31 May 2013

Wiggo not able to defend Tour de France

Well after all the talk of whether it would be Chris Froome or Bradley Wiggins taking the lead for Team Sky the news today is that the defending champion will not even be taking the start line.

It is not just that chest infection that took him out of the Giro d'Italia earlier this month but also a long standing knee injury that has also prevented him training since that sad day in the wet where he lost time on a stage that Mark Cavendish was able to win.

Of course he is not the first defending champion who has failed to defend his title, but it is a rarity that the man who will instead start with number 1 on his back will be the second placed rider the year before and on the same team.

Hopefully Bradley will be back on the roads of Yorkshire when the 2014 Tour starts.

30 May 2013

Sochi medals unveiled #sochi2014

I know we seem to have only exited winter and finally hit summer without the appearance of spring. But today in the balmy conditions of Sochi on the Black Sea the medals for the next Winter Olympiad were unveiled.

They will be 1cm think and 10 cm in diameter. The front of the Olympic medals features the Olympic rings. The reverse side has the name of the competition in English and the Sochi logo. The official name of the games in Russian, English and French is engraved on the rim.

The Paralympic medals were designed in the same style. One side features the Paralympic symbol, the reverse has the logo of the Games and the name of the competition in English. The medals also contain inscriptions in Braille for the visually impaired.

26 May 2013

Giro d'Italia Stage 21 Riese Pio X - Brescia (all about five)

Yesterday in the snow it was Nibali who attacked on the last climb, only the trio of Columbians Rigoberto Uran (SKY), Carlos Betancur (ALM) and Fabio Duarte (COL) who were even able to raise their game to try and keep close to the Italian. As it was they finished about 20 seconds down, Duarte second 17 seconds behind but with a 2 second gap over Uran who in turn had 2 over Betancur.

However, for the riders in third and fourth the gaps that really concerned them had still to be decided. For Uran it was when Cadel Evans some 1 minute 11 seconds behind him that meant that even without his time bonus he had overhauled the Australian to take second place. For Betacur who had failed to get a time bonus is was a wait for the white jersey on the back of Saxo Bank-Tinkoff rider Rafal Majka who cross the line some 43 seconds after the Columbian, meaning a change in the young rider classification once again.

Another jersey changed hands yesterday. As on stage stage 17 Mark Cavendish was largely unchallenged for the 2 points remaining at the 2 intermediate sprints. I say largely as a Movistar rider did challenge him for the the first one, but he was soon getting a talking to from the whole of the Omega Pharma Quickstep team. The second was at the start of the final climb but Cav was allowed to take the peleton through the last km before the sprint point. But with Nibali winning the 25 points on the line he overtook both Evans and Cavendish moving to 128 points over 117 for Cavendish.

Today's stage is a flat stage finishing with 8 laps of a 4.2km (see profile and hazards). It is set up for the sprinters for one last showdown. Of course so far none of them have outdone Cavendish and he has cleaned up. He will be looking for his fifth stage in this year's Giro today but all he needs is a finish in the top 5 to wrest the Maglia Rosso, which he will be wearing today anyway, off the shoulders of the Maglia Rosa.

If Cavendish can finish in the top five he will become one of five to have won all three Grand Tour points jerseys. He will join:
  • Eddy Merckx (BEL) who with his 1973 Vuelta points win was the first to complete the set. He took the Giro's in 1968 and 73 and the Tour's in 1969, 71 and 72.
  • Djamolidine Abdoujaparov (UZB) who completed his set in Milan in the 1994 Giro. He added that to his Tour wins of 1991, 93 and 94 and Vuelta win in 1992.
  • Laurent Jalabet (FRA) who also completed his set in Milan in 1999. Added to his Tour Jerseys in 1992 and 95 and four consecutive Vuelta wins from 1994-7.
  • Alessandro Pettachi (ITA) who only took one of each beating Cavendish to the 2010 Tour Maillot Vert to add to his earlier 2004 Giro and 2005 Vuelta wins.
It was of course that lose to Pettachi who won with his points on the medium and high mountains that lead to more points being awarded on the flat stages leading to Mark Cavendish winning the following year's jersey to add to his points win in the 2010 Vuelta.

The other jersey the Mountains was definitely won by Stefano Pirazzi (BAR) he took 82 points over the 45 of both Giovanni Visconti (MOV) and Nibali.

24 May 2013

Di Luca tests positive for EPO

It is with regret that I have to report a second positive test on this year's Giro d'Italia. Sylvain Georges for AG2r-La Mondiale had early tested positive for Heptaminol claiming it was an accident of taking something to aid his recovery.

However, Danilo Di Luca who has featured prominently in attacks on a number of climbs in this year's race and is the 2007 winner has tested positive to EPO. That surely is not something that can be put down to a casual accident that is an injection.

Di Luca has a sorry history with the drug testers. After his win in 2007 he was banned for 3 months as part of the investigation Oil for Drugs and in July 2009 he was given a 2 year ban for use of EPO, his results of coming second in that year's Giro were scrubbed from the records. Only Denis Menchov of that year's podium was not subsequently disqualified as Fraco Pellizotti who was third was also banned.

Di Luca, Menchov and Pellizotti in Rome after the finish of 2009 Giro
He was a surprise sign up for Vini Fantini just ahead of this year's Giro, as many thought the 37 year old who was out of contract would be retiring. While he is provisionally suspended pending the analysis of his B sample, it looks like if that comes back positive he will be facing an enforced retirement under the three strike lifetime ban rule.

