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After 15 stages of the 2015 Giro d’Italia, the riders now have the opportunity to enjoy a second and final rest day. The second week of the race has provided no shortage of excitement and drama and with six stages still remaining, there is sure to be more to come.
In the meantime, here’s what we’re talking about after the second ‘week’ of racing at the Giro. As ever, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below and if you haven’t seen our ‘talking points’ piece from the first nine stages of the race, you can do so here.
Even the most straightforward stage can yield plenty of drama at a Grand Tour
Stage 10 was shaping up to be one of the most predictable stages of the Giro thus far. A long flat stage, a five-rider breakaway, and the inevitable chase by the sprinters’ teams to catch the escapees just before the line. Only it didn’t work out like that.
Lotto Soudal, riding for stage favourite Andre Greipel, got barely any support with the chase, while up in the break the five Italians were working brilliantly together. Against all the odds, the breakaway survived, with Nicola Boem (Bardiani-CSF) taking the win. And that was just the beginning of the drama.
Desperate to minimise his time loss after a puncture in the closing kilometres of the stage, Richie Porte (Sky) accepted the generous offer of a wheel from compatriot Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge). While many viewed it as a great example of sportsmanship, the race jury said Clarke and Porte had broken the rules, giving both riders a two-minute penalty. Add to that the 47 gap between Porte and the other GC favourites at the finish line, due to the initial puncture, and we were seeing the beginning of the end of Richie Porte’s chances of winning the Giro.
And all that on a day that was supposed to be a long, boring transition stage.
Richie Porte and Team Sky handled “#Wheelgate” well
Where many riders and team staff would have flown off the handle at being docked two minutes for a seemingly minor infraction, Porte and his team manager, Dave Brailsford, reacted very professionally. Both spoke to the press calmly about the setback, with Porte keen to highlight the fact that the race wasn’t over (which it wasn’t at that point) while paying tribute to Simon Clarke’s sportsmanship.
While it’s unclear how Sky reacted behind the scenes, it wouldn’t have been a great surprise had Porte or others been very critical of the race jury when speaking with the press. The seemingly severe penalty might have been handed down according to the rulebook, but as many commentators and unhappy fans have subsequently pointed out, there’s no shortage of examples of race commissaires selectively applying or ignoring the UCI rulebook.
When incidents like the unauthorised crossing of train tracks during Paris-Roubaix go unpunished (all riders involved should have been disqualified) it’s reasonable to expect that a more lenient approach might be taken when riders lives aren’t in danger, as in the case of Richie Porte’s illegal wheel change. Is it too naive to think this incident will prompt the UCI to demand greater consistency of their appointed officials?
Steven Kruijswijk deserves a stage win
There have been a handful of riders in this year’s Giro that have taken it upon themselves to animate the race day after day. Franco Pelizotti (Androni-Giocattoli), Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) and Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) are among them, as too is LottoNL-Jumbo’s Steven Kruijswijk.
On stage 8 Kruijswijk attacked solo from the peloton, coaxing a few other riders across to join the day’s main breakaway. And then on that day’s final climb, he followed an attack from Carlos Betancur before attacking solo on his own, only getting caught in the final kilometres of the climb.
The 27-year-old Dutchman was in the move the following day as well, earning himself second place for his troubles. And on stage 11 he made the move as well, finishing sixth as Ilnur Zakarin rode away to a solo win.
But Kruijswijk hasn’t just been a fixture in the breakaways. He finished an impressive fifth in the stage 14 ITT and finished in the same position on yesterday’s mountain-top finish. It would be a fitting result were he to pick up a stage win in the final week of racing.
Leopold König now has a fantastic opportunity
Much as Richie Porte had the opportunity to lead Sky after Chris Froome’s exit from the Tour de France last year (until Porte got sick, at least), Leopold König now has the chance to lead Sky after Porte has steadily drifted out of overall contention.
König is far from a novice when it comes to racing Grand Tours — he’s won a stage of the Vuelta a Espana and has top-10 finishes at both the Vuelta and the Tour de France — but none of those results have come with the backing of a team like Sky.
König currently sits fifth overall, 6:36 behind Contador, and shouldn’t have too much trouble holding on to that position through to Milan. He’s currently 1:50 behind Mikel Landa in fourth place so moving up the overall standings might be a tough ask. Regardless, it will be interesting to watch how König performs now that the team will be riding for him instead of Porte.
