Week Two didn’t look very dramatic in advance. Something for the sprinters, yes, before many of them pack their bags and set off home, a probably significant time-trial, and a nice taster in the form of a big climb up to Madonna di Campiglio. But a rainy week meant crashes, and crashes mean upsets.
Stage Ten of the Giro was supposed to be a quiet day – almost another rest day as it was, although not flat, clearly a day for sprinters. It turned out very differently and might well have thrown the whole Giro into confusion.
Contador’s shoulder had been more significant in its lack of effect than anything. If contestants expected to take advantage, they would be disappointed. This is the man, remember, who rode on with a broken leg in last year’s Tour de France! The day’s drama was all about the breakaway. It broke away, as expected, and the usual suspects in the form of members of the minor teams and lower-ranked riders comprised it. Peloton bosses, Astana, Tinkoff Saxo and Sky would surely haul them in. But they couldn’t. Maybe they miscalculated, or after the fireworks of week one, just didn’t have the legs, but as the stage progressed it was clear that the winner would come from the heroic bunch which had been out all day. Plenty of talking points there then, as Nicola Boem of Bardiani-CSF raised his arms for a surprise victory, none more surprised than he, probably. The day’s biggest talking point, and we may well not have heard he last of this, was that third-placed GC man Richie Porte punctured 5km out and found himself in trouble. This was not a place to lose time on Contador and Aru. Sportingly, some might say, compatriot Simon Clarke from Orica Greenedge stopped to help his Aussie mate and donated his wheel to Porte.
Now, this is against the rules, and both were docked 2 minutes, to add to the 40 seconds or so that Porte had lost already through the puncture. It is hard to see how Porte can get that sort of time back on a rapidly mending Contador. “What about sportsmanship?” cry the objectors to this punishment. Some though, remember the dodgy dealings of past years where riders would offer cash or other incentives to opponents for “assistance” of all kinds. Rules is rules.
Another “rules” footnote to a controversial day was that the victorious Bardiani team had not withdrawn an unknown team member, whose cortisol levels were outside MFCC guidelines. Now, this could mean something or nothing, and the guidelines are not compulsory, but all the same… One of those Cs stands for “credible”. Nuff said!
A rainy ride to the famous motor-racing circuit at Imola for Stage Eleven was another one for the breakaway, with Katyusha’s Zakarin soloing to a sweet victory. The main GC contenders were content simply to stay upright and keep station in the slippery conditions, though Contador’s little dig demonstrated that he was back to full strength, and his shoulder wasn’t troubling him overmuch. Uran, already a couple of minutes adrift, tasted tarmac at Imola was unable to gain time. Aru was put under pressure, and Porte did nothing to win his penalty minutes back.
Stage Twelve, mostly flat towards Vicenza with some climbs at the end, was distinguished by yet more rain, and even more crashes, but the day will be remembered for Phillipe Gilbert nudging those who thought he was getting past it with a strong victory. The tricky descent made for several heart-in-mouth moments. Geniaz of FDJ, in particular entertained the crowd by almost collecting several kerbs, some grass and a large dog. The climbs caused some fragmenting of the peloton, with BMC and Astana putting the pressure on, but in the GC battle, only a handful of seconds accrued to Contador’s advantage as BMC finally caught a breakaway. Astana’s tactics seemed to be: to be in the break; to ride it down; to support Aru, and to make sure Landa was up there too. A busy time for the boys in blue then!
Yet more rain greeted the sprint stage to Jesolo, which was flatter than flat. Stage Thirteen was to prove unlucky for the GC contenders who all had their problems. An innocuous looking crash a significant 3.3km from the finish took out a big chunk of the pack leaving a Lampre-dominated bunch leading out Modolo for a cautious but well-supported sprint win on the wet roads. The crash being outside the all-important 3km mark meant lost time for Contador, who crashed, and the pink jersey for Aru, who didn’t. The biggest loser was the luckless Porte, who slipped back another couple of minutes and out of realistic contention.
Aru could have had little doubt that the jersey was no more than loaned, with the time trial due up next and Contador and Porte expected to out-perform him comfortably in that discipline. Intxausti filled the blue climbers’ jersey at this point with Sky’s Viviani in red, offering a small compensation for the demise of Porte, now way back on GC and struggling with a sore hip and knee.
The time-trial of a daunting 59.4km with a couple of demanding climbs to boot was expected to be a decisive feature of Week Two. If Porte was hoping to gain some time back here on Contador it was not to be. The Australian ITT champion was clearly off form and it looked as if Sky had accepted he was not going to be in contention as his team-mate, the remarkable work-horse Vasil Kyrienka, posted the quickest time. The equally remarkable Contador showed his mastery by coming in third and thus reclaimed the leader’s jersey and showed everyone who was boss. Uran suffered in the rain, slipping further out of contention, and Aru found himself with almost three minutes to find in the mountains of the final stages.
The final stage of another enthralling week featured a challenging introduction to the Alps, with three big climbs, including the mountain-top finish at Madonna di Campiglio. Both Porte and Uran were off the pace, with Tinkoff Saxo and Astana bossing the peloton. Contador contented himself with picking up bonus seconds in intermediate sprints, and such was his casual power that it looked as if he had ambitions of a stage win to add to his honours. This introduction to the Alps left no doubt who was going to be in charge, and the Spaniard would take some beating in his element. Aru had support from Landa, but was no more than hanging on for most of the final climb. Landa’s attacks caused his team-mate more pain than they caused Contador, and in the end he had to show his strength to overhaul Katyusha’s Trofimov to take the stage for Astana, with Aru following Contador home well beaten.
So, with six stages left, it is hard to see any of the jerseys changing hands. Porte left the race to lick his wounds, prepare for supporting Froome in France, and possibly to talk contracts with other teams. Uran lost more time, and Aru looks beaten.
“The hardest stages of the Giro are still ahead of us. Nothing is won yet,” said Contador, but it is hard to see, barring accidents who can overhaul him.