Giro d'Italia 2013 Stage 19 The Road to Nowhere

I haven't had time to catch up with stage 17 and 18 fully yet and write them up, I hope to do that later.

However, the news about stage 19 today first of all last night was that the original route

was that both the Passo Gavia and Passo di Stelvio, the first two on the route were going to be impassable because of snow. So a revised route was produced. Although there were still weather reports that the route tomorrow could still have temperatures as low as -14 Celsius.

But even this with the summit now as the high point of the race route was deemed to be unrideable this morning so the Giro racers have an unexpected third rest day.

But there is more, tomorrow's final mountain stage has also be revised.

The second category Passo Costulunga and Passo di San Pellegrino have been removed along with the first category Cortina d'Amprezzo. This could be good news for Mark Cavendish on two counts. Both the intermediate sprints are now potentially achievable for him in the peleton, but also there is every chance that a large group will reach the finish possibly limiting the number of points that Cadel Evans could take at the finish. It sets it up for the Manxman for the flat run into Brescia on Sunday to potentially still be in the red jersey, but even it not, he won't be too far behind Evans and going out on a win on the last stage would certainly seal it for him. After his disappointment of going into pain on Stage 17 trailing in less than 100 seconds down on the Maglia Rosa and only 1'37" behind Giovanni Visconti, but out of the points, it may be a relief.

22 May 2013

Giro d'Italia Stage 17 Carvaggio - Vicenza

Yesterday it was all go on the Andrate. For a start there were 22 riders ahead of the peleton in the valley leading to it, it included the man in 18th in the GC Damiano Caruso (CAN) who was a real danger if he got too far ahead. Also the breakaway knew that while he remained with them that they would be chased down. So there were two races within the race, one to pull him back and one to get rid of him.

In the end a trio of Danny Pate (SKY), Emanuele Sella (AND) and Wilco Kilderman (BLA) did break the elastic with about 36 km to go, and 10 km until the start of the Andrate. Behind them another group of five formed King of the Mountains Stefano Pirazzi (BAR), Gorka Verdugo (EUS), Ramunas Navardauskas (GRS), Grega Bole (VCD) and Jose Herrada (MOV).

On the climb Caruso was hauled back into the peleton and these eight formed the head of the race together. But nearer the summit the Maglia Rosa group hauled all of them back in as well. Though missing was Mauro Santambrogio (VIN), who was only one second behind third placed Rigoberto Uran (SKY) at the start of the day.

But it wasn't all over yet. People kept attacking on the descent. In the end, with about 3km to go, a group of four managed to stay away Robert Gesink (BLA),Przemysław Niemiec(LAM), Beñat Intxausti (MOV) and Nibali's Astana team mate Tanel Kangert. Only for Gesink's run of bad luck to continue and for him to puncture on the cobbles with 1.7km to the finish.

Niemiec started to go for the line, but his inexperience meant he went too early and in the end Intxansti won his first individual stage in a Grand Tour. The main contenders coming in 14 seconds behind. Santambrogio lost 2'10" on his rivals in the GC dropping him from 4th to 6th.

Today's stage is flat, though there is a little kick up towards the end. But the last 3km is twisting. There are four turns and two other roundabouts to be negotiated. The last turn is a right hander only 500m from the finish. It could lead to a lot of bumping and barging. It is the sort of finish that needs a well drilled lead out and that is what Cavendish has, but there is, as always with such a fraught finish, the change that less experienced sprinters will panic and get into the wrong places and cause mayhem. But it should be dry with no rain forecast which is a relief.

If everyone stays on two wheels it is hard to look past Mark Cavendish picking up his 5th stage win of this Giro. If he doesn't I suspect he won't be more than a bike length away from doing so.

21 May 2013

Giro d'Italia Stage 16 Valloiure - Ivrea

Stage 15 did eventually get unto the Galibier and all but the last 4.25km were ridden, though the ascent and descent of Mont Cenis were neutralised over safety fears as there was no way to avoid having to use that road.

As it was on the ascent to the Pantani monument Giovani Visconti (MOV) was the lone man to stay away from the field by any considerable length of time he finished some 54 seconds ahead of the Maglia Rosa group which included all of Vincenzo Nibali's main rivals. But the race for the best young rider did explode near the summit. Carlos Betancur (ALM) ended up taking second 42 seconds down, just ahead of Przemysław Niemiec(LAM) but significantly also ahead of Rafal Majka (TST) who is his main rival in that competition, gaining vital bonus seconds to climb into the white jersey.

Today's stage sees the riders returning into Italy the way they came. The start on the Col du Telegraph but climb the Mont Cenis to go back over the border and into Italy. But after that the road is fairly flat merely undulating until they are 24 km from home.

Then they hit the category 3 Andrate it is only 5.8km of climbing with the descent then flat to the finish. However, it depends how Mont Cenis is ridden today how the race could pan out. If it is still ridden neurtalised there is a chance that some of the sprinters could get over the Andrate, especially if they are looking to get rid of Cavendish. But as he showed on Friday, along with his Omega Pharma - Quickstep team they can get him over some of the small climbs ready for this sort of finish. 

The only disclaimer I am putting on this is that the sprinters my have to race back after Mont Cenis, but if they do there may well be a sprinter taking line honours. They may also be a member of the breakaway staying away long enough to win as the climb is so near the end. This race has had a few surprises, well apart from when it comes to a sprint on the flat-ish then there has been only one.

