An unforgiving route, attacking racing - there wasn't much missing from this year's Giro d'Italia
Was this Giro d’Italia one the most enjoyable Grand Tours in recent memory? It could well be, with hardly a day passing that didn’t throw up some drama or action. Here we take a look at five reasons this Giro was bloody brilliant.
1. Aggressive racing
From the very first road stage, there’s was very little relenting from the riders. Even on the mountainous stage 19, at the back end of the three weeks, the peloton bashed out over 50km in the first hour of racing. Just watching it made you feel exhausted.
But it’s been incredibly entertaining. With frantic sprints, unlikely breakaway victories and last-ditch attacks, there’s been few days at the Giro that you’d be able to label dull.
Moreover, our GC winner Alberto Contador at no point seemed content to just sit back on his considerable lead over Fabio Aru, with Spaniard riding with a tactic of attack as the best form of defence.
Indeed, it’s been gripping to watch the tug-of-war between Tinkoff-Saxo and Astana as to who can control the peloton, with Tinkoff seemingly coming out on top in the first week before disappearing in the mountains leaving an isolated Contador to battle solo against a rampant Astana squad.
Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) should also get a special mention here, for frankly just going gung-ho in the final week and leaving all he had out on the mountains, as he chased a stage win and a higher place in the GC.
Expect the unexpected seemed to be the mantra of this Giro, and that continued with something everyone hopes to see but rarely do: a breakaway win on the final flat stage of a Grand Tour.
2. An enthralling route
With a team time trial, six mountain top finishes and that circa 60km individual time trial, there wasn’t much more you could ask from a Grand Tour route. Best of all, with some of the mountains kicking-in in the first week, there was really no time to hold back for the GC contenders, while the sprinters were made to work to reach stage opportunities.
Short punchy climbs like stage seven‘s finish into Fiuggi and stage 12 into Monte Berico brought out the best from the Ardennes-style riders, while fast finishes on medium-mountain stages gave ample opportunity for the all-or-nothing breakaways to succeed.
The time trial, which did cause the GC shake-up it promised it would, saw many of the fast men call it a day and head home before they faced the torturous prospect of the Mortirolo and the Colle delle Finestre further down the line, while Contador attempted to wrap-up the maglia rosa before the race reached the second rest day.
And kudos to whoever decided designed stages 19 and 20, because it provided a perfect climax to three weeks of great racing (although most of the riders probably wouldn’t agree).
3. New riders stepped-up
There were questions raised prior to this Giro about just how high the level of competition would be for Contador in the overall battle. Aside from Aru, who had already shown glimpses of his climbing promise, and 2014 runner-up Rigoberto Uran (Etixx – Quick-Step), it looked like slim pickings of contenders who might usurp 2008 winner. Even Richie Porte (Team Sky), who was in a rich vein of form heading into the Giro, was relatively unproven in leading a team into a Grand Tour.
Race organiser Mauro Vegni promised ahead of stage one that new stars would be made at this year’s race and it seems he was right. Mikel Landa, Aru’s teammate, threatened to overshadow his leader as he raced to two mountain-top stage wins and a GC podium finish, while further back Costa Rican Andey Amador propelled himself into the limelight, taking the opportunity of a lack of an outright leader in the Movistar team to ride into fourth place.
Steven Kruijswijk will be another name now more familiar to cycling fans, after Dutchman defied an underwhelming looking LottoNL-Jumbo line-up to provide us with some impressive, attacking racing.
27-year-old Leopold König continued to show the potential he has for some time, as he stepped into the Team Sky leadership role after the untimely abandonment of Porte, sealing sixth overall.
4. The controversies
That wheel-change, that helmet removal and that Astana attack – there’s been enough controversy in this Giro to keep us absorbed between the racing action.
What started off as a universally admired gesture of sportsmanship from Orica-GreenEdge’s Simon Clarke as he tried to rescue compatriot Richie Porte when he punctured on stage 10, seemed to ultimately be the catalyst in Porte’s demise in this Giro campaign.
Clarke’s wheel change for the Sky leader saw both docked two minutes from their overall times for ‘non-regulation assistance’, and despite the Tasmanian promising to fight back, things just got worse as he continued to lose time with a crash on stage thirteen and then a lacklustre performance in the time trial. Porte’s morale looked destroyed and he soon withdrew from the race as he prepares to rebuild form in order to support Chris Froome’s Tour de France campaign.
Needless to say, the ever unpopular UCI (nor the Giro jury) didn’t win any fans for its letter of the law application on the Porte ruling, but the reaction of some Twitter commentators to Contador taking his helmet off to remove a cap may have been a bit much as well. Calls for a disqualification for the race leader (which would be letter of the law) seemingly fell on deaf ears, and Contador shook off the notion with a simultaneous air of nonchalance and confusion.
Astana’s attack on Contador ahead of the climb of the Mortirolo also drew a few tuts and other disapproving noises, as Kazakh team put on the gas while Contador struggled with a puncture. Bertie had the last laugh though, as he stormed up the Mortirolo and put more time into Fabio Aru.