It’s been an exciting three weeks of racing in Italy. But what have we learned from it? If you’ve been paying attention, there was an awful lot of knowledge out on the road. While none of these are brilliant, life-changing affirmations of ethereal knowing, the following three tidbits are careful, important notes on how May went down and how it will change July.
1. Ryder Hesjedal Is For Real. As strong as Hesjedal has raced over the past few years, even cycling experts were leery of the Canadian as a true GC contender. And to be fair, this year’s Giro lacked one important ingredient that would have made it a very different race. Without Alberto Contador, it was a wide open field with Michele Scarponi playing the role of defending champion. Scarponi never rode like the favorite, and it was Ivan Basso that took the reins of the race in the mountains. But Ryder Hesjedal beat everyone that showed up, and did so in a strong fashion. The toughest test, the Stelvio on Stage 20, lost him just seconds on a day when his rivals needed to take minutes. His consistency over the whole of the Giro, his surprising climbing and rock solid time trial turned out to be exactly enough to beat the familiar faces of Italy’s biggest race.
2. Sky Will Have A Busy July. Mark Cavendish won three stages at the Giro this year and carried the points jersey for most of the race, only to lose it to Joaquim Rodriguez on the pentultimate day. The team’s climbers, Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran, both finished in the top ten overall and Uran won the white jersey. Ian Stannard rode like a madman on the flats, while the team’s directors also have to wrestle with how to deal with having three GC options (Bradley Wiggins, Richie Porte and Chris Froome). There’s only nine slots for the Tour squad, and even with Geraint Thomas skipping the Tour in order to prepare for the Olympics, there’s an awful lot of riders that deserve a spot. How can they support Cav for the flat stages and battle Peter Sagan while taking proper care of Bradley Wiggins in the mountains? It’s an embarrassment of riches that the Giro only highlighted.
3. Thomas De Gendt Will Never Get In A Breakaway Again. On Stage 20, Thomas De Gendt snuck off the front with around 16km of climbing left on the race’s queen stage. He was five minutes down on GC but rode his way into fourth place with a tremendous ride over the Stelvio. If it wasn’t for an unbelievable ride by Christian Vandevelde and Sky’s orders for Sergio Henao to ride on the front for Rigoberto Uran, De Gendt may have even taken the maglia rosa on the day. Even more impressive, a very strong time trial on the final day put De Gendt onto the podium. That combination of climbing and time trialing is dangerous, and much like Thomas Voeckler after the 2011 Tour, he won’t have many more opportunities to get away. His Vaconsolei team will be putting serious pressure on De Gendt to ready for the Tour with the same podium expectations in July.
4. The Schlecks Only Race In July. When Johan Bruyneel sent a sulking Frank Schleck to the Giro, everyone feared the worst. A meltdown, a tantrum on the road and possibly tears in a post-stage interview; something had to give. But initially, things went swimmingly. Frank kept pace on the early summit finishes, limiting his losses while he gained fitness after a week off, and actually moved up the GC to slot into the top twenty well before the mountain stages. But a crash, a hemotoma and a withdrawal 23km into a stage set it all off. Johan Bruyneel lashed out at Frank, criticizing the elder Schleck for not riding through injury and threatening not to include him the Tour squad this July. Frank and Andy are already off training for the Tour, but “Uncle” Johan says only Fabian Cancellara is the only rider with results, and therefore the only rider with a sure spot in July. And the results argument is pretty accurate; take away Fabian Cancellara’s wins and podiums (and he hasn’t raced since April, mind you) and RadioShack-Nissan doesn’t have anything to hang their hat on. In fact, Andy Schleck has dropped out of more races than he has finished in 2012.
5. It’s Going To Be An Amazing July. The Giro highlighted some racers that are now candidates for stage wins or even GC contenders. The flatter, less severe 2012 Tour route will make the long time trial miles even more important, and this Giro showed that that kind of racing can be extremely exciting and entertaining. Throw in the other GC men, and it’s going to be a wide-open July.