Friday, May 28, 2010

Weekend Preview - The Giro's Big Finale

For a few minutes today, it looked as if David Arroyo just might have retained his maglia rosa as the leader of the 2010 Giro d’Italia. After the descent of the Mortirolo, he sat less than a minute behind a 3-man breakaway containing Ivan Basso, Vincenzo Nibali, and Michele Scarponi. Unfortunately, the wheels fell off for the Spaniard on the final ascent to Aprica; he lost over three minutes to the leading trio—and the maglia rosa.

The race now heads into its final weekend with Ivan Basso as overall leader. Arroyo sits second and Nibali third, at 0:51 and 2:30 respectively. Only Scarponi remains within shouting distance of the podium, 2:49 behind Basso. Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre, and Alexandre Vinokourov all sit over 4-minutes from the lead.

Saturday’s stage appears to be the hardest of this year’s race—and quite possibly one of the hardest days of racing this season. The riders face 5 categorized climbs during a 178-kilometer day that ends with a 12-kilomter climb up the Passo Tonale—the 5th summit finish the race has seen this week. But the Tonale’s not the worst part of Saturday’s stage; the infamous Gavia is the penultimate climb of the day—and the highest point of this year’s race.

Liquigas did itself a favor by taking the pink jersey today, giving themselves the chance to ride defensively Saturday. They don’t need to attack; they must only control the race, preventing dangerous escapes from threatening Basso’s lead. At this point, Arroyo is probably more concerned with maintaining his spot on the podium than re-taking the maglia rosa.

Look for the real race tomorrow to take place between Scarponi and Arroyo. Arroyo looked quite cooked by the end of Friday’s Stage 19. If Scarponi wants a spot on the final podium he has a better chance of dislodging Arroyo than Nibali—look for him to try and isolate Arroyo on the Gavia, possibly taking Nibali and Basso with him to replicate the finish we saw today.

There’s a better chance we’ll see a breakaway distance itself early with perhaps a rider or two from the day’s early move holding-on for the win. Look for someone like Cunego, Garzelli, or Samoliau to be given a bit of latitude to take the last road stage of the race.

As for Sunday, the 15-kilometer time trial around Verona shouldn’t reveal too many surprises. Richie Porte has enjoyed a fantastic Giro and could cap it with a win. Marco Pinotti would also love to end his race with a stage win in front of his home crowd. Nibali might use the stage to vault himself into second—especially if Arroyo loses more time Saturday. And don’t forget Vino and Evans; if they’re within seconds of a higher GC-placing, look for them post impressive rides—if they have anything left after Saturday, that is.

All in all, while Friday stole a bit of the show, the final two days will prove to be anything but meaningless. Here’s how I see things turning-out:

1st Place: Ivan Basso
2nd Place: Vincenzo Nibali
3rd Place: Michele Scarponi

Enjoy the weekend—and share your picks below.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Monday Musette - Wednesday Edition

I guess I’m still a bit jet-lagged from my trip out west. Here’s the week’s Musette:

1. The Giro has blown wide open—sort of. Monte Zoncolan and the Plan de Corones have started the reshuffling of the general classification, but there’s still some ground to be made up if the men favored to win the race are to assume their places at the top of the classification. Caisse d’Epargne’s David Arroyo has proven to be a stubborn maglia rosa, fighting valiantly to maintain his lead. Don’t forget: Arroyo finished 10th-overall last year, and only needs to react to maintain his placing. If he takes the race one day at a time between now and Sunday, following attacks and riding within himself to limit his losses if dropped, we might have a surprise winner come Sunday.

Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans appear to be the biggest threats to Arroyo’s lead; they sit 2:27 and 3:09 behind the Spaniard. That said neither of the two seem willing or able to take the race by the horns, so to speak. Evans lost some time Sunday, but regained it yesterday in the mountain ITT. This might come all the way down to Sunday—an ITT that favors Evans; or it could come down to the rider with the strongest team—Basso and Liquigas. And while we’re at it, let’s credit Richie Porte for a fantastic ride. He sits in 3rd-place at the moment; should he make it through Saturday without losing too much time we could see him use Sunday’s ITT to score a final placing inside the top-5.

As for Italy, the nation’s hopes lie with Basso and his talented Liquigas team. They’ve turned things around since Pozzato’s stage win, taking 3 impressive wins in the mountains. That said, with Basso hitting his top form at the right time, anything less than an overall title will be a disappointment.

2. Heading West, we got the Tour of California we thought we would, with Michael Rogers taking a close win over David Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer. The race proved to be more animated than expected, making it ideal training for several stars looking for a good Tour de France this July. I was in California for the first few days of the race—look for a bit of a report sometime soon.

