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Lee’s Lowdown: GIRO Rest Day #2!

After the first nine days of the Giro d’Italia, Lee Rodgers gives us his Lowdown on the action, or lack of it, so far. The German sprinters get full marks as does Gianluca Brambilla, young Bob Jungels and the Etixx – Quick-Step team. Lee is unsure of the form of Vincenzo Nibali, but is sure that Ilnur Zakarin should not be in the Italian Grand Tour and this is where he starts:

Worse was to come for Ilnur Zakarin (Team Katusha) who started the day with a strong chance of taking the race lead. He looked on course for at least a strong ride until a crash midway through the stage. He changed bikes soon after but fell again inside the final kilometer, his GC ambitions severely dented on a day in which he was expected to shine.

giro16st9af-zakarin-17-920Should Zakarin be racing in the Giro?

So far the 2016 Giro d’Italia has not proven to be a vintage offering, though it certainly is one poised on a knife edge as three days of high mountains in the next seven days beckon. With several younger riders in the mix for a spot on the podium and a few grizzled veterans lurking in the deeper waters of the top ten however, this race may yet serve up the kind of fireworks that the Giro has become famous for over the past few years.

Looking at the starting line up the day the race kicked off on Stage 1, Vincenzo Nibali appeared to be the obvious choice as favorite, but the pervious winner of all three of the Grand Tours does not look as deadly as he was when he won the 2014 Tour de France nor the 2010 Vuelta a España, his breakthrough GT win.

Arezzo - Italy - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Vincenzo Nibali (Italie / Team Astana) pictured during stage 8 of the 99th Giro d'Italia 2016 from Foligno - Arezzo 186 km - foto Miwa IIjima/Cor Vos © 2016How’s the form, Vincenzo?

Nibali is nothing if not erratic at times, and his slightly poor showing on Stage 6, when teammate Jakob Fuglsang finished ahead of him after bridging up to then-race leader Tony Dumoulin on the final climb was then followed by a much better ride on Stage 8, when he slipped away with a select group on a hilly finish which saw a quite stunning ride by Gianluca Brambilla bring the young Italian the Maglia Rosa.

Nibali’s performance in the long ITT on Stage 9 was not terrible but he would have expected to put more time into some of the men who will be his rivals once the road really goes up, namely Mikal Landa, Steven Kruijswijk and Alejandro Valverde. If you remember the 2014 race he rode a brilliant ITT then to secure the Yellow Jersey on Stage 20, but he is not in that kind of form just yet. Having said that however, he is second here in terms of experience only to Valverde and is in 4th on the GC just 53 seconds behind Brambilla.

Greve - Italy - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx - Quick Step) pictured during stage 9 of the 99th Giro d'Italia 2016 from Radda to Greve ITT - Time Trial individual - foto LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2016Brambilla rode the time trial of his life on Sunday

Brambilla battled hard to win Stage 8 but then what else would we expect from the guy who was ejected from the 2014 Vuelta for fighting with Russia’s Ivan Rovny? The plucky Italian was suitably thrilled at the end of the day that brought him his first Pink Jersey.

“This is amazing!” he said. “My idea at the beginning of the Giro was to focus on today’s stage and I’ve made it but I cannot believe that I’ve done it. I have to thank Matteo Trentin because he did an excellent job. I was the rider who initiated the breakaway but he did most of the work until I rode away in the steep part of the climb. I’m delighted. Everything is going well for me this year. The birth of my daughter Asia twenty days ago has also changed my life. It’s beautiful.”

giro16st08-brambillapinkTwo more days in the pink

Equally impressive was the ride this slight man put out in the ITT on Stage 9. Perhaps he was listening to Eurosport in his earpiece, listening to them write him off after just 8 kilometers? Either way it was a gutsy ride that saw him hold on to the jersey buy just one second from his EQS teammate Bob Jungels, who leads the Best Young Rider competition.

Which prompts me to ask: just what the heck is going on at EQS? The perennial Classics team now seems to have some pretty darned decent GC riders, and no one is quite sure how it happened.

Wevelgem - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Patrick Lefevere of the Etixx - Quick-Step Pro Cycling Team pictured during breakfast at the headquarters of the Etixx - Quick-Step Pro Cycling Team in Wevelgem, Belgium - photo JdM/PN/Cor Vos © 2016Patrick can’t believe it

“It’s true, we have no idea how this has happened. We’re as shocked as you are,” Patrick Lefevere didn’t say but really should have after the stage.

Jungels is 23 and has a palmarès like the arrest sheet Lance Armstrong really should have, but doesn’t. This kid can do it all, time trial (junior World Champ in 2010), ride hard flat courses (Espoirs Roubaix winner 2012) and ride up hills too (two KOM jerseys in his short career) and he is in no way overawed by the guys he is racing against. I’m tempted to say he is at least as talented as Brambilla and would not be surprised to see him finish well at this Giro.

Praia a Mare - Italy - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Bob Jungels (Etixx - Quick Step) pictured during stage 5 of the 99th Giro d'Italia 2016 from Praia a Mare to Benevento 233 km - foto LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2016Bob Jungels – “The kid can do it all”

One rider I am not so thrilled to see doing well is Ilnur Zakarin. The Russian was busted for anabolic steroids in 2009 and on his return in 2011 he walked into a job with Katusha’s Continental team. With evidence showing that even short term steroid use can bring benefits for several years after usage has been terminated, the facts as they are now is that this guy is running on the residual effect of those drugs.

Paris - Nice stage 8Running on residuals?

On the sprint side of things, there have been quite a few interesting flat finishes with the Germans André Greipel and Marcel Kittel dominating. It’s always good to see Kittel riding well, he’s a likable character and seems a fair rider, but for me Greipel gets far less praise than he deserves. He has shown just how tough a rider he is with some outstanding breakaway efforts in recent Grand Tours and his doggedness and determination have kept him in contention in races when he really had no right to be there.

99th Giro d'Italia 2016 stage - 3The German sprint force, Kittel & Greipel

His win on Stage 7 was fantastic and he won that by a country mile, whereas the younger Kittel couldn’t handle the pace and got gapped on the run in. Caleb Ewen stood out for his peculiar sprinting style as he looked for his breakthrough Giro win but no one was going to deny Greipel and his scintillating finishing speed.

Praia a Mare - Italy - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) pictured during stage 5 of the 99th Giro d'Italia 2016 from Praia a Mare to Benevento 233 km -Greipel by a mile in stage 5

This 2016 Giro d’Italia is one that holds a lot of promise even if it is not yet proving itself a classic edition, but with the General Classification so tight and with this intriguing mix of young riders like Brambilla, Jungels, and Steven Kruisjwijk, the enigma that is Tom Dumoulin and older hands such as Nibali, it might yet turn into a doozy. . .

The Gorilla takes stage 5:

Lee Rodgers is a former professional road racer on the UCI Asia Tour circuit now racing MTB professionally around the world. His day job combines freelance journalism, coaching cyclists, event organizing and consulting work. You can keep up with his daily scribblings over at www.crankpunk.com.

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