Giro analysis: Crosswinds and crashes cause chaos in Holland

To add insult to the numerous injuries, the Giro d’Italia’s battered peloton had to ride two kilometres from the finish line to take a shower in the changing rooms of Middelburg’s local sports stadium.

Then they had to make their way to a fleet of coaches laid on by the organisers to take the trip to Ostende, an hour and 20 minutes away in Belgium, in time to catch their flight to Italy.

They emerged one by one from the showers looking tired, as if the last thing they wanted to do was get on a bus and then a plane. There were plenty of riders counting the cost of the time they’d lost, while others were counting their blessings.

Tomorrow [Tuesday] is a rest day and on Wednesday the race will resume on home soil with a team time trial to Cuneo.

It is a miracle that of the 22 teams it looks like only two will start the 33-kilometre stage a man light. Cadel Evans of BMC Racing lost Martin Kohler to a crash on Sunday and Garmin-Transitions lost Christian Vande Velde today (Monday), with a broken collarbone.

What were the odds? Vande Velde crashed out on exactly the same stage (three) on the same day (the first Monday) in last year’s Giro. His absence will dent Garmin’s chances of beating Astana and Saxo Bank by the couple of seconds they need in order to put David Millar in the pink jersey.

In terms of the impact the race has had on Amsterdam and the areas of the Netherlands it has passed through, the Giro d’Italia’s visit has been a spectacular success. Saturday’s time trial was electrifying, despite the grey skies and drizzle, and the city famous for its red light district turned itself pink for the weekend. The number of people who stood on the roadside for all three stages was impressive. Just imagine what they’ll be like when the Tour starts in Holland later in the summer.

But the two road stages were bordering on farce, Monday’s in particular.

The second stage to Utrecht was tricky, partly because of the amount of street furniture and the size of the crowds but also because the riders were extraordinarily twitchy. Cadel Evans said it was the most nervous he’d ever seen the bunch in one of the grand tours.

With so many riders still so close to the overall lead, everyone is thinking that it could be their day to either win the stage or pull on the pink jersey. There are always two reasons to want to be at the front – the sprinters wanted to be able to contest the stage and the overall favourites wanted to ensure they didn’t lose 30 seconds or a minute.

There was crash after crash. They went down like dominoes, once because of a raised kerb that caused a chicane, pinching the peloton in at the edges and making a spill inevitable, but often because there was a touch of wheels or a moment’s lack of concentration.

Compared to the carnage that happened on Monday, they got away lightly.

Crosswinds blowing in off the sea caused plenty of problems and, for a while, it looked like the racing was going to be epic. The bunch split to ribbons and Damiano Cunego was off the back and chasing. Game on.

Windy, exposed roads are all part of bike racing and when the bunch is lined up in the gutter it’s a matter of who has the strength and willpower to hold the wheel and who’ll let it go.

But some of the roads the race organisers chose were asking for trouble. Everyone knows the Netherlands can be a difficult place to run a bike race. Although it is a country seemingly dedicated to the bicycle, the regular cyclists, whether training or commuting, use the bike lanes. And, because there are so many cyclists using the bike lanes, the priority is to keep the speed of the traffic reasonable, which means a large number of islands, humps and narrow chicanes to slow vehicles.

In a race, the peloton uses those roads and has to negotiate every obstacle.

Add to that a grand tour field that cannot sit back and wait for another day in the way riders are tempted to do when the front of the race has gone away from them in a one-day Classic and the conditions were set for chaos.

It is a saving grace that the peloton had broken up before the finish in Middelburg. Had a field of 190 riders reached the final few kilometres together, the run-in would have been messy. It was narrow, there were some tight corners, the usual raised humps and a patch of cobbles. To compound matters, the organisers had used the old-fashioned barriers with little feet sticking out at the bottom. History, surely, has proved that they are far more dangerous than the modern barriers, such as those at the Tour de France, which do not have anything jutting out.

As Team Sky’s Sean Yates said: “It was pretty extreme. When you’re in the team car following the bunch you really get a sense of how many crashes there are and there were a lot. Guys were going down all over the place. It was like a war zone. The cars were trying to get round and guys are lying in the road.”

The Giro’s visit to the Netherlands has been a qualified success. A passionate public has embraced the race and celebrated it. The riders have enjoyed the atmosphere, but the crashes left a sour taste. Frankly, the riders deserved better than to be asked to make their best of it.

Angelo Zomegnan and his team need to ask what they want from the opening stages of their race. Drama is, of course, desirable, but one of the great races should not be reduced to a game of chance by unrealistic route plotting that skirts the line between what is acceptable and what is not.

In six weeks or so, the Tour de France starts in Rotterdam. Part of the first road stage traces some of today’s route before finishing in Brussels. Then there is a stage in the Ardennes and the one they are all worried about, on the cobbles in France. The days of the Tour using the little back routes are gone and it will use wider roads than the Giro has these past few days. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be some sleepless nights between now and July.

Vincenzo Nibali, Alexandre Vinokourov (the new pink jersey), David Millar, Stefano Garzelli, Ivan Basso, Michele Scarponi and Vladimir Karpets all finished in the front group of 26. But who lost time?

46 seconds
Cadel Evans (surrenders the pink jersey)
Damiano Cunego
Xavier Tondo
Carlos Sastre

Bradley Wiggins

Marzio Bruseghin
Evgeni Petrov
Daniel Martin
Matthew Lloyd
Domenico Pozzovivo
Gilberto Simoni

David Moncoutié

Related links
Giro d’Italia 2010: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index

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