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Here’s what’s making headlines in cycling and a preview of what’s coming up…

The Giro’s Pink Jersey Flip-Flop; The Giro Contenders; Schleck Out; Gesink and Sagan the Kings of Cali; Leave Cav Alone; Tassies lead the Tour of Japan

The Giro’s pink jersey flip-flop

The Giro d’Italia overall classification is being knocked back and forth, ping and pong, Hesjedal and Rodríguez.

Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) took the overall lead over a week ago in Italy’s south, in Rocca di Cambio. The lead came thanks to a fast time trial both in Herning on day one and, as a team, in Verona. Garmin won the Verona TT, put Ramunas Navardauskas in the lead for two days and set up Hesjedal for a run at the overall lead.

Spain’s Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) struck three days later in Italy’s holy city, Assisi. On the steep ramps leading to Piazza Garibaldi in the city centre, overlooking Basilica di Santa Chiara and the Umbrian countryside, he shot free for the stage and overall lead. He took the pink jersey by 17 seconds and ended Hesjedal’s three-day run.

In the race’s first high-mountain stage in Cervinia four days later, Hesjedal charged back.

“The first time was great, you can never have that feeling again. Once I was in it, it was a little sad to be out of it,” Hesjedal said warming up in the post-race press conference at 2001 metres. “I feel fortunate I could pull it back and experience it again. You never know when it will be your last time to have it.”

The only constant was the rain over the weekend. By Sunday evening, above Lake Como, Rodríguez was back in the lead. He took advantage of his explosively and darted clear at 1.2 kilometres remaining up to Pian dei Resinelli.

“I knew this climb would provide a good chance to win the stage and maybe take some time,” Rodríguez said, rain still coming down.

“It’s important going into the final week to have the maglia rosa and with some important time differences to my top rivals. We’ll see who is the strongest in the final week. Right now, the strongest is me.”

The contenders

The race marked off two of its mountain stages – Cervinia and Pian dei Resinelli – and faces three more on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. After a rest day yesterday on Lake Garda, the Giro re-starts today with a mild day to Falzes in Alto Adige. The contenders will likely keep their cards close to their chest and Rodríguez will remain in pink at least until tomorrow.

They race to Cortina d’Ampezzo tomorrow, to Alpe di Pampeago in Val di Fiemme on Friday and to Passo Stelvio on Saturday. Only a 30-kilometre time trial in Milan on Sunday will remain to sort the classification.

The current favourites GC:
1 Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha)
2 Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) 30″
3 Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) 1’22”
5 Roman Kreuziger (Astana) 1’27”
6 Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) 1’36”

Basso won the race twice, in 2006 and 2010, and put his team in charge. Along with Astana, Liquigas appears the strongest and ready to grind its opponents down in the third week through the Alps. Basso relies heavily on Sylvester Szmyd.

“He’s got enormous balls,” Basso told La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. He said of the team’s tactics, “It may be annoying, but it’s our policy, to keep united with the most team-mates as possible heading towards the finish line. I’ll show myself in the third week.”

Schleck out

The foreign press at the Giro d’Italia sighed in disappoint on Sunday as the race headed towards Pian dei Resinelli. The race had lost one of its international stars, Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan).

He “was forced to withdraw after 28 kilometres,” read a press release. “The Luxembourger crashed in stage 11 to Montecatini and suffered from an injury in the right shoulder since that day.”

New team manager, Johan Bruyneel had wanted to race Fränk and brother Andy in separate programmes to get the most out of them. The two, according to several reports, are not happy. La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that the feelings are the same for Bruyneel and team owner, Flavio Becca, and that Fränk’s participation in the Tour de France is in doubt. It also said that the brothers might find a new team at year end as Bruyneel has eyes for Alberto Contador.

The escape men

One, two and Rabottini makes three successful escapes in the Giro. Over a week after Miguel Rubiano Chávez (Androni) fought through the heat to win in Porto Sant’Elpidio, the Italian from Pescara won in the rain and cold at Pian dei Resinelli – an escape of 153 kilometres.

“You start with the idea to do well… I crashed, my world closed in, but with the help of my director Luca Scinto, I continued,” Rabottini said after his adventure. “Sure it was hard, but if you consider all the sacrifices I made throughout the day, the kilometres, the climbs, then you see that there’s no way I could’ve gave up. There’s no way to throw away all I’ve done.”

He darted free 18 kilometres after the race departed from Busto Arsizio, where fans cheered local star Basso. At the base of Resinelli, with 7.75 kilometres to race, his lead hung in the balance. The favourites were revving up behind and were anxious to make gains, even at Rabottini’s expense.

When Rodríguez shot free with 1.2 kilometres remaining, hearts dropped. He caught Rabottini at 300m out and looked assured of the win. He probably would’ve taken it too if organisers hadn’t decided this year there’d be no time bonuses on the five major mountain stages.

“Rabottini beat me fair and square,” Rodríguez said. “I thought I would be dropping him, but he kept right behind me.”

The sprinters

Mark Cavendish, despite crashes and controversy, has won three stages so far in the Giro. Only one chance remains, in Vedelago on Thursday, and the possibility of the red points jersey. He currently leads the competition with 26 points over Rodríguez.

“When I came to this giro, I planned 100 per cent to go to Milan and I planned to win the red jersey,” team Sky’s Cavendish said after Friday’s win in Cervere. “With the crashes, the red jersey might be out the window, but I still don’t have plans to go home.”