19 May 2013

Giro d'Italia stage 15 (your guess is as good as mine)

Yesterday the Giro returned to the high mountains, but the weather was so bad with snow falling at the finish, freezing fog and heavy rain that there was very little to see on the peaks. TV coverage was next to non-existent so to try and tell you who attacked when and where is a hard task. Altough the reason we didn't see them climb Sestriere was because that ascent was removed for safety reasons.

However, what is known is that Luca Paolini (KAT), Sonny Colbrelli (BAR) and Daniele Pietropolli (LAM) were up the road before the last climb. But at some point on the climb of the Jafferau Franco Pellizotti (AND) went after them being joined by Segio Henao (SKY) and Diego Rosa (AND). However, by the time the mists cleared and we could see what was going on again Mauro Santambrogio (VIN) was at the front of the race followed by Vincenzo Nibali (AST). The Vini Fantini rider took line honours from Nibali, next through the murk was Carlos Betancur (ALM) 9 seconds later, some 26 seconds after the leader was Sammy Sanchez (EUS) 4 seconds ahead of Rigoberto Uran (SKY) who in turn was three seconds of the group that contained Cadel Evans (BMC), Domenico Pozzovivo (ALM) and Robert Kiserlovski (RLT).

Michele Scarponi (LAM) was 1'28" down but Robert Gesink who had also been in the top five at the start of the day was paced over the line by three of his Blanco team mates some 4'16" down. At the start of the day Britian's Robert Miller has abandoned. Further down the race the red jersey of Mark Cavendish was escorted by six of his Omega Pharma - Quickstep team mates over the line 22'31" down inside the cut off point.

So Nibali extended his lead over his rivals:

  1. Nibali 57:20:52"
  2. Evans +1:26"
  3. Uran +2:46"
  4. Santambrogio +2:47"
  5. Scarponi
Today's stage was meant to pay tribute to the 100th edition of the Tour de France with the iconic finish on the Col du Galibier. But it was announced last night that the weather has mean that will not be happening. The last 4.25km have been removed from the end of the stage fnishing at the monument to Marco Pantani rather than the summit.

There was also talk yesterday that the Col du Mont Cenis, the pass that some consider to be the way that Hannibal traversed and what would have been the entry into France would be circumnavigated, but at the time of writing after work overnight to clear it of snow it is still on the itinerary.

18 May 2013

Giro d'Italia Stage 14 Cervere - Bardonnechia

I may have mentioned that yesterday's stage may not have been ideal for the sprinters. I may have said that Cavendish had a challenge if he was to claim his 4th stage of this Giro. But then after the stage the Manx Missile himself said:

"Today was a bit of a bonus but I'm so tired and I don't know how I'm going to get into the mountains. I had to go 350m out after that hard day and I'm on my knees. I didn't want to go for the sprint for today but the call came from the team so I had to go for it. Once again the team did brilliantly and I had to finish it for them."

So there you have it, Cavendish struggled over the hills and won the stage in the red jersey which he reclaimed yesterday. Considering only 87 finished on the same time and 57 of the 187 left finished 16'32" after Cavendish it really was a day that for Cav his Omega Pharma-Quickstep who sat around him to nurse him over the hills did a sterling job.

It was also the day that saw the departure of two Grand Tour Champions, both Tour de France Champion Bradley Wiggins and defending Giro Champion Ryder Hesjedal didn't take the start. Both have been under the weather (probably literally as it has been poor this Giro) and have withdrawn on medical advice. The French national champion who had finished second to Cavendish yesterday had announced that he was quitting last night, probably so he can give his best to the tour whose colours he has been wearing this year.

All those retirements don't affect the GC much as Wiggins had dropped to 13th yesterday and Hesjedal was a lot worse. But it means that for Sky Rigoberto Uran who is in third 2'04" will look for another chance to attack like he did on Tuesday.

Today might be just such a chance, though of course now he is the marked rider in Sky and there is no alternative.

But there isn't very much flat land in the stage. The first climb is a long haul, but only a category 2 up to Sestriere. It is 16.25km climbing a total of 617 metres of altitude. It has a sharp descent but Nabili and Evans will have a harder time shifting Uran off their wheel thah they had with Wiggins. However there will be a selection by the time they get to Sestriere, one thing I can predict is that Cavendish will not even by then be in with a chance of adding to his stage wins.

The final climb though is where the GC could still be shaken up today. In only 7.25km they climb 646 metres in altitude. There is a severe 14% section near the foot of the climb, but there isn't really much forgiving territory as they head up to the arrivo of today. The last km if nobody has been successful in making a move those far ramps up even more. Uran is going to be going after time, Nibali will probably also want a bigger cushion over Evans. As for the Australian he hasn't really launched an attack on his own yet in the Giro, at some point he may have to, but will it be today.

Outside the top three you can't rule out Robert Gesink or Michele Scarponi who are 8 and 9 seconds further back than Uran. Any of the top five could still win this tour and it all depends on where and when they attack and who, if anyone can match them. With so many tough mountains still to come this race is not over and  today and tomorrow are two tough days back to back. What happens today may well affect somebody in tomorrow's stage.

17 May 2013

Giro d'Italia Stage 13 Busseto - Cherasco

Sorry I didn't get around to reviewing yesterday's stage.

So in review of the last two day. Stage 11 saw a breakaway stay away with the remaining riders of the group trailing in behind. All the main GC contenders were there except Ryder Hesjedal who struggled on the first of the categorised climbs.

Yesterday was a flat stage set up for a sprint finish. But with the weather things would probably have been easier on two water skis than two wheels. It was torrential rain and Bradley Wiggins had said before the start that he was suffering from a cold and chest infection (the weather of this Giro has been far from ideal). He was actually struggling to keep up on a flat stage and in the end recorded a time that was 3'17" behind the winner.