3. Did you hear that Denis Menchov dropped-out of today’s first stage of the Tour of Belgium? Talk about feast or famine. When Menchov’s on, he’s really on; but when he’s off, it’s almost embarrassing. If we don’t see anything by the end of the Dauphiné I think it’s safe to write him off as a threat in this year’s Tour.

4. And speaking of the Tour of Belgium, Philippe Gilbert won the rainy and windy Stage 1. Looks like he’s picking up right where he left off in April. I smell a new jersey in his future as Champion of Belgium.

5. From racing to doping: I’m still trying to wrap my head around the Landis accusations. Joe Lindsey’s done his usual fine job of putting some thoughts down over at the Boulder Report. It looks like this is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. The Feds are involved now, and they’re talking about fraud—a word that’s not thrown around unless someone’s taking Landis’ story very seriously.

As for me, I was a Floyd supporter when he tested positive in the 2006 Tour. I knew him well at Mercury-Viatel in 2001 and found him to be a clean, honorable guy. My colleagues and I silently wondered what his move to US Postal would do for his career. I had hoped his preparation wouldn’t change—clearly I was wrong. It’s a shame he didn’t have the courage in 2006 to say what he said last week; he might have been spared the skepticism he’s currently facing.

6. From blood to motors: read this; then watch this. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

7. And take a look at this video. Does anyone else wonder if Lance is playing it up for the camera? Can he really be this insecure?  Notice the photographer grabbing the WSJ money-shot right as Lance scrapes himself off the deck.  

8. Last but not least, I’m thinking of getting a new bike. Any suggestions?

Share your comments, insights, and feedback below. Who is your pick for Giro? What did you think of this year’s ATOC? And what are we to make of Landis and Armstrong?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Weekend Preview - The Giro Hits the Mountains and the ATOC Heads to Hollywood

With mountain action from Italy and the final two days of the 2010 Amgen Tour of California, this weekend looks to be the most exciting since April.  Let's take a look at what's in store:

1.  The Giro was turned on its head Wednesday when a large group of riders broke away from the main field to finish several minutes ahead of the peloton.  About 40 riders benefitted from large chunks of time, with Carlos Sastre and Bradley Wiggins regaining all the time they lost earlier in the race—and then some.  It’s hard to imagine how Astana, BMC, and Liquigas could have allowed such a large group of riders to accrue such huge amounts of time; as a result, we head to the weekend with the “real” GC looking like this:

1.     David Arroyo (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne             
2.     Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Team Milram  +3:52        
3.     Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo Test Team  +5:27        
4.     Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team  +6:32        
5.     Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana  +8:06        
6.     Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Team Katusha  +8:24        
7.     Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team  +9:28        
8.     Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo  +9:36        
9.     Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo  +9:57        
10.     Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone  +10:50        
11.     Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini  +11:11        
12.     Michele Scarponi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli  +11:12    

Things are about to get serious this weekend as the race heads to the mountains—look for changes.  Of the eight remaining stages in this year’s Giro, five of them end with a summit finish.  While tomorrow’s Stage 14 from Ferrara to Asolo doesn’t end with a climb, it might as well as the riders tackle the Monte Grappa, an 18-kilometer climb averaging 9%.  With the summit a mere 40-kilometers from the finish line, the win will likely emerge from a breakaway, someone able to handle the long, technical descent safely and smoothly.  While the overall favorites might choose to rest their legs for Sunday, there still should be a selection causing at least one top rider to lose time—the Monte Grappa’s just that hard.  This will be the make-or-break day for a man like Bradley Wiggins.  We’ll know how seriously he’s taking final week of the race by how he well he fares Saturday.

As for Sunday, well, that’s when things really get ugly—at least for the riders.  For fans, it should be an exciting day as the riders tackle 3 categorized climbs before a summit finish atop the infamous Monte Zoncolan, a long, steep climb that should be packed with fans.  Monday’s rest day assures that the big hitters will race all-out to assert themselves in the quest for the final maglia rosa—they’ll have a day recover from whatever efforts ensue.  Likewise, a bad day Sunday might spell the end of several contenders’ hopes.

Look for Carlos Sastre to use the Zoncolan to begin punishing the rest for their foolish mistake on Wednesday—this stage is tailor-made for a rider with his talents.  While Sastre looks to be the rider best positioned to take control of the race, Liquigas is clearly the best team.  Vincenzo Nibali and Ivan Basso are hitting their top form at just the right time, making them a formidable duo with which the rest must contend.  On the flipside, Cadel Evans and Alexander Vinokourov are doing everything they can just to hold it together, with both having lost significant portions of their teams (and sanity?) over the past several days.  Evans might be a used to riding with less than desirable support—he’s done it for years; but Vino might find the prospect a bit too daunting.  No matter the weekend winners, by Sunday night we should have a much clearer picture of who might be wearing the pink jersey one week later.

