Hammer Series and Dauphine Coming Up

This Hammer series seems interesting, but I haven’t looked too deeply into the rules so I think I’m just going to go in and be surprised! So I have nothing to say, but I want to be impressed.

The Dauphine. I’m most looking forward to seeing what Richie Porte can do. If we are following usual trends here, now that it’s summer Chris Froome should be firing on all cylinders, he’ll have Tour de France form rollin’. But Richie Porte has looked good all season, even taking Froome’s number. I would never bet on Porte in a Grand Tour, because his luck is soooo bad, but he NEEDS to outright win this Dauphine if he’s going to have a chance at Froome. I think this is the crappiest spring Froome has had since……what 2012? 2011? Since before he won his first Tour for sure. No wins, hasn’t had the form on some mountain stages, Team Sky was jumped in a Catalunya stage as bad as last year’s Vuelta. Meanwhile Porte dominated the Tour Down Under, did claim a stage of Paris-Nice after blowing the overall in the crosswinds, and most recently dominated Romandie. Porte needs to beat Froome head to head at his best before this Tour.

I am excited to see what Orica can do here. Looks like they have close to their whole Tour team here, headlining with the great Estaban Chaves. Ok, I’ve watched so many of those backstage pass videos, I cannot stop laughing and smiling every time that guy is on screen. Best smile in the peloton, and the strange way he fits into that Aussie team will make any heart feel warm and fuzzy. That said……………..he’s missed the entire spring rehabbing his knee injury…..from what I understand? I’ve been pissed he hasn’t been racing, but I think Orica is pretty good about only releasing him when he’s fully ready. I just want to see him race and hone his form before the Tour. For the Tour, I don’t see anyway he wins it, a podium would be great for him, but I’d rather see him win the Vuelta outright at the end of the season. Which is why I wish he would have gone to shake up things at the Giro first, instead of doing back to back GTs. Simon Yates, he’ll be on form, but I don’t know what to expect. Orica has three GC riders that are all pretty good climbers, but with subpar TTs.

I think Contador’s washed up in GTs because of inevitable crashes and illnesses, I wouldn’t mind being wrong come July and seeing him win a final Tour and retiring on the spot. Other than that, I don’t really care what else he does. Especially at the Dauphine, he doesn’t even come to win, only hone form; so I don’t expect much from him here. He doesn’t even have Pantano (I figure going to Suisse, where it all started for him?) so I don’t like the team he has here. If Contador somehow manages to do the Tour, it will be because of Pantano’s assistance.

Everyone else: Sure, Bardet should do well. Aru, hmm, I could go either way, he’ll be shit or pretty good. I’m excited for Colbrelli in these sprints, I was becoming a real fan of his over the spring classics and I’m pissed he missed the Giro squad. Talanksy, eh, won’t do much. Bouhanni, he’ll be pretty good in the sprints. I’d like to see Coquard rock this. I’d like to see Demare do something as well (I loved that Stage 1 of Paris-Nice win). OOO Valverde, I’d love to see him on flying form and win EVERYTHING this whole season, I’ll talk about him another time though. Dan Martin should do well. I expect big things from Eddy Boss, he had an insanely bad spring, let’s see some results heading into the Tour; with Cav possibly out and Cummings not having the same season as last year, he’ll be someone that must step up at the Tour for DD. Kristoff, this isn’t his season, nothing significant so far, has friction with Katusha. That should be about everyone.

I figure these posts haven’t been that good recently, I’m just trying to keep up on stuff before the Tour here, I’ve been kinda busy lately.

 

 

 

Best Grand Tour I’ve Seen

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, text

What a win! What a win! The night before the TT, I came to my senses and stopped rooting for my picks to come true and looked at the race. I love Nairo, but Dumoulin was the good guy here, he got screwed over, he’s been the best, why was I not fully rooting for him until the night before? What a hero! Tom vs the World! A good and classy guy too! This is the first of many wins to come. There are just too many times guys who show such a flash of potential early in their careers then target a race forever after and it doesn’t work out for them or the build up is so slow. I’m so glad Dumoulin quickly blew through that phase since his epic collapse in the 2015 Vuelta. This is such a remarkable win: Sunweb have never had anyone on a GT podium before and can’t come close to fielding a squad like Sky or Movistar, and Dumoulin still hasn’t even won a big one week stage race! These GTs suit him better, because they have way more TTing than a week long race where you’re lucky if there’s over 20k of TT. But still, this is the first major stage race he adds to his palmares!!!!! Amazing win, I want to watch a really good documentary about Giro 100 in ten or fifteen years.