The winner however was someone recording his 100th professional win, his 13th in the Giro, and back into the red points jersey. The Omega Pharma-Quick Step team gave him the perfect lead out in the wet conditions. First capturing the breakaway in the final 500m , then allowing the Manx Missile to cross the line with several bike lengths gap to anyone else.

Today's stage is officially listed as flat. Though I have my doubts that the sprinters will all be there at the end.There reason for this is firstly the 3ed category climb of Tre Cuni 37km from the finish, but there there is the uncategorised kick up the Ponte sul Tanaro 7.5km from the end.

Of course the sprinters have also managed to gain some sort of mountain legs to have got over the big climbs at the start of the week inside the time limit so there is a possibility that some of you typical climbers may hang on, but I don't think the man in the red jersey will do so. If I have got that wrong and the Manx Missile has made it to the final km in touch with the group the form he is in makes it hard to look for anyone else.

However, this stage is one I think that will go to one of the rouleurs rather than the sprinters. One of the guys with the power to get over the hill and the speed and determination to sprint it out for line honours at the end.

15 May 2013

Giro d'Italia Stage 11 Tarvisio (Cave del Predil) - Vajont (Erto e Casso)

Yesterday the Giro hit the first of its big mountain passes. As I predicted at the end of the first ascent Nibali and his Astana team came to the front after Sky had ridden the tempo up to try and head down in the valley to see see if Bradley Wiggins could keep up. At that point yesterday he could, although one of his super domestiques Sergio Henao was less able to do so. Ryder Hesjedal (GRS) had already been dropped on the climb.

Then we came to the Altopiano and the climb to the line, Sky went on the attack with 8km to go, although it was in the shape of Rigoberto Uran and not his team leader, who seemed to be sitting comfortably in the pack alongside Nibali, Cadel Evans (BMC) and Robert Gesink (BLA). That is until they were within the last 3.5km when first Gesink and then Wiggins lost contact with a very elite group. He then cut a lonely figure as he attempted to time trial his way up the  rest of the slope to limit his losses, for once again that was what he would be facing. The reason that Wiggins had come under pressure was because Carlos Betancur (ALM) had gone off in pursuit of Uran and the others tried to respond to him. While neither effort was successful it did lead to two of the top four falling behind.

As it was Sky's Columbian won the stage, some 20 seconds ahead of Betancur who was a further 11 seconds ahead of the pack that was Nibali, Evans, Mauro Santambrogio (VIN) Rafal Majka (TST) Dominico Possivivo (ALM). Wiggins was a further 37 seconds down although with Nibali picking up time bonuses 49 down on him, which would actually put him one second behind Uran in the GC, with Gesink 8 seconds further back dropping behind both the Sky riders. Hesjedal lost 21 minutes yesterday and is certainly not going to defend his title.

Today is a medium mountain stage in that it only has two category 2 climbs, but once again the race will finish uphill. It may be interesting to see what people have left in the legs for the last climb. It is only 6.4km long but today's stage has the possibility of Sky with their many mountain domestiques being able to ride at tempo for much of the day to put pressure on other teams. They could reach the foot of the last climb with more riders around Uran and Wiggins than the other teams might have around their leaders. Ready to step up the power and the pace on the last climb and possibly try a classic one-two with Wiggins and Uran. They are now the team that can threaten on two barrels and could put lone riders under pressure. It would a different way for Team Sky to ride, but as they aren't dominating they will have to think outside the box. There are no more mountains until the weekend so they may as well make an effort today.

14 May 2013

Giro d'Italia Stage 10 Cordenons - Altopiano del Montasio

After Sunday's stage some riders, especially Bradley Wiggins, will be glad that today's stage finishes on the summit of Altopiano del Montasio and doesn't include a descent, just in case it rains again. Indeed the man himself has said he "descended lie a bit of a girl" apologises to all my female readers and to the many female road racers who would have descended better than Bradley, but those are his choice of words. However, the rain on Sunday saw Wiggins with most of his team having to chase back over a minute lost of a wet descent once again. Noticeable in their absence in that pursuit were Uran and Henao who are also in the top 10 overall.

The only member of the top ten who didn't finish in the main group behind Maxim Belkov (KAT) was the man with number 1 on his back, Ryder Hesjedal. He lost over a minute despite his Garmin team mates only a few kms before the climb of the Fiesole, where he became detached riding on the front to control the race for him.

Yesterday was a rest day but today sees the race enter the high mountains for the first time. Today we see two first category climbs one after the other as the climax of 167 km of racing. So today is another day you can expect to see a further GC shake up as first the Passo Cason di Lanza rises to 1555m the highest point of the day before the final climb to 1519m.

Vincenzo Nibali may try once again to distance himself from some of this rivals on the descent of Passo Cason di Lanza but when they all get to the bottom there is still 21.7km of climbing to be done to the finish.

The first climb isn't a continuous climb and actually has a section of  descending part of the way up to give a little rest bite to the riders, that is if the start of the slopes to get them there have been survived. Some will have been shedded on the very steep first slopes. However, after just over 6km of the km there is 2km of relief. Before another 6km of ascent which as one point reaches 16%, but it is pretty much rough going all the way to the top, before the descent into the valley below.

In is that descent that Nibali along with Cadel Evans (BMC) and others will probably want to test Bradley Wiggins. Descending has been the English riders achilles heel thus far on this tour, so with 28km  of pretty steep descending through hairpins to negotiate they will be putting the hammer down no doubt, wet or dry, to see just what the Sky leader can do.