It’s hard to fault Richie Porte too much
Bike racing can be cruel sometimes. This time last week it looked as if Richie Porte was well and truly on track for a podium finish in the 2015 Giro, if not the top step of that podium. But with 15 stages completed Porte is now more than 35 minutes behind Contador and it would be no surprise if he abandoned the race on today’s rest day. After all, Sky needs him in top shape to assist Chris Froome at the Tour de France.
Leaving aside Porte’s split-second decision to take Simon Clarke’s wheel on stage 10 — a decision that cost him two minutes — the rest of Porte’s time losses have been the result of ill fortune. He lost 47 seconds to Contador on stage 10 due to a puncture, and then his crash on stage 13 — which cost him more than two minutes — was virtually unavoidable.
That crash left Porte with greater injuries than was first thought. He lost more time after struggling through the stage 14 individual time trial; a stage in which he would otherwise have been challenging for the stage win. And then on stage 15, Porte simply wasn’t able to stay with the leaders, clearly struggling from his injured hip and knee. He finished the stage 27 minutes behind Alberto Contador.
Critics say that Porte has shown, once again, that he doesn’t have the longevity to be a contender in a three-week Grand Tour, saying he’s better suited to one-week races like Paris-Nice. But such assessments seem unfair — had he not crashed on stage 13 it could be a completely different story.
Love them or hate them, Astana are a sight to behold
In analysing the first week of the Giro, we wrote about the dominance of Astana and how the Kazakh squad was clearly the strongest in the race. That is still certainly true, as we saw on stage 15 yesterday on the lead-in to the final climb when Astana had five riders on the front pulling back the breakaway.
The Star Wars 'Imperial March' plays…….. pic.twitter.com/RU1I9qG57o
— Scott O'Raw (@velocast) May 24, 2015
All five Astana riders were left in the final section of 16 riders on the last climb and by the time it was just four left at the front, two of them were from Astana.
Arguably the most impressive factor here is that Astana’s Giro squad doesn’t feature the team’s best nine riders. Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali, Jakob Fugslang, Michele Scarponi and Lieuwe Westra are among the riders not at the Giro, all of them more than handy in the mountains.
To Astana’s credit, they’ve also done a lot more than simply ride in support of Fabio Aru. They’ve taken the chances that have come their way, netting stage wins for Paolo Tiralongo on stage 9 and Mikel Landa on stage 15. Which is just as well because even though Astana is the strongest team in the race, it is seemingly powerless to prevent Alberto Contador from reaching Milan in the maglia rosa.
Alberto Contador is in simply irresistible form
What more can be said about Alberto Contador? Even if the shoulder injury he sustained on stage 6 wasn’t nearly as bad as the team made out, it’s still been an incredible fortnight from the Spaniard. He took the overall lead way back on stage 5 and, apart from a single day spent in second place after losing time in a crash, Contador has led the race every day since then.
There was some question about whether Contador’s sore shoulder would impact his stage 14 ITT but if it did, we didn’t notice. Contador put in the ride of the day, finishing third behind Vasil Kiryienka (Sky) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana), despite a change of wind direction which put the later starters at a disadvantage.
All of Contador’s main rivals fell by the wayside in the time trial — Porte, Aru, Mikel Landa and Rigoberto Uran — and by the end of the 59.4km Contador had effectively put the maglia rosa out of reach for anyone else. Of course, the race isn’t over until the riders cross the finish line in Milan, but barring a significant crash, Alberto Contador will win the 2015 Giro d’Italia.
But Contador is hardly content to sit back and enjoy the 2:28 advantage he has on Fabio Aru. So comfortable was he on yesterday’s stage 15 that he sprinted out of an Astana-led peloton for a couple of bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint point, even though the day’s final climb was just about to start. And when he reached the Madonna di Campiglio in third place, he was on the stationary trainer within a minute of finishing the stage, barely looking like he’d raised a sweat during the race.
The only thing missing from Contador’s domination of the 2015 Giro is a stage win. You can guarantee he’ll be on the attack in the three uphill finishes that remain: stages 16, 19 and 20.
So, what have we missed? What will you take from the second week of the 2015 Giro d’Italia?