Team Columbia-Highroad has been putting on a Bike Racing 101 clinic at the Giro.The squad has won four stages in the first nine days and they are doing it in classic racing fashion. The Giro is known for lots of crashes which sometimes produce lucky winners, but Columbia-Highroad's success has nothing to do with luck.
Columbia-Highroad's first win, on the opening day's team time trial, was the picture of perfection. There didn't appear to be any strategy other than to have each rider give his all. There were no sacrificial lambs, everybody just rode their hearts out.
Norwegian Edvald Boasen-Hagen has recorded a second-first-second in stages 6-8; his win into Chiavenna on stage 7 was won on rain-slickened roads, but he didn't appear to be taking unnecessary risks.
Constantin Siutsov's victory into Bergamo was probably the best demonstration of classic bike racing tactics. Columbia-Highroad sent their GC man Michael Rogers up the road on the stage's final climb forcing overal racer leader Danilo Diluca's LPR Brakes team to initiate a furious chase. As soon as Rogers and his breakaway companions, which included Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner, were reeled in, Siutsov counter-attacked.
It was clear that the LPR riders were tired from chasing Rogers and Leipheimer and Siutsov quickly built a sufficient lead to take him all the way to the finish line. That is how you win a bike race.
The final chapter in team Columbia Highroad's racing primer was written in Milan when a near perfect leadout train in the final kilometers delivered uber-sprinter Mark Cavendish first across the line. Thus endeth the lesson, but I am guessing that Columbia-Highroad has a few more chapters to write before the end of the race.
A few more speculations on what will happen with Team Astana and the rollout with Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel's new team. It must be remembered that one of the strategies that Bruyneel and Armstrong used to help engineer Lance's seven tour wins was to acquire the competition.
Along that line of thinking, it would be better for Bruyneel and Armstrong to try and keep Team Astana together through the Tour so that they would have Contador on their squad. That's not to say that Bruyneel and Armstrong would try to keep Contador from winning. It just means that they would have more control over the situation. Only time will tell what happens.
Obviously, we all have our own conditions for calling an event a great race; the recently concluded Giro d'Italia had all the trimmings to make one exceptional race. To be sure, Team Astana's Alberto Contador took the top overall honors, but his fellow competitors forced the outcome to be decided on the final day of the 21-day grand tour.
Lance Armstrong won seven Tours de France, but which one was his "best" victory? Was it the times where the Texas Tornado appeared unbeatable and seemed to just be toying with his rivals? For me it was 2003 when he almost got dropped on Alpe d'Huez, lost to Ullrich in the first time trial and then crashed on Luz Ardiden. Lance looked totally vulnerable and it came down to the final time trial to settle the score.
For me, it is great competition which makes a memorable race. This year at the Giro, going into the final mountain stage, three day before the end of the race, the top three competitors were separated by only 21 seconds. And, all three were bonafide contenders. But, more importantly, all three had looked vulnerable at one time or another.
Leader Alberto Contador had been unable to respond to late stage attacks on both the Alpe de Pampeago and the Marmolada. But, as a true champion does, he didn't just sit up, he rode his own pace and limited his losses. Only four seconds back, Saunier Duval's Ricardo Ricco, lost over two minutes to Contador in the first time trial. He clearly had to make up that deficit in the mountains and his relentless attacks were successful in pegging back critical seconds. Third place Danilo DiLuca, the 2007 Giro champion, had been riding quietly in the lead group, but had not shown any traces of last year's form. His attack on the second-to-last day in the mountains almost put him in the maglia rosa, the pink leader's jersey.
In the end, Contador's consistency in the mountains and his superior time trialing skills neutralized Ricco while DiLuca's audacious attack on the second-to-last mountain stage proved to be too much too soon and he was never able to recover for the final weekend of racing.
Which brings us to the upcoming Tour de France. While Cadel Evans may be the odds-on favorite, his recent knee troubles have limited his pre-Tour training program. Chris Horner likes two-time Vuelta a Espana winner Dennis Menchov. Somewhere lurking in the mountains is Alejandro Valverde. Suffice it to say, there really is no clear favorite and all the top contenders have shown signs of vulnerability in the Tour in the past. Of course, that means it's going to be a great race.