2.  As for the Amgen Tour of California, the race concludes this weekend with 34-kilometer individual time trial around Los Angeles and a 134-kilometer circuit race in Thousand Oaks.  Both days should prove pivotal to the determination the overall winner—the time trial especially.  We’ll have a better sense of the main contenders following today’s stage to Big Bear, but I think it’s safe to say we’re looking at a 3-horse race between Michael Rogers, Dave Zabriskie, and Levi Leipheimer.  Jens Voigt and Peter Sagan deserve some consideration, but they should lose time later this afternoon on the way to Big Bear. 

The final two stages should be pretty exciting, as Rogers, Zabriskie, and Leipheimer are evenly matched in an ITT.  If they finish close to one another Saturday—which is likely—look for Sunday’s circuit race to be a battle all the way to the line.  Assuming no changes in the top-3 Friday, I see Rogers taking the overall win.  His team is stronger and he’s really the only rider capable of beating Levi and Dave Z. against the clock—aside from a certain Swiss rider on Team Saxo Bank.

All in all, it looks like we’re in for an exciting weekend—you can start your days in Italy, and end them in California (should Versus decide to show the entire stages). 

Who are your picks for the weekend?  Share them below—and have a great weekend?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Musette - Magazines, Movies, and Two Races You Might Have Heard Of

Here’s today’s Monday Musette!

1. While flying to the Tour of California on Friday, I had a chance to catch-up on the latest in cycling print journalism. I’ve only recently started reading ROAD magazine, lured by glossy cover shots and a solid mix of domestic and European racing coverage. The June issue includes Jered Gruber's terrific interview with Saxo Bank’s Jens Voigt. Read it for two reasons: Voigt’s description of how he’s been so successful in the Criterium International and his re-telling of a stage in the 2006 Giro when he “let” Quick Step’s Juan Manuel Garate take the win on a day when Voigt was obviously the stronger of the two. Great reading!

And while you’re at it, check out Peter Easton’s essay on Liège-Bastogne-Liège, a piece from which came this fabulous quote:

“If the Tour of Flanders is in your heart and Paris-Roubaix is in your head, then Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a race that is clearly in your legs”

I couldn’t sum up these three monuments better myself.

2. Moving to Italy and the Giro d’Italia, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying La Gazzetta dello Sport’s iPhone App. Download it for free to enjoy live video streams of each day’s action. We’ve been enjoying each stage over breakfast here in California. When will other race organizations get on this bandwagon?

3. Speaking of the Giro, it was an exciting weekend of racing. Saturday’s strade bianche had a bigger impact than expected, mainly due to the rain that turned the limestone roads into slick, muddy pathways. Sunday’s finish on the Monte Terminillo extended the damage for some favorites, especially Carlos Sastre, who lost even more time on today’s flat stage from Frostinone to Cava De’ Tirreni.

While much racing remains, I see a two-horse race developing between BMC’s Cadel Evans and Liquigas’ Vincenzo Nibali. Evans is no surprise as we expected him to perform well in his return to Italy’s Grand Tour. Nibali however, was a last-minute edition following Franco Pellizotti’s irregular medical passport values. Nibali’s biggest obstacle might just be his teammate, Ivan Basso—but not for the reasons you might expect. Nibali is far and away the team’s best chance for victory; if Liquigas asks him to sacrifice his own chances for Basso, it can say “ci vediamo” to its chances for a maglia rosa two weeks from now.

4. From Italy to California and a race of an entirely different flavor. Chasing Legends is the new documentary from the men who brought us A Ride With George Hincapie. The film chronicles Columbia-HTC’s 2009 Tour de France, offering never-before-seen footage of the team from behind the scenes. I was fortunate to have attended the premier Saturday night in Sacramento, an event hosted by Phil and Paul and attended by HTC-Columbia’s Tour of California roster. Great footage, an inspiring soundtrack, and of course, terrific interviews, make this another film worth adding to your collection. I do have a few minor criticisms—like Mark Cavendish being identified as “Columbia-HTC Rider – Sprint Prodigy”—but they do little to detract from what is ultimately an incredible viewing experience. Watch for it soon!

5. As for the racing itself, yesterday’s Stage 1 went pretty much to plan for HTC-Columbia, as Mark Cavendish romped to a stage win in Sacramento. With 2 crashes inside the final 3 kilometers, the day was not without some drama. Tom Boonen, George Hincapie, and Fabian Cancellara hit the deck, with Boonen taking the brunt of it after Liquigas Peter Sagan took-out his front wheel after the final corner.

It’s rainy and cool today, hardly the type of weather the organizers expected when they moved the race from February to May. With 4 categorized hills on tap for the riders, look for a small group top duke it out in Santa Rosa. My pick? Sagan.

