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2011 Giro d'Italia Winners and Losers:

--May 30, 2011--

Little remains to be said about the conspicuously difficult 2011 Giro d'Italia.  Rather than repeat the more obvious, if engaging, arguments about the many mountains (and the one that was not to be), the scant flat days and time-trial kilometers, and the tragic loss of a great sprinter, I present one armchair fan’s take on some of the winners and losers of this challenging, enthralling, tragic, and inspiring three-week race:


1. Team Leopard Trek: Suffering the horrible death on the road of their sprinter, Wouter Weylandt, the team rallied and in their grief, demonstrated a dignified and tender departure to attend the funeral for their friend.

2. Alberto Contador*: still the best for the Grand Tours, and is now going to get to ride the TDF again before his CAS decision comes in. But will the Pistolero be forced to give back the THREE GT jerseys he will have won by the time the clenbuterol ruling comes in?...stay tuned. 
*Update: AC won this Giro, but when he was later suspended for his 2010 positive test for clenbuterol, this Grand Tour victory became one of the many significant results he had stripped. The eventual winner was...

3. Michele Scarponi: Just a great ride. As exhausted as everyone else at the end of three weeks, MS was the most consistent responder to all the mean attacks and parries. AC may eventually be vindicated, but if not, MS will get the Giro win. Perhaps more importantly, he out-rode the local favorite, Nibali, and may be Basso's main challenger now for Italian bragging rights…

4. John Gadret: Has the cyclo-cross fanatic finally shown he is France's next great GT hope? Probably not, as he still time-trials like a bag of sand (paging Richard Virenque...). But what a great tour to showcase that ferocious, technical ascending ability. He followed up his stage 11 win at Castelfidardo with a top-six placing in each one of the five remaining mountaintop-finish stages, prompting Nicholas Roche to cancel the contract he had put out on Gadret’s head.

5. Roman Kreuziger and Steven Kruijswijk: The two young “K”'s both impressed: 6th overall, and White Jersey winner as best young rider, RK edified his membership among the GT elite as a definite podium threat for years to come.  SK, with astonishing consistency in the mountains, finished 9th overall at 2:23 behind RK, launching the Rabobank prodigy into the discussion. We will see much more of the 2 young K's ahead, as cycling fights to build a new future once the latest doping witch-hunt fallout settles.

6. Stefano Garzelli: Attacking with deliberate ferocity on the Queen Stage to Gardeccia, SG laid the foundation for denying Contador another jersey classification to add to his collection. Not considered an overall GC threat, Garzelli was given an inch and took a yard on stage 15. First over three brutal climbs, including the painful Passo Giau and the masochistic Marmolada, SG won himself the green King of the Mountains jersey. After 42 year-old uber-veteran Andrea Noe was eliminated by the vicious Monte Zoncolan, Garzelli finished the Giro wearing the green King of the Mountains jersey as the oldest man in the race.

7. Euskatel Euskadi: the Basques came claiming no GC hopes, but Igor Anton, gearing up for the Vuelta in September, threatened the leader board for several days until, like for most, the relentlessness of this year's parcours proved too much for the little climber. However Anton's big victory on the vicious Zoncolan, and Mikel Nieve's huge win on the following day's humbling Queen Stage earned the Basque squad a ton of respect--and air time. Nieve just missed a top ten spot, which should compel the Spaniards to work on their time-trialing if they plan to pull off an overall win at a Grand Tour soon. Regardless, if those guys aren't busted for doping they are going to be a force to be reckoned with come September.

8. AG2R: With Gadret an impressive 4th, and Hubert Dupont a very respectable 12th, AG2R (third in the overall teams competition) was the only team with two riders finishing in the top 15 on GC. The 30-year old Dupont finished in the top ten on five mountain stages, winding up 12th overall, and improving on his 2010 position of 20th overall. This Giro was his best Grand Tour to date. It will be interesting to see if he can continue to improve on his abilities.

