10 talking points from a wild first ‘week’ of the 2017 Giro d’Italia

by Matt de Neef


The 2017 Giro d’Italia is now nine stages old and some of the race’s major themes have started to emerge. Crashes, premature celebrations, surprise victories — it’s been a thrilling first ‘week’.

As the riders enjoy their second rest day, we take a look back at the first nine stages of the 100th Giro d’Italia and highlight the moments and performances that stood out.


Surprise results are what make bike racing so entertaining.

It’s certainly satisfying when you correctly predict the winner of a bike race. It’s even more satisfying to see a race unfold in a way that no one predicted, with a winner nobody dared to back. We’ve already had a couple such stages in this year’s Giro d’Italia and it’s made for a thoroughly engaging start to the race.

Stage 1 was supposed to be a regulation sprint stage, with the big guns expected to battle in the Sardinian town of Olbia. But Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-hansgrohe) flipped the script on its head, turning a strong lead-out for teammate Sam Bennett into a move that saw him inch off the front. The riders behind were slow to close the gap, and the 25-year-old used the narrow, technical run-in to maintain his slim lead.

On the first stage of his first Grand Tour, Pöstlberger took the first Giro stage win ever by an Austrian. It was a scintillating start to the race.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pd6w6nytRsA

Jan Polanc (UAE Team Emirates) achieved a similarly unlikely result on the stage 4 summit finish to Mt. Etna. Having been in the day-long break, Polanc was on his own for the vast majority of the 18km stage-ending climb with the peloton steadily gaining time on him the whole way up.

Polanc dug deep to cut his losses and managed to hold on to take a win that was very reminiscent of the one he claimed in the Giro two years earlier. The Slovenian certainly benefited from the fact that the predicted battle between GC favourites never really happened, but that takes nothing away from what was a very strong ride, particularly given the strong headwind up the climb.

While Fernando Gaviria’s win on stage 3 mightn’t have been terribly surprising, the way the QuickStep Floors sprinter won it certainly wasn’t expected. Gaviria’s teammates tore the race apart in the Sardinian crosswinds with 10km to go, leaving the other big sprinters behind. Gaviria did the rest, winning his first of two stages in this year’s Giro, so far.

Bike racing really is better when things don’t turn out as expected.

Caleb Ewan’s patience paid off.

Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) would have been forgiven for thinking he wasn’t going to win a stage at this year’s Giro. He won the bunch sprint for second behind Pöstlberger on the opening stage, he pulled his foot out of his pedal at the worst possible moment on stage 2, and on stage 3 he again won the bunch sprint behind the leading group.

But Ewan’s moment did eventually arrive, thanks to some great positioning in the technical sprint finish to stage 7.

Ewan’s sports director Matt White paid tribute to the 22-year-old’s tenacity and maturity in analysing his rider’s win.

“When you win the sprint one metre behind the guy who broke away, or you get boxed in, or your foot comes out, you’d be lying if you said you weren’t frustrated,” White said. “But he’s handled it well. If he hadn’t handled it well, he wouldn’t have won today.”

Ewan dropped out of last year’s Giro after 12 stages and it would be something of a surprise to see him go much further this year. Stage 12 and 13 suit the sprinters but beyond that it’s all mountains to Milan, and the final stage is a time trial. Still, were Ewan to drop out today, it would still be a case of job well done at this year’s Giro.

Nizzolo’s unenviable sprinting streak continues.

Before the Giro began, we noted that between 2011 and 2015, Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) finished inside the top 5 on a remarkable 21 stages of the Giro, all without winning one. And that included nine second-place finishes, four alone in 2014. Unfortunately for the 28-year-old, his streak has continued so far this Giro.

The Italian champion was fourth on the opening stage and third on stage 3 (from the Gaviria wind-shaped escape group), giving him 23 Giro top-fives without a win.

Like Ewan, Nizzolo’s probably only got two more opportunities at this year’s Giro and given the form of the other sprinters in the race, you’d think Italian will be hard-pressed to break his drought this year. But you never know.