For more from the ToC, feel free to follow @backseatds on Twitter—the guy’s a close friend of mine. And he’s trying his best to make his wife and family proud by earning a living at this.

6. Finally, two bits from Bill Strickland. While I guess I’m not really an impartial advocate anymore, I loved this piece from Bill’s Sitting In blog over at Bicycling. If you’ve ever a.) yelled at someone new; or b.) been yelled at by someone more experienced you’ll appreciate this essay. I’m interested what side of the debate you’re on.

7. Strickland brought this to my attention as well. Smoked Out is Richard Sach’s attempt at exposing small frame builders to a wider audience, giving them a chance to share their philosophies with the rest us. Check it out—you might learn something about the world that exists beyond carbon fiber.

So that’s it for this weeks’ Monday Musette. It’s a bit late for some of you, but we’re on West Coast time this week.

Thanks for reading and as always, share your comments, insights, and questions below.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ask Ritte - Google, Cobbles, and Italy vs. California

Pavé's newest advice columnist, Ritte Van Vlaanderen, returns this week with a new set of reader questions.

Dear Ritte,
I heard a rumor that if I type your name into a Gooogle search it comes back with, “If you want to find Ritte, you’d better go looking for the ladies first”. Is this true?
Sven from Luxembourg

Dear Sven,
Yes, that was at one time true—but with Google Maps. If you clicked on the satellite view and zoomed-in you could see me lounging poolside with Kathy Ireland in Malibu. Now with search engine optimization and whatnot, the Ritte web page is the first thing to pops-up. Boring, but practical, I suppose.

- - - - - - -

Dear Ritte,
What's the best way to ride cobblestones?
Dan from Boston

Hi Dan,
You don't "ride" cobblestones any more than you "ride" a woman! To make it over the stones, you must woo the pavé like a fine lady. Be charming and complement their cool gray complexion. Open the door and pay for dinner—you can't just get them drunk on Campari. With a little luck and some practice, you’ll be asked upstairs for a cup of coffee.

But always remember: no matter how smooth you are, pavé still (for no apparent reason) drain you of every good thing in your life, leaving you stranded on the side of the road with nothing more than a busted bike and your first edition David Bowie albums, waiting for your mates to come pick you up in their 1986 Volvo. Cobbles are like all the best things in life; you can't live with them and you can't live without them.

- - - - - - -

Hi Ritte,
Since you live in California now, what do you think about the Giro d’Italia vs. the Tour of California?
Which is the better race?
Terry from Colorado

Hello Larry,
I think it’s not so good to have these two races at the same time. The Giro is the greatest stage race in the world, and now California is stealing away lots of the real talent. Why? Because racers these days are soft. They want perfect weather and rat-free hotels with hot water. They don't like 8-hour transfers and hazardous road conditions. Soft, I tell you, like little kittens.

A bicycle racer should always choose the hardest, most dangerous of two options. Of course, someone like Lance Armstrong is always going to choose California. But it is a sad day indeed when a man like Jens Voigt chooses to avoid the Giro's 100-rider pileups and rancid hotel food for wine tours, Redwoods, and celebrity governors. And this isn't just my opinion; there is evidence to support my claims. Just look at the numbers:

So there you have it. According to my calculations, the Giro is 18.9-times better than the Tour of California. That said, I suppose I should add a few points to the Tour of California for being so conveniently located to my adopted home, so let's just say the Giro is only 18-times better.

Of course, that doesn't mean you shouldn't watch both races—you should. In fact, it's your moral obligation as a cycling fan to watch all UCI road events, even if it means waking at 3am and/or watching at work. If you have a job, that is.

- - - - - - -

That’s it for this week's  Ask Ritte. Ritte will return in two weeks to answer your more of your questions. If you are so bold, send your questions to Please include “Ask Ritte” in the Subject line. Feel free to check-out Ritte’s site for more action and insight from this most interesting personality.

And as always, share your comments below.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rest Day Musette - Things We Missed During the Classics

Apologies for getting this to you a day later than usual--hopefully the Giro’s Rest Day gives a bit of time to enjoy it. I don't know about you, but I feel like I missed a lot of quality musette material over the past several weeks as the classics dominated my attention. Here's a sample of what we might have missed:

1. I included this terrific short film about Paris-Roubaix in my Pavé Spring Awards, but it bears mentioning again.  

2. Have you had a chance to check-out the parcours for next month’s Dauphiné Libéré yet? The ASO has taken over the organization of this important Tour de France build-up event, creating an exciting course for 2010. Highlights include 2 time trials, a summit finish atop Alde d’Huez, and a final stage with finishing circuits in Sallanches, the site of Bernard Hinault’s World Championship in 1980. This is one of my favorites races; this year looks to be one of the best yet.

