Saturday, May 27, 2017

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2017 Giro d’Italia Stage 20


As we all know perfectly well, spectators of sporting events seldom care who wins ... they just want a good show.  Okay, are you done laughing yet?  Yeah, I know … probably most sports fans would prefer a deadly dull blowout as long as their team or hero comes out on top.  So why do we have to listen to announcers and commentators who pretend to be neutral?  This is particularly glaring in a sport with so many filthy, doping villains who really need to be called out.

If you’re ready for a franker perspective, you’ve come to the right place.  I have zero journalistic integrity, which means I’ll be as critical as I like based on a rider’s doping, his poor form, his silly name, his poor conduct, or any of a number of imagined grievances.  In this way I hope to be entertaining even if the race itself is dull, like Stage 2 of this year’s Giro certainly was.  Stage 14, by the way, was glorious.  This Giro is the most exciting stage race I’ve seen in years, and so much boils down to today’s stage!  So read on!

2017 Giro d’Italia Stage 20 – Pordenone to Asiago

In case you missed my last blow-by-blow report, the GC is really tight going into this penultimate stage.  Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) is in the pink jersey but holds a slim margin, just 38 seconds, over Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), who led the race until yesterday.  Last year’s Giro champ, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) trails Dumoulin by just 5 seconds. 

What’s more, there’s a 29 kilometer (18 mile) time trial flat tomorrow which strongly favors Dumoulin, so it’s up to Quintana and Nibali to take big time out of him today.  How much time?  Well, Dumoulin took 2:07 out of Nibali in the last TT, which was 40km.  If he’s faster to the same extent over tomorrow’s 29km course, that would be just over a minute and a half margin.  And the Dutchman beat Quintana by 2:53 last time, which would theoretically equate to just over 2 minutes over 29km.  Of course anything could happen and everybody’s tired, but 90-120 seconds is probably the minimum gap Nibali and Quintana would be happy with at the end of today’s stage.

Today’s route features two Category 1 climbs:  the Monte Grappa (about 15 miles long with over 4,200 feet of vertical gain) and the Asiago (close to 9 miles with over 3,000 feet of gain).  The Asiago summit is about 9 rolling miles from the finish.

Do you suppose Monte Grappa is named after the beverage?  Probably it’s the other way around.  I’ve never had grappa, but reading about it makes me want to go to Italy.  Grappa, Wikipedia tells us, is a brandy made out pomace—the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems left over from making wine—and “was originally made to prevent waste by using these leftovers.”  Talk about rotgut!  And frugality!  These Italians are after my own heart!  What’s more, grappa is also added to other tasty beverages, as with“caffè corretto, meaning ‘corrected coffee,’” and it’s even used as an espresso chaser, in which case it’s called ammazzacaffè (coffee-killer).  I wish I had some grappa right now because the large mug of strong black coffee I just drank has made my breath offensive even to me. 

Okay, enough about grappa.  (Can you tell this Giro stage is kind of boring so far?)  Here’s the situation on the road right now:  there’s a breakaway whose advantage is dropping quickly enough (currently at 2:43) that I won’t bother getting anybody’s names.  They’re near the top of the Grappa, with about 70km (42 miles) to go in the race.

Now, if you’ve been following this Giro you would be justified in misreading the course profile schematic and thinking they’re climbing the Monte Crappa.  That would tie in nicely with Dumoulin’s crazy mishap during stage 16, when he lost two minutes (which was most of his GC lead) because, as he put it, “I had to take a dump.”

I know that sounds like something I would make up, but it really did happen.  Poor guy had to pull off to the side of the road, remove the coveted pink jersey (because he was wearing bib shorts), stagger down an embankment, and let loose.  (A pace car blocked the cameraman’s view at the last second, fortunately.)

Dumoulin lost two minutes crapping (which is pretty fast, really) and ended up losing two minutes.  That’s pretty impressive—he held the same pace as the leaders all that way, and all by himself because his team fricking sucks!  Where were those guys?  And how come nobody has lambasted them?  They should all be fired, and/or Dumoulin should find a new team.  (But instead, oddly enough, he just extended his Sunweb contract out to 2021, though he might try to get out of that contract when he reads this blog post.)

The breakaway is over the top of the Grappa but they are starting to splinter.  I wonder what they’re thinking … they’ve still got 66km (41 miles) to go!

