• So far, so good... But the real test is yet to come. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
We've heard what they've had to say, but the road will tell the true tale at this Giro d'Italia, writes Anthony Tan.
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Cycling Central
8 May 2018 - 11:32 AM  UPDATED 8 May 2018 - 1:31 PM

It's hard to keep your mind on the job at hand when you constantly get asked questions about other things.

If Chris Froome and Team Sky have found a plausible explanation for his adverse analytical finding at last year's Vuelta a España, we're yet to hear it.

During the pre-race shenanigans, journalists at the Giro d'Italia had every right to ask questions about the yet unresolved doping case - and Froome and his coterie had every right to rebuff said questions, which, for the most part, they did.

Though sometimes, actions speak louder than words.

Despite telling the BBC in a pre-Giro interview "I certainly haven't had any sleepless nights", one has to ask whether his crash just four hours before the opening time trial was simply a careless misstep, or something more than that.

Its lack of uniformity makes this side of Etna manna from heaven for the pure climbers. For others, it can supply the first nail in the coffin.

Over the years since their inception, Team Sky has often referenced an ethos of "marginal gains", meaning the aggregation of small advantages can lead to a significant one. However one might reasonably suggest it can also work in reverse - let's call it "marginal pains". That a tiny yet inconvenient thought bubble may lead to a small blunder, such as that which befell Froome last Friday in Jerusalem - which may lead to a slightly compromised position on the bike and/or a less than ideal night's sleep, or a fear of falling again - which, anywhere over the course of the next three weeks, can snowball into another crash and maybe a DNF; a less than optimal end result in Rome; or a potential fifth Tour de France victory-tilt squandered.

It's not difficult to envisage how a seemingly innocuous spill can spiral out of control.

"It's all superficial, no long-term damage," Froome said, who, under the circumstances, did well to finish 21st to defending champion Tom Dumoulin, albeit at a loss of 37 seconds. "I'm glad it wasn't more serious." The same words cannot be said of his future immediately following the Giro and the impact a suspension would have on he and his team. Not to mention the impact on a sport that to some insiders and many outsiders continues to suffer a crisis of credibility, despite undergoing a seismic shift from the win-at-all-costs mentality that prevailed till less than a decade ago.

Certainly, Giro director Mauro Vegni appears to harbour mixed emotions about the presence of the four-time Tour winner, who is being paid a seven-figure sum (reported to be €1.4m/AUD2.2m) for turning up to the 101st edition of La Corsa Rosa. Vegni claims negotiations were well underway when knowledge of Froome's failed test was known to the team but not to him: "The negotiations with Team Sky took place before the Giro presentation so I would have expected within a correct relationship to be informed. I didn't really like this." In fact, Vegni says the first time he heard was mid-December last year, when a joint investigation by The Guardian and French newspaper Le Monde revealed Froome had twice the permissible level of salbutamol in his system on September 7, after the eighteenth stage of the Vuelta.

If you're of the belief that any news is good news, then the decision to include Froome and have the Big Start in Israel was a grand (tour) idea. In the pre-race press conference, Guardian reporter Martha Kelner observed: "It took 33 minutes before any rider other than Froome or any of the other 21 teams competing here was discussed." When it was, Vegni seemed ready to hand out an award for journalistic excellence. "Thank you for someone who recognises that it is not just Chris Froome at the Giro!" he exclaimed.

Despite saying "I don't really support any rider specifically", the Giro director couldn't contain his enthusiasm for Dumoulin, who after his stage one victory said the world champion's stripes and maglia rosa are "the two most important" jerseys in cycling. "He's young, he's handsome, he is good for cycling as a whole. Also as an athlete he is a good performer. Let's say that (him winning) would be really a good outcome for the Giro."

Yep, no sides taken, honest to God...

It's impossible to say if Vegni will receive the outcome he desires. "The course was perfect for me," said the Dutchman after the 9.7 kilometre opener; whether the rest of 3,553 kilometres is as good only time will tell. He described Sunday's third leg to Eilat, won by Quick-Step's Elia Viviani, as "the most stressful sprint stage I've ever done" - a sentiment affirmed by maglia rosa Rohan Dennis, who said the final day in Israel was "stressful" and "nerve-wracking", thinking he might lose the jersey even in the final kilometres.

We'll need to wait till Friday morning Australian time before learning more about our future overall winner, when the race finishes atop the Etna astrophysical observatory. The 164km sixth stage has just the one categorised climb, yet the undulating profile and, according to the roadbook, "endless series of bends over the first 120km" mean it will be nervous from go to woe. If Dennis is to successfully transform into a three-week contender as Cyclingnews columnist Philippa York say he can (Read: Rohan Dennis has what it takes to win a Grand Tour), he must do at least a half-decent ride up the 15km ascent that averages just 6 per cent but contains sections up to 15 per cent. Its lack of uniformity makes this side of Etna manna from heaven for the pure climbers. For others, it can supply the first nail in the coffin.

Dennis joins select cycling club at Giro
Australia's Rohan Dennis has become only the third Australian to lead all three Grand Tours after taking the pink jersey at the Giro d'Italia.
Dennis holds as Viviani wins another at the Giro
Australia's Rohan Dennis remains in the overall lead after Elia Viviani sealed his second consecutive Giro d'Italia stage win in a bunch sprint finish.

Successful time trial specialists-cum-GC riders before him have, in their transitional period, found managing one col with the best climbers generally okay; multiple climbs with multiple changes of rhythm is far more challenging. It goes without saying the making of a Grand Tour rider is no overnight creation, nor is it something that can be achieved within a few seasons: years five to seven after turning pro are when results happen, though only if such a trajectory had been planned, which, until the Rio Olympics, wasn't the case with Dennis. (Read: A Four Year Plan: Rohan Dennis and his Grand Tour designs)

A gruelling, often exasperating, only sometimes rewarding slog with limited chance of success, it's a wonder why the 27-year-old South Australian (who turns 28 the day after the race ends in Rome) would accept such a challenge. That said, it's an intriguing proposition, and this Giro will provide fascinating watching to see what progress he's made and where he needs to improve if a successful transformation is to occur. "Whether I'm one hour behind or not (by the finish), I'm still going to race as if I'm trying to win," he said. "Mentally, it's the best way."