3. In case you thought they didn’t exist, here are The Rules. Read them.

4. El Cyclista's Battenkill photography deserves a moment of your time.

5. Velorunner posted this video of former Garmin rider Will Frishkorn riding some cobbles. This and Michael Barry’s terrific videos of Team Sky’s pre-Flanders and pre-Roubaix training come close to re-creating the experience in the comfort of your own living room.

6. I loved this photo from Velopresse. There’s something about the current trend in cycling photography that really excites me. I won’t try and describe it—I’ll just butcher the jargon. Whatever it is, it works perfectly for the spring classics. And while you’re there, spend some time looking around the Velopresse site; there’s much to enjoy.

7. If you use iCal as much I do, you’ll appreciate this downloadable, iCal-friendly version of the UCI’s 2010 road calendar.

8. Am I the only one who thinks Alberto Contador looked out of place riding next to Peter Van Petegem on the pavé? While Contador was riding team issue equipment, Van Petegem apparently needed to borrow a set of wheels for his Museeuw. As for the kit he’s wearing, he and his wife have started a bed and breakfast in the Flemish Ardennes. Might have to get me some of that kit!

9. V for...Vino? Vulgar? Vapid? Welcome back, Mark.

10. Has Thor Hushovd been training with Denis Menchov?

11. After a used Schwinn Le Tour, a Greg LeMond Tourmalet with Columbus SL tubing was my first “real” road bike. Once again, Tears for Gears has me feeling nostalgic.

12. And speaking of bikes, thanks to BQ at Competitive Cyclist for the heads-up on the new limited edition Renaix 88 model from Fondriest. I was a bit disappointed to see the frame wasn’t made from aluminum in the way that aluminum frames were made when aluminum was high-end, but it’s a great piece of eye-candy nonetheless.

13. I kinda like the retro Team Radio Shack kits used by Lance & Co. at the Tour of the Gila. Here’s a great post from Embro as to how it all came together. And by the way, the Rapha-Speedvagen kit that James Selmann designed is going to be great.

14. Wow.

15. And last but not least, the Giro is underway. Following 3 rainy, windy, crash-filled days in Holland. The race reconvenes in rainy, windy, and crash-filled Italy tomorrow with a team trial trial from Savigliano to Cuneo. So far it looks as if two of my 5 pre-Giro questions have been answered with Tyler Farrar taking Stage 2 and Vinokourov taking the maglia rosa after yesterday’s Stage 3.

All in all, this year’s race looks to be one for the Anglo’s, with 2 of the first 3 stages and 2 of the first 3 maglia rosa’s being taken by English speakers. Mark your calendars for the appearance of the strade bianche on Saturday—that might be one stage worth setting your watch for.

15. Two notes before concluding:

First, an apology to anyone who has sent an email or posted a comment and not received an immediate reply (or anything at all for that matter). Not to make excuses, but Pavé’s still a one-man operation. I’ll always do my best to return your attempts at communication as quickly as my other responsibilities allow (sometimes it’s all I can do just get new posts together “on time”). Thanks for the understanding and support in the meantime—your visits and recommendations are always appreciated. Keep spreading the word.

Second, I’ll be at the first half of this year’s Tour of California as a member of Bicycling’s team. If you plan to attend in some way, shape, or form, feel free to say hello.

That’s it for today—share your comments, thoughts, and feedback below!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Friday, May 7, 2010

The 2010 Giro d'Italia - 5 Questions

The 2010 Giro d'Italia starts tomorrow in Amsterdam, here are 5 questions for the year's first Grand Tour:

1. Will Tyler Farrar continue to progress as a Grand Tour field sprinter?

I like that Garmin’s giving Tyler Farrar lots of chances to improve his field sprinting against top competition. After a dense spring, Farrar took less time-off than others, resting just long enough to arrive at the Giro with what Garmin hopes will be enough fitness to contend for multiple stage victories. Farrar developed right before our eyes last year, building upon his near-misses in the Tour to take the HEW Cyclassics Pro Tour event in Germany and a stage win in the Vuelta. If Tyler wants to continue his progression though, he’ll need to take a win or two at the Giro. If he proves able to defeat the likes of Greipel and Petacchi at their respective peaks, he will head to the Tour as a favorite to take at least one stage and possibly earn some consideration as a green jersey contender to boot. In other words, if Farrar’s a for real field sprinter, we’ll see it over the next 3 weeks.

