Friday, May 25, 2018

Giro d'Italia update: Is Simon Yates on something?

Could this be dodgy?
It's hard to follow a race that takes five hours a day in the snippets of a minute or two that is all most North Americans can glean about the Giro d'Italia, now in its final week. I found myself watching one bit of slightly more extended coverage in which the commentary was in Basque.

But what what one can see, it has been a lively tour, notably for the remarkable prowess of Simon Yates, a Brit riding for an Australian team.  Coming in, the question seemed to be whether Chris Froome could win a third consecutive Grand Tour (after winning the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana last year). Instead Froome has looked pretty mortal, and Yates has looked superhuman, pulling away from the pack on the steepest hills and "putting time into" everyone.

This is pro cycling. I cannot help remembering Floyd Landis, an American rider in the post-Armstrong years, who one day made a phenomenal ride, putting himself ten minutes ahead of everyone and pretty much guaranteeing a Tour de France win. All the commentators were saying, "This is amazing," "This is unprecedented," I can hardly believe it."

A lot of the viewers, meanwhile, were saying "Landis must be on drugs."  And the night of his big victory he was duly tested and disqualified.

Yates's victories, looking so dominant and coming from a good but not previously front-rank rider, make me wonder. Gonna be some testing and reviewing going on, mebbe.  Particularly since Froome, riding for the once anti-drug Sky team, is himself riding while under investigation for his own dodgy use of certain medications in the Vuelta last year -- with many suggesting he should be under suspension rather than continuing to ride.  Cycling: will it ever clean up its act?

But in a time trial the other day, Yates, who is more a big-hill specialist, lost a bunch of time to his rivals.  And the next day both Froome and Tom Dumoulin, last year's Giro, winner, gained time on him on a mountain stage. Just a couple more big hills to go, and Yates's lead is down to half a minute or so. Put aside the druggy suspicions, and it's pretty good competition.

Michael Woods, the Canadian contender, has suffered from illness and a nasty crash and is dropping down into the 20s in overall ranking. Forty-one year old Svein Tuft, meanwhile, does heroic leadouts and such, and ends up pretty near last overall. Guillaume Boivin hasn't won a sprint yet.

Update, same day.  Stage 19, the "queen" stage of the race with monster mountains, turned everything upside down.  Simon Yates cracked spectacularly 80 km short of the finish and came in 79th on the day, and is now 17 overall, an enormous 35 minutes behind the new leader.

And the new leader is ... Chris Froome.  Froome has been looking stronger in recent days, and today stormed out to a Landisian solo lead and came in far ahead of everyone, to leap from a distant fourth place overall to the Maglia Rosa, first place by half a minute, and very good odds of winning this Giro in Rome on Sunday.  One for the highlight reels, and for the drug testers too.

Update, May 28:  I'm not the only one remembering Floyd Landis. The reaction of George Bennett, another cyclist in the race, when he heard the results on Friday:
“Did Froome stay away? No way. He did a Landis. Jesus!” His reference was to Floyd Landis’s astonishing comeback to win at Morzine in the 2006 Tour de France, which set up the American as, provisionally, the overall winner, until a positive test for testosterone was announced.
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