If Bradley can drop well with the rest of them hopefully all of the GC contenders will reach the bottom of the Altopiano. It is not as full-on a climb as Passo Cason as far as gradient goes but it is a long drag, almost 22km of climbing. But with a number of steeper sections followed by less steep sections it is open to a climbers attack. Just above Sella Nevea with about 3km to go is the steepest part of today's route, reaching up to 20% gradient. If one of the GC is feeling strong at that point they may well try and attack to see what is in the legs of his rivals. If someone can get away there they are only likely to stay away until the end, providing they haven't gone too far into the red in the effort.

At the line I don't expect to see much more than a maximum of twenty riders in a group (even if a little elongated). This climb isn't a total killer, but someone could turn it into one with an attack at the right point. So it may be considerably less than that.

12 May 2013

Giro d'Italia Stage 9 San Sepolcro - Firenze

Yesterday the individual time trial stage was hillier than most and had a monster of a climb to the finish. This may well have been why it was those who are climbers didn't suffer so much and some of the time trial specialists didn't make as big an impression as they may have hoped on a 58.4km stage.

Dowsett during yesterday's stage
That being said there was a British winner, but not the one many were talking about, even though he was wearing the national champion's jersey Alex Dowsett was so far down the GC that he had completed the course before the TV coverage kicked in.but as rider after rider came after him his time was looking more and more secure.

His compatriot Bradley Wiggins was starting 23 from the end and therefore instead of the usual 3 minute intervals he was only 1 minute down on the person in front, so he was capturing people on a regular basis during his run. He even disgarded his new Pinarello Bolide bike for his trusted Graal, on which he won Olympic gold. He was well down at the first intermediate time, but at the end he was only 10 seconds down on Dowsett. However, behind him some of the GC contenders had gone through the split faster than Wiggins, but worryingly Vincenzo Nibali who is not a traditional time trialist.

But as each of the main challengers reached the line time was being clawed back by Wiggins. Franco Pellizotti (AND) who had 30 seconds advantage lost over 4 minutes. Michele Scarponi (LAM) with 35 seconds, lost 43 to still be in touch if behind. Samuel Sanchez (EUS) a further 5 seconds ahead was 3 minutes 7 seconds slower than Wiggins.

Robert Gesink of Blanco had been 1'19" ahead of Wiggins, he lost all but one second of that, to take the virtual Maglia Rosa on the line off Wiggins, with just 8 more men to finish. But next up was Cadel Evans (BMC) who had been ahead of Wiggins at the intermediate and is a decent time trialist and climber. He crossed the line only 29 seconds down on Wiggins on the day but enough to remain 47 seconds in front of the man who succeeded him as Tour de France Champion. Ryder Hesjedal (GRS) was third from the end but he lost 2'13" on Wiggins. Vincenzo Nibali (AST) was next up and rode and very impressive time, for him, losing only 11 seconds to Wiggins, but enough to climb into the Maglia Rosa as Movistar's Beñat Intxausti who was the surprise leader after the carnage on stage 7 was just over 4 minutes slower than his team mate Dowsett who was winning his first Grand Tour stage.

The GC now after the first major shake up looks like this:

1 Nibali 29:46:57
2. Evans +29
3. Gesink +1:15
4. Wiggins +1:16
5. Scarponi +1:24
6. Hesjedal +2:04
7. Sergio Henao (SKY) +2:11
8. Santambrogio (VIN) +2:43
9. Niemiec (LAM) +2:44
10. Uran (SKY) + 2:49

Today's stage is the first in which the riders will not see the sea at any point of their route. It also contains the first first category climb of the tour the Vallombrosa, coming about the middle of the stage immediately at the ascent and descent of the category 2 Passa Dello Consuma. There remains a category 3 and 4 climb on the run into Firenze, but this is the harderst medium mountain stage so far this Giro.

After the shake up yesterday today may be too early for some to try and make time back, tomorrow is a rest day with the first high mountains coming on Tuesday. So expect control of the race not to let anyone who may have slipped a few minutes back to make up too much time, but not too much attacking, especially as there are still 54km from the summit of Vallombrosa to the end of the stage. It is just possible that another break away might prove successful today as the big guys are waiting and planning for Tuesday.

11 May 2013

Giro d'Italia Stage 8 Gabicce Mare - Saltara

Today's stage is the individual time trial over 56.4km. Before yesterday it was probably the stage that Olympic Time Trial Champion Sir Bradley Wiggins thought he would be able to do enough to overcome the 17 seconds he lost to his GC contenders the other day into Matera due to the time splits, in the wet. As I said that was before yesterday.

Yesterday I did mention the weather forecast said there might be rain, and rain there was. Coming down the last descent. Adam Hansen and Aussie on the Lotto-Belisol team became the first member of a long break away to stay away and win a stage in this years race. Although that was not for lack of trying from behind. Vincenzo Nibali (AST) tried to make the most of his famous descending ability in the wet, but he overcooked it into a corner and came down. By the time he had recovered his bike he was in a group with more of the GC contenders. But nervously at the back of the group was Wiggins. At one point on the coverage it looked like a Sky rider, suspiciously like Wiggins was back in the cars after someone else was reported to have gone down. The later there was a Wiggins crash captured on camera. He didn't get back into his riding quickly and the gap went up. But his team mate Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao canme back to pace him to the finish. But in the end he lost 1'23" to Nibali, Cadel Evans (BMC), Michele Scarponi (LAM) and Ryder Hesjedal (GRM).