Silvan Dillier is holding BMC’s Giro together.

The BMC Racing Team came into the Giro with such promise. A refreshed and refocused Tejay van Garderen was set to lead the team’s GC ambitions, and Rohan Dennis was primed to freelance in his first Grand Tour as a would-be GC contender. The Australian was a genuine chance of winning one or even both of the race’s individual time trials. But things haven’t gone so well for BMC on the GC front.

Dennis was brought down on stage 3, and lost more than five minutes as a result. After the first rest day, he tried to continue on stage 4, but had to abandon the race partway through the stage, citing nausea, lethargy and headaches.

Tejay Van Garderen remains in the race, but in what is just his latest GC-related frustration, the American lost 3:46 on the stage 9 summit finish, putting him outside the top 10 with 12 stages still to race.

Thankfully for BMC, Silvan Dillier made the most of his opportunity on stage 6, winning from the breakaway on a tricky little uphill finish (see video above). Perhaps most impressive about that win was the fact Dillier beat Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) in the two-up sprint at the end — a battle most expected Stuyven to win.

Watching a rider celebrate early will never not be entertaining.

You have to feel for Luka Pibernik (Bahrain-Merida). When the 23-year-old posted up before the finish line on stage 5, he thought he’d stolen a march on the peloton and taken the biggest win of his career. (It would have been back-to-back stage wins for Slovenia too, after Polanc’s victory on Mt. Etna 24 hours earlier).

Unfortunately for Pibernik, stage 5 ended with a 6km circuit around Messina, not with the first passage of the finish line.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrTtv3wkI38

It seems Pibernik didn’t study the ‘Garibaldi’ (the race roadbook) clearly, that he didn’t hear the bell being rung at the finish line, and that his radio wasn’t working when his teammates told him there was still 6km remaining. The result is a moment that many fans will remember for a long time and one that, hopefully, Pibernik can eventually see the funny side of.

He’s certainly not the first pro cyclist to have celebrated prematurely, and not even the first this year. See Brendan Canty’s miscalculation at the Australian Road Nationals in January, and Caleb Ewan’s ill-timed celebration at the Abu Dhabi Tour a few months back for just a couple of examples.

The debate about Team Sky’s GC leadership is now over.

Coming into the Giro it was unclear exactly who was going to be Plan A for Sky. The party line was that Geraint Thomas and Mikel Landa were co-leaders and coming into stage 9, the pair were separated by just four seconds (Thomas was second overall; Landa 12th). But with a regrettable incident on the final climb of stage 9, any speculation about Sky’s GC leadership became irrelevant.

A badly positioned police motorbike led to a big crash on the lower slopes of the Blockhaus climb with Thomas and Landa among those to hit the ground. Thomas looked badly injured — he said later that his shoulder popped out — but the Welshman was able to continue on, as was Landa. In the end, Thomas lost more than five minutes on stage-winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and Landa nearly 27 minutes.

It will be interesting to see whether Thomas and Landa are both able to continue after the rest day. Either way, you’d have to think the team will now switch into stage-hunting mode. Riders like Kenny Elissonde, Sebastian Henao and Diego Rosa might be given the opportunity to get up the road in the mountains and see if they can’t salvage something for Sky.

It’s past time to deal with the issue of motos in bike races.

It wasn’t just Sky that suffered as a result of the moto incident. Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) lost more than 4:30, ending his chances of a good GC result. Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb), the rider who hit the moto and started the chain reaction, broke his thumb and is out of the race. Many others were caught up and missed the Movistar Express as it powered on up the mountain (see more below).

Quite simply, incidents like this should never happen in bike racing. The sport is hard enough and dangerous enough without riders having to contend with further, unnecessary risks. Of course, this is far from the first moto-related incident in pro races in the past few years and it’s little surprise fans, riders and the media are calling for things to change, now.

Of course, it’s not nearly as simple as removing all or even some of the motos from the race. Police motos play an invaluable role in bike races, ensuring the road is safe for the riders. Unfortunately, a brain fade from one police officer has done quite the opposite on this occasion, effectively ending the Giro for a bunch of riders; a Giro all concerned had spent many months training for.

