Team Sky make ‘Plan C’ work
When Mikel Landa withdrew from the Giro d’Italia on stage 10 with illness, it was the latest bit of poor luck for Team Sky in the Italian Grand Tour. It’s a race that they have never seemed to master, despite simultaneously taking three Tour de France titles since the British team’s debut in 2010.
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With Landa gone, and sprinter Elia Viviani already out of the race after missing the time cut on stage eight, Sky admitted that it didn’t have a ‘Plan B’ at the race.
To the seven remaining riders in the team, though, a big green light illuminated. Used to working tirelessly for a leader, the squad could be let off the leash to see what they can do: and within three days that has seen Mikel Nieve take a stage victory.
Nieve is used to doing long turns at the front to pull along whichever GC favourite he’s working for. The Spaniard translated that climbing power into a solo move from the day’s escape group with ease, taking a well-earned stage win and simultaneously giving Sky plenty to cheer about.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Nieve, Sebastian Henao, Ian Boswell or Nicolas Roche have another go.
Amador makes history for Costa Rica
Andrey Amador (Movistar) successfully managed to overhaul Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep) to wear the coveted maglia rosa, and with it became the first rider from Costa Rica to ever lead a Grand Tour.
As the sport of cycling stretches out across the globe, it is great to see new faces and new nations topping the biggest races. Now, of course, the talk turns to whether the 29-year-old from San José can become the first Costa Rican to win a Grand Tour. Certainly, he doesn’t show any signs of weakening, and they say that having the maglia rosa on your back gives you that extra bit of strength.
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There’s nothing between the GC favourites
After 13 days of racing, the top five of the general classification is split by just 43 seconds – with pre-race favourites Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) separated by just two seconds.
It’s an incredible situation after two weeks, giving even more emphasis on the following climbing stages – not least tomorrow’s big day out in the mountains, which features six classified ascents. The favourites are so evenly matched that it’s looking more and more as though team-work and tactics are going to play as much of a role as brute strength.
In terms of team-work, Astana looked the most convincing in many respects. Nibali was constantly accompanied by the boys in blue to the duration of the stage.
Although they have two riders in the top five, Movistar’s Valverde and new race leader Amador seemed to be more interested in their own ride than a common good. And that’s not to mention their team-mate Giovanni Visconti, who was in the day’s break but bafflingly kept on riding ahead of the favourites group instead of dropping back to assist Valverde and/or Amador.
Kruijswijk has simply ridden the race almost flawlessly, and could yet prove to be the strongest rider in the coming days. There’s still a question mark over the strength of his team, though.
Either way, and whatever the tactics: there’s not going to be any room for mistakes going forward.
Jungels fighting to the end
One of the biggest performances of the day was that of Bob Jungels. The Etixx-QuickStep rider started the day in the race lead, but it was always going to be a big ask for the 23-year-old to pit himself against the vast experience of rivals such as Nibali, Amador and Valverde to keep the lead.
Also stacked against Jungels was the lack of team support as the race started to hot up in the final 40km. Somehow, former race leader and stage winner Gianluca Brambilla fought his way back up to Jungels to try and help his team-mate close the gap to the Amador/Nibali group. They rode hard, with Jungels himself taking long turns on the front.
Ultimately, Jungels lost the lead to Amador but it’s remarkable that the time loss was limited to just 50 seconds. Whatever happens in the race now, Jungels has made a huge impression and established himself as a bona fide Grand Tour leader for Etixx-QuickStep. At the very least, he’s looking good to claim the best young rider prize. But there’s no doubt he deserves more than that.
The sprinters have cleared off
After placing first and second in yesterday’s flat stage, André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) were non-starters today. Both left the race as the mountains loomed.
Given Greipel’s position in the points classification lead, his premature departure has been seen by some as a mark of disrespect. They say you shouldn’t leave the race if you are in a classification leader’s jersey.
With Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) and Viviani already out, the line-up of top sprinters is severely diminished and the red points jersey has gone to Italian Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) – who won it last year – almost by default.
Thankfully, the fight for the mountains classification is providing plenty of entertainment, with 2004 Giro d’Italia winner Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini) and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) literally clashing on one of the mountain-tops, causing the latter to crash to the ground.