Now I’m gonna say I’ve only “properly” watched around fifteen grand tours in my life, but I can easily say this was the best one I’ve seen. I will not go into claiming it’s the best ever, I kinda doubt it will be, and I’d have to do some thorough research on all of them! Anyways to this one. It was the best, because it went down to the wire all the way to the last stage.

I found the first week to be engaging, at the very least the finishes were good if the majority of the stage was boring. This is all I really want from a first week of the Giro or Tour, I’m already pretty pumped to be watching a Grand Tour. Last year the first half of the Tour was amazing and that made the second half even more boring when it didn’t and couldn’t live up to it! This route was perfectly balanced with a fill of GC battles, breakaway heroics, sprints, and unpredictable finishes that went to the wire. I loved seeing early breaks barely stick like Izagirre’s in between amazing sprints. We came to Blockhaus and the TT and the GC race officially began! Then the KOM competition really began and we had the work horses like Landa, Rolland, LL Sanchez, and Fraile in the breaks every day working their butts off for points. If it wasn’t a day for them, the GC boys were there to play. Dumoulin, Quintana, Nibali, and Pinot, top four on GC, all took stages! That is what fans dream of: everyone taking spoils and clashing head to head, round after round! I really thought this would be wrapped up on stage 18 as well, but then Dumoulin starts cracking and falling off the pace. And it all comes down to five guys within a 1:15 going into the last stage, a TT no less, with Dumoulin the hero and best TTist in the world at 53 seconds down.

This was the best Grand Tour I’ve ever seen, but there is still room for improvement! Two major things that were missing.

First, the opportunities were there in the last week for people to go blow for blow and really duke it out in the mountains. This didn’t happen very much, most of the contenders were on their knees! You can’t complain too much about a war of attrition, because that is usually a good sign we are truly in a post-doping era. Still Quintana, Quintana, Quintana you didn’t take advantage of Dumoulin’s cracks on Stage 19, you just followed moves and the jersey came back to you. In Quintana’s defense he was apparently sick, but that wasn’t the form we were expecting from Quintana, hopefully he’ll have better stuff for the Tour.

The second thing is more rare to come by, but the best Grand Tour will have this story-line in it. This was just a great sporting spectacle on a very round number edition of a very historical race. The winner was a dark horse very talented Dutchman who gave up pursuing a medical career. His competition was a Colombian climber from a poor mountain village who was already a well-established name trying to build up his titles and maybe make significant recent history. The other rivals included the best Italian of the generation who isn’t a very well liked by many cycling fans and riders, and then a Frenchman looking to find form and build his confidence again. Yes, Dumoulin ended a long Dutch drought, and he overcame some unfair misfortune throughout the race; but he himself said he didn’t really care about the Dutch drought and his misfortune was really more of a goofy embarrassing situation that was a little bit his own fault. This Giro was an entertainingly great watch, but it was only as inspiring as any other cycling race and it didn’t have many implications beyond the sport for parties involved (or so far as I can tell right now in history). It’s not like it was as significant as the 1980 Miracle Game in hockey for the US, or the Cubs winning the World Series for Chicago, or even from what I read Gino Bartali’s 1948 Tour de France victory for Italy. Those wins made a difference to people around the world who would never come in contact with their heroes. This Giro was just a thrilling coming out party for Tom Dumoulin, his first big victory of many to come! Like I said, you can’t ask or expect this, but the Best Grand Tour will have some implication that is bigger than the race. For example, if the race is a nail biter: the first Frenchman to win the Tour since Hinault, that could easily turn into the best GT ever.

This GT had a perfect route that led to each individual day being an exciting stand-alone chapter. There probably were cycling legends battling here, I do think Dumoulin and Quintana will go down as eternal greats and hopefully is only the first of their epic clashes. But that is absolutely all this was: a great race on a historic edition, nothing more to the rest of the world. This does not hold the race back, because it’s currently the best GT I’ve seen and I will be comparing every GT to this one, but hopefully it will be topped in the future by something just as nail-biting that transcends the sport.

Final TT Predictions

Ok, we got Quintana in the lead. He’s got a 39 second lead over Nibbles, 43 second lead over Pinot, a 53 second lead over Dumoulin, a 1:15 lead over Zakarin, and a 1:30 lead over Pozzovivo.

Pozzovivo is shit at a TT, he’s done. But unless he’s REALLYYYYYY bad he has 6th place locked up. Zakarin is behind Dumoulin so he has no shot to win overall, he still has a shot for the podium though. If anyone gets a mechanical the overall win is gone and possibly even the podium. I’m still in awe that the race is this close on the final day, I can’t believe how good Giro 100 has been.

