Sunday, 29 May 2016

Giro d'Italia 2016- Resurrections and Rebirths

Wow! Simply wow! What a bloody great race. The 2016 Giro flew by quicker than Nibali going down hill with lead in his pockets, and again provided gifts for a whole range of senses. It kind of crept up  to be honest- normally I am prepared well in advance (perhaps the lack of an official programme being available in newsagents this year contributed to this deficit in my personal prep).  A forced change in jobs as well, where I can no longer arrange to be doing my paperwork in the afternoons with Eurosport player in the background also made me feel more apart, and instead meant trying to avoid Twitter and Facebook until I could get home to see the highlights. But this isn't about me-this is about the race that unfolded, a resurrection story on many fronts, more in keeping with the traditional timing of Paris-Roubaix than the first Grand Tour of the year.

Firstly, there are certain cycling magazines that may be ruing the inability to recall and edit their hardcopy offerings. Many included obituaries for Etixx-Quickstep following their 2016 Classics campaign, despite it including results many other World Tour teams would hold up as highpoints of their season. And of course EQS are held to higher standards than others, but the tone of many of the articles would have almost lead you to believe it was going to be the Belgians' last season as opposed to Tinkoff or IAM. There were the 4 stage victories (including a tactical masterpiece involving Brambilla and Trentin on stage 18 that may finally lay to rest the phantoms of Stannard and the 2015 Omloop fiasco) and 3 different riders in the maglia rosa over the course of 6 stages. This included a sterling performance from Jungels, often seen pulling at the front and playing a key role in killing off breakaways, carrying the pink jersey with panache and finishing 6th in GC. Kittel going home after his victories may not sit well with the purists but it ironically made them a stronger team since they had freedom to seize and make opportunities on all terrains. Is 2016 the year EQS goes beyond its traditional focus on the classics? Possibly but more will be revealed when we see who they pinpoint when it comes to transfer time. One week stage races don't seem otu of reach with the current set up but Jungels might not yet be in a position to be totally competitive in the really high mountains.

Similar questions await Orica Greenedge. I must admit my heart soared then sank as Chaves stuck with then lost Nibali's wheel on Saturday. The emergence of Uran restored a bit of hope until it was clear Esteban was struggling to hang on . Rumours do abound of chest colds or bronchitis, but backed by his performance in the 2015 Vuelta, it shows that the Colombian does have great potential. However OGE are not a GC team-yet. While Nibali could depend on a team who can stay with him when gravity becomes more of an enemy than a headwind, like LottoNL-Jumbo and EQS, Orica didn't have those personnel. Putting aside the history of some of Astana's troops (oh how I wish we could...) Chaves, like Kruijswijk, didn't have GC support domestiques to stick with them for as long as Scarponi and Kangert could with Nibali. Would a Yates or two have helped Chaves alongside Plaza and Txurruka? We can but speculate, but OGE again have questions to ask themselves. Do they shift away from the very succesful stage and classics hunting approach and focus more on GC? If so what about Gerrans and Matthews (though recent history suggests that those two may not be sharing a team in the future).  Can a GC set up also maintain room and support for Caleb Ewan? It may not be the worse problem in world to have, but it is still something that needs solved.

No theme of resurrection could avoid the Shark of Messina (or Lazarus, as he may be retitled) and his 11th hour comeback. Of course this lead to speculation (is acupuncture a violation of the "no needles" policy?) but INRNG again put his or her subjective analytical head on in an appeal for calm. Yes Nibali looked in trouble but "in trouble" is subjective when, even on his bad days, he didn't drop to lower than 5th in GC. Personally I was a bit put out when I saw him crossing the line in Sant Anna di Vinadio to take the pink jersey and being embraced by Vino but this was more to do with my disappointment for Chaves and the fact so many people with a history had played vital roles in the victory than anything personal in regards Nibali. Personally I feel Nibali is clean (well as confident as I can be) but the company he keeps doesn't help persuade the doubters.

And finally a tale of redemption cut short. For a brief time on the final stage. Giacomo Nizzolo thought he had finally broken his habit of finishing second, only for it to be taken from him by the race jury. Personally I didn't see anything wrong with the sprint, instead the slight curve in the road making it seem he deviated from his line, but it was a harsh judgement, although he does have the consolation of still winning the maglia rossa.

The 99th Giro might go down as one of the best in many years, and also mark the changing of the guard. A raft of new GC contenders making themselves known ( although old stagers like Nibali and, unfortuately Valverde still coming out on the podium) has resulted in a number of teams having to think hard about their shape for the future. The result of those internal debates will probably not be apparent until we see what riders are signed later on in the year, but the first Grand Tour of the year has set a challenge for the French and Spanish to meet in regards drama, spectacle and narrative.

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