Thursday, December 07, 2006

Il Grande Giro

Better Late Than Never: sure, I'm a lazy slacker, but man, am I excited about the '07 Giro! Leaving aside the natural inclination to pass out resulting from Discovery's smug presentation of a sleek Ivan Basso as The Lance's hand-picked successor (Free Levi!), it's quite a nice course. Opening team tt, an uphill tt for the climbers whose tt skills have miraculously kicked up in quality the last couple of years, 8 or so sprints for Petacchi assuming he doesn't impetuously slug it out with any more team buses (a fruitless battle, he might recall), a flat tt the second to last day, and 5 mountain top finishes, particularly in i Dolomiti, with the brutal stage 15 treating the riders to Passo di San Pellegrino, Passo Giau, and finally the vicious Tre Cime di Lavaredo, and, most interestingly, stage 17's Zoncolan, with a section at 22%, already tested, to some pain, by the optimistic and excited Gilberto Simoni. Jailbait Giro champ Cunego, Paolo Savoldelli (who's just confirmed he will stay with Astana), and we love Stefano Garzelli have all weighed in favorably as well, with the prevailing sentiment seeming to be "it's open." On the short list, and considering I'm still in a major snit at Johan Bruyneel and that Basso will still want to hold back a bit for the Tour, I think Simoni, despite his advancing years, will have quite a friend in Iban Mayo in the high passes, that Savoldelli's chances depend on who Vino's going to give him for the mountain lead-outs if he wants to keep Kashechkin fresh for him in July, and Garzelli, though brilliant, is likewise going to have problems with a Continental squad (however fine) to hold him throughout the Giro, and Cunego--well, his season took quite an uptick late in the game this year, and he's got the motivation of a lot of old hype to validate. Onwards to May!

Crank Shafted: Jan Ullrich's management team has, predictably, lammed into the whining Tour of Germany over their self-promoting guardians-of-morality act, as if some freakin' race organizers should get to pick the teams, when Jan "will" in fact be racing in '07 gosh darn it, though as to the reasonable question "for whom?" the answer still remains a curt and somehow confidence-killing "none of your beeswax" (though the rumors that he might be considering signing with Manolo Saiz have to be too good to be true.) Jan, no offense to your handlers, who have after all remained loyal despite constant smacking from the German press, sore-loser directeurs sportif and pretty much every cycling body on earth, but do the words "Ivan Basso" mean anything to you? Send your guys to remedial sports-pimp classes if you have to for God's sake, and get your tainted show back on the road already!

Vai Paolo: Speaking of Ivan Basso, world champ/canny tactician Paolo Bettini, meantime, says he'd rather quit the sport than take a DNA test, which ought to be administered only to those stupid enough to keep bags of blood at their actual houses, and took the opportunity to slap Basso upside the head for refusing to cough up a swab during the Op Puerto investigation on the same moral grounds he slobbered over Bettini with gratitude via cell phone for taking so firmly, then 3 weeks (and, I note, approximately 6 million euros) later changing his mind and happily agreeing to do it when he signed with Discovery and already knew OP wasn't gonna require it. Sure, Basso maybe left the rest of the riders to hang out to dry a bit after reaping the benefits of your stance, but does any of that really matter when you get to snuggle up to Lance on the road in Austin in the end? Basso, though, has been quick to praise his new teammates, who have welcomed him warmly and made him feel quite comfortable as their leader since, after 7 years, they once again after a prospective number one. Yes, I know it's true, and Basso's brilliant and I like him yap, yap, yap. But who gives? Poor Levi!

Dr. Pereiro and Mr. Hyde: So I see Oscar Pereiro (perhaps understandably) continues his constant press vacillation between I'm-a-Happy-Valverde-Superdomestique and Eat-My-Dust-Buddy-I-Won-the-Tour-Not-You, noting that if he has the option to win it in '07 as well, he's not gonna work for anybody, but that everything's being taken out of context because he is absolutely loyal to Valverde, who coincidentally has a "lot of time" to take the Tour someday himself. That oughta make for a nice atmosphere on the team bus! However, if these guys are gonna tear each other apart in a Vino/Ullrich rematch in July, what's left of 'em both for the Vuelta is gonna suck. And, with we love Iban Mayo's new goals being stated as the classics he rode so finely this year and the Tour (presumably for stages--oh Iban!), plus helping Gibo in the Giro--and notably, not the Vuelta--I'm starting to feel just a bit glum about August. If this crap trend keeps up, and CSC kills Sastre from overuse early in the season again, Sammy Sanchez'll be able to walk his bike up the damned Pyrenees and still take the thing. Don't do it to the innocent Vuelta, boys!

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