So everyone is saying Quintana needs 90 seconds on Dumoulin going into this thing, since he doesn’t Dumoulin will probably win. That is the most sensible consensus out there, Quintana himself doesn’t think his lead is big enough. I’ve been bolder, saying since the first TT, Quintana will only lose a minute to Dumoulin on the final TT. He still doesn’t even have a full minute, if Quintana has the TT of his life, this race could be decided by 2 or 4 seconds overall to either man! Then we got to factor in Nibali and Pinot, which starts to give me a headache. Nibali will be ON, he will have a good day. I have no fucking clue what we’ll see from Pinot, I’m just gonna guess he doesn’t beat Nibs.

Let’s say with completely random numbers…………Dumoulin does this course in 40 minutes flat and that’s kind of an off day for him. If Quintana does have the TT of his life ideally he’ll finish less than or equal to 40:52, but maybe he finishes 41:00 like the minute I said he needs. If Quintana does that he ain’t losing (much) time to Nibali and Pinot even if both are on good days, so they’d be stuck in the 3-4 spots. A superrrrrr tired Dumoulin not on his best day is only 52 seconds to a minute ahead of Nairo Quintana who will never have a better TT in his whole life? There’s a slight possiblity this could actually happen!

Ok, now let’s see the more likely scenario. Dumoulin crushes it and now we’ll say 40 flat is an excellent time. Then I’m gonna say Nibali (who was 2:07 back on the first TT where I thought he had an B+/A- performance) will lose 80 seconds, so 41:20. Then Quintana (who was 2:53 back last time on a D+* performance) loses two minutes if he has another crappy day, or like everyone’s been saying 1:30 if he has a good day. Let’s say Quintana does 41:30, that means he holds second but Dumoulin wins overall. I’m not trying to factor in Pinot too, I just can’t guess how great or how crappy he’s gonna do! He could be pitiful or in the past he’s beaten Dumoulin outright!!! I think Dumoulin beats him tomorrow by more than 10 seconds so he’s not a factor for the overall.

What scenario does Nibali win? I have a real fear this could happen tomorrow. Nibali would need to beat Nairo Quintana by 40 seconds, do able; and he could only lose…..14 seconds to Dumoulin? That should be pretty impossible, I’m confident Dumoulin can beat Nibali by 14 seconds tomorrow unless he has a mechanical; I’m also pretty confident Quintana won’t even lose 40 seconds to Nibali, because Quintana will have the TT of his life. I don’t want to see Nibali win, I’ll be honest. He’s done too many sleazy things and usually has pretty stupid quotes that I can rarely root for him. I’ll give him credit when he’s looked good, and there are times where he’s just on fire, and I was even rooting for him on home soil in Sicily, but I don’t want to see him win this. I’m just waiting to see a Quintana or Dumoulin win before I declare this the best Grand Tour I’ve ever watched, if Nibali wins I’m going to try to come up with accuses for why this was not.

Quintana or Dumoulin needs to win this, because in ten years they will be known as eternal all time greats. Nibali and Pinot probably won’t. Nibali at best will have a top 5 spot in Italian cycling when his career’s over and just outside the realm of eternal greats, and Pinot only has a chance to be a great if he can end the French Tour drought. Quintana and Dumoulin will win at a minimum ten Grand Tours between them, maybe 15 or 18! Quintana will be on lists for greatest climbers ever, while Dumoulin will be on lists of greatest TTists ever; one of them will pull off a Giro-Tour double, hell maybe even a Giro-Tour-Vuelta triple! Nibali will be remembered for fine victories on big stages (in grand tours, monuments, and Worlds/Olympics), but I personally will never forget his lack form with no motivation that always he carries throughout the rest of the season: for me no matter his Grand Tours success his “smoking cigs” out of shape form holds him back from being an eternal great.

