With today's Cavendish victory in Ravenna, the sprinters can officially head home, because the Giro will turn her back on the fast men and open her arms wide to the diminutive souls that frolic in the mountains. From here on out, it's one mountain after another. The time has come. The evil three-day crux of this year's Giro is upon us: the Grossglockner tomorrow, followed by the Crostis/Zoncolan on Saturday, and finally the diabolical adventure through the Dolomiti on Sunday.
Now that we can completely disregard most of the field, there's little else to do but focus on the riders that will likely define the proceedings over the coming days. First off, of course, is the controversial Grand Tour dominator, Alberto Contador. He rode with the strength of a number of men on Mount Etna and made it clear that he is the number one rider at this year's Giro. Barring accident, injury, or a grand mal bonk on one of the big climbs, he is likely going to run completely amok. There just doesn't seem to be anyone of his physiological class.
That's not to speak of his class in general though. The Spaniard isn't only controversial among fans and journalists. He garners disdain from some of his peers as well. Love him, hate him, don't really care about him - this Giro looks to be his for the taking. The big question is - what happens after the Giro. With Contador in a class unto himself and facing a possible two year suspension, the race for second place is going to be extremely important, to the extent that no matter how much Contador might possibly crush, the race for second will be full on.
Let's take Contador out of the equation now and look at the contenders for second place.
1. Kanstantsin Sivtsov (HTC-Highroad)
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +22
3. Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Cervelo) +29
4. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +29
5. David Arroyo (Movistar) +38
6. Roman Kreuziger (Astana) +42
7. Jose Serpa (Androni Giocattoli) +48
8. Dario Cataldo (Quick-Step) +1:22
9. Matteo Carrara (Vacansoleil) +1:22
10. Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +1:22
11. John Gadret (AG2R) +1:36
12. Stefano Garzelli (Acqua e Sapone) +1:40
15. Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) +2:19
16. Vasili Kiryienka (Movistar) +2:21
17. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +2:23
25. Jose Rujano (Androni) +5:06
29. Emanuele Sella (Androni) +6:33
The General Classification looks a whole lot different without Alberto Contador's name on top, doesn't it? There are seven big names all within a minute, and twelve within two minutes, along with two superstar names in Menchov and Rodriguez at just over two minutes. Let's go back to the stars….
Liquigas-Cannondale's Vincenzo Nibali still remains the top candidate for the #1 spot. A third place in last year's Giro and a win later in the year at the Vuelta confirmed his limitless talent, and this year, his Giro bid looks good. He admits he wasn't great on Mount Etna, but if that was his worst, he should be very pleased.
Michele Scarponi was another that looked shaky on Etna. He did have the balls to go after Contador, but he blew spectacularly not long afterward. Some have begun writing him off already, but I think we'll be hearing a lot more from the Lampre rider.
Roman Kreuziger has performed about as expected so far - quietly always up there, biding his time. The question is what he'll have to offer once the racing gets nasty. I think he'll be a match for the likes of Nibali and Scarponi.
In short, not much has changed since the first preview. Let's ditch the big time favorites and go to the more interesting riders.
Jose Serpa sits in seventh in my made up GC only 48 seconds back. He has been excellent all season, and his fine riding has continued into the Giro. He's a good bet for something good overall. However, Serpa won't be the big story - I think that will go to the rejuvenated Jose Rujano, who has done next to nothing since tearing up the Giro way back in 2005. He was the only rider who could follow Alberto Contador and at about 4 feet tall and 50 pounds, he was born for the final week and some change of the Giro. If Serpa and Rujano aren't enough, there's always the reborn from the ashes of a CERA-EPO-ridden Giro a few years back, Emanuele Sella. Like Serpa and Rujano, he was born to go uphill.
Last year's Vuelta almost winner, Igor Anton, said he was coming sans pressure and in hopes of a stage win. I think, at 1:22 back, he's a candidate for something bigger. He's a born mountain goat, a major Grand Tour threat, and this next week is perfect for him.
I'm not ready to count out Joaquim Rodriguez or Denis Menchov. They're proven commodities, and for Rodriguez at least, he profits on climbs of the uber-steep variety. He'll get those and them some coming up. Menchov has been conspicuously not impressive so far. I have to think that will change.
Kanstantsin Sivtsov currently sits in 'first', and along with Christophe Le Mevel is one of the big surprises so far. Sivtsov is anything but unproven - he has certainly proven his climbing merits in the past with the win on Brasstown Bald in the now extinct Tour of Georgia. He's still an unknown at the Grand Tour level though. He'll keep close to the top for the rest of that Giro, but his top spot will not survive.
I have to admit: David Arroyo has surprised me so far. I thought his 2010 Giro runner-up finish was a fluke. I'm still not convinced, but if he keeps up like this, he'll find his way back onto the Giro podium in Milano.
While John Gadret didn't win any favor last year when he rode right by his AG2R team captain on the side of the road at the Tour de France with a flat tire, his aggressive riding and recent stage win have shown that he's doing just fine, and like Jose Rujano, he's almost small enough for gravity not to be a factor at all, which is quite helpful when climbing.
Christophe Le Mevel Dario Cataldo, and Matteo Carrara have all been excellent so far, but I don't think they'll stand the test of the next three days.
Stefano Garzelli and Vasili Kiryienka. Garzelli is wearing #1 at this year's Giro and is likely in his final season and his final Giro. He looks solid, but likely not solid enough to really contend for the overall. Look for one last stage win.
Kiryienka, meanwhile, continues to amaze. Paired with Arroyo, Movistar might be able to cause a stir in the days to come. Might is the operative term though. I expect they'll factor, but they won't define. Then again, both Arroyo and Kiryienka would be perfect in a big mountain break…
Get ready, because it's about to get entertaining.