Quintana leads Dumoulin toward the top of the Grappa.  At least, I think that’s Quintana.  This is the blurriest feed yet, because one of my Internet connections is completely down this morning, in accordance with Murphy’s Law.  The router and access points are all fine, according to the running lights and HiveManager.  But my PCs and even my phone aren’t showing me the network ID.  What did I do to deserve this?

Ah, this brings us to the matter of karma, which some would say has figured in this race.  Well, one guy, anyway, that being Nibali.  Since this is a really long descent, there’s not much to report, so I’ll give you the backstory.  As I mentioned, Dumoulin lost most of his GC lead due to The Crapture, but he hung on to the pink jersey for a few more days, despite tackling some pretty serious climbs.  Toward the end of stage 18, Nibali and Quintana rode very negatively, which is to say they didn’t chase down attacks from Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) and instead just looked at Dumoulin, as if to say, “You chase them down.”  Dumoulin was clearly pissed, and rightly so.  He’s in the pink jersey, which he fricking earned, so it was really up to Quintana and Nibali to take the race to him—that is, to attack him and try to take time.  It was also up to them to deal with any other attacks from GC players.  Normally, if either of them failed to do this, the other would.  I mean, that’s how this sport works.  But instead, those two seemed to have some kind of agreement to make Dumoulin do the chasing, and wear him down that way.  This kind of agreement isn’t illegal, but it’s unsportsmanlike.  Kind of the equivalent of price-fixing.  It’s also fricking annoying, like when your damn kids won’t lift a finger to help out around the house.  “You’re the ones who want the house clean,” they seem to say.

It’s 52km (32 miles) to go, with the break still 2:19 ahead.  (Don’t worry, I’m still keeping an eye on the race so you won’t miss anything.)

So anyway, after stage 18, before all the adrenaline had left Dumoulin’s system, he was very candid with the press, saying of Quintana and Nibali, “They are only focusing on me and trying to make me lose instead of trying to win. In the last moments, they lost a lot of time to the other competitors. I really hope that riding like this they will lose their podium spot in Milan, that would be really nice, and I would be really happy.”  Obviously this pissed those guys off, and though Quintana was (as usual) a man of few words, Nibali fired back, “[That big dumb fricking Dutchman] should keep his feet on a ground and talk less. Does he know what karma is? What goes around comes around.”

A few comments on this retort.  First of all, I’ll admit that I paraphrased Nibali’s reference to Dumoulin (Nibali actually said “he”) because I couldn’t resist amplifying this exchange like the mainstream journalists have done.  Second, I don’t see how a bike racer can keep his feet on the ground and still expect to pedal a bicycle.  And finally, I don’t think Nibali himself actually knows what karma is.  Karma isn’t “what goes around comes around.”  That’s called retribution.  If I insult somebody in a bar, and he decides to give me a good beat-down in the alley out back, that’s not bad karma—that’s simple cause and effect.  Karma concerns “good” and “bad” in the cosmic sense; it’s not a matter of two bike racers failing to see eye-to eye.

I’m really glad to have that all straightened out.  And what’s happening in the race?  Nothing.  The GC group is on a flat section now, heading toward the final climb.  They’re coasting, so it wouldn’t seem they’re terribly worried about the breakaway.  They’re eating.  All is quiet.

By the way, my Internet feed of the race is in Spanish, which really sucks.  Not only do I have to puzzle out for myself what’s going on, but I don’t have the Eurosport announcers to take shots at, disagree with, learn from, etc.

Whoa!  My faster Internet connection just popped back up!  I’m going to connect to that!  But oh no!  It’s backfired!  The video feed page won’t reload!  I’m totally out of the water!  My Giro is over!

And now—what’s this?  My feed is back!  And it’s magically switched from Spanish to English!  Just in time for the breakaway to hit the final climb!  Life is good!  I must have good karma!  Maybe I earned that by washing my cat’s bowl and giving her fresh water.  Unless my cat was an evil person in a past life and is being punished by coming back as a mere cat, with very little agency and precious few mice to chase (to punish them in turn for being even more evil in their past life, etc.).

The breakaway’s gap is going back up (now at 2:41), and it’s down to two riders, so I guess I’ll go ahead and say who they are.  You’ve got Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing Team) and Dries Devenyns (Quick-Step Floors).

Dumoulin has one teammate with him, Laurens Ten Dam, who was all set to retire this year until he learned of his team’s captain’s contract renewal.  Today, for the first time ever, I will mention Ten Dam without reminding you that I once raced against him.  (Dammit, I guess I blew that.  Oh well.)

