You’re in the form of your life, you’ve breasted the biggest climb of the race with the ‘Bigs’ and there’s just one mountain stage to go before you become that rarest of birds, A Grand Tour Winner. But you lose concentration for a moment on the descent, smack a snow bank and come down hard. There’s none of that ‘sportsmanlike waiting’ nonsense from your erstwhile riding companions – they attack you, ride hard and the next day they will bump you off the podium completely. It was hard not to feel sorry for Steven Kruijswijk over those last few stages of the 2016 Giro. But professional bike racing at the highest levels isn’t for the faint hearted…
* * *
The Steven Kruijswijk crash, would you have waited?
Wee Esteban says:
“I’m very sorry for the crash of Steven Kruijswijk, unfortunately it’s a part of bike racing and he was unlucky today.”
Either way, it was a horrible crash – the Dutchman seemed paralysed with fear, it didn’t look like he even tried to steer round that bend.
If they’d waited, the result would have been the same – Steven Kruijswijk was obviously banged up pretty badly – but Nibali and Chavez would have earned so much more respect from ‘old school fools’ like me.
And if I’d been Chaves’ management I’d have said to lay off with the Spumante spray as a wee mark of respect to a fallen rival.
But then I’m a dinosaur, I’ll be extinct soon.
We missed all the drama, having embedded on the Cima Coppi, the Giro’s highest point.
Steven Kruijswijk looked fine to us at about 1500 metres to go to the summit of the Agnello but it was difficult to get a really good look at anyone amid the snow and with visibility down to about 10 yards with the low cloud.
Scarponi was first up to take the prime money, then his former breakaway companions in ones and twos.
Nibali lead Kruijswijk, Chaves and Majka – Zakarin had been dropped and therein lay the roots of his crash, over-cooking the descent in his desperation to get back.
It was plane crash stuff behind the leaders, men all over the mountain with Betancur stone last and destined to pack.
And it wasn’t just ‘also rans’ – hard guys like Timmer and Serry suffering like dogs.
We jumped in behind the convoy to get us off the hill and the irony was it was bright sunshine just off the summit.
We headed for our digs as Nibali headed for the stage win and Chaves the pink.
And last words on Vincenzo’s rebirth from a cynical friend of mine in Texas:
“I’m puzzled by everybody’s amazement by Nibali’s resurrection.
“It’s quite simple; if your blood is too thick, or you have too much of it, a versed eastern European Medicine man will set enough leeches to relieve you of the problem.
“The bad blood is gone, and you feel lighter and quite relieved.
“The following morning double the amount of Nutella on your baguette, and Presto!, you feel rejuvenated.
“Nothing negative so far regarding anybody being positive – perhaps we have to wait until a few weeks or month later.”
Saturday saw us back in the mountains, three big climbs, the middle one, the Bonette over 2,700 metres, again.
A truly savage day with the first climb – the Col du Vars – rearing straight out of the start town of Guillestre.
We holed up into the last kilometre of the day’s third monster, the Lombarda.
It was all to play for with Nibali’s tail up after his win the day before, Chaves visibly tired and Valverde desperate to make the podium and topple Kruijswijk.
Our spot was perfect, after winner Taaramae, Atapuma and the other breakaway survivors like TT winner Foliforov had dribbled past, Nibali’s team mate Kangert exploded like stage one of a booster rocket after doing his job for ‘The Shark’, just below where we were standing and it was all down to Vincenzo.
He ripped past us a picture of concentration.
We watched his decent off the Lombarda on TV, later – wild.
Chaves had looked tired to us on Friday but we didn’t expect him to run out of gas quite so spectacularly.
But second in a Grand Tour behind Astana, Vino, Vincenzo and his mighty Astana machine is a great result for the little Columbian.
The GreenEDGE team is full of big strong boys – too big for the mountains but Astana is full of tough, wiry climbers who give total commitment to their leader.
They killed off Dumoulin in the Vuelta last year and did the same to Chaves in this race – tactically, they’re brilliant.
It was a day when everyone suffered, even strong men like Siutsou and Roglic
A collapse which went largely unnoticed on this day was that of AG2R’s top ten GC rider, Pozzovivo who came in with the gruppetto @ 45:06 – ouch!
Another big loser was Cunego; Sky’s Nieve was in the break of the day and scooped up enough points to pinch the blue jersey from the little Italian.
But nice to see the Kudus fan club in action!
Stone last when they passed us was stage winner, Trentin, but he must have rejoined on the descent to finish with the gruppetto.
Last man on the finish sheet was Grosu (Nippo & Romania) @ 47:50.
The last stage in Grand Tours can be a bit of a bore – this one wasn’t.
Lotto Jumbo making a point with their escape – which was only caught very late – on the finish circuit; Chaves on the deck; Sutterlin and van Zyl crashing out and Nizzolo declassed.
The crowds were vast, it was actually scary at the death fighting through the throng.
The two Jumbo boys – Tjalingii and Van Emden took a bit of catching and made sure the circuit was no promenade.
The crash was a belter with Chaves on the deck and Uran looking hurt but not as badly as Sutterlin and van Zyl who both had to climb into the ambulance.
The crash contributed to the race exploding with groups all round the circuit making it difficult to tell what the heck was happening.
The last couple of laps were ‘warp speed’ with little climbers like Cunego just willing it to end.
We saw nothing wrong with Nizzolo’s sprint – it was the same scenario to us as when Greipel beat Ewan on Stage 12 – but we’re not on the jury…
Nibali wins his second Giro to go with his Vuelta and Tour wins – a wee bit of a ‘back from the dead job’ given that on Thursday there was talk of withdrawing him from the race because his form was so bad and medical tests were being done to assess his condition.
Good to see Valverde take his eighth Grand Tour podium – the Spanish record is Indurain’s nine – but we were sorry to see Cunego lose the blue climbers’ jersey on Stage 20.
And the final stats:
- 3,463.1 kilometres in 86 hours, 32 minutes and 49 seconds – an average speed of 40.014 kph.
- 198 starters, 156 finishers.
- Last finisher, Jack Bobridge (Trek & Australia) @ 5:08:51.
- Most stage wins for Germany: seven.
- Most kilometres ‘up the road’ – Daniel Oss (BMC & Italia) 557 kilometres in the breakaway.
This Easyjet luxury flight will end soon and we’ll touch down at Turnhouse – no more nice ‘stampa’ sticker on the car, Gazzettas, T-shirts and shorts to work in – and good coffee can only be found at places you can number on the fingers of one hand.
It’ll be harder to believe that “tutto rosa della vita“.