Published 31/05/2017 at 19:39 GMT | Updated 31/05/2017 at 21:41 GMT
The hype surrounding the 100th Giro d’Italia matched that of any anticipated summer blockbuster — especially any action flick headlined by let’s say Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson — but the centenary edition of the Grand Tour of Italy nearly found itself floundering like that of ‘Baywatch’ rather than soaring to the billion-dollar box office heights of ‘The Fate of the Furious.’
With arguably the greatest cast of general classification contenders in recent memory lined up for the May 5th start in Sardinia, the stage was set for an epic showdown for the maglia rosa. However, what was anticipated as an explosive three-week stage race quickly fizzled with a handful of lacklustre sprint stages dominated by upstart Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) of Colombia, while perennial headliner André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) of Germany was held to one stage victory as was Australian star-in-the-making Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott).
But perhaps the biggest disappointment was the unexpected plot twist of stage 9 — a freak incident involving a parked motorbike that essentially dashed the GC hopes of Briton Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) and Welshman Geraint Thomas (Team Sky). While Yates was able to bravely battle back into the top 10 (ninth overall) and briefly contend for the best young riders jersey, Thomas was ultimately forced to retire due to injuries sustained in the fall.
At the time of the crash, the British climbing specialist was sitting third on GC at 10 seconds back on then-leader Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors), while Thomas had four seconds on Yates and six back on the eventual stage 15 winner from Luxembourg.
Huge crash with motorbike leaves Team Sky hopes in tatters
Perhaps the biggest blow came weeks before the race when Italian favourite Fabio Aru (Astana) was sidelined due to a nasty knee injury. Astana leadership fell to former race winner and fellow Italian Michele Scarponi, who was successfully racing himself into pre-race form with a victory at Tour of the Alps when he was tragically killed during training accident on April 22.
It had all the making’s of a M. Night Shyamalan film without the clever ending.
The majority of the first 14 days was snoozer, so to speak. That was until the battle for pink picked up following Tom Dumoulin’s emergency ‘nature break’ on stage 16.
Dumoulin - Giro d'Italia 2017 stage 21 - Getty Images pub only in ITAxUKxUSAxIRLxESP
Eurosport journalist Benoit Vittek penned an excellent piece prior to the race on “la crisi” of the Giro.
Benoit explained that the Italians indulge in harsh self criticism about the race. Fewer sponsors, only two Italian teams on the start and a complete lack of national WorldTour teams with Lampre turning to UAE and homegrown hero Vincenzo Nibali also turning toward the Persian Gulf with Bahrain-Merida, only adds to the fodder.
The race organisers seem to be struggling, but according to Benoit there’s still no reason to panic just yet. After all, the #Giro100 was a huge party. Sure there the criticism regarding the level of Italian racing may have surfaced a time or two, but let’s not forget Nibali is one of the greatest riders of the 21st century, and that Aru is a huge talent on the sideline.
Italian passion alone will provide for many more beautiful years of cycling.
Nibali: It was so hard, the racing started very early
It is still a must-read for those fluent in French, or with access to Google Translate.
No matter the fact, the Giro did indeed pick up with an exhilarating climatic conclusion that ranks it among the most compelling Grand Tour finishes in recent memory.
The ‘Corsa Rosa’ came down to a thrilling time trial — yes, a thrilling time trial — with the pink jersey on the line. In the end, the diminutive Colombian and heavy pre-race favourite Nario Quintana was simply no match for the bigger, stronger Dutchman. In one fell swoop, Dumoulin claimed the win in masterful fashion and perhaps saved the Giro from itself.
As for now, it is already less than 365 days until yet another anticipated sequel.
2018 Tour des Fjords to bring Hammer Series to Norway
Just hours before reigning Norwegian road and time trail champion Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) claimed his third straight stage win en route to an overall victory at the 2017 Tour des Fjords in Stavanger, Norway on Sunday, the race held a pre-race press conference announcing big news for 2018.
