this article originally appeared on Pez Cycling News…
The 2014 edition of the world’s greatest stage race saw its Ferrari-red flame hosed down by an organisational cock-up of such epic proportions that the eventual winner, Nairo Quintana, would be as justified this morning at being just as royally pissed with it all as the man came 2nd, Rigoberto Uran.
Of all the other talking points of the race – of Fabio Aru’s wonderful ride, Pierre Roland’s return to form, Dan Martin’s inability to stay upright, Michael Rogers’ wins, Luke Mezgec’s capture of the Points Classification and Bardiani-CSF’s fine 2nd place in the team competition – nothing comes close to the wrecking ball that the commissaires brought to bear on the integrity of their stewardship (and indeed on the GC result) by their ‘mishandling’ of the decision to neutralize the Stelvio descent on Stage 16.
This is not to suggest that Quintana would not have won the Giro. His ride up the final mountain on the stage in question was one of the finest displays of climbing prowess that we’ve witnessed in many a year.
His dominance in the mountains was clear to see and yet we all know the difference that wearing the leader’s jersey can have on a rider. Who can say for sure that had Uran not lost that chunk of time on the downhill and had he started the climb alongside Quintana, that he would have lost the jersey outright that day?
Perhaps he’d have hung on for several more days. Perhaps Quintana would have taken the jersey but then have made a mistake under the stress of having Uran much closer than he was in regards to the time gap between the two.
Probably not. Yet, possibly so. We’ll never know, and that is the problem. Bike racing is hectic, dizzying and complicated enough without the people running the event itself throwing spanners in the works and leaving riders and fans alike unsure of exactly what is going on and indeed in exactly what has gone on.
Ryder Hesjedal laid the ultimate blame at Uran’s feet and I’m inclined to do the same, even though I still feel for the guy.
“If you’re serious about the race and especially if you’re in the pink jersey,” opined the Canadian, “you should have been at the head of affairs. End of story. Everyone rode down the descent and that was it.”
I’ve made this point before on social media but it is worth making again here: anyone that’s raced for more than a couple of years at just about any level should be experienced to know that it is always best to ignore anything you hear on the road, mid-race, until it is enforced by officials.
Our job is to get to that finish line as quickly as possible and that is paramount and you have to protect your position at all times and, indeed, at all costs (within the rules of course).
However, it should be noted that even Ryder’s tantamount criticism of Uran’s lack of vigilance was prefaced by a comment that illustrates just how ridiculous was the initial decision to neutralize the descent in the first place.
“Tell me what a neutralised descent is?” he asked. “Does everyone just stop?”
Whatever the ins and outs of the decision, whatever your or indeed my opinion on the result affect of the final outcome of the race – and it should be noted that Quintana put just about the same time into Uran in the final ITT – that fact that it will remain a topic of debate for just about, well, ever, means that this Giro is tainted.
Ufan took it like a man though, though whether it was as a man who accepted it fully or not, I’m still not certain as his reply to questions by journalists about the final result was a little less than effusive.
“Whoever was going to win was going to win with or without those climbs,” he said. “I thought it was going to end up the way it did. Nothing more to say.”
Slightly strange thing to say as the whole race was won in the hills, both on the way up and on the way down, and if it ended up how he thought it was going to then that doesn’t say much for his self-belief.
So, certainly not a vintage year and not just because of Stage 16. The tediously dull first week then morphed in an only slightly less dull second week, and by the time the race was moving into what should have been the fireworks phase it was more or less decided.
Marcel Kittel started things off with a bang at least but then he headed home ill, leaving the Points Classification to the unheralded Mezgec, who must be pinching himself this morning.
One has to wonder how many Grand Tours Quintana can go on to win now, though he might be a little startled by the sudden arrival of Fabio Aru, who in only his second year as a pro managed to get himself onto the podium in third place.
With his ascent up the ranks we have the prospect of seeing two great climbers in he and Quintana taking on Christopher Froome some time soon.
“A good result the Giro is hugely satisfying and proves that all the hard work paid off,” Aru said at the finish. “But for me, nothing will change because I’ll go to races with the same determination as before. I’ve got a lot of years ahead of me in my career and I’ve still got to prove myself.”
Many a decent rider gets a great result and lets it go to his head, which shows just what an incredible range of talents and sensibilities are required to become a rider that can sustain a record of success at this level. Aru might be one of those, time will tell but he looks to have some serious ability and a wise head to boot.
Great to see Pierre Roland coming back, and though he was slightly disappointed with 4th it was a welcome return from what had been quite a long trip to the wilderness for the Frenchman.
He‘s another of those riders of whom much was expected yet for whom consistency proved elusive.
So there we have it, another Giro done and dusted and here comes the chaos and madness of le Tour. The only inevitability in cycling is that the races keep on coming, year after year, in spite of whatever controversy they and their participants create.
Long may it be thus.