94th Giro d’Italia/07-29 May 2011
Throughout the course of the Giro d’Italia, Sports Nickel’s resident Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America will offer his news and notes on the action from the first grand tour of the 2011 cycling season…
Will the result stick?
That’s the big question hovering over Alberto Contador’s head after he put the Giro in a headlock over the weekend and took a minute lead into the first rest day. The question isn’t one of whether or not he can maintain the lead and build upon it — because we have seen him dominate a stage race many a time before – but whether we’ll be able to look back two decades (or even two years) from now and see a Contador victory in the list of champions.
Whatever you think about the clenbuterol that was found in Contador’s system last July while he was on his way to winning a third Tour de France title — whether you believe his story about tainted beef brought over the border for a rest-day steak feast in the Pyrenees, or you believe that he was trying to skirt the system, or you believe that it is widespread in our food supply and the hypersensitive testing equipment which detected the minute traces was merely the first sign of a corrupted food chain — the fact remains that the Court of Arbitration for Sport could rule in a few months to overturn the Spanish cycling federation’s exoneration and sanction the champion to the tune of reinstating the suspension originally levied, stripping all race results during the 2010 Tour title and all subsequent accolades earned after the initial notification.
So while it increasingly looks like Contador is poised to capture his sixth career grand tour championship, it could eventually read as four and stalling while he serves out his sentence. It’s the fate that cycling is forced to live, being the test case for what happens when a sport is as stringent with its drug laws as possible. While we still wonder whether HGH and steroids and other drugs are in sports like football or baseball, we know that a cyclist will get popped for the tracest quantities of anything on the laundry list of chemical derivatives deemed illicit by the World Anti-Doping Agency. It happens whether you’re a bigshot or a nobody — no rider is spared.
Last year’s Giro champion, Ivan Basso, was popped in 2007 without evidentiary proof, admitting to involvement in Operacion Puerto after the fact. Alessandro Petacchi, winner of Stage 2 in this year’s race and 21 other Giro stages in his career, was found to have elevated salbutamol levels in his system — despite having a therapeutic use exemption for the drug as an asthmatic. (So, if you count in the five stages nullified after he was suspended, you could say it is 27 Giro stages won.) Contador won his first Tour de France when Michael Rasmussen was suspended by his team for merely missing an out-of-competition drug test and failing to confirm his whereabouts. In this culture of hypertransparency, Contador only looks like the most recent cyclist to set off the detectors.
This is neither to exonerate nor to excoriate his actions, whatever they may have been. But it is telling that the first man in modern sport alleged in the legends to have died from drug use is Arthur Linton. And while this tale has long been debunked, the sport nevertheless has the longest and deepest history of known usage. While other sports have swept their problems under the rug, cycling at least has confronted it head-on, challenging the Anquetils who assert that races “cannot be won on mineral water alone” and doing its damnedest to at least ferret out the hard truths.
So the question needs to be asked, simply because after this weekend it appears no other rider is as consistently strong at this point as Contador…
Stage 8: Sapri to Tropea (14 May 2011/217km)
It was supposed to be a day for the sprinters, especially with the slog up Mount Etna on tap for Sunday. Riding the Mediterranean coastline down Italy’s southwest coast, toward the tip of the boot, it was a pancake-flat day with the slightest of undulations breaking up the scenery. Tailor-made for guys like Petacchi and Mark Cavendish and Gerald Ciolek, all the speedsters were upset out of one of their few remaining chances at a battle royale before the roads turn truly upward.
STAGE 8 RESULTS
- Oscar Gatto (Farnese Vini) — 4:59:45
- Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank)
- Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) — +0:05
- Alexander Kristoff (BMC)
- Roberto Ferrari (Androni Giocattoli)
- Davide Appollonio (Sky)
- Francisco Ventoso (Movistar)
- Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R)
- Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Cervelo)
- Klass Lodewyck (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
Instead it was a less-heralded sprinter, Oscar Gatto of the domestic squad Farnese Vini, who pipped some rather big names to the line in Tropea. His teammate, Leonardo Giordani, had broken away with Mirko Selvaggi (Vacansoleil) in the first few kilometers of the stage, providing the rabbit on the road for the bloodhounds of the peloton to hunt after on their ride down the coast. Gaining as many as eleven minutes of advantage on their journey, Giordani and Selvaggi would gamely stay clear until less than eight kilometers remained before the finish line.
