Yesterday’s stage 11 of the 2010 Giro d’Italia was about as tactically intriguing as you can imagine. How was it that 60 riders could disappear up the road on the day’s opening climb and then the turn the entire general classification on its head?
Part of the answer must come down to the route. At 262km the day’s stage was particularly long for a stage of a modern day Grand Tour.
Although not in the high mountains, it was hilly. That there were just three classified climbs, belied the stage’s almost constantly up and down nature. It was perhaps with some understatement that Alexandre Vinokourov, prior to the stage, had compared it to Liege-Bastogne-Liege – considered by many as the toughest of the one-day classics, and a race he won this year. Certainly Liege doesn’t reach altitudes of over 1,200m.
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The toughness of the stage was certainly playing on the minds of the riders that morning. For many, after several hard days of racing, the day’s stage would be nothing but a game of survival. A break at the start would be the last thing they’d choose to follow.
The weather too played a critical part. The split happened just before the onset of a heavy downpour. As the front charged up the road intent on opening a gap, many riders in the bunch had slowed, or even stopped, at the roadside to collect and put on wet weather gear from their team cars. In what seemed like no time at all, the lead group had gained six minutes. Although clearly erroneous, according to the official race summary, it took just 3km from the move going clear to the gap opening to that margin.
As the bunch settled back into rhythm, now prepared for the torrid conditions that would continue on and off throughout the day, the intriguing question of who was going to chase cropped up.
The onus should have fallen on Astana, the team of Vinokourov who’d started the day in the pink jersey.
With Cadel Evans in second overall, BMC also had an interest in chasing. But both teams had already shown chinks in their armour with regards to their strength.
Although they placed one or two riders on the front, they also started looking to Liquigas. With race favourites Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali also missing the split, the strong Italian team had the most to lose from Porte and Sastre et al riding away from them. However with four riders up the road including Valerio Agnoli and Robert Kiserlovski, they didn’t feel it was their job either.
“I think that Astana rode incorrectly given they had the leader’s jersey,” Nibali told Cycling Weekly this morning. “As soon as 50 riders had 20 metres they should have closed it immediately. Instead, Vino stopped on the right of the road to take a pee. It was something strange that I have never seen.”
“Normally when you have the lead of the race it is your job to control it,” said Evans in his analysis. “Of course, we are all looking at Vinokourov to do that. If you don’t have the team to do that, then normally you start putting yourself into big groups. But that’s easy to say afterwards.”
Vino looked at the matter another way altogether, laying the responsibility to chase on Italian powerhouse Liquigas. “This is not the Tour of Kazakhstan, this is the Tour of Italy,” he told Italian TV this morning.
What he didn’t mention was that his team was falling to pieces around him. By the end of the day, Astana had lost three more riders from its line up. BMC lost two.
While the stalemate was being played out on the road, the front group were busy extending their lead to a maximum of nearly 18 minutes. Saxo Bank, Cervelo, Sky and Caisse d’Epargne were all well represented in the move and had a lot to gain by driving it.
Even when Liquigas dropped two of its riders back to chip in with the belated chase, the front group was far too organised and too far ahead to be brought back under control. Their 12 minute winning margin was just reward for seizing an opportunity.
So what now for the GC contenders who lost all that time? Are they still in the game?
“I think so,” said Evans to Cycling Weekly this morning.
“We will have to see. We will see in the mountains. It was a really bizarre race [yesterday] and I think we are only going to have more days like that at this Giro.”
Nibali was in agreement with Evans; the GC is far from sorted as a result of yesterday’s turnaround.
“We believe the Giro is still up for grabs and anything can happen,” he said. “We will see what happens when the mountains arrive. Certainly, we will have to take advantage of every good opportunity. There are still many difficult and important stages. If we don’t win, we will be upset because of how it happened yesterday. But if we win, it will be even better.”
2010 Giro d’Italia coverage in association with Zipvit