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Giro Lowdown: Alpine Stages Epic

Anaylsis: The 2014 Giro d’Italia’s Alpine weekend showed off the best racing so far, the battles to Oropa & Montecampione were epic. Rigoberto Uran repelled the attackers, but with the hardest mountains still ahead, has the race been decided? Lee Rodgers offers up his take…

Ivan Basso on the front? Was I half asleep as I watched the stage live last night? Tuning into the official YouTube highlights this morning to see the Cannondale man driving up the climb on Stage 15, I was sure I was having a flashback.

Ivan Basso in better days – on the Zoncolan and on the way to winning the 2010 Giro.

Turns out that was exactly what was going on, as I’d clicked on a link from 2012. Back then, Basso came 5th on the GC and was still buoyant from his 2010 Giro d’Italia win, a victory that, coincidentally enough, saw him take Stage 15 on his way to the overall title. Once upon a time, the native of Gallarate in Northern Italy was the Great White Hope of the Italian tifosi, destined, it seemed, to be the successor, in terms of titles if not in style, to Marco Pantani.

However, like so many of the young cycling men of his generation, Basso’ s career became entwined with the strangling vines of illegal substances, even though he would only go so far as to admit to ‘thinking’ about using them. Dangerous thoughts they were however, and costly, earning Basso a 2 year suspension. These days he’s a shadow of his former self, stumbling around in the GC hinterlands looking unsure of his natural abilities and convincing no one that he is still a Grand Tour contender.

Aru Arrives
However, as is life, as one light diminishes another begins to burn fierce, and yesterday saw the blue torch paper lit on a career that promises great things. Fabio Aru rekindled memories of the great climbers from the history of the sport as he romped to a win that had some of the best mountain men in the world floundering in his wake, a win that propelled him into the top 4 of the race.

Aru’s repeated attacks in the closing kms on Montecampione were too much for anyone else to handle.

One more day like this in the high hills and he will overtake Cadel Evans (who I’d say had a bit of a stinker), and get himself into the top 3. It’s been a while since a young rider has taken a big stage race by the scruff of the throat as Aru did on ‘Pantani’s mountain,’ and he certainly got the attention of the overall leader, Rigoberto Uran.

“I was a bit better than yesterday and I expected the others to attack me but I was surprised by Aru,” said the Colombian. “I saw him at last year’s Giro and I remember he went really strong in the last week. He’s young and still has a lot to learn but he’s a good rider.” Uran seemed almost as surprised then as many of us watching, wondering just who this kid was, but he was a runner-up in the Baby Giro in 2012 and was then signed to Astana after impressing Guiseppe Martinelli.

“Fabio is a young man with huge potential, and I believe and hope that he will live up to our expectations,” said Martinelli at the time. “If he really gives it everything, we might at long last see a good climber in action, the likes of which we have not seen for a few years. Fabio could even play a key role next year alongside Nibali.

“I am sure that he will not only learn how to work from Vincenzo and our other experienced riders, but will also get to know a few essential tricks of the trade.”

The boy came good on Martinelli’s words yesterday, and he might do even better than good by the end of this edition, which after a rather tepid start is finally heating up. It’s taken a while though…

What impressed me so about Aru yesterday wasn’t necessarily that he won but that he was willing to take the fight to the leaders of the race. Riding up the hill with the race leader, Aru would have been forgiven for thinking he’d be better to stick with his hand and to bargain with Uran for the stage win, but the thought never seemed to cross his mind.

He went once, then twice and he was off, popping and surging his way to the line in an exuberant fashion that bubbled with youthful passion. In truth the ride was indeed reminiscent of Pantani, but until commentators can resist from putting the adjectives ‘great’ or ‘brilliant’ before the doomed man’s name I’d rather mention of him was limited. His legacy glimmers like oil on water, a muddied, unclear pool that no one seems willing to get to the bottom of.

Romance has its place but not when it comes at the price of the truth.

Some, like Rapha, are content to use his name to make money. Why not then use Armstrong’s? Pantani may not have been in Armstrong’s league in terms of sociopathic tendencies but such inconsistencies regarding dealing with the facts gives power to the argument that comes out of the Armstrong camp that there exists one rule for him and another for the rest.

Time for a rethink, I think.


Cadel Evans will have been doing a lot of thinking last night too, I imagine. His TT the other day was nothing like the disaster that many claimed but yesterday was, if not majorly. Yet it signifies a trend. Evans has the staying power for two weeks in mild hills but not into the third, and not in the big mountains.

He’s now 1:03 down on the Colombian leader, who looked comfortable yesterday, and if Aru keeps on doing what he did yesterday, Evans will be looking at 3rd at best.

I did say last week that Evans would win the race, which was, obviously, premature. I thought he had one more grand tour win in his legs, and I have a respect for the way Evans goes about his business that clouded my judgement. I hold my hands up, but I am still hoping for a podium for the Aussie.

A final note: Remebering Bernard Hinault in 1982, and Pantani in 1998, whoever has won on Montecampione when the Giro has gone up it has gone on to win the race. Be warned, Uran Uran!

The 2014 Giro. The plot thickens. At last.

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