So who do I think wins tomorrow? Logically, I should pick Dumoulin; and my heart SHOULD say this too. He fucking deserves this win. He’s been the best rider over the three weeks. I’d be very happy if he won. All that said, overall I’ve done a pretty good job predicting this Giro, my podium picks could really come to fruition! How could I pick against Nairo now!!!!!!!! I completely agree on paper Dumoulin should win, but I think Nairo will. He will have the TT of his life tomorrow. 1. He’s in pink, that’s great motivation. 2. He’s got bigger fish to fry, he’s trying to do his Giro-Tour double, he can’t lose it in the first round! Down a rabbit hole: Quintana will have better form in the Tour, he’s only at 95% right now. I’m starting to contradict myself, if he’s only at 95% is he really going to have the TT of his life tomorrow? Yes, shit, maybe a Dumoulin mechanical helps him out too, I already called that Dumoulin would be misfortunate before in this race! 3. I think he’s gonna win, because it is most fun to watch the last man defend in a TT. I watched a video of Fignon’s finish in 1989 and it was cool to see Lemond celebrate as soon as the time passed 8 seconds before Fignon crossed the line, but it wasn’t that fulfilling as a fan. I want to see Nairo come across the line with 3 seconds in hand KNOWING he got it and erupting and cheering right there. I will settle for it being 1 second and tapes must be reviewed and everyone is in discussion and on the edge of their seat for a few minutes, because that would be a great final bit of drama. But I’d rather see Nairo come across the line with a few seconds to spare and cheering. This sounds like really dumb reasoning, but to give myself credit, I’ve made some pretty accurate predictions this race and it’s all been along this “reasoning.” That is because I’ve been realistic about how teams’ and riders’ past outings at GTs and the Giro itself, but I’ve also mixed ideally what I’d like to see as a fan for the most dramatic and fulfilling GT race I could possibly see. Why would I shy away from not picking exactly what I want to see this late in the race, when over the past three weeks I’ve gotten exactly what I’ve wanted?

A Dumoulin or Quintana win will be great either way. I’m picking Quintana, because its what I WANT to see. I picked him at the start, I WANT to see him celebrate across the line, and I WANT to see him do the Giro-Tour double. Meanwhile my heart and head are with Dumoulin and I will be happy for him if he pulls off this likely victory that he clearly deserves!

*I gave Quintana the “+” for the cool bunny hop he had to do.

Who still has nails to chew at this point?

Image result for giro d'italia 2017 dumoulin

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.

Image result for giro d'italia 2017 stage 16 nibali

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

Image result for giro d'italia 2017 stage 17

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

Image result for giro d'italia 2017 stage 18

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

Image result for giro d'italia 2017 stage 19

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

Image result for giro d'italia 2017 stage 20 photos

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.

 

Tour of Cali Final Thoughts

Image result for tour of california 2017 george bennett

I’m late with this, what a surprise. What a big win for George Bennett. I’m very happy to see him win. He could have used a win like this and it came in pretty cool fashion. He was very upset he didn’t do anything or come up with the goods on Mt. Baldy, but the next day he somehow randomly rides a great TT and takes the win as no one was talking about him. Majka is a big scalp to take, and beating Boswell, Talansky, Morton, and anyone from BMC was a pretty good list too. I think this is a great step in Bennett’s career, hopefully he goes to the Dauphine or Tour de Suisse and builds on his success heading into the Tour.

Speaking of the Tour, Lotto NL may be the team I am most excited to watch at this year’s Tour. They are quietly pretty damn legit this year. Bennett adds this World Tour stage race victory to their palmares; we’ve already seen Steven Kruijswijk last year in the Giro–apparently we’ve all learn he’s had a broken rib this year which is why he’s not performing at the highest level; Groenewegen is maturing into a very good sprinter, I expect him to go well at the end of this season just as he did last year; and my favorite Lotto NL rider of all: PRIMOZ ROGLIC! I love that dude! I can’t wait to see what he throws down at the Tour, he’s been on all season. Besides Brian Smith, no one knew his name until last May and this year he wins Algarve and is making noise in Tirreno, Basque Country (or was it Catalunya? Or both?), and Romandie! TT’s and mountain stage wins. He has to be gunning for Yellow in Dusseldorf, and I think he’ll do it just like Dennis did in 2015 in the Netherlands. We should see Roglic, Bennett, and Groenewegen all there: that’s a very versatile team, I don’t even know how you go about picking support guys for them, but they should have opportunities everywhere! Which means they should be fun to watch! Then again its the Tour and everyone’s conservative so they may disappoint.

Ok, back to California, the second best team of the week was easily Rally. Two stage wins!!! That’s niceeee. Honestly, I thought for the first one the peloton played too much poker and screwed up the chase; and the second one, most of the stage was downhill so 5 or 6 guys up the road had a chance if they had any sort of lead. What I’m saying is, originally I thought Rally was kind of lucky, I take that back! Once, sure maybe luck, twice, no they worked for it, that’s impressive. Great job to these guys stepping up on the World Tour level. I like and dislike the composition of WT to (Pro) Continental teams at this race. For bumping up to WT status, California did not draw enough World Tour teams. Movistar couldn’t send a team? Paul could not stop talking about how the race reminded him of the Vuelta. But I enjoyed that teams like Rally and Jelly Belly could still make the cut. It wouldn’t be a proper American race without Jelly Belly, their jerseys are fun to see as they animate the race!