Here’s the profile of the final climb.  Kind of a beast, eh?  It’ll be especially brutal because all these guys are already knackered from three weeks of racing.

Teuns has dropped Devenyns!  That doesn’t bode well for either of them, because remember, there are 9 lumpy miles between the final summit and the finish.  And Teuns’ lead has just dropped to 1:55, with the main bunch on the climb now.

Quintana has two Movistar teammates with him, setting a pretty good tempo.  You can tell it’s not that fast, though, because the peloton is still rolling pretty deep.  This late in a grand tour, you generally end up with a tiny lead group because so many riders are just totally blown.

So, it’s harder to spot Dumoulin in the pack now that he’s not in that fresh-to-death pink jersey anymore.  The Sunweb jersies are pretty plain, just black and white (as a cost-saving measure, I think, that team being so low-budget they give their riders grappa instead of the box wine most World Tour teams use).  By the way, one of the reasons I’m rooting for Dumoulin is that he had the decency not to go overboard with the pink thing back when he led the GC.  Yeah, he wore a pink helmet, but at least he stuck with black shorts and shoes.  So has Quintana, though he’s flossing a bit with bright pink gloves.

Nibali attacks!  NOICE!

Quintana is right on him, but Dumoulin is gapped!  Oh, man, he’s surely dying back there.  But he has a knack for slowly closing up gaps … unless he cracks, like he spectacularly did in the final climbing stage of the 2015 Vuelta a España, when he started the day in the GC lead and finished the day off the podium.

I know it’s hard to tell from the blurry photo, but that’s Nibali on the front, Quintana chasing him, four more dudes behind them, and Dumoulin about six bike lengths back.  (For any readers not that familiar with cycling parlance, distance between riders is usually measured in bike lengths, and time between riders is usually measured in shitloads.)

The GC group has come back together, except for Dumoulin!  He’s still struggling to close the gap!

And now Dumoulin has latched back on.  Note that this once fairly large peloton has now been blown to smithereens.

Speaking of smithereens, is there any other use of this word other than “blown to”?  Like, “I arrived at the schoolyard and there were smithereens of kids playing there”?  Probably not.  Not a very versatile word.

There are 21km to go.  And now Quintana attacks!  And Nibali goes with him!  Now they’re organized and will try to punch Dumoulin’s ticket!

The climb is half over … how much time can these guys take?  Oh, man.  Behind them, Pinot is helping Dumoulin with the chase.  Pinot sits in 4th place on the GC, 53 seconds behind Quintana.  Surely he’d like to move up to the podium, and of course he’d love a stage win.

I should have mentioned that Pozzovivo and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) have dropped the GC group and have now caught Teuns.  (Like we care, right?)

Pinot is still leading the chase and he’s hauling ass, with Dumoulin fighting to stay on his wheel!  Quintana and Nibali have 12 seconds on Dumoulin and are 15 seconds behind the lead duo.  And now Pinot has dropped Dumoulin and caught these two chasers, with Dumoulin dragging the rest of the group! 

Pinot is on the front of this trio, drilling it!  He’s clearly suffering, his shoulders rocking a bit, and he’s grimacing, and the gap to Dumoulin’s group starts to go up!  It’s about 4km (2.6 miles) to the summit, but Dumoulin won’t quit!  He’s just soldiering on! His shoulders aren’t rocking but they look tight.  He could use a massage.  He should really do yoga.  He carries so much stress in his neck.  He should meditate.  (Not right now, of course.)

And now Quintana goes to the front and lights it up!

Quintana keeps hammering on the front, but the gap to Dumoulin just won’t go up!  Quintana is out of the saddle now, giving it everything, but the Dutchman just won’t go away! 

Half a kilometer later, the gap hasn’t really changed!

It’s about 3km to the summit.  The lead duo has only 11 seconds now.  There’s a pretty good number of guys in Dumoulin’s group, which could really help over the final 9 miles.  And now Dumoulin has done it!  He’s brought the rest back!  Unbelievable!  And now a monk has joined this group, on foot!  He might be a friar!

You just know that Pinot, Nibali, and Quintana were giving it everything … the table was set, they had their gap, they had only to take it out to over two minutes and they’d be back in the hunt for the GC victory.  But they just couldn’t get it done!

