May 3, 2011 by Irish Peloton
The best recipe for Giro success
Lance Armstrong gets a hard time. He is regularly accused of something he didn’t do. He is renowned for doing it, he is blamed for others having subsequently copied him doing it but he didn’t do it at all. Everyone who says he did do it is wrong.
He never focused solely on the Tour de France.
It is common practice in this modern age of cycling to slowly build race-winning form over a number of preparation races. Although every race that a team leader participates in is either a goal, or is preparation for a goal, the attitudes exuded by cyclists in each of these races can be quite different. In 2010, the two most polarised examples are Alberto Contador and Bradley Wiggins.
In preparation for the Tour de France, Contador won the Volta ao Algarve, Paris-Nice and the Vuelta Castilla y Leon and he also finished runner up at the Dauphiné. In contrast Wiggins didn’t try to win any of the races he entered, preferring to save all his effort for the Tour. With hindsight, Wiggins has regretted this decision and has changed his attitude this year having already taken an excellent podium finish in Paris-Nice.
Lance Armstrong is often accused of focusing solely on the Tour de France. Although his main goal for the year was obviously the Tour itself, he would earmark certain pre-July races in which he planned on riding aggressively and attempting to win, not merely to just bank race miles. Armstrong would always perform well in either the Tour de Suisse or the Dauphiné, winning both over the years. He also won a clutch of smaller stage races like the Midi-Libre or the Tour de Georgia. Amstel Gold was also a major goal of his throughout his Tour winning years.
Admittedly, claiming that Armstrong didn’t focus solely on the Tour de France is a tad disingenuous. Every race he entered was preparation for the Tour, but he did try to win other races throughout the year.
With the Giro d’Italia approaching it’s worth taking a look at how the favourites have been preparing themselves. Which of them have been winning races and which of them have been laying low?
First of all, unlike in previous seasons, none of the major Tour de France contenders are racing the Giro d’Italia (apart from one, and I can think of a good reason why!). With a particularly murderous Giro route on the cards this year, the Tour riders have learned from the 2010 experiences of Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans. The pair were the two biggest G.C. riders to race both the Giro and the Tour. Basso won the Giro and ended the Tour in 32nd place. Evans wore the Maglia Rosa, ended the Giro in 5th and also won the points jersey but then finished 26th at the Tour. Although in Evans’ case his cause wasn’t helped by a broken elbow. So all the G.C. riders that are at the Giro have not got one eye on the Tour this year, both eyes are firmly on the Giro.
To me, the Tour of Romandie seems like perfect preparation for a Grand Tour. There’s a few time trialling kilometres, some nice hills and being a week long race it seems the perfect distance to top off one’s form nicely just before the Giro. But the Giro contenders don’t seem to see it like that. Of the main protagonists due to take part in Italy, only Denis Menchov and Roman Kreuziger were at the Tour of Romandie.
In fact in the past seven years, only one rider who finished on the podium in the Giro d’Italia managed to finish in the top 10 of the Tour of Romandie in the same year. That was Andy Schleck in 2007. But it wasn’t always like this. Perhaps with the more uber-focused race schedules of recent years, the Tour of Romandie has slowly come to be considered too close (just six days) before the beginning of the Giro. Riders instead prefer to replace racing miles with training miles in the weeks leading up to a three week race.
It’s true that the Tour de Suisse, the final tune-up race for the Tour, ends two weeks before the Grand Départ rather than the six days between Romandie and the Giro, but again, riders used to regularly race both. Between 1987 and 1997, of the 33 riders who finished on the podium of the Giro d’Italia, 16 of them finished in the top 10 of the Tour de Romandie. Compare that with the next 11 years and 33 podium spots bringing us up 2008, there are just six riders who managed the same feat. Since 2003, of the 24 riders who finished on the podium of the Tour of Romandie, only four of them even started the Giro.
But back in the day, a couple of riders even managed to win both, Stephen Roche in 1987 and Tony Rominger in 1995. Plenty of others such as Pavel Tonkov, Abraham Olano, Claudio Chiappucci and Miguel Indurain finished on the podium of both in the same year.
In my opinion, it’s the riders who try to win races regularly throughout the year (yes, including Armstrong) who find it easier to win the big races when the time comes, just ask Andy Schleck.
So if the G.C. contenders for the Giro haven’t been riding the Tour of Romandie as preparation, what have they been riding? The following is a breakdown of just that for this year:
First of all, Stefano Garzelli, Danilo Di Luca and Carlos Sastre are only really included because they are all former Grand Tour winners. However, they are all likely spent forces at this stage in their career, something which the lack of yellow and orange squares in their columns suggest. Although I would still fancy Sastre for a stage win. In addition, Sastre never seems to achieve anything outside the Grand Tours anyway. His column leading up to the 2008 Tour de France would look rather similar.
The Volta a Catalunya has proven to be the most popular preparation race, ridden by six of the ten riders and won by Alberto Contador. The volume of yellow/orange squares in Contador’s column is ominous. As a man who may be facing a year or more out of racing at the Giro’s end, the Spaniard will be going bananas and is definitely the man to beat. He remains undefeated in Grand Tours since 2007.
The other stand-out column is that of Michele Scarponi. All his squares are either orange or yellow except for one. And it is that one, which funnily enough was probably his most impressive performance, his sixth place in Milan San Remo where he bridged a massive gap on his own and then animated the race as they descended into San Remo. A podium finish in the Giro is definitely on the cards.
Vincenzo Nibali has been quite subdued this year on paper. Apart from old men Garzelli and Sastre, he has the least race days in his legs. But he showed indications of his strength in both Milan San Remo and Liége-Bastogne-Liége. And unlike last year where he was riding for Basso, this year Nibali has the entire Liquigas team at his disposal. And as I’ve mentioned before, Liquigas over the past couple of years have provided a most formidable Grand Tour lineup.
As for the rest of the riders on the list, it doesn’t seem likely to me that Rodriguez, Anton or Kreuziger have the strength or the consistency to take on Contador, Nibali and Scarponi.
The Giro gets underway this weekend. As a brand new member of the 9 to 5 brigade, watching the stages everyday will not be as easy for me as it has been over the years. The Eurosport player on the cheeky iPhone in the corner will be the order of the day for the coming weeks.