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SERRA SAN BRUNO, Italy (VN) — The Giro d’Italia was spared a potential awkward moment on Tuesday when 23-year-old Enrico Battaglin, of the UCI Pro Continental team Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox, won stage 4 into Serra San Bruno, finishing ahead of Fabio Felline (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) for an all-Italian sweep of the day’s top spots.
Just moments earlier, it appeared as though Italian Danilo Di Luca, of Vini Fantini-Selle Italia, might take the stage win. The rider known as “The Killer” launched an audacious attack on the second and final rated climb and drove to the finish line with young rider Robinson Chalapud (Colombia). The pair pushed over the summit with nearly 20 seconds on the main group, but they were caught with 600 meters to go.
In the chaos that followed, across wet and slippery stone slabs, Battaglin timed his sprint to perfection to upset the sport’s biggest names, including race leader Luca Paolini (Katusha).
An underdog had won, and perhaps equally important, Di Luca had not.
Had Di Luca won, it would have forced the Giro, and the sport of pro cycling, to take yet another long look in the mirror, and open another examination of the ghosts of its past, and those still haunting the present.
Di Luca, 37, won the Giro in 2007, and finished second overall in 2009. He also served suspensions during both of those seasons — in 2007, for prior involvement with Italian doping doctor Carlo Santuccione, and in 2009, when he tested positive for using the blood-booster CERA during that year’s Giro.
Di Luca also delivered a urine sample during his 2007 Giro victory that reportedly recorded the hormone levels of a small child, dubbed “pipi degli angeli” (angel’s pee), a sign of the use of masking agents. However he ultimately was cleared for that offense, with Italian Olympic Committee anti-doping officials admitting there was “not a sufficient degree of probability” for a doping conviction. He was able to keep his 2007 Giro title, though he was stripped of his 2009 second-place finish.
“He punched the Giro d’Italia in the stomach in 2007 and almost did it again in 2009,” former Giro d’Italia race director Angelo Zomegnan famously said on Italian television.
After serving a suspension, Di Luca returned in 2011 with Katusha, riding for no salary. He rode last year with Acqua & Sapone, and only opened his 2013 campaign after signing with Vini Fantini in late April.
By comparison, Battaglin is an unheralded young rider, a distant nephew of Giovanni Battaglin, the 1981 Giro and Vuelta champion. He won the prestigious Coppa Sabatini in 2011, as a stagiaire, beating another disgraced doper, Davide Rebellin, who was returning after being stripped of his 2008 Olympic silver medal for using CERA.
Last year, in his first full season as a professional, Battaglin completed his first Giro d’Italia. On Tuesday he became a Giro stage winner with his second pro win. His joy at the finish line was palpable.
“In 2011, after I had won everything as an amateur, I started my pro career winning,” Battaglin said Tuesday. “Perhaps I thought it was easier than it really is. I may have paid for that last year. This year, I was determined to show that I’m a good rider. I worked hard in the winter and I’m starting to reap the rewards.”
Di Luca is far from the only rider at the Giro with a doping scandal on his record. Race leader Paolini is no stranger to controversy; he was implicated in a long-running drug trafficking case, Operation Athena, that also involved Ivan Basso’s sister, Elisa. However, Paolini has never served a suspension.
Team leaders Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) and Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocatolli-Venezuela) have both served doping suspensions. Ivan Basso (Cannondale), who pulled out of the race two days before it started, has won the Giro twice, once before a doping suspension, and once after.
And the Garmin-Sharp team of defending champion Ryder Hesjedal has four riders in the race who have served suspensions.
The critical difference, however, is that Garmin’s riders have acknowledged, and apologized for, their transgressions; Basso has as well, to a degree. Scarponi, Pellizotti, Paolini, and Di Luca have not.
More importantly, though, it’s important for the sport that new names, those without checkered pasts, come to the fore and shift the focus away from their embattle predecessors — riders such as Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing), Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEdge), Carlos Betancur (AG2R La Mondiale), Fabio Aru (Astana), and John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano).
Just as it’s naïve to think that doping in cycling is a thing of the past, it’s also unrealistic to wish that the riders who contributed to the damage the sport now faces would just fade away. Rebellin won a race in Poland just last week; Spaniard Francisco Mancebo, who was heavily implicated in Operación Puerto, continues to race in North America, most recently winning the queen stage at the Silver City’s Tour of the Gila on Sunday.