At that point it looked like the sprinters’ teams had done their job and delivered their leaders to the showdown. But then Gatto got the jump on the slight uphill grade of the finish, and got enough of a gap to win his first career stage at the Giro d’Italia. Bearing down behind him, though, was the big story — Contador had jumped free of the field and came steaming up on Gatto’s back wheel. The Italian stayed clear until the line for the win, but it was the Spaniard who really awakened the rest of the riders with his preliminary shot.
The maglia rosa would remain on Pieter Weening’s shoulders for another night, but now Contador was just thirteen seconds behind. The race lead looked to be in serious peril for the early race leader — the patron of Pinto was starting to show his true colors…
Stage 9: Messina to Etna (15 May 2011/169km)
The slopes of Mount Etna, a hub of constant volcanic activity, were the perfect place for the real battle to erupt in this year’s Giro. The hundredth anniversary of the race was the perfect occasion to take the riders up, down, and back up the volcano, a leg-breaking proposition that would leave Australian sprinters Graeme Brown (Rabobank) and Robbie McEwen (Radio Shack) outside the time limit on the stage and disqualified from continuing the race after the rest day.
STAGE 9 RESULTS
- Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) — 4:54:09
- Jose Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) — +0:03
- Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) — +0:50
- Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas)
- Roman Kreuziger (Astana)
- David Arroyo (Movistar)
- Kanstantsin Sivtsov (HTC-Highroad)
- Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) — +0:59
- John Gadret (AG2R) — +1:07
- Hubert Dupont (AG2R)
The peloton would remail bunched together over the first hour of racing, nobody managing to break off the front until the descent of the Taormina about fifty kilometers into the stage. At that point, right before the first ascent of Etna, nine riders broke clear off the front and left the main field to find their own pace up the slopes. In the break were two former Giro stage winners, Matthias Frank (BMC) and another former Giro stage victor Joan Horrach Rippoll (Katusha), along with 2008 maglia rosa wearer Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini), Yaroslav Popovych (Radio Shack), Mickaël Chérel (AG2R), Jan Bakelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Alessandro Vanotti (Liquigas), Pablo Lastras (Movistar) and Filippo Savini (Colnago).
The group of nine would gain a maximum of advantage of around five minutes, with the field starting to pull back the leaders on the descent to the bottom of the mountain in order to set up to do it all over again. By the beginning of the second ascent proper, the group in the lead had watched their advantage hover between three and a half minutes and four and a half minutes. With less than thirty kilometers from the finish, though, the advantage would have to be far higher to deter the mountain goats from making the catch and blowing right past.
The riders started dropping out one by one, succumbing to the inclines as they blew up and lost the will to continue toiling pointlessly off the front. With ten kilometers remaining, the lead had been severed by more than half and only Visconti, Frank and Bakelandts were still ahead of the elitest section remaining of the main field. Bakelandts would go it alone within the kilometer, his lead down to less than a minute with only seven kilos remaining from the top of the climb.
Soon after Contador was blowing past him, having danced right out of the field with a surging acceleration and leaving the rest of the contenders to pick up the pieces and do their best to limit losses. Only Jose Rujano, back at the Giro to try to see if lightning can strike twice, managed to stay close to the new leader. The others lost fifty seconds or more on the new maglia rosa, as Contador dominated all the way to the finish…
Will the result stick?
AFTER 9 OF 21 STAGES:
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS
2011 Giro d’Italia – Rest Day Ruminations (Stages 8-9) is a post originally from: SportsNickel.com - In Sports We Trust