2. What effect—if any—will the strade bianche have?

Everyone’s talking about the 7 secteurs of pavé included in Stage 3 of this year’s Tour de France—but what about the 20 kilometers of strade bianche in the 2010 Giro? Usually reserved for March’s newest classic, L’Eroica (aka the Montepaschi Strade Bianche), the “white gravel roads” of Tuscany make an appearance on Stage 7’s ride from Carrara to Montalcino. The two 10-kilometer sections look certain cause some havoc in the finale, especially since the last is almost entirely uphill and finishes a mere 8 kilometers from the finish line. After 215 kilometers of racing, look for a breakaway to emerge, possibly containing some of the favorites for the overall title. Cadel Evans rode L’Eroica in March specifically to prepare. Will the former mountain bike World Champion use this stage to make his first move?

3. Which “rehabilitated” former champion will make the biggest impact?

With Ivan Basso and Alexandre Vinokourov both being mentioned as possible candidates for the overall win, it’s entirely possible that we could see the first modern-era Grand Tour champion to win after having served a lengthy suspension. Vino already set the bar following his somewhat surprising win in last month’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège; can Basso better that achievement with a win in a 3-week Grand Tour? Basso and Vino are polar opposites in terms of their reaction to their suspensions and the receptions they have received upon their respective returns.

Basso, the contrite, apologetic winner of the 2006 Giro, took the humble approach to his return, riding last year’s race mostly at the service of Franco Pellizotti. On the other hand, Vinokourov returned the sport last fall with a splash, immediately calling the shots at Astana. Unrepentant and indignant regarding the allegations for which he was suspended, the Kazakh stills seems to deny that he ever did anything wrong. (Hence the loud booing as he saluted the crowd while winning Liège.) Should one of these two take the final maglia rosa three weeks from Sunday, expect yet another polarizing response from fans everywhere—especially if Vino happens to win Astana its second Giro in 3 years.

4. Will Italy have anything to smile about three weeks from now?

Italy’s won 56 races this year, the most of any nation. That said, aside from Stefano Garzelli’s win in Tirreno-Adriatico, there’s been nothing important to write home about for the tifosi. No cobbled classics, no Milan-San Remo, and almost no races outside of Italy itself. Clearly, Italy needs someone it can root for over these next 3 weeks (at least). Now that Pellizotti’s been ruled-out, Ivan Basso and Stefano Garzelli remain the nation’s best chances for a home win—but those odds are long at best. Alessandro Petacchi and Sasha Modolo hope to bring some sprint wins back with them from Amsterdam, while Marco Pinotti hopes to be wearing the maglia rosa following a Stage 1 time trial that suits his talents. But seriously, look at the riders we just mentioned; of them, only one is under 30-years old and several are well past their primes. Is this the best Italy can do in its home tour?

5. Who will win the 2010 Giro d’Italia?

Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre, Ivan Basso, Alexandre Vinokourov, and Bradley Wiggins—these are the 5 men most mentioned in conversations about who will win this year’s race. Of them, I think Evans has the best chance simply by virtue of the fact that he’s a better time trialist than Sastre. Sastre might be a better climber, but not to the extent that Evans is better against the clock. The final stage’s ITT in Verona gives the Aussie a last chance to take back any time he might have lost in the preceding two days in the mountains. Vinokourov will play a role, but he’ll have at least one bad day to knock him from contention, possibly freeing him for several stage wins in the final week. Basso just doesn’t seem to have recovered the power he possessed before his suspension; he’s also recently admitted to being behind in his preparation (a bluff maybe, but given his track record so far in 2010, it might be true). As for Wiggins, he’ll ride well through 2 weeks, but the last hump between the beginning and end of the final week will be enough to have him fretting over his form for the Tour in July.

So while we’ll have to wait 3 weeks for the final answer, I’ll go on record right now and say Evans takes the win over Sastre, with Garzelli coming home a distant third.

And what about you? What questions do you hope to have answered by the 2010 Giro d’Italia? What are your picks and predictions?

Share your comments below!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The 2010 Giro d'Italia - 5 Riders to Watch

The favorites for this year’s Giro d’Italia are well-documented—Evans, Basso, Sastre, and the rest have already received more than their fair share of press in the week leading-up to this Saturday’s Partenza in Amsterdam. Thus, a more interesting conversation might be which young riders will shine in this year’s race, perhaps revealing themselves to be future contender for the maglia rosa.

Here are 5 riders to watch:

1. Jan Bakelants (Age 24) spent the last season-and-a-half riding for Topsport Vlaanderen following wins in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Circuit Ardennes, and most importantly, the 2008 Tour de l’Avenir as an amateur. This past off-season he jumped to the Pro Tour, signing a contract with Omega Pharma – Lotto, with whom he’ll ride this year’s Giro, his first Grand Tour. Bakelants is one of a rare breed of Belgians who prefers hills and time trials to the cobbled, one-day races most often associated with his compatriots. As a result, he’s perfectly suited to stage races. Granted, a 3-week Grand Tour is a much more serious endeavor than a 7-day stage race, but with a squad looking for little more than daily stage victories, Bakelants might have some freedom to try his hand at a good GC result. Top-20 would be a terrific indicator for future success in a race where other Belgians—such as Jurgen Vandenbroeck and Kevin Seeldraeyers—have performed well lately.