Finally, I have decided: the exact problem with this race is that the finishes of these stages are BAD. They are too easy, too much stretches of road to get them from decisive climbs to cool/scenic finishing towns. That San Jose stage, I tuned in earlier than most people who have the NBC Sports Gold app would have and they were still already on the descent. Stage 4 they talked about how brutal that last climb was, I watched the last 20 Miles and they were already on that drag to the finish where Rally won from the breakaway. That last stage, well that was competing with an excellent Giro stage and a sunny Sunday so I didn’t watch much of that. But still I watched the last 25k and the entire thing was a descent already! The peloton was greatly widdled down, I would have liked to see how that happened! That’s probably just a true issue here in America, I’m certain our small towns (which are actually near decisive roads) are not nearly as scenic or accommodating or even practical as in Europe. I don’t know what you do about that, but the key points in these stages need to come later into the race, these finishing run-ins are too long! And also our roads are so obnoxiously big the riders have more space to spread out so the positioning fight isn’t as big. Thus the race travels slower and just from the cameras of the wide roads LOOKS slower.

I think I said it before, California COULD host its own grand tour, I’m not saying it should. But what about this thought: riders love races like Tour Down Under because its hub and spoke: same hotel, stages based around a center. What if California did that: first week’s stages are all based out of LA, second week stages all based out of San Fran? Third week, I don’t care take your pick, maybe don’t even have a third week? That could be a big draw for riders, I still don’t think I’d love it. I like it when a Grand Tour is actually a TOUR of the country instead of just 21 races in 21 different places throughout the country, but this is something I would watch if the riders enjoyed it and therefore raced harder during it. I have better ideas than this though, that I’ll share in future posts.

Giro Past Weekend Thoughts

Image result for Gaviria stage 13

Friday’s sprint stage, shit, Gaviria’s the fuckin’ man. Four stages in his first Grand Tour. That RIDICULOUS sprint on the 4th one? Adam Blythe was saying he held over 1000 watts for 20 seconds! What the hell? I love Colombians, and I especially love that this one is different! He’s a racer, he’s there to win, who cares how: make it a sprint, make the whole day hard, start out of position wayyy too close to the line, who cares, he’s gonna try to win. He sounds a lot like Sagan. And he’s honoring the Giro with the BIG goal to finish it even though no stage suits him. He also has the sprint jersey, but we saw Greipel abandon last year while wearing it. I disliked seeing Ewan drop out (3rd GT he’s done that, finish one off!). Work for Yates, he needs every teammate!

Yeah, Gaviria’s great, one of the cyclists I won’t shut up about right now. He’s been bringing a smile to my face many times this May.

Image result for oropa dumoulin

I love the fist pumps from Dumoulin! You know he’s pumped, but it’s not too much, not too little, it’s just right! I like Valverde, but I hate the sit straight up and spread out the arms pose he usually goes for, looking like some Anointed-One. Dumoulin’s is perfect.

Ok, that Oropa climb. Holy Shit! This is just from my viewing stand point, but that looked like the most brutally fast, high speed climb I’ve ever seen. I thought it was really good too, because I thought EVERYONE rode the climb smartly. Tejay sucked, but what can you do? Pinot left off the pace, I’m not that surprised, at least he didn’t attack and really blow it. Most people sat on, besides Mollema, which was the right thing to do at that pace! I thought Nibali looked good, but he needs to find MORE form to keep up with Dumoulin and Quintana. Quintana, I thought that was a good attack, I thought Movistar did everything right. Tom Dumoulin was just purely unstoppable Saturday morning (my timezone).

Now, they were saying it and I agreed beforehand mid-stage, that this really was a climb Dumoulin would thrive on. Steep stuff, not super long though. Dum pulled a page out of Froome’s book and did his own pace for it. Honestly, I’d go so far to say he perfected Froome’s move. When Froome does it, it’s when he’s not on PEAK PEAK PEAK Tour form (so usually the Vuelta or any time before June), and he starts yoyo-ing off the elite group EARLY on those climbs, big or small. Sometimes he comes back and sometimes he never does. When Froome is in shape (the Dauphine and Tour.) we never really see him do this, because he doesn’t have to. The Death Star squad doesn’t let anyone get far and Froome makes the decisive move. Dumoulin meanwhile demonstrated this tactic on Saturday while in full good shape, he let Quintana go, and confidently rode his own race. What was bad ass was that 5 or 6 guys were sitting on him and then hanging onto his coat tails when he knew he could get to Quintana, and I think he was still going at a controlled pace when he HAWKED Quintana down. I mean he was like an alligator locking him in his jaws. Not only did he catch Quintana (at his own pace), he fucking cracked him! Cracked him! I was very disappointed in Quintana for losing so many seconds in that final. I would have hoped he could have at least hung onto Dumoulin and only lost time through bonus seconds. Dumoulin OWNED that climb, it will be hard to break him, I’ll talk about that further down…

Image result for jungels stage 15

I only saw the last 15k of this stage, I wish I saw the fast climbing they were all talking about. I said Jungels would do something at this Giro, he’s backed up last year’s pink stint and now has a stage. He may even be able to keep the white jersey though it really should be Yates’. Quickstep just rollin’ in this Giro. Also I’ll note that Kangert crash was one of the worst I’ve seen recently, jeez that was scary.