In a decidedly tough Giro last year, Cavendish left after his second stage win in Ravenna.

Matthew Goss left on Friday after his Orica-GreenEDGE made a strong push for stage win number two. “We would’ve liked another stage win,” Orica sports director, Matt White told Cycling Weekly. “However, we had stage three and we’ve been close in every sprint we’ve done.”

Cavendish’s main rivals now are sprinters Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Elia Favilli (Farnese Vini), Robert Hunter (Garmin-Barracuda) and Sacha Modolo (Colnago-CSF Inox).

Impey impressive

Daryl Impey led the surge for Orica-GreenEDGE on Friday. He pulled Brett Lancaster into position for Goss in the final kilometre and upset Sky’s lead-out.

“Yeah, I’m quite explosive with that kind of thing,” he explained. “I might not be a pure sprinter, but I can accelerate quickly. We’re trying to use that to our advantage now. Hopefully well get it right soon. We did everything right today, but Cav was just stronger.”

The South African is expected to get the nod for Orica’s Tour team. He will probably race in the team with Goss, Simon Gerrans, Stuart O’Grady and Sebastian Langeveld.

The young contenders

The Giro’s white jersey for best young rider is making its rounds, one day Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale), the next Peter Stetina (Garmin-Barracuda) and then Sky’s Colombians, Rigoberto Urán and Sergio Henao.

“The priority is with Ivan,” Caruso told VeloNews. “If I’m able to do both well at the same time, then great.”

Sky has the advantage in that its two Colombians are free to ride their own race. Caruso and Stetina have to help their captains, Basso and Hesjedal, respectively. After leading, Stetina lost over 17 minutes on Sunday. Henao remained in the front group and gained the lead from his team-mate, Urán.

1 Sergio Henao (Sky)
2 Rigoberto Urán (Sky) 1-01
3 Gianluca Brambilla (Colnago-CSF Inox) 2-50
4 Diego Ulissi (Lampre-ISD) 8-14
5 Tom Jelte Slagter (Rabobank) 8-53
6 Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale) 10-19
7 Peter Stetina (Garmin-Barracuda) 18-12

Gesink and Sagan the Kings of Cali

Robert Gesink (Rabobank) successfully completed his comeback from a broken leg last year by winning the Tour of California on Sunday. Garmin’s David Zabriskie placed second at 46 seconds and team-mate Tom Danielson third at 54 seconds.

The Dutchman took the overall lead on the crucial mountaintop finish up Mount Baldly. He said afterwards, “This is amazing. At the end of last year, I crashed and broke my leg. In January, I still had to learn how to walk. Now I’m back. I’ve been working really, really hard the last few months.”

He placed sixth in the Tour de France in 2010 and won the Tour of Oman last year. However, he was sidelined when he fractured his leg in four places while training.

Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) won everything else, an incredible five of eight stages. The 22-year-old Slovakian will now focus on the Tour. “Cavendish is hard to beat, but maybe some stages will suit me, ones with climbs before a flat finish.”

Leave Cav alone

As with Cadel Evans two years ago, Mark Cavendish is honouring the rainbow jersey of world champion. Including three stage wins in the Giro d’Italia, he’s won one in Qatar, one in Tirreno-Adriatico and the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne one-day race.

Some critics won’t leave him alone. Mario Cipollini keeps pestering him and his sprint train for basically not being as good as he and his team were. Over the last week, he’s accused Cavendish of being out of shape and Sky’s train of being disorganised.

After Cavendish won in Cervere, he replied to Cipollini by saying, “I won the Milan-San Remo at 23, I won the World Championships at 26, 20 Tour de France stages. How many here? 10? When I’m fat, I’m fat, but it’s important that I’ve taken these wins!”

Stephen Roche held praise for Cavendish’s abilities on his cyclingnews blog, but was critical of his personality itself:

As for the man himself, I find him less engaging. When he’s being interviewed he never looks into the camera, he’s always looking away. When he thanks everyone, it always the same story all over again. Sometimes I listen to him and think I’d like to hear something new.

[Roche balances this by saying: ]

So, sometimes his attitude bugs me a little bit, but at the same time he is as he is. All bike champions who reach that level are a little bit special. They have an edge, a steely nature and can be impulsive and say things that can get people’s backs up. I’m sure that if Cavendish was asked to comment on my reactions following key moments in my career he wouldn’t be saying totally positive things either. It is true that it is very easy for me sitting here in my armchair watching from afar to pick holes in his personality, but I would stress that when you look around he is phenomenal – there’s certainly no one else around like him at the moment.

He’s also accused of holding on to team cars and having help on climbs. A video of him being pushed by a fan in stage six emerged on YouTube this week. He had crashed on the same Passo della Cappella climb.

Tour of Japan

While the rest of the world focuses on the Giro d’Italia and the Tour of California, the 15th edition of the Tour of Japan (UCI 2.2) kicked off yesterday with a cerimonial criterium (not counting towards the GC) and an individual time trial. Tasmanians Will Clarke and Cameron Wurf clocked the fastest times and sit in first and second heading into the final four stages which are well suited bunch finishes. Genesys is racing and Anthony Giacoppo will likely be up there in the sprints collecting the time bonuses.

Follow the Tour of Japan on CyclingIQ and see a thorough preview of the race here.

Will Clarke and Cam Wurf took the 1-2 at the Tour of Japan ITT which began this week. The 15th edition of the Tour of Japan runs from 20-27 May and is 582km in length. Photo: Sonoko Tanaka

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