And now they try again!  Look at Quintana go!  He’s got a huge gap, just like that!  Only Pinot and Nibali can stay with him!  Even the monk has been completely dropped!

Pinot is giving it everything to make this trio work.  Can you see his grimace, or is it too blurry?

Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) is in this chase group, and he’s still got some GC ambitions, so he helps at the front.  This decent-sized group will obviously have an advantage on the lead trio after the climb is over.

At the front, Pozzovivo and Zakarin are doing pretty well, holding a 22-second lead. 

Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) has been doing a lot of work in the chase group.  Dumoulin has got to be pretty happy about that.  They’ve got the pink jersey trio in sight, but only just.

Zakarin is riding like a boss at the head of the race.

Dumoulin’s group is down to six guys and Dumoulin is back on the front.  About 14 seconds ahead, Pinot is drilling it ahead of Nibali and Quintana, obviously suffering mightily.  Nibali doesn’t look so good, either, and I’m not just talking about his stupid gold helmet.

It’s 15km to go and the leaders are over the top of the final climb!  They’ve got 14 seconds but that’s not going to be enough to stay away, I don’t think.  Nibali, Pinot, and Quintana will be giving it full gas, and the six-man Dumoulin group as well.

The gap to those six has gone up to 22 seconds, but there’s not much climb left.  Unless Dumoulin totally folds up, I think he’ll be able to catch the Quintana trio.

Let’s not forget that Pinot is totally useless on anything approaching a descent.  Ah, there, look!  He’s already gapped!

The gap to from the Quintana trio to Dumoulin’s group has gone up to 23 seconds, but remember, the chasers are still climbing.  That always happens, as the descending group’s speed increases but not the climbing group’s.  And now the chasers are on the descent and you know, these are pretty big guys.  I think they’ll be fine.  That said, it was actually on a descent that Dumoulin lost the Vuelta in 2015.  Not that he can’t descend, but he just ran out of gas.

The Quintana trio is back together.  Quintana flicks his elbow (the nonverbal equivalent of “Pull through, you wankers!”).

And now this trio has caught the leaders!  It’s a group of five now, which will be a boon to the GC contenders.  Pozzovivo and Zakarin would love a stage win, of course, and the GC guys will let them take it if they’ll help the group.  The gap is now 24 seconds.

Oh man, Dumoulin looks totally blasted back in his group.

With about 6 miles to go, the gap is down to 17 seconds.  Pozzovivo is on the front of the lead group but that’s not going to help.  First of all, he’s too small to descend well, and second, nobody can get a good draft off him!  If he hadn’t settled on cycling he might have been a jockey.

With about 5 miles to go, the gap is down to 13 seconds.  There’s a bit more climbing to come, but I think it’s looking like Nibali and Quintana have failed to get the time they will need to hold off Dumoulin in the TT tomorrow.  Unless, of course, they’ve exhausted Dumoulin … Nibali isn’t that bad a time trialist. 

Dumoulin is back on the front of this group now.

With 4 miles to go, the gap is down to 12 seconds.  This should be a fun finish to watch because Quintana and Nibali need every second they can get, so they’ll drill it all the way to the line, so Pozzovivo and Zakarin won’t have to play that stupid cat-and-mouse watching-each-other game—they’ll try to slingshot off the GC dudes’ wheels for the stage win.  And who knows, maybe it’ll be an 11-man group by then.

It’s 3 miles to go, and the gap is down to 7 seconds!  Now back up to 9 seconds!  Nibali trades off the lead with Zakarin.  Pozzovivo is out of the saddle just to hang on the back!

I just remembered something:  there are bonus seconds on the line, so actually the GC guys in the lead group won’t be giving anything away to the others.  It’ll be a fight to the … I’ll bet you thought I was going to say “death” there.  No, of course not.  A fight to the very end.

Oddly, the gap is going back up.  Dumoulin must be really, really dead.  Ahead, Pinot takes up the lead, and now Pozzovivo.  The gap is up to 21 seconds.  It’s weird … this group is doing more damage on the flat section than it did on the climb.  As the leaders approach the flamme rouge, they start to look at each other.  The gap drops to 19 seconds.

Why do they call it the flamme rouge even in the Giro?  Flamme rouge is French!  It should be the fiamma rossa!  But nobody calls it that!  Why is that?!

Quintana is leading out the sprint from really, really far out!  They’re wisely sitting on him! 