But the guy I really wanna talk about is Quintana. Hits the deck and gets curled up under a barrier. Not. What. He. Fuckin’. Needs. Right. Now. But Dumoulin’s a (in this case literal) Boss and has the field wait up for him. You come back from that crash and contine to fly down the descent with these guys and come up with a sprint for 2nd place on the stage with bonus seconds. Now Quintana, probably got lucky there, because he was just sitting on Jungels’ wheel and he rode him in. I would have said Jungels was the fastest from the group, and then I would have taken Nibbles and Pinot next, probably at least Yatesy and Dumoulin ahead of Quintana as well. So anyway, every second is going to be vital for Quintana, that is clear to everyone; but in my opinion, that was a pretty big statement for him. After Oropa, people could start whispering in his ear “Ease up for the Tour, coast, it’s over.” But he comes out there, crashes on a stage that has been brutally fast, descends with a wild pack, and then does his best not just to make sure he finishes with the pack but actually competing for a win! That’s a good 24 rebound, Quintana is still here to win.

Win it in the third week, let’s see him do it. Let’s see the unreal form that we (I) hope he’s been building up to, and that will be there in the Tour! Let’s see if Movistar can crack Dumoulin. Then again this is all probably based more on if Dumoulin has the stuff to win. Tomorrow is the big one, but Dumoulin knows the Motirolo and Stelvio, the next days not as much; then again he didn’t know Oropa and saying that “worked out for him” is an understatement. So Quintana needs to start clawing back time tomorrow. He didn’t on the Bartali stage, he lost time on Oropa. I will give him: GC battle on Bartali stage was difficult right after TT, and that Oropa climb was suited more to Dumoulin. If Dumoulin is good at time trials, and he’s good at steep climbs (my favorite GT stage: his victory at Cumbre del Sol(?) on stage 9 2015 Vuelta over Froome–and MANY others), then you’d infer he’s probably good at speedy high tempo climbs too…..so what isn’t he good at?

I think you’ve got to hope he can’t do LONG climbs. He said today, he’s been training on the Stelvio, but maybe Quintana can rip him apart? We’ve seen Dumoulin collaspe on a big mountainous day, maybe he will here? He’s in much better shape than the 2015 Vuelta (where he was just there to ride for form for the Worlds TT) so I think he will handle himself. But again he’s in the hot seat: everyone is gunning for him, he will have few to no allies, and if Quintana can start chipping away at him, the momentum will swing away from him. Dumoulin could very easily strategically seceded seconds to Quintana tomorrow to not push himself too deep, but that could also start getting out of hand real quick. This week will be Dumoulin’s to lose: big lead, and he even has a TT on the last day if things go out of hand.

If I’m Quintana, I’d better be taking some time on Dumoulin tomorrow or I may just start preparing for the Tour. None of this last day Alpe d’Huez attack bullshit on a huge lead, save that crap for the Tour. Do not destroy yourself in last ditch efforts with LOW rates of success to win overall, 2nd place isn’t bad, it’s just not good for you. Tomorrow’s the fuckin’ day. Give yourself a real prayer and some momentum for the next day. Two+ minutes? Awe yeah, more will be a’comin’! One minute? Solid start, let’s continue to press this. Thirty seconds? Ok, it’s something, we’re obligated to keep trying. Let’s also say these are the possible time gaps at the top over of the last climb before the descent where who can guess and infer what that will mean. Let’s also note, I might be saying at some point: “Quintana don’t go down swinging if this is probably a lost cause.” Quintana will probably be saying: “I’ve got 5 stages to fight for this damn win, I will try to crack him at EVERY possibility, no matter how late in the race. I’m here to win, I don’t care about the rest of my season.” Quintana, Froome, and Contador have enough ambition and pride to NEVER settle for less than 1st at any point, that is great to see.

I still have a feeling Quintana takes this, which means Dumoulin probably has to suffer some sort of real misfortune or Quintana actually does widdle him down the next four days (my bet’s on misfortune)! What I will also say: we are seeing the next Miguel Indurain. Next year I want to see a TT heavy Tour and watch Dumoulin and Froome REALLYYYYY square off. And finally when both careers are over, Tom Dumoulin will have won more Tours than Nairo Quintana.

