Who still has nails to chew at this point?

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We’ve seen everything this week. Controversy, descending, reduced sprints, breakaway heroics, Dolomites, dead legs from everyone, lead changes, (how can I almost forget) climbing, chases across the flat, and it all leads to a final TT. The top five all within 1:15, what more could RCS, Italians, and all cycling fans ask for from the 100th Giro!

Let’s start with Stage 16–Controversy.

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Ok, since I’m late on this and everyone (including myself) has already talked a bunch about it I’ll just go over my biggest points. Everyone should have sat up when Dumoulin pulled over, at the very least not press on too hard while keeping the break in check, give him a chance to come back in! Now it was late in the race, Dumoulin really should have gone to the bathroom before, and if they had waited Nibali wouldn’t have gotten the stage. Still, is that the way you want to win this race, Nibali and Quintana? Dumoulin stopped the peloton last Sunday because he did not want to beat Quintana because he had a crash. Apparently Nibali and Quintana don’t care how they win: coming out of the doping era and into the marginal gains era everything is so calculated and high stakes many (maybe most) riders are willing to break the unwritten rules whenever it suits them. Next, Nibali is truly a Shark, what I’m about to say definitely goes for Contador too and somewhat for Quintana as well. Nibali and Contador are at their BEST when they smell blood, when their rivals are at their weakest! So many of their best victories have come in this way, an example for each. I remember in the 2014 Vuelta on a TT Froome was having an off day and Quintana crashed in the leader’s jersey and Contador went to town and grabbed the jersey and held it all the way to Madrid. Last year at the Giro on stage 19, Nibali was dead, beaten, and smoking cigs at over 3 minutes back until Kruijswijk crashed. I still cannot tell you WHERE he found the time to come back, but I can tell you why, he took full advantage of his rivals’ weaknesses and misfortunes, they are one and the same to him. Kruijswijk and Chaves both faltered (whether by crash or just bad legs) and that was all the motivation Nibali needed.

Ok, let’s just quickly point out somethings here, too. First, no one waited for Dumoulin, but it was Zakarin and a Bahrain rider (Pellozotti? He’s been having a good Giro) who started driving the pace/attacking. Quintana did not put in any moves (was he tired or did he actually wanna wait for Dumoulin?), but he did nothing to TRY to ask the group to stop. I don’t really fault him for that, but Dumoulin was going up that climb passing shelled Movistar riders who then sat on his wheel, those Movistar riders should have each given him a 20 second pull for how much Dumoulin helped them out on Sunday. Everyone else was bystanders who I could see from Dumoulin fans’ eyes are as guilty as people that attacked Dumoulin.

Finally, I’ll still give Nibali some credit. Excellent descent, good sprint, you won an epic stage that was tailored to you and ended the Italian Giro 100 drought in dramatic fashion. It was a good finish, it’s too bad it was marred by such a controversy.

Stage 17

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Well deserved win from Rolland here! Right before his attack succeeded I was already thinking that he needed to stop shotgunning his attacks and really go all in on one big one. He proved me wrong! He kept taking opportunities and instead of forcing a big one, the grind of a bunch of small ones popped one off for him! Chapeau! This was a great win for Cannondale, they needed it. I like Cannondale bikes, and I like their Giro roster (meaning I don’t particularly enjoy the rest of the team). I was really hoping Michael Woods would get a stage of this Giro, but I’m really glad Rolland did, especially for how much work in the breaks he’s been putting in.

Stage 18

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Dude, I’m stealing this saying from a friend while we were watching the Stelvio. He asked me “So where are they right now?” And I told him, “On the Stelvio which is right on the Swiss border with Italy.” My friend responds, “Woah, that’s sweet. Those are places I don’t even think really exist. They just seem fictional to me.” That is how I felt when I watched the Dolomites. With this great 2017 crisp camera work, those mountains are so sharply beautiful in a harsh landscape. It seems like a land that should not be messed with and left alone, beautiful but dangerous. A place humans should not be and therefore should not think exist…..And yet most years we have a huge bike race and a bunch of fans come through to disturb its peace.

I thought this was going to be the big day: Nibali and Quintana closed their gap, now can they take the lead? I still liked everything Movistar did. It was interesting and engaging putting so many guys in the break and isolating Dumoulin. And Quintana even successfully launched what looked to be deadly attacks! But in the end, he was not on his best day. He couldn’t sustain his own attacks. That’s kind of a bummer, but that’s cycling. Give him props for trying, and props to Movistar for setting him up, but if he doesn’t have the legs, he doesn’t have the legs! You can’t fault people for being mortal.

