With the spring classics now in the rear vision mirror and the Giro just underway, talk is all about the Grand Tours.
Fine tuning has been made at the Tour of Romandie and four days of Dunkirk but goals have been decided long ago and the changes are, in reality, to only the support riders.
While the pro-circuit has changed a little with a few additional events in what were always considered third world cycling countries, the blocks of racing remains pretty much the same, however the teams are bigger and the riders race less, focusing specifically on certain events.
When you read reports of the Sky build up, you can’t help but realize how calculated their approach is. While Team Sky Manager Dave Brailsford says it isn’t a numbers game, it entirely is!
Sir Bradley Wiggins hasn’t won a race in 2013, and yet the team reveals he is on track to win the 2013 Tour of Italy. This is either sheer arrogance, or it’s a pronouncement based entirely on numbers, the science.
Teams lock their riders away on some god-forsaken island, have them doing huge kms at altitude, rumoured to be pushing huge gears and the whole time they are hooked up to their power meters while the doctors are crunching the numbers, and the psychologists are honing the head.
The current crop of great champions compete so infrequently now, we the fans have to pick our event in the same way the favourites do if we are to follow them.
If we want to see Sir Wiggo, which race should we pick? Andy Schleck – good grief, what is he going to do? Le Tour? Alberto Contador, for sure, Le Tour.
There was much criticism last July that Le Tour was bland, with Team Sky throwing a blanket over the entire race, the only sensation being the dominance of the British outfit.
The disgrunteld media hoped for a drug scandal, something to write about at least but to no avail.
No disrespect Sir Wiggo, great race, but it was a boring tour.
It will always be a long argued debate over who was, or is, the world’s greatest cyclists.
It used to be only the die-hard, red-nosed Frenchmen who, between guzzling their cognacs and puffing on their Gauloises, had the wisdom to make the call. Was it Jacques Anquetil, Charly Gaul, or Eddy Merckx?
These riders were popular because they were owned by the fans. With big Eddy racing up to 200 days a year, it wasn’t going to be long until he was going to be racing close to you, whereas with Wiggo, and harking back to Lance Armstrong, you only got to see them once.
The greatest race was never in question, Le Tour is still the pinnacle, but like many things in cycling this too has changed.
Thank god for the Giro, ah the Italians!
This race has famously been designed for an Italian to win and has for many years played little brother to Le Tour.
The organisers have thrown the famous Italian bipartisan spirit out the window in their bid for the greatest Grand Tour.
They may well have achieved this goal, but at what price when it would appear victory in the race is a mere formality for Sir Wiggo?
With victory in the Giro a fait accompli for the black and blue boys and the top-heavy trophy sitting precariously in his pocket, Sir Wiggo has announced he has re-aimed his sights on the top step in Paris to make it a double.
Hmm, maybe there is a scandal brewing or his knighthood has gone to his head or this could be just a ploy by management so that Chris Froome doesn’t let his guard down.
Whatever the plan, it doesn’t create harmony among the others in the team and the fans despair for some old fashioned excitement.
What happened to sitting on the edge of your chair (or saddle) not knowing what was going to unfold on race day? UCI management strategies and race radios came along followed by team Sky.
Gone are the days when the Italian media flew a helicopter so low over Laurent Fignon during the last and crucial time trial the draft from the rotor caused the Frenchman to lose precious seconds and ultimately the Giro to an Italian, Francesco Moser.
Or when Stephen Roche, an Irishman, dared win the Giro when he had an Italian rider on his team. The crowds went wild and he had to be protected from them by guards.
Away from the Sky frivolities and the scandals of the Giro, life carries on with the likes of Vincenzo Nibali showing form at the Tour of Trentino, hope yet for the Italians. He has had some impressive wins, similar to Wiggins in his 2012 campaign.
There are not many riders who can follow the ferocious attacks of this Italian when he as a crack in the high mountains.
Cadel hasn’t had a year like others. He did not feature in the Ardennes classics as he did the year he won Le Tour.
The Giro was not on his program from the start of the season but has been promoted as a target, however there are team dynamics to be considered here as well with BMC teammate Tejay van Garderen sitting stealth and quiet for Le Tour, waiting to pounce for overall leadership.
Cadel could have some ripper days, maybe a stage win as it is a very hilly Giro, but age is not on his side and to back up against the younger Wiggo and Nibali, I feel general classification prospects are somewhat limited in the Giro for our Cadel.
We haven’t seen Ryder Hesjedal much since last year’s Giro, but a couple of weeks ago who was it setting up the win for his Garmin Sharp teammate Dan Martin in Liege Bastogne Liege?
Ryder had a select few strung out in the closing kms, paving the way for the Irishman to shred the elite field. He is a champion in the wings but there is much competition at this year’s Giro.
Distant suspects for GC contention would be Robert Gesink and Michele Scarponi, though his tumble yesterday marked a rocky start. Of course then there are the sprints which entertain us for the first week.
Famous for exciting action, we’ve seen Mark Cavendish dominate already, but the Italians may have something up their sleeves. Will Roberto Ferrari kiss and make up with Cav after causing that spectacular wheel collapse job in stage three of last year’s race?
Despite the criticism of his erratic finishing style, the Italian has flair, is fast and should be good value for those long flat stages.
Overall, Sky have reason for their confidence, Sir Wiggo looks to be in fine form and is my favourite. The difficulty backing up after a tough Giro cannot be underestimated, as Alberto Contidor found out in 2011 (despite being later stripped of that title).
The Spaniard was impressive in his dominance in the Giro, however he paid the price and was nowhere near the same level in France six weeks later, but the reasons for this could be many and varied.
Maybe Sir Wig should be a little cautious should he wish to keep the younger Froome in his place in July.
As for the Giro, who do the Italians want to win?
And as for the race of the season, it could well be the Giro.