 

Stage 12 Thoughts

Image result for giro d'italia 2017 stage 12

Gaviria is so fast. These sprints have just been so legit. I love it. I was in a crappy mood before I watched the last 40k of this race and then I was in super high spirits. Another great day of fans, beautiful scenery, and a great finish. I have no idea what happened to Greipel and it sounds like Ewan broke some spokes.

Gaviria is definitely shining brighter than Ewan, but I think both together are elevating themselves to highest echelons of sprinting. The traditional top three pure sprinters of Cav, Kittel, and Greipel will soon need to be making room for these two on every race on the calendar. That said, I still do not see a Tour de France date for either of them yet. Orica is chock full of GC climbers with average (at best) TTs, Ewan will STILL need to step his game up even higher to ever make that Tour team. Meanwhile Gaviria is on the same team as Kittel who at 29 will probably still be at the zenith of his craft for at least another 2 or 3 years. Gaviria may be trying to focus on the classics so Quickstep will be the place to stay and Quickstep will probably also continue to hold onto Kittel as long as he produces many victories. So both Gaviria’s and Ewan’s Tour debuts could still be a few years off. But both are under 23 so that won’t be the end of the world and I bet unforeseen circumstances will allow for them to debut sooner than expected. And, who cares about the future right now, I think they and the fans are having quite the feast at the Giro right now!

I’m very excited to see the future of these two. Gaviria may go the Vuelta, I doubt Ewan does, but right now, I bet this same time next year they’ll both be squaring off for a rematch at this beautiful Giro.

Stage 13

Flat. Sprint. So of course the finish is tricky to have some sort of spice for the stage.

Two roundabouts in the last 3k and a big hard turn at the very end. Ewan is a renown crit rider and will try to keep pace with Gaviria. He and Orica won the most technical finish so far on Stage 7 so I’ll take Ewan tomorrow. Hopefully Greipel shows up and produces, but he’s definitely just better on a simple run it where he can man-handle and put down the power.

Thoughts on Stage 11

Image result for giro d'italia 2017 stage 11

Ya! Another fun Giro stage! The whole day was hectic! Honestly I had trouble trying to keep everything straight. Omar Fraile, good sprint, actually still had the legs even though he spent the very most time on the front, and after a cagey little gamble of cat & mousing he gets the win. Well deserved, he’s officially a mountain breakaway regular and on his way to maybe earning another KOM jersey at a Grand Tour! Pierre Rolland, Rui Costa, Tanel Kangert, great efforts, great efforts.

Movistar didn’t do the tactic I hoped they would, but I’m glad they tried something. Raising Amador on GC would have been SUPER interesting, luckily for Sunweb Trek and FDJ were prepared to help them police the gap. No point imaging what Movistar would have done if Amador and Quintana were actually 2-3 on GC. Brian Smith made the astute observation that Quintana was probably very tired from that TT yesterday so drilling it all day may not have been reasonable for them. So like I said, I’m glad they tried something. Dumoulin looked well defending, I don’t know about the whole Sunweb team though.

I’m very conflicted: I’d love to see a Dumoulin GT win, but I think I’d rather see Quintana do the Giro-Tour double more!!!

Stage 12

Sprint. Usual suspects. Greipel, Gaviria, Ewan are the big ones. I’ll take one of these three vs the field. The finish looks fairly straight forward. I guess I’ll just pick……….Gaviria. No particular reason, I mean he’s got 2 and the chicolmino(?)……PURPLE jersey and I think he’s been the best placed in runner up spots.

Tour of California Thoughts so far

So I’m usually not very excited for this race, because there is so much potential here that they don’t use. California could easily host its own Grand Tour (though they’d have to really work to find enough towns that could accommodate everyone). They never attract BIG GC names (I’m surprised Majka is even here this year), and worst of all I never like the profiles for the stages:

Why did I watch the whole last 40k of Stage 1? All I needed was the last 2.

I am glad this year it actually served up a big GC battle, but all the real battle was over 50k from the line: why not do the summit finish or end the stage where that last sprint point is. There was nothing special about the San Jose finish line, in fact there weren’t many people there.

Stage 3 was actually good. There was a very good crowd in one of the towns along the way, and the finish line crowd was pretty legit. And it’s always fun to see a Peter Sagan win. The problem with ToC is they have like 4 of these stages in what is usually an 8 stage race (this year it’s only 7!). This is a race that should be modeled off Paris-Nice or the Dauphine or even Tour de Suisse: it should be 9 stages and we need at least 3 BIG mountain GC days. Let’s see what’s to come:

Sprint, but Kittel might not even be able to last. That means another Sagan day, I’m glad to see him get stage wins, but one of these years he’s gotta skip Cali and go to the Giro: he has to be a winner of stages in all three Grand Tours. In fact, instead of paying Sagan to come (which he probably still would anyways) they should try to get Froome, what’s he doing right now? His 4th training camp of the year on Tenerife?

