Photo from ENGIE Italia on Flickr
On Sunday Nairo Quintana crossed the finish line in Trieste, North East Italy, wearing the Maglia Rosa, the jersey of the leader of the Giro d’Italia to become the first rider from outside Europe, Australia, North America and Kenya to win one of cycling’s Grand Tours. How was this victory achieved and what other stories were told during three weeks of exciting and at times utterly boring racing?
Before the race was in actual Italy there were three days racing in Northern and Southern Ireland. Visiting the island was deemed a success as huge crowds lined the roads to watch the race. Those wishing to see the three home riders would have been disappointed though as Dan Martin who represents Ireland crashed out after a matter of minutes, sliding on a drainage cover and taking out half his team, so only Irishman Nicholas Roche and actual Irishman Philip Deignan were left in the peleton. Australian team Orica Green Edge had a successful start with victory inthe stage one time trial and two different riders wearing the leaders jersey. The undoubted King of Ireland was however Marcel Kittel who took two stages with some powerful sprinting.
The big German looked as if he was going to dominate the flatter stages but as the race came to Italy the big German was missing. Reports said that he had a fever which must have led to diarrhoea as Sean Kelly was heard saying he made a bad cackulation at the end of the turd stage.
The first Italian stage finished with a circuit race round Bari and was a strange affair. After some early rain, which stopped, the commentator Rob Hatch told viewers on Eurosport, about one hundred times, that the roads in Southern Italy were very slippery when wet, especially these days. This is why some of the riders decided to neutralise the race until the circle of the final lap around the city. This meant that the peleton would ride as a bunch until the final lap. The bizarre thing was that as the riders were cautiously going round the neutralised circuits it wasn’t even raining. Those eager to race kept asking “what about now?” as the road got drier and drier. On the final circuit as the cyclists started to race, it started to rain and the result was carnage as one rider after the other started to fall and bounce off the tarmac. Eventually Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni won the final sprint to repay his team who decided to keep the faith with him. The next day he would have a new jersey, the Maglia Rossa, to show he was now the best sprinter in the Giro.
The next day on stage 5 Diego Ulissi won giving Italy their first victory in this years race. Stage 6 was won by Michael ‘Bling’ Matthews who had been wearing the leaders pink jersey since day 2. While his win was impressive I can’t think where he gets this nickname from. During post stage interviews he seemed about as ‘Bling’ as Nigel Farage.
Before the next stage we were met with the news that Joaquim Rodriguez had abandoned the race because of injuries sustained in the previous days big crash. Unfortunately the Giro was losing one of the big favourites and perhaps more importantly my fantasy teams chances were in tatters.
The first big test for the main riders came on stage 8 where Diego Ulissi gained his second win and Cadel Evans moved into the overall lead.
He remained in that position until the stage 12 time trial won by the Columbian Rigoberto Uran who also took the overall lead. Unfortunately for an ageing Evans the only thing he may win now is prize for most Welsh sounding name as he slowly descended the placings in the General Classification.
One rider who could go in the opposite direction up the standings is Domenico Pozzovivo, as soon as he changes his riding style. During the time trial while everyone was adopting the customary aerodynamic position of flat back with arms and legs tucked in Pozzovivo resembled my old Aunt Tina on a leisurely ride to the shops. All that was missing was a shopping basket on the handle bars.
As the race had progressed Nacer Bouhanni was cementing his position as leader in the points classification and had now won three stages, Australia had a second victory courtesy of Michael Rogers and Fabio ‘werewolf of London’ Aru won the mountainous stage 15 morphing from talented youngster to serious contender.
After this point however the Giro d’Italia was all about Nairo Quintana.
He chose the Queen stage to stamp his authority on the race but was perhaps aided by some confusion along the way. Stage 16 took the peleton over three massive mountain passes. As the live television broadcast started the first climb, the Passo Gavia, was being tackled, and it was snowing. With rider safety again becoming a big issue the race organisers did what they are best at in these situations. Nothing. Then something. Then changing their minds and changing them back again. As these decisions were being conveyed to the wider world no body had a clue what was going on, least of all the riders. As the leading riders approached the top of the second climb, the Passo dello Stelvio, mist had reduced visibility and there was some light snow. News came that the organisers were saying the descent of the Stelvio would be neutralised (that word again) meaning that riders would be required to keep their positions and not attack each other. Around the same time as this announcement came through Team Sky rider Dario Cataldo attacked to reach the summit of the Stelvio and claim the Cimma Coppi, the prize awarded to the first cyclist over the highest point of the Giro. As he then descended at break neck speed it was clear that not all the riders knew about the organisers instructions, or chose to ignore them. As the rest of the peleton came out of the mist to reach the valley floor it became clear that a few other riders had also ignored the neutralisation order. Quintana had managed to distance himself from the race leader Uran. As Quintana reached the foot of the final climb, Val Martello, the organisers were now saying that they had never issued an order to neutralise the descent of the Stelvio. The official tweet from the organisers which confirmed the neutralisation was deleted. The incident raised many questions as to how the situation was dealt with but one thing was certain: Nairo Quintana deserved his victory on the day and he deserved to take the pink jersey off countryman Rigoberto Uran. The way he rode up the final climb confirmed he was the strongest, most confident and aggressive rider that day.
The performance showed that the 24 year old was ready to win his first Grand Tour but another youngster was making a name for himself up in the cold Alps or Dolomites (I’m not sure which). Wilco Kelderman of Team Belkin showed he is ready to challenge his team mate Laurens ten Dam for the title of number one slobberer in cycling. It’s no wonder we were constantly reminded how wet the roads were with a constant stream of liquid coming from his mouth and nose.
Out of the remaining five stages, three would provide opportunities for Quintana’s rivals to gain back time. The first was deservedly won by Julian Arrendondo, also of Columbia, who had worn the blue jersey of best climber since stage 8, Quintana won the second himself and Michael Rogers won the third. All the while Quintana was able to keep his rivals close to him and even increase his lead on some.
So with the final stage a mere formality Quintana was able to enjoy the day along with Bouhanni and Arredondo who held onto their jerseys.
There will probably be more days like that to come for Nairo Quintana.