Lee’s Lowdown: GIRO Rest Day #3!
Ahead of the final hard week of the Giro d’Italia the peloton take their third rest day in north Italy and Lee Rodgers gives us his thoughts on the acton so far. Who’s hot and who’s not: Steven Kruijswijk looks like a Grand Tour champion, has Vincenzo Nibali lost all chance and is the battle over for Alejandro Valverde? All this and more in Lee’s Giro Lowdown.
I can’t remember hearing Steven Kruijswijk being touted as a potential Grand Tour winner, which is probably just as well as so many who have been have failed to fulfill that dream, but he certainly looks like one now after his commanding performances in the Dolomites. He is enjoying the last rest day of this year’s Giro with a not too shabby 2 minutes 12 seconds lead over Colombian Esteban Chaves with Vincenzo Nibali a further 39 seconds back in third.
The Dutchman’s best performances in the Grand Tours to date have both come in the Giro, but an 8th in 2011 and a 7th last year, whilst decent enough in their own right, were not enough to have him earmarked as a favorite for a race that many felt would be won by Vincenzo Nibali.
Kruijswijk dominated the other GC contenders with a ride that was only bettered by a fraction of a second by Alexander Foliforov of Gazprom-RusVelo, roaring up the 10.8km hill with that distinctively measured style of his serving him well on a course that was never too steep and allowed him to push a big gear for the most part.
The big loser of course was Nibali, who dropped over 2 minutes thanks to a combination of a dropped chain and a below par performance. Nibali’s record in the Grand Tours is really rather good, with 13 finishes out of 14 starts (his only non-finish coming thanks to a disqualification for holding onto a team car in the 2015 Vuelta a España). In 10 of those 13 finishes he finished in the top ten every time, with a win in each of the three Grand Tours, along with two thirds and two seconds.
Yet for some reason Nibali, unless he is in winning form and cruising to victory, is frustratingly inconsistent in his performances. He certainly has the talent to win, he’s proven that, and with that comes the experience of preparation for these long races, so one has to wonder whether he’s affected by the intense pressure and scrutiny that the Italian press and tifosi subject their heroes to.
At the end of the time trial that saw him in third on the GC, he dodged the waiting press and jumped straight on his bike to ride back to the team car, where he got into the back seat and refused to roll his window down to speak to answer the questions of the media.
“Today I paid. Yesterday Valverde paid, maybe the day after tomorrow Kruijswijk could pay, I don’t know. You have to accept results like that,” Nibali said later. ”There was a bit of irritation at the finish, but it’s normal that after the race you have to catch your breath and it’s hard to think about responding to questions straight away.”
I can’t see a comeback for His Nibs or even a retaking of the second place he lost yesterday, as there’s the not insignificant factor of the Colombian who now sits directly in front of him. Orica-GreenEDGE’s Chavez looks to be the only rider who can seriously hope to challenge Kruijswijk for the coveted Maglia Rosa, and with three more decent days in the mountains he is in with a shout. Stage 19 from Pinerolo to Risoul is the stage he most likely has earmarked as his best chance to put a proper dent into the Dutchman’s lead, with the 12 kilometer final hill offering the kind of ramps that suit his slender and compact frame.
Kruijswijk though has proven so far that he can match Chaves on the steep suppose and dominate him on the shallower ones, such as those in the time trial. He’s also more naturally suited to take advantage of any freakishly windy days on the flats that might crop up, thanks to, well, being Dutch!
One rider who will be disappointed with his race up to now is Rafal Majka, who hasn’t been climbing with the same sort of predatory grace that brought him the KOM jersey in the 2014 Tour de France along with wins on stages 14 and 17. One of those ‘potential Grand Tour winners’, the Polish rider sits in 5th but is almost 5 minutes down on the leader. He must have fancied his chances at the start of the race with only Nibali standing out as a clear favorite, but I doubt he’ll make the podium now.
Three more chunky mountain stages left and we all know that anything can and invariably does happen in these races, but I’ll put my money on Kruijswijk taking the pink jersey all the way to the end. He looks assured, he looks strong, heck, he looks like a potential Grand Tour winner!
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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