The race, which just wrapped its fifth edition, will have a new look and feel in 2018 with the addition of Velon’s all new Hammer Series, which is set to launch in Limburg in the Netherland on June 1.
Next year’ Fjords race will be shortened from five to three stages and will immediately be followed by the three-day Hammer Stavanger, which will be the only Hammer event in Scandinavia.
Developed by Velon and co-partnered by Infront Sports & Media, the Hammer Series is set over three days and will feature a team-vs-team format. While Dimension Data and LottoNL-Jumbo were the only two WorldTour teams on this year’s start, Fjords expects at least five WT teams next year, with as many as eight of the Velon 10 on board for Hammer Stavanger.
“We have managed to get a deal with Velon and Infront to make Tour des Fjords a part of the Hammer Series from next year,” Fjords race director Roy Hegreberg told Eurosport. “So this will guarantee that we will have 10 of the best teams in the world on the start here in Stavanger and also five WorldTour teams for Tour des Fjords.
“This puts us in a really good situation and we can develop cycling in Norway and Scandinavia and have guarantee to have the best riders at our race.”
JLT-Condor flies high at An Post Rás, Tour Series
JLT-Condor rider James Cullen may not have won a stage at the eight-day An Post Rás (UCI 2.2) last week, but he did just enough to lift the leaders jersey off stage 3 winner Matthew Teggart (An Post-Chain Reaction) of Ireland to take the jersey home with the 2017 overall victory — the first of the 27-year-old Briton’s pro career.
This is the second time this year Gullen held a yellow leaders jersey in a UCI stage race. In March he won stage two of the Tour de Taiwan, though crashes forced to give up the lead.
James Gullen becomes the first British rider to win the race since Simon Richardson of JLT’s previous incarnation — Rapha-Condor — in 2009.
“I’m so happy to have defended the jersey. It was a stressful final three days but the team rode amazingly for me. The team is only five riders which makes defending the race harder,” said James Gullen after the race. “They kept me going, so this win is all down to them.”
The Irish stage race was not the only success for John Herety’s British squad.
JLT-Condor was also crowned Tour Series champions for the second consecutive year — giving them four series crowns under Herety’s watch as team director.
The team extended their three-point lead over fellow British squad Madison Genesis after a successful round over the wet cobbles of Durham and Monday’s final round in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.
“Whilst we had a three point lead, it was a little nerve wracking leading up to the finish,” admitted Herety. “The riders rode very hard in Durham to secure the win, so they had to dig deep here in Stevenage. Again it was wet and four riders needed to finish the race in high positions.”
Australian sprinter Brenton Jones, who signed on with JLT following two years with Drapac Pro Cycling before the UCI Pro Continental squad merged with WorldTour team Cannondale, was naturally thrilled with his two individual series wins and the overall series victory.
“It was a hard race tonight, it started wet and fast, it was tough not to take risks as the pace ramped up,” said the 25-year-old Victorian. “We lost Ali Slater in the final laps, but still had four riders. Madison Genesis won on the night and good on them, but we came here to win the series.
“It has been really tiring and they pushed us but we’re really, really happy to be overall champions.”
UKYO goes one-two at Tour of Japan
Spaniard Oscar Pujol took the final general classification at the 2017 Tour of Japan with teammate and former Sky rider Nathan Earle (AUS) second overall.
Pujol took the jersey from three-time stage winner Marco Canola (Nippo-Vini Fantini) after his own stage 6 victory on Mt Fuji. The win marked the sixth ProTour win for the 33-year-old, who also won Tour de Kumano in Japan last year.
For 28-year-old Earle, he continues to shine on the Continental level since dropping from WorldTour status two years ago. Earle, who spent last year with Drapac before it merged with Cannondale, finished Japan with two top three stage results and took ninth on points and fifth on the mountains classification.
The Tasmanian entered the race fresh off a Tour de Lombok victory, in which he took general, points and mountains jerseys, as well as a KOM jersey at Tour of Thailand in April.