8 talking points from the first week of the Giro d’Italia

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With nine stages of the 2015 Giro d’Italia now complete the 188 remaining riders in the race can enjoy a well-deserved rest day. It’s been an action-packed nine days so far and the racing has left us with much to discuss. Here then are eight talking points from the first nine stages of the 2015 Giro, in no particular order. As ever, feel free to jump in and leave your thoughts below.

Orica-GreenEdge could have gone home after stage 4 and their race would still have been a success

Orica-GreenEdge set themselves an impressive benchmark at last year’s Giro: three stage wins and no less than a third of the race in the leader’s jersey. Equaling or improving on that haul this time around was always going to be tough. And while they haven’t quite reached the same lofty heights in 2015 (there’s obviously still the chance of more stage wins) team management will certainly be happy with how things have gone thus far.

The first target had been the stage 1 team time trial which the team duly won, propelling Simon Gerrans into the maglia rosa after a forgettable year to that point. The second target was a stage win which Michael Matthews delivered on stage 3 while wearing pink.

In all, the team spent four days in pink, spread across three riders: Gerrans, Matthews and Simon Clarke. For Clarke, in particular, his day in pink was great reward for years of hard toil in the service of his bigger-name teammates.

While Orica-GreenEdge might have achieved its pre-race goals, don’t be surprised if the team pops up for another stage win at some point, like Pieter Weening did last year.

It’s always great to see an unlikely winner from the breakaway

When riders get in the day-long breakaway they know that their chances of survival are slim. Their time out front is mainly to get their sponsors on TV, to be on hand for a team leader later in the race, or simply so their team doesn’t have the responsibility of chasing down the break.

But every so often the breakaway survives and we see a lesser-known rider get their moment in the sun. Such was the case on stages 4 and 5 when Davide Formolo (Cannondale-Garmin) and Jan Polanc (Lampre-Merida) each took the first win of their young career.

Both Formolo and Polanc benefited from (or used to their advantage) the terrain on the stages they won, given days with a lumpy profile and/or a summit finish tend to increase the breakaway’s chance of survival. But both took their opportunity perfectly, attacking when the moment was right and holding off the chasers.

It’s not only great to see riders like Formolo and Polanc win big races, but it also makes things more interesting for fans. Rather than seeing the GC favourites duking it out for the stage, we get two spectacles for the price of one: the escapee trying to survive and then the GC riders battling one another for precious seconds.

Astana is the strongest team in the race, but that mightn’t matter

On stage 4 Astana single-handedly pulled back almost all of a breakaway that had 10 minutes on the peloton, decimating the field to just 13 riders in the process. It was an undeniable show of strength from the beleaguered Kazakh squad who have ridden hard in support of Fabio Aru throughout the first nine days of the race.

Campitello Matese - Italy - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Fabio Aru (Astana)   pictured during  Giro d'Italia 2015 - stage-8 - from   Fiuggi to Campitello Matese - photo IB/LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2015

Impressively, the Astana riders have also taken their opportunities for stage wins while not supporting Aru. Paolo Tiralongo won stage 9 from the day-long breakaway (after two, top-10 sprint finishes earlier in the race) while Mikel Landa came close to winning on stage 8.

It’s little surprise at this point that Astana leads the teams classification by nearly six minutes. But Astana’s dominance thus far mightn’t matter at all. When it comes to the pointy end of the uphill finishes, it tends to gets reduced to Fabio Aru, Alberto Contador and Richie Porte anyway. And at this point there seems to be little between them. That might change on stage 14 though …

The stage 14 ITT will probably decide the race

You could argue that this was true from the moment the course was revealed; an individual time trial of nearly 60km will always tend to create some significant time gaps. But with the three GC favourites — Contador, Aru and Porte — all within 22 seconds of one another and all appearing to be equally matched when the road tilts up, the stage 14 time trial is likely to be even more decisive.

We know Richie Porte is in great time trial form this year and should be the pre-stage favourite. Assuming he’s recovered from the bronchitis that’s plagued him over the past few days, Rigoberto Uran should also be capable of a great ride and will almost certainly move up from eighth overall. If he has a spectacular day, we could even see him move on to the overall podium.

Fabio Aru’s been spending plenty of time on his time trial bike on Tenerife of late but whether he’s able to finish near the time of Richie Porte remains to be seen.

But perhaps the biggest unknown when it comes to stage 14 is Alberto Contador. He’s a proven performer against the clock, but he’s got that pesky shoulder injury to contend with …

Contador’s injury doesn’t seem to be hampering him, yet

When the news came through that Alberto Contador’s crash on stage 6 left him with a dislocated shoulder, it seemed only a matter of time before the Spaniard would withdraw from the race and focus on the Tour de France. But he hasn’t — he’s battled on, spending another three days in the maglia rosa and looking like he’s still able to match it with Aru and Porte in the hills.