Today is a long individual time trial, one that normally would suit Wiggins. But what has the effect of the last few days and especially yesterday had on him.

Yesterday Dave Braislford said that he was not injured yet he didn't look his usual easy self even when the road stopped going downhill in the wet. If he isn't in the right frame of mind today he may end up not eating into the time of those other GC contenders anywhere near enough if he is to be a serious challenger in this Giro later on.

If he is he could take a minute at least out of anyone, there is no Tony Martin or Chris Froome here who in recent TTs have been the only people to really stay within that of him over this sort of distance. If that Wiggins that was dominant last summer turns up today he could very well turnaround yesterday and climb into the Maglia Rosa, or at least get very close to it.

10 May 2013

Andrew Simpson Olympic Yachtsman 1976-2013

Simpson on the right with Iain Percy
Andrew Simpson was the crewman who along with Iain Percy won gold in the Star class at the Beijing Olympics and silver in the same class last summer.

He was a competitive sailor in the Finn class before teaming up with Percy, winning silver in the 2001 European Championships and bronze in the 2003 worlds. But of course that was a class where fellow Brit Ben Ainslie ruled supreme so the chance to crew for Percy allowed him to take part in two Olympics.

With the Star class cut from the 2016 Olympic regatta Simpson's eyes turned towards the America's Cup, like those of his teenage training partner and rival Ben Ainslie. Yesterday he was training with the Swedish crew Artemis Racing in San Francisco Bay for who he was the strategist. The catamaran flipped over and he was trapped underneath for 10 minutes and efforts from doctors out in the bay and onshore were unable to revive him.

Speaking after missing out on gold only in the medal race last summer when the wind shifted Simpson said,

"It's a lottery at times. That last run proved it. We didn't get it right. Sorry for everyone who's watching. We tried our hardest." 

Sadly that lottery of water, wind and men trying to control both claimed his life yesterday.

Thoughts are with his wife Leah, their young son Freddie, the rest of the Artemis crew and all his friends and family.

Andrew Simpson 17 December 1976 - 9 May 2013

Giro d'Italia stage 7 San Slavo - Pescara

Yesterday's stage did indeed prove to be a sprinters finish, although the first time over the finish line before two circuits did cause a major pile up. Coming just after Bradley Wiggins it could have been a disaster to him and other GC contenders if Kathusha on the front didn't neatralise proceedings while the pile of bikes at the back was sorted out. Team Sky then were at the front of the chasers as they came back taking most of the lap to catch the leaders and then Sky continued up the side of the road to announce they were back by taking the head of the race. Obviously the scare of losing more time as the result of a crash was praying on Bradley Wiggins' mind just a bid as he was leading the race into the final 3km, after which time a dealy would give him the same time as the leaders.

However, when it came to the sprint Argos Shimano hit the front a little too early with only one man in front of John Degenkolb. In his wheel was Gert Steegmans of Omega Pharma-Quickstep who was leading out Mark Cavendish. When the time came the Manxman was unleashed for his 12 Giro stage victory, although behind him Nacer Bouhanni. In his post race interviews and stage presentation Cav remembered Wouter Weylandt, the Belgian rider for Leopard Trek, who died in the road in the Giro 2 years previously. He has started his professional career with Quickstep and it was fitting that another rider of that team was first across the line yesterday to honour his memory.

Today is another 177km of going up and down, this time most of the way in some sort of undulation. So with two category three and two category four climbs toward the end of these stage of rise and fall do not expect to see Cavendish add to his stage wins today.

There are 11km from the last categorised climb to the finish and more rain is possible at the finish today. So there is a chance that on the descent there may well be slick conditions under wheel. But again it will largely be mechanicals, crashes or conditions that separate the main GC contenders from each other today. If someone is going to struggle today to keep up with the main pack they are unlikely to be able to do so day in, day out when the high mountain passes come.

9 May 2013

Giro d'Italia Stage 6 Mola di Bari - Margherita di Savoia

Yesterday I did mention those couple of sharp left hand bends toward the end of the stage and they certainly did prove to be decisive in yesterday's race.

But before we got there, despite his best efforts to hang in there on the two climbs of the day Mark Cavendish was kicked out the back and his Omega Pharma-Quickstep team were trying to pace him back when a second kick up came along, he was in a group amongst the team cars some 45 seconds down, when the main peleton kicked on to the finsh.

Degenkolb triumphant and on the right in green Canola
There were several attacks on the drying roads towards the finish, one from Hubert Duport AG2R. But he was hauled back with Valvole Bardiani-CSF Inox on the front with Argos-Shimano in close attendance. However, on the first of those left hand bends Luka Mezgec ARG was second wheel and got caught out on the damp zebra crossing and slid into the barriers about another ten riders follwed as they attempted to break. It left Bardiani's Marco Canola in the clear, with John Degenkolb having lost his lead out man many bike lengths down, but everyone else was even worse affected. Degenkolb set off in pursuit and captured the fading Canola, meant to be a lead out man, in the final 400m, before powering to a 10 bike length win as the chasing group swallowed Canola as well.

Today's stage is 169 miles of flat road, without any little humps to take the pure sprinters out of the picture, There are two and bit laps of 16 km around Margherita di Savoia at the end, but today this should be gearing up to a group finish. The Omega Phara-Quickstep team once they realised they weren't going to get Mark Cavendish back into the hunt did all coast in for the last 20kms or so, so may be reasonably fresh in comparison to other teams, especially those that had a sprinter or lead out man fall in the crash. So things are looking good possibly for another Cavendish stage win today.