Pozzovivo goes!  Pinot is right on his wheel as Quintana fades!  Zakarin is right on Pinot!

Man alive!  Pinot launches his sprint, and as he comes around he’s really rocking it!  (How am I getting all these great snapshots?  I know, it’s amazing, right?)

And Pino’s got the stage victory!  Glorious!  It’s his first ever Giro stage win!

Pinot’s stage victory obviously favors Dumoulin, since the Frenchman deprived Nibali and Quintana of the 10 bonus seconds for first.  Zakarin took second, and I think Nibali got third. 

The Dumoulin group limps over the line, Dumoulin at the back.  He looks totally blown.  But, he did a great job today and if he’s got anything left in the tank for tomorrow, his GC victory prospects look really good.

Here’s your top ten on the stage:

They’re interviewing Pinot.  “With the time bonus, I’m in third overall, only 43 seconds behind Quintana on GC,” he explains, “and because I’m such a good time trialist, I think I’ll end up winning this whole thing!”  Asked about Dumoulin, Pinot says, “That motherscratcher?  Everybody knows he can’t time trial!”

Actually, I don’t know what Pinot said.  It was all in French.  I studied French for years, but these guys mumble.  Who cares what he said anyway?

So Dumoulin ended up losing only 15 seconds to Quintana today, and a handful more seconds to Nibali who I think got a time bonus for third.

The podium girls are waiting for their big moment.  Can you tell they’re really excited?

Here’s your new top 10 on GC:

So can Pinot keep his podium place?  On the one hand, he’s the French national time trialist.  On the other hand, that’s not saying much.  Pinot finished all the way down in 19th in the first TT of this Giro, 35 seconds behind Nibali and only 11 seconds ahead of Quintana.  And of course Dumoulin will overhaul him tomorrow, unless he has to stop mid-race to take a dump.  Has that ever happened in a time trial?  I’m going to guess not, but then, Dumoulin does seem to have some problems in this area.  My first inkling of this was pure speculation, but was all the way back in 2015 during the Vuelta.  Here’s what I wrote in my blow-by-blow of that stage, at the very moment when Dumoulin was cracking: 
Dumoulin drops back to his team car, but then seems to change his mind and just keeps riding.  Maybe he was going to ask for a strong cup of coffee but then remembered that caffeine is a diuretic and didn’t want to have to take a piss during the climb.  That might knock him off the podium.
The terribly unfortunate bathroom break during stage 16 wasn’t Dumoulin’s only bout with bodily functions in this Giro.  During stage 19—the stage in which he lost his GC lead—he expended huge energy closing an early gap that seemed bathroom-related.  According to cyclingnews, which corroborated Sunweb’s accusation of an unfairly timed attack, “Dumoulin had indeed sat up and began to relieve himself just as Nibali and Quintana joined forces on the front.”  This makes it sound like those two were just waiting for Dumoulin to pee before attacking, but cyclingnews went on to say, “At the finish the Dutchman was quick to point out that he had merely been caught on the wrong side of the racing, and that no foul play had taken place.”

This seems pretty generous of Dumoulin, but actually, he’s got his reputation to consider.  I doubt he wants to be known as “the man who would be king, if he could keep his bowels and bladder in order.”   Indeed, after stage 17 he told the press, “I'm not here to write history because I’m shitting in the bushes—I want to write history by getting the pink jersey in Milan.”  (Yes, he really said that—click here.)

Here’s Pinot on the podium.  Weird, what are those grey blotches above the podium girls?  Ads for a TV network that Eurosport competes with?  Or did these girls do something wicked in their past, so karmic grey clouds literally hang over them now?  Who knows.

Now the press is interviewing Nibali.  “We tried to take maximum time, but the domestiques weren’t doing much.  They’re still suffering from errors committed in their past lives.  Finally I called for my team car, so they could drag me along for a while, but my director reminded me that didn’t work out so well in the [2015] Vuelta.  So what can I say?  I’ll just have to keep my feet on the ground and talk with my mouth.”

Now they interview Dumoulin.  “Finally the climbs are over!” he grins.  Asked about tomorrow’s TT, he replies, “The time gaps won’t be as big [as last time], so I’ll have to fight for every second.  Our soigneur will be outfitting me with an adult diaper, so we’ll see how that goes.”  Asked if he’ll be in pink at the end of tomorrow, Dumoulin quips, “Depends!”

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

1 comment: