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?