8 May 2013

Giro d'Italia Stage 5 Cosenza - Matera

This year's Giro yesterday reached it the south and the rain, before today heading north to finish in the arch of Italy's foot. Yet again yesterday it was the mountains that separated the race. The final summit the Croce Ferrata had plenty of action.

A group of five hit the lower slopes ahead of the race, but with that gap coming down as Sky applied the pressure on the front of the peleton one of their number AG2R's Sylvian Georges pulled out a lead of his own. He was soon joined by Vini Fantini's Danilo Di Luca and then Robinson Chalapud of Colombia both bridged across to him in the wet and mist of the tree lined ascent. Georges couldn't hold their wheels for long and slide back into the pack, but these two reached the summit with a 10 seconds gap. There was 7km of downhill and flat wet roads and some of that pavé (cobbles), anything could yet happen.

As it was the two held on, mainly due to the work of Di Luca until the final km, but with Katusha leading the peleton with Paolini in his Maglia Rosa comfortable in second wheel chasing them down, Di Luca launched one final solo attack in the final 700m only to be absorbed by the peleton in the final 300m. The first man across the line was Enrico Battaglin, who shares the same name but is not a close relative of the 1981 champion of the Giro and Vuelta Giovanni. The young Italian on the Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox, lead an Italian 1-2-3 over the line with Felline AND and Giovanni Visconti in his wake, but further down what was meant to be the main pack there were time gaps of over a second meaning that not everyone who crested the Croce Ferrata together clocked the same time. Most significantly for GC may have been that after not just one but 2 splits was Sky's Bradley Wiggins so he clocked a time 17 seconds slower than most of the other serious contenders.

After the mountains of the last two days, today we have a flat stage as the Giro starts to head north once again. Mark Cavendish may be back in his Omega Pharma-Quickstep jersey having lost the red points jersey to Luca Paolini after his efforts over the last two day, but he may well be claiming it back on the line in Matera this afternoon.

There are a couple of sharp bends in the run in, but the last of this is at a roundabout with a km to go. Then it is the sort of sprint that you can expect to see the touch paper under the Manx Missile ignited once again and providing there isn't any unexpected rough stuff, mechanicals or crashes he may very well hit the line at the front once again. If OPQ actually get a lead out for him this time it could be by bike lengths rather than a wheel.

7 May 2013

Giro d'Italia Stage 4 Policastro Bussentino - Serra San Bruno

Yesterday's two climbs really started to separate the contenders in this year's Giro.

The first of yesterday's climbs, San Mauru Cilento saw a group of six up the road, though with their gap already coming down, only 3'42" ahead of the peleton. But riders including the first Maglia Rosa Mark Cavendish OPQ had been dropped on the ascent, but Cav was only 28 seconds off the pace and not in the Autobus bringing up the rear which was over a minute down, he was to catch the peleton on the descent.

However, up at the front Vini Fantini rider Fabio Taborre set off from the leading pack in a bid for a long solo ride to the finish, as behind the breakaway Sky had come to the front of the peleton to ride at a tempo to bring the race altogether. When Taborre hit the slopes of the Sella di Catona he had opened a gap of 1'11" ahead of the rest of the group he had reached the previous summit with and 2'33" ahead of the peleton.

On that climb first Sky and then Garmin-Sharp started to boss the peleton. The slowing group and then Taborre were absorbed and then spat out the back of the peleton. Then with about 3km to the summit last year's champion Ryder Hesjedal GRS went on an attack after Rigoberto Uran SKY had opened a few bike lengths gap, but he was soon brought back in. But it wasn't to be his last attempt. However, this attack did see Salvatore Puccio in his pink jersey dropped from the confines of his Sky team mates. When they reached the summit there was a group of 33 left.

Then on the descent Hesjedal went again along with Luca Paolini KAT and Valerio Agnoli AST went up the road descending fast but others soon caught them up, when the descent flattened out a little. Then Paolini went solo with 6.5km to go. Behind him the Blanco Team took up the pursuit and Michele Scarponi was in third wheel when into one hairpin, first Scarponi the 2011 champion came off and the two Blanco riders collided with the wall, while the rest of the group came past unscathed.

In the end Paolini crossed the line 16 seconds clear, which with his time bonuses would leave him 17 seconds clear in the Maglia Rosa. Next over the line was a group of 16 lead by Cadel Evans BMC, then Hesjedal but also including Samuel Sanchez EUS, Bradley Wiggins SKY, Robert Gesink BLA and Vincenzo Nibali AST amongst others. Scarponi after his crash was a minute down on Paolini.

Today's stage again has a kick up at the end with first a category 3 climb of Vibo Valentia then the final category 2 climb of Croce Ferrata a mere 7km from the finish. It will be another day that those serious for the GC will be going out to steal seconds of the bonus seconds for a top three finish.

Once again expect to see a small selection at that final summit and don't expect many who may be dropped unless by only a handful of seconds to get back on the final run in, it is almost flat this time and not a twisting and complicated descent.

6 May 2013

Giro d'Italia Stage 3 Sorrento - Marina di Ascea

The time time trial on the island of Ischia was dominated by Team Sky. They even in the early part of the route sat up slightly to let Danny Pate get back on their train, to reach the intermediate time check in what was the second fastest time, as only Moviestar managed to be faster at that point. In the end Sky were 9 seconds faster than Moviestar, but one of the shock results was one of the innvited teams Vini Fantani who at only 22 seconds down  beat all but four of the pro-world tour teams.

