro and in any of the grand tours. Bennett is 28 years old and has been a professional since 2012, so it remains unseen that he can continue to improve, particularly with a non-exceptional time trial ability and a hold-on-for-dear-life GT riding style. However, Bennett virtually assured himself staying in the spotlight after his comments on Froome following in the footsteps of Floyd on the Finestre.

His now infamous first comment, of course, was “He did a Landis. Jesus!” However, for my money, I thought his follow up was the real money line. “I didn’t say that Froomey went out and railed a load of gear and came back and won the stage. I’m just saying he made a bigger comeback than Easter Sunday….” Those comments, more than his 8th place in GC, will ensure that reporters will be quick to seek an interview from the 28 year old Kiwi in any race that he is in. For that matter, I just might have to start a petition to get Eurosport to hire George Bennett and Jerome Cousin as commentators, as each has proven this year they know how to turn a phrase.

The other kiwis that received attention during the Giro were the edible and deliciously sweet variety, which found themselves being eaten by Tom Dumoulin after each stage. The post-stage kiwi strategy was Doom’s attempt at trying to avoid becoming embroiled in another Defegate and ultimately appeared to be successful.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage Nineteen Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Moreover, I probably owe a mea culpa to Doom’s fans, including PdC’er hahostolze, for doubting Doom as his performance at the Giro, even though a second place, likely cements his place as a legitimate grand tour contender for some years to come. After all, Doom was only less than a minute behind the best grand tour rider of a generation. You take away Froome, which will soon happen either as the result of a UCI decision or the inexorable march of time, and Doom wins this Giro by over four minutes. While Doom’s strategy-- riding at his own pace on the climbs and often being dropped and then coming back and winning time in the TTs-- is not necessarily the most exciting-- it looks like it works. Simon Yates’ late race collapse further proves that Doom’s code has not yet been cracked and that Doom and his Chinese gooseberries will be sticking around like a dingleberry and annoying all those GC riders that lack a TT for a long time.

2. Movistar’s Dilemma

Richard Carapaz in White

No Ecuadorian had ever started a Giro before this year, so Richard Carapaz was guaranteed to have the best evah Giro performance by an Ecuadorian no matter what place he came in. Still, I don’t think anyone, including the Movistar team, were expecting him to have the breakout performance of the Giro with a 4th in GC, a stage win, and a closely fought battle with Superman Lopez for the young riders jersey.

A Colombian, a Basque, an Ecuadorian, and 2 Spaniards sounds like the set up to a bad joke. And it just may be for Unzue’s team, as Movistar finds itself with an abundance of GC contenders and only 3 grand tours to split between them. Movistar is looking like the GC equivalent of Quick-Step’s classics developmental system, just with not enough races to spread around the opportunities. In terms of young promising riders, they’ve seen breakout seasons from Carapaz and Marc Soler, with the talented Jaime Roson on the breakout horizon. Meanwhile, they have Quintana, Valverde, and Landa all going to the Tour. To paraphrase the Notorious B.I.G., mo Movi stars, mo problems.

While many teams would be happy to have Movistar’s ‘problem’ of too many leaders and not enough races (spare a GC rider for Trek?), it’s going to be interesting to see how they handle their newfound GC contenders and their veteran contenders. The three veterans along with Roson and Soler are all signed for one more year through the 2019 season. Carapaz, who likely just added a zero to his asking price, is up for a contract this year.

Movistar are the antithesis to Sky. Instead of the team slavishly and robotically working for one leader, they’re going to send multiple potential leaders, kicking and clawing at each other, and only name the leader on the road, after a battle of attrition. It worked for them at the Giro, even if at a much lower profile level than the Tour. Carlos Betancur was their presumed leader (and finished an astonishing 15th) but the team coalesced around Carapaz after his immaculate conception as a GC contender on the Virgin Mountain in Stage 8. We’ll see how the adversarial system of GC racing works for them at the Tour and moving forward.

3. Less is More and Onward to the Tour

This was the first grand tour with 8 rider teams, and while correlation does not equal causation, it was an eminently watchable Giro and in my opinion the most exciting in recent history. And while I haven’t seen any stats yet, it certainly felt like this was a safer, less crash filled affair. Again, while this was a very small sample size, it does at least suggest that going to eight riders instead of nine riders was a win-win decision-- for the fans and for the riders.

While I’m hesitant to wade into this again, I don’t think Froome’s long-range attack on the Finestre would have been as likely if there were 9 rider teams. I don’t think Sky would have been able to whittle down all the remaining helpers for Pinot, Lopez, Carapaz, and Doom if their teams had one extra rider. Hell, I think there may well have been some more GC contenders in contention. If that’s the case, you’d get much more cooperation in that chase of Froome and a much higher likelihood of a catch being made.

The downside to the reduction in team size, however, was also the dearth of sprinters that made it to the Giro. It was only a two-person competition-- Elia Viviani and Sam Bennett. And even when teams opted to bring a sprinter, they often had to leave the sprint train at home entirely or rely on one or two riders for leadout duties, which is probably why we saw Danny Van Poppel taking a chance on a break rather than staying in the bunch in Rome. Looking at it this way, the reduction of crashes wasn’t just because of the loss of one rider, but rather the exponential effect of losing that one rider, causing the loss of many riders in a sprint train, causing less congested sprints, causing less crashes.

Looking forward, where I think we’ll see a big effect on the reduction to eight is at the Tour, where it appears from preliminary start lists that many of the teams are still planning on bringing their A-team sprinters and a GC challenger. Right now, I count at least 10 teams that plan on supporting both a GC rider and sprinter:

  1. Quick-Step - Gaviria / Jungels and Alaphilippe
  2. Lotto Soudal - Greipel / Benoot
  3. Lotto Jumbo - Groenewegen / Kruijswijk and Roglic
  4. Groupama - FDJ - Demare / Pinot
  5. Katusha - Kittel / Zakarin
  6. Bora - Sagan / Majka
  7. Bahrain - Colbrelli / Nibali
  8. Michelton-Scott - Ewan / A Yates
  9. UAE - Kristoff / D Martin
  10. Sunweb - Matthews / Kelderman and Dumoulin

Add to that the teams bringing some classic riders for the cobbled stage, and the net effect is going to be a whole lot fewer helpers in the mountains, leading to a much less controlled race, and hopefully a much more competitive GC battle.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage Eleven
Raise your hand if you ever thought this guy was going to be relevant in the GC competition.
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

At the Tour, the dual focus of many of the teams will lead to less help in the mountains and (hopefully) more mano a mano action. I think we are in for the most entertaining Tour in a long time (not to mention because of an either Giro-tired Froome or suspended Froome to even out the field).