San Giorgio Del Sannio - Italy - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme -   Alberto Contador (Tinkoff - Saxo)  pictured during  Giro d'Italia 2015 - stage-9 - from   Benevento to San Giorgio Del Sannio - photo IB/LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2015

As Gregor Brown wrote for Cycling Weekly on Saturday, part of this can be explained by the way Contador’s injury has been reported. The Tinkoff-Saxo doctor described Contador’s shoulder as dislocated, while the race doctor described it as “a slight instability of the left shoulder joint”. That’s not to say Contador isn’t in pain, but there’s clearly a difference between the two conditions.

There’s clearly an element of bluffing in all of this as well. As Richie Porte said after stage 9: “I don’t think [Contador] can be in too much difficulty if he’s still riding up that climb that fast”.

But as hinted at above, it could be the stage 14 ITT that puts Contador’s shoulder under the most stress. Riding in a time trial position for more than an hour, with weight on his arms, could prove more than uncomfortable for the Spaniard. Only time will tell.

Domenico Pozzovivo’s crash was a horrible moment but could have been a lot worse

When Domenico Pozzovivo crashed while descending on stage 3 many of us thought we had seen a repeat of the tragic incident that cost Wouter Weylandt his life in the 2011 Giro. Pozzovivo lay lifeless on the road for many minutes, before finally being bundled into an ambulance and taken to hospital. For a time, the outcome of the race didn’t seem so important; all that mattered was that Pozzovivo was OK.

Mixed with the anguish was sense of frustration at the Italian host broadcaster, RAI. As Pozzovivo lay there being tended to, a helicopter-mounted camera stayed focused on Pozzovivo, much to the chagrin of TV commentators. It seemed that RAI hadn’t learned its lesson from the backlash it received after showing Wouter Weylandt’s crash four years earlier.

Thankfully for all involved, Pozzovivo’s injuries were superficial and he was out of hospital a few days later. In fact, on stage 8 Pozzovivo was back at the race, doing interviews about the incident. According to VeloNews (see above), Pozzovivo received a round of applause when he walked into the press room.

Fan interferences continues to plague the Giro

On stage 20 of last year’s Giro d’Italia, on the slopes of Monte Zoncolan, Francesco Bongiorno was in a two-rider breakaway with Michael Rogers when an overzealous fan gave the Italian a shove … into the back wheel of Michael Rogers. The incident saw Bongiorno lose contact with Rogers, who went on to win his second stage of the race. It’s debatable whether or not it cost the Italian the stage win, but there’s no doubt the race shouldn’t be affected by fans.

It only took a couple of days of this year’s Giro for the race to be influenced by “fans”. On stage 2 an amateur rider decided he’d try his luck at joining the peloton on his fixed-gear bike. The incident had a predictable outcome — the rider caused a crash, bringing down a bunch of riders, much to the frustration of many.

And on stage 6, the crash that caused Contador’s shoulder injury and a gruesome elbow injury to Daniele Colli was also caused by a fan. While less brazen than deciding to try and ride in the Giro d’Italia peloton, holding a camera lens over the barriers, in the path of the riders, is undeniably misguided. And as we’ve seen above, the incident caused by that fan is likely to have repercussions long into the race.

To the credit of the Giro d’Italia organisers, the barriers in the finishing straight were made higher the very next day, making it much harder for fans to reach out and make contact with the riders. One can only hope that incidents such as these only serve to dissuade those who feel the need to get in the riders’ space.

Richie Porte is very well placed after the first nine stages

Team Sky would have been hoping for a better result than their ninth place on the stage 1 team time trial but as it was Richie Porte went into stage 2 already 20 seconds behind Alberto Contador and 14 seconds behind Fabio Aru. Not the ideal start.

But in the context of the race — and with the aforementioned stage 14 ITT coming up — 20 seconds isn’t likely to be hugely significant. More significant is the fact that Porte has looked comfortable matching it with Aru and Contador in the mountains so far and has even felt strong enough to throw in a few leg-testers of his own.

Porte’s strategy seems clear — follow the moves of Aru and Contador until stage 14 and then use his time trial prowess to, hopefully, take the overall lead. On current form, if Porte takes the maglia rosa at the end of stage 14 there’s no reason to think he can’t wear it all the way to Milan.

So, what have we missed? What else have you taken from the first nine days of the 2015 Giro d’Italia?

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