A hodgepodge of random musings on days gone by, what Anthony Tan really wants to know is, 'Are we there yet?'
Stage 5 Ã¢â¬â 11 May: Quarto dei Mille to Livorno, 216km
Want drama? Just add water.
Following last year's stage seven splatter-fest to Montalcino won by none other than Cadel Evans I have a mea culpa: after the copious hype and hoopla surrounding the fifth stage of this year's Giro, I came away disappointed. Almost all of that was due to the strade bianche (white gravel roads) that obstinately stayed bone-dry rather than the deliciously gooey texture they became the year before, causing havoc to the uninitiated. And although stage winner Pieter Weening (Rabobank) became the new maglia rosa, displacing overnight leader David Millar (Garmin-Transitions), the GC favourites all finished together, eight seconds behind Weening.
On paper stage five of the 2011 Giro was in fact harder than the stage Evans won the previous year Ã¢â¬â demonstrating how much weather can be Ã¢â¬â or not be Ã¢â¬â a factor in a bike race. I had similar sentiments after this year's Paris-Roubaix Ã¢â¬â you have to go back almost 10 years till when we last had a muddy 'Hell of the North', when Johan Museeuw won in 2002; the edition before, in 2001, was also boggy and bespattered, won by Servais Knaven. 2007 was a vintage year too Ã¢â¬â but only because Freckles O'Grady won with such unbridled panache.
Stage 8 Ã¢â¬â 14 May: Sapri to Tropea, 217km
Just when the GC favourites thought they could kick back a little in the finale, out pops Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) and catches his rivals unawares. Goes to show you can't just go off the roadbook, which had this down as a sprinters' stage and the majority of sport directors communicated as such Ã¢â¬â but likely failed to mention the 510m ramp at 15 per cent right near the finish, which is where Bertie boldly made his move. Five seconds was all he gained on the likes of Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre) but it was enough to keep them awake the night before the stage to Mount Etna.
Stage 9 Ã¢â¬â 15 May: Messina to Etna, 169km
If Contador was to ever write a thesis on how to win a Grand Tour with a fortnight still to go, the 2011 Giro would be the perfect case study. The only volcano erupting that day was the fire inside Alberto, who at times was turning gears good club racers might contemplate using on the flat.
Oh, and one more thing: he said afterwards the 25km climb to Sapienza Refuge "was not particularly suited for me"; he didn't like the headwinds much but still put 50 seconds and 1:07 into Nibali and Scarponi respectively. Diminutive scalatore JosÃ© Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) was the only one to match Contador finishing three seconds adrift, and at times watching the pair riding looked like a father taking his son out for a fine mountain flogging. 'That's for not eating all your red onions your mother cooked last night!' (The 'Cipolla Rossa di Tropea' is so sweet and juicy in fact, you can even make marmalade with it. Scusi-mi, I digress...)
Stage 16 Ã¢â¬â 24 May: Belluno to Nevegal, 12.7km ITT
Don't know about you, but when the race leader gaps his next-closest rival by almost four-and-a-half minutes, where is the suspense in that? The only thing is, Contador made matters worse Ã¢â¬â for everyone else except him, that is Ã¢â¬â by winning what was supposed to be a much-anticipated cronoscalata, or mountain time trial, to Nevegal, the 7km climb averaging 8.2 per cent with a maximum 14 per cent gradient. Nibali and Scarponi, the two 'closest' to Bertie on GC, would lose another 34 and 38sec, blowing out their overall deficits to 5:45 and 4:58, respectively.
Signore Zomegnan, are we there yet?
Stage 18 Ã¢â¬â 26 May: Morbegno to San Pellegrino Terme
With three stages left the time gap from Contador to Scarponi and Nibali remains unchanged and wide as a chasm.
I'm now starting to take more interest in the at times maniacal tifosi; some of whom would not look out of place on the set of the 1972 classic thriller Deliverance, one of my all-time favourite films that goes down a treat on a second date. Provided you don't like her much.
Right now, and given Contador's rivals have already conceded their race is for second, I guess you could say Bertie's got the peloton bent over backwards. 'I bet you can squeal like a pig!' Contador didn't say that, of course; he's far too polite. What he did say was: "I was fully prepared because I knew [the race] would be incredibly hard; it is the hardest stage-race I've done for the parcours."
Note he did not say it was the hardest race, which to me says that a percorso drammatico does not equal a dramatic race.
Last week I asked Cadel the question: In your opinion, does the Giro parcours need to be tamed slightly to allow riders to be competitive at both the Giro and Tour, and prevent a migration of Grand Tour riders attempting the Tour-Vuelta double instead?
"I don't know if the Giro course needs to be tamed," replied Evans, "but a good point; it would be a little more inviting for riders targeting the Tour if the Giro stages were not so insane."
Something to consider for next time, Signore Zomegnan, unless you want the Tour of California to trump you again.