Today was the first road stage of the Giro and true to form, a crash on the finishing circuits has already had an affect on the overall standings. The Giro is not the Tour de France and there are many reasons why one of them being the in-town finishing circuits. The Tour has never been fond of them, but the Giro seems to sprout them and on the worst roads in the smallest of towns.
I guess I should explain what finishing circuits are in case you might be wondering. In the Tour de France, stages start in town A and finish in town B. While the route might be circuitous getting from A to B, when the peloton gets to town B the race heads for the finish line and we have a winner. For some reason, the Giro has used a slightly different formula for stage finishes. Often when the race reaches town B, the peloton then embarks on, usually, three to five laps of a small (3-10km) finishing circuit.
You might be thinking what's the big deal; a kilometer is a kilometer. But, you have to remember that a lot of towns in Italy are pretty darn old and most were built before anything but horses were means of transportation. That means two things. First off, the roads can be pretty narrow and can also vary in width from block to block. Secondly, those same roads might not be paved with smooth asphalt. If you add in the fact that every Italian rider in the peloton that makes it to the finishing circuits will do anything short of murder to win a stage of the Giro you have a recipe for major disaster.
On these finishing circuits crashes are not the exception. They are the rule. Because of this it is crucial that any rider who wants to contend for the overall title has to be at the very front of the peloton. Getting caught behind a crash is almost as bad as being involved in the crash. Neither option is good. What this means is that guy riding next to Mark Cavendish might just be Levi Leipheimer or Ivan Basso. Well, that would be the case except that on Sunday's stage both Leipheimer and Basso were caught at the back of the group on the finishing circuits and lost 13 seconds.
One rider who was noticeably at the front of the peloton on the finishing circuits was Lance Armstrong. That wasn't by chance. You don't win seven grand tours by winging it and just letting stuff happen. Note to both Levi and Ivan. Keep a close eye on the guy in the black and gold helmet. He's up at the front where all the GC contenders should be.