Now maybe Dumoulin was looking pretty good on this day too, I thought he was looking decent and he gained confidence at the end when Nibali and Quintana were utterly spent as all the other minor GC riders dashed up the road and they didn’t even try to protect their podiums. This led to some mudslinging after the stage between the three which I sadly have not read all the quotes about.

Good win for Tejay, he salvaged his race, but I still have no idea what the trajectory of his career is at this point. He blows up way too much to ever have real GT leadership again, and he’s not a very dynamic/animated rider–I’m surprised he even beat Landa in the sprint! He can’t follow accelerations and dish out punches on climbs, for the past few years he hasn’t been at an appropriate TT level. If he wants to be a GOOD GC rider he needs to be able to count on a TT as good as Jungels’ to make up for not being such a one dimensional climber who blows up constantly.

Stage 19

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I said a Sky boy would win the KOM jersey. If you really think about it, that’s always a very easy prediction to make once their GC hopes are killed. They have the strongest team, if they are all low in the standings, three can get in the break everyday and drive it if they want. They have so many good climbing domestiques, one of them will be able to sustain it on a big stage mountain stage and take some points and finish it off throughout the week. Glad Landa got a stage win, after screwing up a sprint twice he deserved a summit finish win in the blue jersey!

Ok, I really thought the Overall for the Giro was going to be done after Dumoulin survived and taunted his rivals the day before! HA! I’m glad I was super wrong! I did not expect Dumoulin to crack on that climb, the beginning of the day was pretty hectic, but they slowed down so much over the flat that I thought he’d rock a final stand alone climb like he did on Blockhaus and Oropa. Nope. Not only was he not keeping up with Bob Jungels (who’s currently a lesser version of Dumoulin), at points he wasn’t even holding his own teammates’ wheels. I didn’t read any press stuff about it afterwards so I’m only judging off the video. He was sufferin’. It was a weird finish though, because besides Pinot and maybe Zakarin, no one really attacked. Quintana and Nibali didn’t or couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity and basically just finished with their packs. And that put Quintana into the leaders jersey, with Dumoulin 38 seconds back which wasn’t a disaster for him, Dumoulin’s damage control was very good.

So everything was on quite the edge of knife going into stage 20. Dumoulin probably still with an advantage on paper, but question marks surrounding every. Single. Rider. All have had off days, will they have good ones for the last two? I felt myself watching yesterday’s stage thinking, “Man, if I was them I’d really be wishing for any sort of potion or elixir that could get me over the hump tomorrow to get me in a winning position for the TT.” So of course nowadays those potions and elixirs are drugs so I really wouldn’t want to take those!

Stage 20

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Now that was intense–setting up what is to be the greatest TT battle since 1989!

Seeing so many top domestiques shelled out on the Grappa climb was an awesome set up. Then Foza started and props to Quintana and Nibali and eventually Pinot, they did what they had to. They left it out there and kept trying the whole climb, their advantage over the top wasn’t much, but to have anything was good. We were then treated to thrilling final 15k!

First of all, props to Zakarin attacking today and Pozzovivo, how is that guy in 6th place at only 1:30 down??? That last 15k was so quietly intense, it had to be everything the organizers hoped for on this day. All the groups were working well, heroes in very group. Quintana, Nibbles, and Pinot doing turns, meanwhile Dumoulin racing for his life and Jungels giving him massive pulls! The five up front combined and the cohesion evaporates, Dumoulin’s group is coming back! The five in the front finally get organized. Dumoulin with Jungels, even Mollema and Yates get it back within 7 seconds, but in the last 5k the front group extends it back out to 15 seconds! Thrilling, thrilling stuff, we are just going further out onto the edge of this knife! What more could you ask for from a penultimate stage! This has been such a complete race, such a complete race.

At the time I didn’t really think about it, but why were Jungels, Mollema, and Yates helping Dumoulin? None even have a shot at Pozzovivo. I guess Yates could ride only to try to break Jungels, but the other way around was more likely, or they were just trying to bring it back to possibly win the stage, I guess? Dumoulin is right to be grateful that they gave him any sort of assistance!

Those will be such vital seconds Quintana, Nibali, and Pinot picked up. Some thought the race was over at Oropa, many think if the riders had any class the GC would have been solidified after the Stelvio, I thought the race was pretty done and dusted after the Dolomites day on Stage 18, but Stages 19 and 20 have been so pivotal that this has become probably the Grandest Grand Tour I have ever watched! But more on that tomorrow, if it comes true. First we got to make a final prediction about how this TT goes.

 

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