2. Sasha Modolo (Age 22) burst onto the scene this season with several top-10 results in Tirreno-Adriatico before taking 4th-place in Milan-San Remo. Considering the intense competition he faced in those events, the young sprinter from Colnago – CSF Inox is clearly ready for the big time. And he’ll get his chance to prove it as the Giro will be his first Grand Tour and aside from Milan-San Remo, he’s never raced on such an important stage. While a professional win has continued to elude him, a Giro stage victory would be a fitting reward following the Italian’s impressive spring. At the Giro he’ll have Greipel, Farrar, and Petacchi to contend with—wouldn’t Italy love to see the baton passed from Ale-Jet to a young successor?

3. My gut tells me to keep an eye on Branislau Samoilau (Age 24). Maybe it’s because he is a young climber who can time trial; maybe it’s because he’s Belorussian—we have been witnessing a bit of a renaissance for riders from former Eastern Bloc countries. Or maybe it’s because he rides for Quick Step—no, it’s not that actually. Regardless of my reasoning (or lack thereof), Samoilau bears watching. He’s performed well in the past three years in various second-tier races including the Tour of Austria, Settimana Lombarda, and some smaller Spanish stage races. More importantly, in 2007 he finished 22nd in his one and only Giro d’Italia—at the ripe “old” age of 21. Like Bakelants, he rides for a team largely devoid of any real goals for the Giro other than giving several men used to playing supporting roles opportunities to win stages and perhaps ride to a high GC placing. For Samoilau, a top-15 finish could be in reach, especially with an individual time trial on the race’s final day.

4. Francesco Masciarelli (Age 24) won the Mont Faron “Queen” Stage of the Tour de Mediterranean in February, beating Rinaldo Nocentini, Alejandro Valverde, and Maxim Iglinsky in the process. The youngest of 3 brothers—all of whom are professional cyclists—and the son of former Italian professional, Palmiro Masciarelli, Francesco’s pedigree is clearly top-notch. Masciarelli’s been progressing steadily through the ranks with several wins and high placings laying the foundation for what looks to be a promising career. This will be his second Tour of Italy, following a debut ride lst year in which he finished 16th overall. The difficult final week should suit his aggressive uphill style, especially as other riders begin to fade. He’ll begin the race as one of Stefano Garzelli’s key lieutenants, but should his captain falter, he has more than enough talent to ride to an impressive result of his own—perhaps becoming Italy’s “next great hope” in the process.

5. Jack Bobridge (Age 20) comes to his first Grand Tour following a DNF in the Tour of Romandie, but that’s not a problem in my mind as it was Jack’s first road race since January’s Tour Down Under. An abbreviated Romandie should prove to have been just what Jack needed after a few successful months preparing for and competing in the World Track Championships. With some high-speed racing in legs, look for Jack to pull a surprise in Saturday’s Stage 1—a short, 8.4-kilometer time trial that suits the pursuiter’s strengths. Garmin also wants to take the team trial trial in Stage 4; Bobridge is a valuable cog in the team’s TTT machine. As for the overall, I doubt Bobridge will finish the entire event; but look for him to stick around at least through the first week to 10 days, gaining experience and learning the ropes in what will be only his third road event as a professional.

And there you have it—five youngsters to watch in this year’s Giro. Who are your picks to surprise us with a breakout performance? Share your comments below.

Come back Friday for more pre-Giro coverage—and please visit my new column at Bicycling Magazine as “The Backseat DS”.  (The Giro Top-10 should be up soon.)

Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Monday Musette - Pavé Awards (2010 Classics)

Several hours in the air this weekend offered me a perfect opportunity to reflect on this year’s classics. Here’s a run-down of this spring’s Pavé Awards, with videos to tell the stories my words could not.  Enjoy!

Rider of the Spring:
How could we not give the Rider of the Spring award to Fabian Cancellara? Spartacus put on a display seldom seen, beating the best of the best to become only the second rider to win the E3 Prijs, the Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix in succession. What impressed me the most was the variety of Cancellara’s race-winning moves: a savvy last-minute attack before a tight corner to take the E3 Prijs; a powerful in-the-saddle surge on the Muur to take Flanders; and a potentially suicidal, solo breakaway almost 50 kilometers from the finish at Roubaix. It was an impressive set of wins from one of the world’s most talented riders—and now he’s off to California!

