It’s almost a Tour de France tradition for the pre-race talk to not be centred around the upcoming edition, but instead, around the drama taking place off the bikes.
The Giro has just concluded, with Vincenzo Nibali securing victory. Here is what we learned across three exciting weeks of racing.
1. Never discount Lo squalo di Messina.
Nibali’s performance on stages 19 and 20 will go down in the modern day Giro history books as one of the best tactical rides, especially after the Italian media had all but written him off.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was the favourite to win his fourth Grand Tour, even though he came into the Giro without any solid race results under his belt.
His performance during the main lead up race to the Giro, il Giro del Trentino, was lacklustre at best.
It did not go well for Nibali from the start. There was talk of illness and blood tests, his mind was too focused on the next pay cheque from a new Bahrain team in 2017, or the crank was wrong size.
Nibali refused to let media reports cloud his focus over the two key stages in the Alps.
At the start of the stage 19, Nibali was down 4.43 minutes down on Kruijswijk and sitting in fourth place. For the next two stages, Nibali dug deep and attacked at the right moments, passing Valverde and Kruijswijk in the GC classification. He was however helped by Kruijswijk’s crash coming off the top of Colle dell’Agnello.
Sitting in second place, lo squalo was now only 43 seconds with one mountain stage to go. But had he gone too deep? Was he going to crack on the Lombarda? A normal cyclist may have, but not Nibali. He attacked Chaves, dug deep, attacked again and by the end of the stage he was in pink.
For Chaves, Valverde and Kruijswijk, the fight for pink was over.
2. Bob Jungels establishes himself as a future Grand Tour winner
Luxembourg has a rich history of road cycling. Somehow the flat land has developed some champion cyclists like Charly Gaul and Andy Schleck.
Well it looks like Luxembourg has found its next Grand Tour winner in Bob Jungels
As an ex-national time trial champion, Jungels finished seventh in the ITT on Stage 1 and followed up with sixth in the mountain ITT on Stage 9. He completed well in bunch sprints. He also helped Steven Kruijswijk in the mountains with his attacks, but also kept in his GC top ten as well.
Jungels came in sixth overall, first in the Young Rider Classification and held the pink jersey between Stages 10-12. Not bad for a rider who is only 23 years old.
A rider with a huge future. To be a proper GC contender he will have to build on his mountain climbing abilities. But at 23, he has plenty of time for that.
Next year, the team will surely be pencilling him in as one of the riders for the Tour de France.
3. The Colombian army march continues
Is there a country that has produced more exciting climbers in world cycling over the last ten years than Colombia?
Carlos Betancur, Julian Arredondo and Nairo Quintana have demonstrated their Grand Tour stripes with their climbing abilities.
And then comes along Esteban Chaves who continues the Colombian army’s march into Europe. He won Stage 13 and showed his climbing abilities in the Dolomites and the Alps.
Chaves got into the pink jersey by the end of stage 19 with a small gap of 44 seconds over Nibali.
Unfortunately for Chaves, he did not have super-domestique like Scarponi in his team and those 44 seconds were not enough to hold out Nibali. Maybe next year.
But the wave of Colombian cyclists wowing the crowds on the sides of mountains does not stop at Chaves. Egan Bernal’s early performances suggests he is a name to remember as the next Colombian cyclist to come through.
4. Ciccone may be the next big Italian climber
Giulio Ciccone from Bardiani-CSF escaped from Cunego and Pirazzi to win the first high mountain stage. What made Ciccone’s stage win special was he only signed a professional contract four months before after being Bardiani’s stagiaire in late 2015.
Ciccone comes from a climbing pedigree after winning the mountain classification in the Giro della Valle d’Aosta in 2015. A race won twice by Fabio Aru.
I am sure if you trawl through the cycling history books you will not find too many first year cyclists that win a stage at a Grand Tour let alone a cyclist that is only four months into their cycling career.
Unfortunately for Ciccone, a gastrointestinal problem worsened and he had to withdraw before the start of stage 19. So he did not get to finish his first Grand Tour
Ciccone’s stage win will be enough to make the world tour teams stand up and mark him down as a future prospect to watch.
5. Kruijswijk will not forget Stage 19
As the riders started arriving to start the 99th edition of the Giro in Holland, LottoNL-Jumbo was not of the high profile teams that was likely to win a stage let alone having a rider in the maglia rosa over the event.
Step forward Steven Kruijswijk. He came to the start line in Apeldoorn hoping to get in the top five. Suddenly by the third week and after the third and final rest day, Kruijswijk was in a commanding position
He wore the maglia rosa for five days. On the sixth, he controlled the peloton on the climb to the top of Colle dell’Agnello. He was the strongest rider and was only two stages away from the biggest win of his career. The altitude training over the winter had paid off.
Kruijswijk misjudged the turn and the descent of the Agnello and ploughed into a snow bank. The jersey was lost there.
We don’t like to see the jersey leaders crash and lose the lead. But this is professional racing.
6. Who can forget Trentin’s win?
Do we remember the times when riders did not wear race radios? Moreno Moser will certainly not forget and will curse his radio was broken on stage 18. Coming into the finish line in Pinerolo, Moser only had to beat fellow Italian, Brambilla, to claim the stage win.
What Moser could not hear after coming off the Pramartino was his team yelling down the race radio that Matteo Trentin was closing in. Fortunately for Etixx, Brambilla could hear his team and a look over the shoulder saw Trentino streaming down.
With 200 metres left before the finish line, Trentino comes powering along with jersey zipped undone to sprint to victory. What an amazing finish to the stage.
In summary this Giro has been packed with drama and emotion since riders rolled off the start line in Holland. Like I say every year, this Giro was better than the last.
Three riders in pink in the last four stages of the Giro. It only proves that the fight for pink is the grandest of the Grand Tours.
The Tour de France has a lot to live up to be as exciting as the Giro. We only have 32 sleeps to find out.