Tag Archives: GirodItalia

Can red-hot Richie Porte win the Giro?

Richie Porte’s form is hotter than it’s ever been, but can he maintain such a high level until the end of the Giro?

It’s been an incredible early season for Porte: he’s already won the GC at Paris-Nice, the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya and this week’s Giro del Trentino. Add in a close 2nd at the Tour Down Under (where he would have won if not for time bonuses) and 4th at the Volta ao Algarve (where he won the mountains classification and a stage).

That’s right, his worst finish on GC for the year so far, out of five stage races, is 4th.

Porte is absolutely flying. A tough 2014 season has been well and truly shaken off. He looks lean, hungry, and powerful. He’s winning time trials (including the national championship) and mountain stages.

He won the Giro del Trentino with a vicious solo attack to win stage 2 (skip to the 42 minute mark of the YouTube clip below)

His attack came after one of those Team Sky power-climbing exhibitions that spectators love so much. When Porte launched, it was scintillating stuff – out of the saddle in the big ring, with Astana’s Mikel Landa floundering in his wake.

He’s leading the UCI points rankings, making him arguably the best rider in the world at the moment. While the focus of the cycling world has been on the bombastic spring classics, Porte has been playing assassin with ruthless efficiency across the roads of Portugal, Spain, France and now Italy.

It’s reminiscent of Wiggins in 2012, scorching his way through the season taking all before him.

Porte is clearly in better form than any other Giro contender.

His old leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank) has been steady, gaining a handful of top-five results, but with his sights set on a Giro-Tour double, he needs to keep his form rising until late in the Giro d’Italia, lest he blow his Tour campaign.

His former teammate Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quickstep) is at home in Colombia training at altitude. Uran finished 5th in Catalunya and 3rd at Tirreno-Adriatico, so he is also looking steady rather than spectacular.

Uran has finished 2nd in the last two editions of the Giro d’Italia, and will be motivated after losing the maglia rosa last year in controversial fashion when his compatriot Nairo Quintana attacked descending the Stelvio in the snow, in confusion about whether the race was neutralised.

Last year’s podium revelation Fabio Aru (Astana) is suffering from a stomach ailment and extraordinary speculation after Lotto-Soudal’s Greg Henderson accused him (on Twitter) of using the illness as a cover for a bio passport violation. No doubt there’ll be intense scrutiny on Aru, but his preparation has been so badly interrupted there’s even been talk of switching Vincenzo Nibali in to lead the embattled Astana squad at the Giro (http://www.theroar.com.au/2015/04/24/richie-porte-could-face-vincenzo-nibali-in-giro-ditalia/) before defending his Tour de France crown.

My view is that Astana would be far better served by having Nibali in blazing form at the Tour, than having him half-cooked at the Giro and over-cooked in France.

Aru was 6th in Catalunya at the end of March, but hasn’t raced in April, and I would be stunned if he can improve on his 2014 result with such an interrupted preparation.

Other quality GC contenders are scarce in this Giro. Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R), Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) and Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) the best of them.

I feel the Giro field is one of the weakest in recent years. It’s a golden chance for Porte to step onto his first grand tour podium, perhaps even (whisper it) a win.

I’ve just listed quite a lot of reasons to think that Porte is a shoe-in for the Giro podium, if not the victory.

So why should we have any doubts? He’s in the best shape of his career, he’s been routinely belting the snot out of his rivals at every important stage race so far this season, and his rivals (Uran excused) are either focused elsewhere, ill, or simply not in Porte’s class.

Why? Because form is bloody difficult to maintain for longer than a few weeks at a time, and Porte’s legs have been blazing hot since January.

Because despite his obvious talents, since his surprise 7th overall at the 2010 Giro (as a neo-pro) Porte has never been able to sustain a high level of performance for the full three weeks of a grand tour.

Because his best grand tour result since that Giro was 19th, at the 2013 Tour de France.

Because riders who can win week-long stage races aren’t necessarily the ones who can win grand tours, and vice versa.

Because the weight of grand tour leadership at a team with Sky’s exposure and ambition is immense, and he hasn’t coped well when asked to carry it previously.

And finally, this year’s Giro features four high mountain finishes in its final week, when Porte will be at his most vulnerable.

