By Jim Rutberg, CTS Pro Coach, Trainright.com
In the second weekend of a Grand Tour it’s common to see fatigue starting to settle into the peloton. At the 2014 Giro d’Italia, this fatigue was compounded by the rainy weather during the race’s starting days in Ireland, a significant transfer back to Italy, and then continued rain and crashes in the stages that followed. Going into the weekend’s mountainous Stages 8 and 9, a shakeup in the general classification was very likely. The question was how big an impact these two back-to-back summit finishes would have.
Arredondo’s effort to win the stage 8 climb to Carpegna was impressive, but the gc juggernaut cared not, and digested him in the last few hundred meters.
Stage 8: Just fast enough to be safe
Orica-Greenedge had done an amazing job defending the pink jersey throughout the first week of the Giro, including Michael Matthews’ brilliant stage win as leader of the race. But now it was time for bigger mountains and the probable end to his run in the pink jersey. On the category 1 Cippo di Carpegna climb, Matthews came unhitched, but the most interesting development was the presence of Movistar driving the pace at the front of the group of overall contenders.
Nairo Quintana, the Colombian leader of Movistar, crashed heavily on Thursday and has reportedly been dealing with significant bruising. He’s been keeping a pretty low profile throughout the Giro so far, as would be expected from a rider who wants to wait until the big mountains to make a move. But Movistar’s move to the front on the Carpegna wasn’t followed by an attack by Quintana – it would be unusual to see a GC contender attack that far out from the finish on a stage this early in a Grand Tour. Instead of setting up an attack, the rationale for Movistar may have been to keep Quintana out of trouble.
In an interview, Quintana stated that the crash on Thursday has made it painful to respond to attacks. Putting his team on the front on the first major climb of the race would have been a good way to keep the pace high enough to discourage attacks and yet steady enough to provide Quintana with a bit more comfort. It’s telling that the pace he can hold while injured is high enough to whittle the peloton down to just a few dozen riders.
In the end, BMC’s Cadel Evans displaced Michael Matthews for the pink jersey as Diego Ulissi claimed his second uphill sprint victory. Quintana managed to finish just ahead of Evans, although neither rider looked to be under much stress at any point in the final climb to the line.
Cadel in the pink jersey for Stage 9
Stage 9: A great day for a breakaway
The day before a rest day can be a great day to get into the breakaway, especially when the peloton is tired and it isn’t crunch time for the overall GC contenders. Indeed, Stage 9 was a day when the GC contenders would have wanted to spare their support riders as much as possible, to give them a little head start on recovery. Though it took a long time for the breakaway to form, once 14 men representing 13 teams went clear and gained 6 minutes it was a good sign that the stage would go the way of the breakaway.
The composition and size of a breakaway plays a big role in whether the group will be given the freedom to run and whether it has the horsepower to finish it off. With 14 riders there was a lot of opportunity to share the workload. This works in the favor of the breakaway but also makes for a somewhat risky situation for the peloton. A big breakaway has enough power to create and sustain a winning gap, but too much complacency in the peloton can lead to a disastrously-large winning margin.
Keeping the breakaway at a reasonable time gap was beneficial to pretty much everyone in the peloton, which is why we saw a variety of teams come to the front to set the pace, but didn’t see anyone stomp on the gas to cut the breakaway’s lead down by big chunks of time. Riders are tired and everyone’s looking forward to the rest day. Even GC leaders want to give their support riders a bit of a break, knowing they’ll need as much energy as possible for the big challenges coming up later in the Giro.
Weening was the big winner from the GC leaders saving themselves for later.
Up front, the battle for the stage win started heating up as the final climb to the finish approached. While a large breakaway group is beneficial for creating a big gap and sharing the workload, eventually it becomes too big for its own good. There are too many passengers, too many competing agendas. A smaller breakaway group tends to work cohesively until it is closer to the finish line, while the attacks and infighting start earlier in larger breaks. In the finale – once you know the stage winner will come from break – the smaller the group the higher your chance of winning. And if you’re one of the stronger riders in the break you really don’t want to drag passengers into the final 5 kilometers because the scent of a Grand Tour stage win has been known to bring seemingly-dead riders back to winning form.
At the end of Stage 9, Peter Weening played the final climb to perfection and added to Orica-Greenedge’s fabulous Giro d’Italia performance thus far. Behind, it was only Domenico Pozzovivo who put in a big dig to make up some time on the GC favorites and the field rolled to the finish with their eyes already on today’s rest day.
Pozzovivo was the only one of the GC men to really go for it in the mid-mountains
Jim Rutberg is a Pro Coach for CTS and co-author of seven books on training and sports nutrition, including “The Time-Crunched Cyclist”. During the Giro d’Italia he will be providing commentary and analysis of key stages, with an eye toward explaining why or how the action happened and what it means for future stages. For information on personal coaching and training camps from CTS, visit http://trainright.com.