So first time Giro rider Salvator Puccio from Sky slipped on the Maglia Rosa yesterday with the Tour de France champion in 2nd, but 14 seconds ahead of Vincenzo Nibali (AST) and 25 ahead of Giro champion Ryder Hesjedal (GRS).

Today sees the first point to point road stage, without circuits as the 23 teams head south from the southern end of the Bay of Naples at Sorrento, largely hugging the coast towards Marina di Ascea. However, there are two climbs on today's route. The category two San Mauro Cilento 69km from the finish and the category three Sella di Catona 19.8km from the finish.

It is probably a good thing for the sprinters that the climbs are in that order, it means there is a chance that they might be there for the finish. When the last 5km drop 200m to get to the sea level finish on the coast it is going to be fast and furious at the finale of today. So if the sprinters can get over the two climbs with the peleton today could well be another day for them to shine. But although Puccio is the surprised Maglia Rosa don't expect to see Team Sky going out to defend it, they have bigger battles to fight further down the road in the high mountain passes. They are liable to leave the hauling back of the break away to the sprinters' teams.

With Mark Cavendish (OPQ) and Matthew Goss (OGE) the best placed of the big name sprinters both at 28 seconds, even with the 18 second time bonus for winning they can only expect to rise to 11th in the GC all other things being equal.

4 May 2013

Giro d'Italia Stage 2 Ischia to Forio

So stage one yesterday eventually came down to a sprint after Cannondale's Australia rider Cameron Wurf, who has been the lone survivor of a seven man breakaway. Wurf took part in the 2004 Olympics but on the rowing lake in the lightweight double skull. However it wasn't the total mass sprint finish that everyone was expecting after the work largely of Omega Pharma-Quickstep to bring it all under control with just over two laps of the 8km smaller circuit to complete.

After a while Sky took over the pace setting not for a sprinter but to keep Bradley Wiggins safe near the front, then it was the turn of Orega-GreenEDGE to take it up inside the final 10km, with Cannondale and Radioshack-Leopard also in close attendance. But with 5km to go Omega Phrama-Quickstep for so long at the head of the peleton had disappeared from proceedings.

Inside the final three km and Cannondale had taken up the pace, but then there was a crash near the frong from which only 13 riders rode clear unscathed or delayed. Orega-GreenEDGE with three men in the group including their sprinter Matthew Goss, Omega Pharma-Quick had one rider, Gert Steegmans, there to help Mark Cavendish, but there was also Cannondale's sprinter Elia Viviani, Radioshack's Giacomo Nizzolo,. Moviestar's Francisco Ventoso and two young spinters FDJ's Nacer Bouhanni and BMC's Brit Adam Blythe.

Into the final km it was Orega-GreenEDGE who were attempting to open it up for Goss, but Steegmans suffered a mechanical just as that point as the three Orega-GreenEDGE riders and Viviani gained daylight.  He came back unto fifth wheel with Bouhanni and Blythe had a little bit of shoulder banging as they both tried to stay in Cav's wheel. Then Radioshack's Danilo Hondo brought Nizzolo up alongside so Cavendish went wide to the left, only for Hondo to peel off almost into Cavendish's way. Goss and Viviani were heading straightest to the line, while Bouhanni was on Cav's wheel. But the engine was ignited in the Manx Missile and he crossed the line for his eleventh stage win in the Giro and to pull on the Maglia Rosa for a third time. He was followed by Viviani then Bouhanni.

Cav taking the line and the Maglia Rosa in Napoli

After racing around the streets of Napoli (Naples) today the Giro tomorrow heads out past the Bay of Naples to the volcanic island to Ischia in the Tyrrherian Sea, the largest of the Phlegrean islands.

The island is small but big enough to run a 17.4km team time trial. It is only a short time trial but in the team time trial you are only as good as your fifth best man, so any crashes or a deterioration in the weather for the later starters can be a disaster.

However, Sky are one of the best drilled team when it comes to TTT, but so are Omega Pharma-Quickstep indeed don't forget last year in TTT that Cavendish often took pride in doing good stints on the front especially toward the end, so it is possible with his 8 second lead thanks to the time bonuses that Cavendish might still be in pink when the team pack up to leave the island after the day's racing.

Giro d'Italia Stage 1 Napoli

Today's opening stage is a double loop criterium race. First there are four laps of the blue western loop, which includes a fourth category climb. There it is around the city for eight laps of the pink loop.

None of the GC contenders are going to win the Giro over today's 130km, but if there is a nervy start and the bunch gets jittery on the flatter circuits as they pick up speed to get their sprinter into the Maglia Rosa for the stage tomorrow wheels could touch and a collar bone of any rider even a team leader could break like that, remember Bradley Wiggins fate in the Tour of 2011 before he got to take the other contenders on in the first mountains.

So everyone is going to have to be alert at all times, which means that GC riders and sprinters will all be racing to stay near the front and out of danger, ironically opening the possibility of more danger, as the thread through the city street. Hopefully every rider will complete the day in one piece but watch out the shifting in the peleton going on all the time.

But today should be a stage set for the sprinters. Will Mark Cavendish win his first stage in a grand tour wearing the colours of Omega Pharma Quickstep. If he does he will go into tomorrow's time trail in the Maglia Rosa, but today we shall see which of the teams' sprinters have it in their legs. Even if they do not win it will be a matter of how much each of them ends up doing and also how well organised their  lead out trains can be. There aren't that many out and out sprinters opportunities in the Giro this year so they will all have to start out on form, even traditional late starter Cavendish.