9. Roberto Ferrari: The Lampre sprinter was one of the race's two "fast men" to even make it to Milan. He held on to a slender ninth place in the Points competition (behind the elite climbers-- as a result of such a mountain-heavy parcours), twenty points ahead of the only other sprinter to finish on the points list, Oscar Gatto… 
*note: The points jersey competition was a non factor. What is the point of it when it's "contenders" are all climbers/GC men?  Isn't the "point" of the points jersey to give the non-climbers something to vie for other than stage wins??*
…With really nothing left to fight for, other than his life--and I suppose, gaining experience-miles--Ferrari motored on, finishing the brutal mountain stages that peopled the entire second half of the race, within the cut-off times, all the way to the finish in Milan, 4:10:50 back, in 143rd place out of 159 finishers. Ferrari proved to Directeur Sportif Gianni Savio and the Androni Giocattoli team that he can be a valuable asset to a climber-heavy Grand Tour team.

   Despite vehement complaints from riders, fans, the UCI, and anyone with a blog, the tifosi's threats of race disruption after the Monte Crostis debacle were squelched by the evidence of the sheer numbers of fans crowding Italian roads by the hundreds of thousands cheering louder than race director Zomegnan's detractors. His comment afterward perhaps speaks even louder:
"They can stay at home if they prefer."

Job done


1. Angelo Zomegnan: with incendiary remarks flying out of his mouth like swarms of bats from some deep, jungle cave, the race organizer again demonstrated that his desire to impress the tifosi outweighed his care for the peloton, and yet AZ managed to alienate both. While Weylandt's tragic death on the road to Rapallo can not rightly be laid at Zomegnan's (or anyone's, it seems) feet, AZ's handling of the route changes during the Giro left everyone with a little less air in their tires. The shortening of the final ITT in Milan mid-race seemed particularly poorly planned. We can probably rest assured that if his Spanish pal is vindicated, next year's race route will suit this year's champ just as well.

2. Jose Rujano: The repeatedly self-proclaimed "third-best climber in the world" finished seventh. He was 12:12 behind the winner--the best climber in the world: Contador--and 5:16 behind Nibali, the guy who finished, um, third. I say keep setting your sights on third-best, Jose; we're all pulling for ya.

3. Thomas Lovkvist: Team Sky showed Davide Appollonio's sprinting abilities with four top-6 finishes--even bettering Petacchi on stage 12, for a 2nd place finish behind only the master Cavendish-- but their GC hope Lovkvist proved unprepared for the daunting, mountainous course, finishing outside the top 20, almost 44 minutes back. Apparently Team Sky were more interested in cowboying up for the Bayern Rundfahrt.

4. Denis Menchov: It's difficult to judge Geox's veteran talent, particularly given the shortage of time trial kilometers available this year, but the years of mountain racing in his legs combined with the elite experience of 2008 Tour Champion Carlos Sastre as a domestique, were not enough to keep Menchov in contention with the handful of other talented GC men. They kept the cautious 33 year-old Russian pretty well contained despite his spattering of brief, if rare, accelerations. His support seemed thinner than it ought to have been--Ardila being perhaps the most conspicuous under-performer--but none of the GC men had as many domestiques around them when the going got tough, as some GT champs might. Any top-ten spot in this hilly edition is certainly worthy of respect, but among that elite crop, DM's 8th place overall is probably the least impressive.

5. David Arroyo: His proponents, if they're out there, have been suspiciously silent--but so have his detractors.  Not generally considered in top form for GC contention in this Giro, I know I'm not alone in wondering if this Spanish climbing wizard isn't too inconsistent to belong in the conversation among the elite. I have long been a fan and believed in his ability, but with what appeared to be a very good team to back up a GC hopeful, I thought Movistar ought to have made sure their team leader was in shape to compete. Last year’s second place finisher overall, Arroyo finished 14th this year, almost 27 minutes behind AC. He was bettered by the likes of Quickstep's Dario Cataldo, AG2R's Hubert Dupont, and Euskatel's Mikel Nieve--not to mention the top ten others. At the age of 30, DA could be passing his prime, but as a climber he should not be happy with this result, regardless of which GT race he is prioritizing for 2011.

6-14. Team BMC: All Pro-Tour teams must send a squad to Pro-Tour Grand Tour races. The rule does not say how qualified that squad must be.

© 2011 J Silver

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