So the second week of the Giro has drawn to a close and riders are currently nipping out for an hours gentle ride to keep the legs ticking over, having an extra massage, a decent meal and some TV downtime - a contrast to the carnage that the last week of racing produced. As far as I can make out 70+ riders have called time on their Giro including of course two major favourites in the shape of Ryder Hesjedal and Bradley Wiggins. Here's a look back at how the week panned out and a look ahead to the final week and conclusion of the 2013 Giro d'Italia...
The top 15 currently looks like this:
|1||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team||62:02:34|
|2||Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team||0:01:26|
|3||Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling||0:02:46|
|4||Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) Vini Fantini-Selle Italia||0:02:47|
|5||Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-Merida||0:03:53|
|6||Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre-Merida||0:04:35|
|7||Carlos Alberto Betancur Gomez (Col) Ag2R La Mondiale||0:05:15|
|8||Rafal Majka (Pol) Team Saxo-Tinkoff||0:05:20|
|9||Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2R La Mondiale||0:05:57|
|10||Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team||0:06:21|
|11||Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) RadioShack Leopard||0:06:42|
|12||Yury Trofimov (Rus) Katusha||0:07:25|
|13||Robert Gesink (Ned) Blanco Pro Cycling Team||0:07:38|
|14||Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team||0:08:09|
|15||Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli||0:08:15|
Of course, Vincenzo Nibali still leads the race and still looks fresh. Such is the power of the Leaders Jersey that having the Maglia Rosa on his back add's an extra boost to his form and racing. Cadel Evans is still sitting pretty in second but notice the gap between he and Vincenzo has increased by almost a minute since the last rest day. Robert Gesink has slipped from third to thirteenth and is now well out of contention - in fact anybody now outside 5 minutes from Nibali is all but out of this race though watch out for Domenico Pozzovivo (six minutes back) as he's been fairly quiet and does have the ability to light the race up in the mountains. Rigoberto Uran replaces Bradley Wiggins as Sky team leader and imediately lost time but maintains he's feeling good for the final week whilst Mauro Santambrogio is perhaps the races biggest surprise, not only finding himself in fourth place but also taking an emphatic stage win on Monte Jafferau. Michele Scarponi rounds out the top five and has looked impressive since his early crash, limiting his losses in the time trial and remaining relatively in touch in the Alps.
The most obvious casualty of the race so far is of course Bradley Wiggins who has struggled since the race start if truth be told. Whether or not his heart looked in it is open to debate but the disappearance of his confidence in descending was all to clear to see after his first week crash and it continued to dog him during the first part of the second week. He lost further time and called it quits before the start of Fridays stage siting a chest infection and ongoing cold made worse by the weather for the reason the Giro didn't go as planned. He will now look to the Tour de France increasing the drama in the ongoing Wiggins/Froome saga. The other main casualty was Ryder Hesjedal who too quit the race ahead of Fridays stage though he was well out of contention having lost a packet of time long before that. He seemed genuinely devastated and as current Giro champion leaving the race the way he did was always going to be tough to take. Though not ill it became apparent that something was going wrong with Hesjedal's form and condition - the power meeter showed a decrease in power output and Hesjedal himself said his legs just didn't have it in them to put the power down. He's undergoing tests and hopefully it will become apparant just exactly what was going on with his fitness.
The Young Riders
If it looks like stalemate in the General Classification then a real battle is opening up in the best young rider category. Just five seconds separate Carlos Betancur (Ag2R) and Rafal Majka (Saxobank) and it's become a real two-up dog fight, Their nearest rival is over 8 minutes back and Betancur finds himself infront only thanks to the bonus seconds on the Galibier. We have seen just how well Betancur can perform throughout this season as he becomes yet another talented Colombian to keep an eye on but it's Rafal Majka that has been the real revelation here. He has had a good amateur career and only turned pro in 2011 with Saxobank, going on to win the best young rider and finish 7th overall in last years Tour of Beijing he has clearly carried his form over well. At 23 the young Polish national is a real prospect for the future. The fight between the two looks set to go to the wire next week so keep your eye's out for Saxobank and Ag2R who at times might appear to be riding a 'strange' tactic but it will most likely be for these two young riders.
It would be difficult to mention the last week of racing without talking about the weather. The first week was dogged with torrential rain which played it's own role in proceedings as riders crashed here, there and everywhere and the rain continued well into second week but as the roads headed skywards it became less about the rain and more about the Snow. Saturdays stage skipped a 25km mountain pass due to accumulated snow but did manage the ascent of the final climb of the Jafferau whilst Sundays momentous Telegraphe/Galibier stage was almost shortened from 149km to just 50 as it was thaught neither Mont Cenis or the Col du Galibier were passable by bike due to accumulated and falling snow. In the end the riders did climb Mont Cenis but the climb was neutralised - the pace was set by the Comissaire and all of the riders came to the top together. The Telegraphe (at lower altitude) provided perhaps the only real GC excitement of the stage but any escapees were brought backs for a shortened (by 4.5km) ascent of the infamous Galibier which should really have been a turning point for the race but in fact a climb that saw little attacking from the big favourites - perhaps down to the shortened length or just the continuing snow and freezing conditions, in the end all of the riders were content to cross the line and the Marco Pantani monument together and get into the warmth to take a well-earned rest day.
Things begin to hot up for the GC riders again on Thursday, Stage 18 - a 20.6km up-hill time trial. It isn't a mountain time trial but the gradients here will be enough to cause some pain and suffering. The climbers are likely to do well here but so should a few of the more powerful, puncheur type riders. The toughest section is around 10% but should still be manageable for many. Instead riders may look to hold something in reserve because Friday and Saturday hit the mountains again, Hard. Fridays stage 19 features three massive climbs. Riders will first tackle the Passo Gavia, then the Passo Stelvio before another summit finish at the Val Martello and if the Galibier was shortned then we should hope this climb isn't because its a 22km brute averaging over 6% but with some steeper section thrown in to boot. Note the weather forecast for the Stelvio is yet more snow so the weather still isn't softening any for the riders - if it stays like this we could find some more route changes ahead. If this is a super tough day then riders will have to endure another - the Queen stage, stage 20, where riders tackle a leg and lung busting five categorised climbs including the summit finish of Tre Cime di Laveredo which has a brutal final 4 kilometres with 18% sections and none below 10% - if the General classification hasn't been decided after stage 19 then it could come down to the wire here and the winner will be crowned before the final flat run in to Brescia where if there are any sprinters left in the race one of them should prevail.
Robert Millar suggested in a recent blog post that the Giro was not really a race anymore, instead it's become survival training and this is not far from the mark. The last two weeks have been brutal and much of it down to the weather rather than the climbing but this final week looks set to provide much of the same. Does the 2013 Giro d'Italia rest on whether Vincenzo Nibali has a bad day or not? Maybe, but there is still plenty of opportunity left for those riders looking to get their hands on the Maglia Rosa.