So what’s the solution to the moto problem? Perhaps it’s a case of introducing further training for all moto pilots and drivers in the convoy to reinforce the need for safety. Whatever the solution looks like, it’s clear more needs to be done, and right away.

QuickStep Floors was the team of the first week, but the tide has turned.

The teams classification at the Giro d’Italia, while a not-irrelevant prize, doesn’t tell the full story of which team is really dominating. After eight stages it was UAE Team Emirates that led the classification, but it was QuickStep Floors that was clearly the most successful team to that point.

Fernando Gaviria took two stage wins in the first week, showing himself to be the best of the sprinters. He also wore the maglia rosa for a day and still leads the points classification as well. Bob Jungels took the maglia rosa from his teammate Gaviria on stage 4 and only relinquished it to Quintana on stage 9.

With Gorka Izagirre’s stage win from the break on stage 8, and Quintana’s win on stage 9, Movistar has now taken control of the race. Incidentally, they also lead the teams classification. But now the real test begins.

Can Movistar defend Quintana’s lead as the race rolls on, particularly in the mountains? If stage 9 was anything to go by, they shouldn’t have too many problems.

Nairo Quintana is the rider to beat, but the race is far from over.

Stage 9 was always going to be an important stage of the Giro, doubly so when the battle between GC favourites largely failed to materialise on stage 4 to Mt. Etna. Plus, the rest day following stage 9 meant that riders could afford to go a little harder on the climb to Blockhaus.

Some riders and commentators were calling the climb the hardest of this year’s Giro, a big call given the Mortirolo ascent scheduled for stage 16. Nonetheless, it would take a strong team and a strong rider to emerge victorious on stage 9.

That team was Movistar and the rider was Nairo Quintana. With 8km to go, the Spanish squad accounted for three of the 11 riders left in the peloton, with Winner Anacona and Andrey Amador riding hard for Quintana. With 6.8km to go Quintana made the first of his three attacks, eventually riding his way to the stage victory and into the maglia rosa.

The most impressive of Quintana’s rivals were Thibaut Pinot (FDJ; second at 0:24), Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb; third at 0:24) and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo; fourth at 0:41). Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), while able to follow Quintana’s first two attacks, cracked when the Colombian made his third and final dig with 4.8km remaining. The Sicilian lost a minute on the stage.

The result is that Quintana leads the Giro by 28 seconds ahead of Pinot with Dumoulin a further two seconds back. It was a demonstrative display from Quintana, but the Giro is far from over.

Dumoulin is a stronger time trialist than Quintana — indeed, he’s probably the strongest time trialist left in the race — and could conceivably take back most of 30 seconds on the stage 10 ITT. And while Nibali is 1:10 down in fifth place, it would be folly to write off the defending champion.

After stage 18 of last year’s Giro, Nibali was a seemingly insurmountable 4:43 behind the lead, in fourth place. But over the next two days, he clawed back enough time to not just finish on the podium, but win the race overall. Sure, he benefited from a crash to maglia rosa Steven Kruijswijk, but Nibali still rode an incredible final few days.

With 12 stages still left in the 2017 Giro, including a whole host of mountain stages, Nibali still has plenty of time to make his mark. And that’s to say nothing of Pinot, Mollema, Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) who are all still within striking distance.

The stage 10 time trial will be instructive.

By wearing the maglia rosa, Quintana gets the benefit of starting last in the stage 10 time trial on Tuesday. That’s valuable, because it means he’ll have time splits for every other rider when he rolls down the start ramp.

The Colombian is a strong time trialist and should probably hold onto pink, but if he has a bad day and Dumoulin is on a flyer, the jersey could change hands.

But more than a stage to determine who wears the pink jersey on stage 11, tomorrow’s time trial will be an indicator of who to watch in the race’s second and final ITT. That’s particularly important because that time trial is the very last stage of the race and could well decide who wins the 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia.

What have you taken from the first ‘week’ of the 2017 Giro d’Italia? Let us know in the comments below!

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