Sunday, May 06, 2007

Giro d'Italia 101

Welcome, Giro newbies! So you hung out at the Tours of California or Georgia this year, or you've caught some recent "Cyclysm Sundays" on Vs. and decided, quite rightly, that it's pretty damn entertaining to watch a bike race. Perhaps you're even one of my two faithful readers who's learned the basics via my earlier, general "Cycling 101", but frankly, just don't know much about the Giro itself, one of cycling's 3 Grand Tours and, for my money, one of the most thrilling races on earth. So to get you started, I humbly present this "Giro 101":

The Upshot: 3 weeks of body-breaking riding in Italy, with 8 sprint stages, 5 rolling stages, 5 major mountain stages with 4 mountain-top finishes, two individual time trials and one team time trial. It's all about the mountains, baby, with the brutal Tre Cime di Lavaredo in stage 15 and the fearsome Monte Zoncolan at stage 17. Woo-hoo!

The State of Play: babe-magnet Ivan Basso, just fired, I mean voluntarily resigned, from Discovery Channel in the wake of his ongoing link to the Operacion Puerto doping scandal, won the Giro last year by a bone-crushing 12 minutes with Team CSC, which also kicked him off their team due to Op Puerto, and will not be defending his title. Notable last year: constant verbal abuse of Basso from two-time winner we love Gilberto Simoni, who variously accused him of being "not a man," (cannily counterattacked by Basso by posing for Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport with his shirt off in a he-man pose), an "extraterrestri" (doper, since proven a not-unreasonable suspicion), and a "fraud" who offered to buy Simoni off to let him take a stage. Good sportsmanship all 'round boys!

The Players:
General Classification (overall winner):
(1) Ivan Basso (Discovery/CSC). As noted, he's out this year, but his comely shadow will color the race as this year's contenders lose their natural target, Discovery and CSC lose their leader, and the commentators strive not to talk about him too much.

(2) Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval): won the Giro in 2001 and 2003. A brilliant climber but a bit long in the tooth in cyclist years, he has vowed to end his road career after the Giro and head back to his ancestral stomping grounds of mountain biking, where he is reigning Italian champ. I'm assuming he'll take a stage or two, particularly with the smashing help of ascending jailbait protege Riccardo Ricco, but jury is still out on GC; I'm rooting for him though just for his total lack of verbal self-control.

(3) Paolo Savoldelli (Astana): won the Giro in 02 and 05. Nicknamed "Il Falco" for his stunning descents, was ignominiously booted off Discovery and found new home with upstart talent-packed Kazakh squad Astana, started by outraged 2006 Vuelta champ Alexander Vinokorouv in the wake of the Op Puerto scandal. Just won prologue time trial in Tour de Romandie and took second overall, ahead of superdomestique/07 Vuelta stage winner teammate Andrey Kashechkin. Question: will Kashechkin be around to help him, or save himself too much to help Vino in the Tour to be of any use to Savoldelli?

(4) Damiano "Il Piccolo Principe" Cunego (Lampre): golden-coiffed Giro champ at tender age of 22 in 2004. Has been unable to reach those heights since, and Simoni recently bushwhacked him in the press as a soulless unmotivated tool. His form's been good this year though, he's got good boys supporting him, and he's desperate to prove he's not a fluke.

(5) Stefano Garzelli (Acqua e Sapone): took the Giro in 2000. Downgraded this year to a Continental squad, as far as I can tell this year he's utterly !@#$ed because he hasn't got the domestique firepower to back him up.

(6) Danilo "the Killer" DiLuca (Liquigas): a smashing early season, and a man who desperately wants the podium. If Simoni or Cunego cracks, he may well get it.


(1) Alessandro "Ale-Jet" Petacchi (Milram): the highly-pressured successor to former Italian sprint god Mario "the Chest" Cipollini, he's still not fully recovered from cracking his knee-cap in the Tour, was almost back at the Vuelta then broke his hand decking a team bus when he couldn't find the man he was actually looking to hit in dispute over a sprint. Uneven this season, he's come back a bit the last two weeks, and really, really wants to prove to the abusive Italian press that he's capable of reaching his earlier heights.

(2) Robbie "the Ego" McEwen (Predictor-Lotto): more competitive than anyone alive, he's almost guaranteed to make Petacchi look like a wuss in at least one sprint.

(3) we love Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole): totally underrated, he took the last stage at the Tour de France into Paris last year. Whacked this year by stomach problems, but I'm seriously hoping for a comeback, particularly since McEwen completely gets on my nerves.

Everything Else:

(1) and only Paolo Bettini: World champ/Italian icon/perpetual stage winner, he excels at rolling stages and is a major attack dog, ergo a threat even in a sprint. Vai Paolo!

This ain't all, but it oughta be enough to get you started. Forza!

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