Runner-up: Philippe Gilbert

Team of the Spring:
Saxo Bank might be an obvious choice here, but after their domination of the major cobbled affairs, they fell short of expectations in the Ardennes. A better choice for a “team” award might be Astana, a squad who raced impressively throughout the entire spring to take wins in Paris-Nice, L’Eroica, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. And while Alberto Contador and Alexandre Vinokourov garnered much of the press, Enrico Gasparotto, Maxim Iglinsky, and Andre Grivko quietly became three of the peloton’s most aggressive and dangerous riders, persistently finding their way into race-winning breakaways all spring. If their talented core remains intact for next season, more big wins should come.

Runner-Up: Saxo Bank

Race of the Spring:
The E3 Prijs Vlaanderen was our only opportunity this spring to see all of the cobbled classics’ top favorites battle head to head—albeit one week earlier than we had hoped. In this year’s edition of a race that usually turns-out to be a dress rehearsal for the Tour of Flanders, Cancellara, Tom Boonen, and Juan Antonio Flecha escaped on the Paterberg with about 40 kilometers left to race. Filippo Pozzato missed the move, but made a valiant late-race effort to bring back the 3 leaders, ultimately taking 4th on the day out of a select chase group containing Lars Boom, Bjorn Leukemans, and Sebastian Langeveld. Up front, Cancellara surprised his two breakaway companions, attacking just before the red kite—and a tight left-hander onto a narrow road. The small gap was all the World Time Trial Champion needed to begin his cobbled victory hat trick.

Runner-up: Liege-Bastogne-Liege

Attack of the Spring:
With 10 kilometers to go in this year’s Ghent-Wevelgem, 6 riders remained at the front. Most eyes were on Philippe Gilbert, George Hincapie, and Bernhard Eisel, while a little Belgian riding for Topsport Vlaanderen hung quietly at the back. Entering the narrow, winding streets of Wevelgem, Sep Vanmarcke decided he had waited long enough—he launched a surprising and powerful attack with 3 kilometers remaining. He quickly opened a workable gap before succumbing to leg cramps and the men he left behind. But Vanmarcke wasn’t finished. An after thought following his attack and capture, the plucky Belgian recovered and took advantage of a poorly organized sprint to take second place on the day, beating Gilbert, Hincapie, and Jurgen Roelandts in the process. For the 21-year-old neo-pro, it was the result of a lifetime, and possibly the sign of bigger things to come from a rider who won the amateur version of Ghent-Wevelgem a year earlier.

Runner-up: Cancellara’s Roubaix Glory Ride

The ????? Award:
Is it just me, or did Saxo Bank riders experience an inordinate number of mechanicals this spring? First Breschel in G-W, then Cancellara and Breschel in Flanders, then Cancellara in Roubaix, and one of the Schleck’s in Liege. While cameras do tend to follow the best teams and riders, catching everything that transpires over the course of the race, it seems as if Saxo Bank riders spent almost as much time changing their bikes as they did winning races on them. Aside from Breschel’s flat tire on the way to Wevelgem, everything seemed to be some kind of braking issue. Strange, no?

Runner-up: Dirk Hofman Motorhomes

Biggest Surprise (Rider):
“Controversy” might be the more operative word, but I think it’s safe to say that Alexandre Vinokourov’s win in Liege-Bastogne-Liege caught almost everyone off-guard. I didn’t even know he was racing until he escaped on the descent of the Cotes de la Roche aux Faucons with Katusha’s Alexandr Kolobnev inside the final 20 kilometers. A last-minute addition to the start list, the Kazakh took a quick trip following his win in the Giro di Trentino to make it to Belgium in time for a shot at his second victory in La Doyenne. With the win, Vinokourov added fuel to the fire surrounding the re-entry of riders convicted of doping offenses into the peloton. Vino’s win was perhaps the biggest victory for a rider to have returned to the sport after serving a significant suspension in the modern era, capping-off a spring that also saw wins go to known dopers David Millar, Michele Scarponi, and Ricardo Rocco.

Runner-up: Bjorn Leukemans

Biggest Surprise (Team):
After Astana, one of the most aggressive and surprisingly successful teams in this year’s Belgian classics just might have been BBox. With two stage wins in DePanne and a top-10 result in Flanders, Steve Chainel, Sébastien Turgot, and William Bonnet performed well enough to give the French reason to smile. Couple these successes with wins in the Criterium International and Paris-Nice. Jean-René Bernaudeau just might have the ammunition he needs to keep his sponsors for another season—or more.

Video of the Spring:
This really needs no explanation.


Special thanks to Youtube's WorldCyclingChannel2, a great source for race highlights and recaps.

What about you?  What awards would you like to bestow upon a lucky or unlucky recipient?  Share your thoughts and comments below.