I would dearly love to see Richie Porte converting his potential into a big result. Becoming only the second Australian grand tour winner would be immense. Every interview and story about him mentions that he’s found a new focus, discipline, maturity. His year so far has been nearly perfect.

Perhaps it is Richie Porte’s time. We’ll see at the end of May.

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Who’s afraid of Christopher Froome?

After his overall win in the Tour of Oman, dancing away from his rivals on the slopes of Green Mountain, it’s clear that Chris Froome isn’t suffering any hangovers from his massive 2013 campaign.

Everyone should be afraid.

A burst of high-cadence acceleration was all it took to blow away Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and former Team Sky lieutenant Rigoberto Uran (OPQS).

As for Vincenzo Nibali, a man who many consider Froome’s most serious rival for the Tour de France, he was never truly in the hunt. With his wife at home about to give birth to their first child, it’s understandable if Nibali’s head wasn’t fully in the game in Oman.

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Robert Gesink (Belkin), and Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) were all thereabouts, but had no answer to Froome’s attack.

Winning the Tour of Oman is an early psychological blow

After stage five, Froome gave his perspective on his performance to Cycling Central:

“From a personal perspective I wanted to see where I was, where my condition was, and I think today I got the answer I wanted.

Winning here is always more psychological than anything else. At this point it’s still too early to say anything in terms of build-up to the Tour de France, but it’s definitely good to have it in there.”

As he says, it’s far too early to draw too many conclusions about the form of other riders, but what the Tour of Oman shows is that Froome definitely hasn’t spent his winter wining and dining at gala dinners.

It shows that Froome still has the hunger that seemed to desert Sir Bradley Wiggins after his own magical 2012 season (remember a clearly overweight Wiggins struggling to find form and condition leading into last year’s Giro).

Smashing his rivals so early in the season is such a psychological victory because everyone can see that, barring accident or injury, there will be no slackening off from the man who dominated every stage race he entered last year.

The effects of this can be seen already in the list of GC riders shifting their sights to the Giro d’Italia. It’s almost an admission that Froome can’t be beaten in the Tour this year, so let’s aim for the next biggest prize.

It’s a coup for the Italian race, which begins in Ireland on May 9th.You could even argue that the list of GC contenders for the Giro looks better than for the Tour.

In fact I will.

The best GC riders, Froome excepted, are not riding the Tour de France this year.

Joaquim Rodriguez, Cadel Evans, Rigoberto Uran, Nairo Quintana, and Froome’s teammate Richie Porte are all aiming squarely for the Giro. All except Uran targeted the Tour in 2013.

That’s some serious talent on display in May.

In July, Froome’s main rivals will be Nibali, Alberto Contador, Rui Costa, Tejay van Garderen, Robert Gesink, and Alejandro Valverde.

Nibali is one of my favourites, but he’ll have to overcome the disruption of new fatherhood, as well as Team Sky.

Contador has looked past his best for two years, but he took his first win in over a year in stage 4 of the Volta ao Algarve this week. Hey, that’s better than nothing, but he didn’t beat anyone as good as the riders Froome just thrashed. I’ll need to see a lot more before I rate Contador as a serious GC threat again.

Valverde is a similar story: he defeated Richie Porte on home turf in the Ruta del Sol this week, cleaning up three stage wins in the process. But he’ll be 34 by the time the Tour begins, and he’s never made the podium there. Many astute observers don’t think he’s even the best GC rider in his team. Yes, he’s still deadly in stages that suit him, but can he go three weeks without a bad day in the high mountains?

Costa is all class, but his best results have come in single-day races and as a stage winner. His highest grand tour GC finish to date is 18th, at the Tour in 2012. He’s unproven as a grand tour GC contender, despite very strong performances in shorter stage races like the Tour de Suisse.

Gesink and van Garderen are well known for their buckets of potential without ever really looking like winning a grand tour.

As the season progresses we’ll have a better idea of who is really in form and who’s playing catch-up.

But for my money, there are more genuine GC riders aiming for the Giro than I can remember.

Why would the Giro, a great race but undeniably less prestigious than its French cousin, attract a more competitive field than the Tour?

I reckon they think Froome can’t be beaten.

This article was first published on The Roar.