Sometimes the most consistent rider isn’t the one that wins
For a neutral the final few stages of the 2016 Giro d’Italia were a little heartbreaking, as the underdogs succumbed to the pre-race favourite in pretty gutting fashion.
Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) was the model of consistency for the first 18 stages of the race – following attacks, launching attacks and generally looking like the strongest general classification rider in the race.
His three-minute lead going into the last two mountain stages looked almost insurmountable, barring a disaster. And of course a disaster is what happened. A bit too much speed into a tricky corner in the mist on the descent of the Colle dell’Agnello saw the Dutchman crashing into a bank of snow and seeing his dreams fade away.
But for the fans of the underdog story, Kruijswijk’s pink jersey passed to the slightly narrower shoulders of Colombian Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge), with a 44-second lead going into the final day in the mountains over Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
Given Nibali’s performance to distance Chaves on stage 19 there was a sense of foreboding going into stage 20. The 44-second advantage didn’t really seem enough and it was a foregone conclusion that Nibali would go on to win.
What made this even more galling was that Nibali looked incredibly average for large parts of this race, rarely playing up to his status as pre-race favourite. While he led the initial attacks on stage 14, he faded to allow Chaves and Kruijswijk to take control of the race.
Nibali even had tests conducted to see whether there was any medical reason for his poor performances, promising to quit the race if there was anything wrong with him.
Evidently there was nothing wrong, and the Sicilian found his mojo when he needed it the most. bit if it wasn’t for Kruijswijk’s crash I’m sure the result would have been different.
Valverde is a good Grand Tour rider, but not a great one
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) completed an impressive treble on Sunday, finishing third overall in the race to complete his collection of Grand Tour podium finishes.
The Spaniard’s record in three-week races is pretty enviable, having finished in the top 10 of the last eight Grand Tours he has entered, with this, of course, being his first ever Giro.
But while he has eight podium finishes to his name over the course of his 15-year career, there still only remains one victory – the 2009 Vuelta a España.
Since returning from his ban for his involvement in the Operacion Puerto scandal in 2012, Valverde has claimed five podium finishes, including his first at both the Tour and Giro, but he’s rarely been that close to adding to a notch to the win column.
He was third in the Tour in 2015, but was over five minutes down on winner Chris Froome, although his teammate Nairo Quintana did finish second. The previous year he was nine minutes behind Nibali in a weak Tour de France GC and the year before that he lost out in the Vuelta to an ageing Chris Horner.
Don’t get me wrong, plenty of riders would love to swap for Valverde’s Grand Tour palmares, but to be considered a true three-week great it all comes down to wins. Nibali has won all three, as has Alberto Contador (Tinkoff).
He’ll go down in history for his winning exploits in the Ardennes Classics, but maybe not in the Grand Tours.
The Giro is still not as important for the sprinters as the Tour de France
The list of sprinters going to the Giro this year was incredible. Maybe only three of the world’s best fast men were not present, including Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data).
But none of the really big names lasted into the third week, mostly through their own choice as they decided to go home and rest rather than compete for the red jersey.
Greipel won three stages and was leading the sprint classification when he packed his bags after stage 12, leaving the race with Ewan, and Démare called it a day not long into a tough stage 14.
Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) won the points jersey in the end, despite not winning a single stage.
Kittel, Greipel and Démare will all have their sights set on the Tour de France and they left the Giro when there was little left on offer for the fast guys and more than a few tough stages until Turin, but it was still a kick in the teeth for the race organisers to see all the big names leave early.
It was a great race for the ‘lesser’ cycling nations
I’ll start this one controversially by mentioning the Netherlands – one of the countries where cycling is massively popular, but one of its riders has never won the Giro, so it’s in this list.
Dumoulin went on to have six days in pink overall before leaving the race with saddle sores, but countryman Kruijswijk was on hand to take up the baton later in the race, leading for five days and looking in great form.
Then came the crash and his GC chances disappeared, but this race will always be remembered for his performances.
Germany also had a great three weeks, with their big-name riders Kittel and Greipel picking up five stages between them. But they weren’t the only German riders to have success, with Roger Kluge (IAM Cycling) and Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) getting wins in the third week.
Bob Jungels (Etixx-Quick Step) wore pink for three days for Luxembourg and dominated the young rider classification from start to finish. He put himself in the frame as a future Grand Tour winner. Andrey Amador (Movistar) also wore the pink jersey for Costa Rica on stage 14.
Primož Roglič put Slovenia on the map with his two phenomenal performances in the time trials – finishing just hundredths of a second behind Dumoulin on the opening stage and then winning the Chianti stage. Then Estonia’s Rein Taaramae (Katusha) won stage 20 with an impressive ride.
Team Sky have plenty of Plan Bs in their squad
Team Sky broke their Monument duck this spring with Wout Poels’ win at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but their drought at the Giro continues with Mikel Landa’s abandonment.
The Spaniard suffered from illness after the second rest day, leaving Sky having to move to plan B pretty early in the race.
In the end it was Landa’s fellow Basque rider Mikel Nieve who came to the rescue, with a win on stage 13 and a series of good rides in the final week to wrestle the mountains classification away from Damiano Cunego, finishing second on stage 19 and fourth on stage 20 in the mountains.
Landa could head up Sky at the Vuelta a España in the autumn, but he could also serve as a super-domestique to Froome at the Tour de France in July, and he’s be a handy plan B if Froome were to flounder.