Ok, I want more mountains in this race so I can’t really complain about this stage. That said: there’s no real tactics in this one: you widdle down the field until the last 10k and then attack each other.

Ok, completely flat TT, but at altitude. Ummmm, I don’t really like that you’re wasting one of your 7 stages on this (wouldn’t mind at all if there were 9 days of racing) and most people won’t even have their TT bikes here in America.

This whole profile goes the wrong way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Do Pasadena to Mountain High Ski Area.

I’ll give more thoughts about the race tomorrow. Also I started writing this before stage 4 and I currently do not know what happens on that one, just as an FYI.

 

 

Thoughts on Stage 10

Image result for giro d'italia 2017 stage 10

Wow! I was off by a minute today, and I was one of the more accurate guesses! Dumoulin crushed it, Geraint Thomas as well! Quintana did crappier than expected, Pinot and Kruijswijk as well. Nibali, Yates, Mollema, and Jungels all did solid based off their capabilities.

So my podium predictions are still all intact. Quintana now has 2:30 to make up, the Giro is officially on. Quintana and Movistar will need to gun it every mountain stage. Dumoulin is in about as good a position as he can be and with a whole ‘nother TT on the last day he may actually have enough time to win this overall! Like I said, the only guy who could seriously challenge Quintana. Quintana will need to crush it on every mountain he can get, every single one. Amador, Anacona, and Izagirre will be need to be on their game every mountain as well to help him out.

Image result for giro d'italia 2017 stage 10 quintana hop

Now, Quintana did not have a good TT, by Movistar’s own admission, it was worse than they expected. But I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. Quintana is here for the long haul. Yes he won Blockhaus and he looked GREAT! But if you think about it, he didn’t look significantly better than he has all year (Valencia and Tirreno where he tore everyone else up as well). I think this crappy TT is indicative of a big Giro third week and flying form at the Tour. I do think, from Valencia to now, he has been at his best level of climbing ever, AND he is timing his peak to be even higher soon. He’ll hit that peak at the end of the Giro and it will carry through the Tour. I think Nairo will look significantly better in the TT in Milan and he will be cracking Dumoulin in the mountains that third week.

I still think Quintana will win this Giro, but he’s gotta start working immediately (no 2015 Tour “wait until the last week” crap, especially with another TT looming at the finish). I love Tom Dumoulin, because I still do not dare to guess at what his ceiling is! He could easily have the climbing chops to hold this lead, even if he cracks he can be strategic about easing up to limit losses. He could pull some Froomey mountain uphill TTing if worst comes to worst. Dumoulin is absolutely in the driver’s seat and we will see how deep Movistar can make him go for the next ten days. That is mouthwatering news for us viewers. Quintana is a fighter, he’s in this, he’s still going to go for this win, but he’s got a bigger hole to climb out of than expected. Movistar underestimate people too often.

Stage 11

I think Movistar has to start working tomorrow! Quintana should try to spring an attack with a group like he and Contador did at the Vuelta last year. But that is hard to pull off. So I would say Movistar just have to drill it alllllll day. Rory Sutherland, Bennati, and JJ Rojas: burn it early, light this thing up. I’d also say that they should try to recruit Team Sky to help! Geraint Thomas is still in shape to get a podium. Really he probably never had a prayer to beat Quintana himself, but this podium is not gone yet. Ride Quintana’s coat tails as long as you can! If you got the two strongest teams working all day at least a few people from the top ten will be isolated, probably put in the red, maybe dropped. You may not break any of them tomorrow, but Thomas is tough and just needs to work them the whole rest of the race. It’ll be tougher for Movistar to drop Dumoulin, but you must isolate him first and that could be doable tomorrow.

Maybe Sky won’t help, because they’re still licking their literal wounds, but Movistar really should gun it to make a statement. Force your will upon this peloton! Quintana is here to do the double this summer!

Stage finishes with a small group sprint, maybe 20 GC & climbers. Vincenzo Nibali, Patrick Konrad, Michael Woods, Davide Formolo, Omar Fraile, Diego Rosa are guys I think might be there/hang on over the top of the last climb and can then either breakaway down the descent or win a sprint from 20-30 guys. I’ll go for Woods tomorrow, I’ve seen him sprint with Gerrans and he’s been on good form this race: maybe there’s too much climbing for him but I think he’s got a descent chance if Movistar doesn’t make this stage as hard as I think it will be.