Whether or not these riders, or Di Luca, are now respecting anti-doping rules they disregarded in the past is impossible to know. Performances, by and large, are more believable than they were even five years ago. Times are slower, attacks are less dramatic, and time gaps are closer. While his move was bold, that Di Luca was unable to hold his attack on Tuesday is encouraging.
The day when the pro peloton is clear of suspicion will likely never materialize. However, the day when the peloton is clear of riders with controversial pasts may be only a few years away. Until then, it’s understandable that many will prefer to cheer for the underdog — the rider with a clean record and the possibility of a clean slate.
Sometimes he may even win.
SERRA SAN BRUNO, Italy (VN) — Orica-GreenEdge rider Luke Durbridge is quietly enjoying his first grand tour at the Giro d’Italia, with an eye towards Saturday’s 54-kilometer stage 8 time trial.
The 22-year-old Durbridge is a phenom — the first Australian to sport both the national road and time trial jerseys simultaneously — and was the winner of French stage race Circuit de la Sarthe in his neo-pro season last year.
Now, in his second pro season, he’s getting his first taste of a grand tour.
“It’s a big race, the Giro, so everything is just that much bigger than any other race,” Durbridge said, “and that much longer, too.”
At 6-foot-2 and 172 pounds, Durbridge is a specialist against the clock, a former under-23 world TT champion and a member of Australia’s world champion team pursuit squad.
Given Orica’s strength against the clock, particularly in Durbridge and Canadian national TT champion Svein Tuft, the team had a shot at a top finish in Sunday’s stage 2 team time trial. Instead, Orica finished ninth, 28 seconds off Sky’s winning pace. Durbridge said the team had tried a new tactic for the hilly and technical 17.4km course that ultimately didn’t pan out.
“We’re a team time trial sort of team, but the course didn’t suit our style of riders,” he said. “We’re big, power guys, and the course was quite hilly. We tried a bit of a different tactic; we had three guys swapping off at the start, and then the other guys were meant to take over. We were playing with a few ideas. It didn’t go to plan, but, hey, you have to try these new ideas to know if they work or not. It obviously didn’t work in our favor.
“I think our best-case scenario was top five. I don’t think we were going to finish on top of Sky or Movistar. I would have liked to have done better, but now we know, okay, maybe that wasn’t the best idea, and we can go back to the drawing board and for the next team time trial, we can come up with a better plan.”
His biggest career result thus far was his winning the 2012 Critérium du Dauphiné prologue, though Durbridge is not necessarily expecting to pull off a similar feat this weekend on a much longer course and against riders like Tuft, Bradley Wiggins (Sky), or Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing).
“Every time trial I do, I have a go at, but also, ok, it’s 55km, it’s stage 8, probably the longest I’ve ever raced in a row, so I’m going to be up against it in the sense that I don’t know where I am going to sit. I’m going into the unknown,” Durbridge said. “I look forward to it, I’m going to give it my best shot, but you just don’t know, on the day, when you rock up to the time trial, how your legs are going to react. But that’s the plan, and we’ll see how it goes.”
Durbridge said competing in his first grand tour wearing the Australian national champion’s jersey was a thrill and an honor.
“For sure, any time you pull on the national champion’s jersey, at any race, is great, but to pull it on at the Giro, at a grand tour, is even a little bit more special,” he said. “Especially being an Australian on an Australian team. I’m proud to be wearing the jersey.”
Asked if he had come to Italy with the intention of finishing his first grand tour, Durbridge said he hoped to, but that he would take it as it comes.
“I’ve spoken with the directors. We’re just going to play it day by day,” he said. “We thought maybe two weeks, and then see how my form is going, and how I’m recovering. For me personally, I’d love to finish the race. That’s my mental aspect, but we’ll just play it by ear.”
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- The juniors riders in the USA Cycling National Development Program landed a podium result at a Nationand#39;s Cup race in the Czech Republic while the U23 riders competed in a pair of races in Europe.
Over the past decade, and particularly under the recent direction of Michele Acquarone, the Giro d’Italia has clawed its way out of the Tour de France’s lengthy shadow, establishing itself as a distinct experience and coveted prize rather than a warm-up, stepping stone, or second-tier tour. But while the Giro has recaptured and capitalized on some of the swagger it had in the 1970s, when its character made it the centerpiece of Jørgen Leth’s Stars and Watercarriers, it cannot entirely escape the influence of its older, more heralded brother. So while it is undoubtedly its own race, this year’s Giro still has big implications for the summer’s Tour de France, and three Giro storylines might help shape July’s racing.
1. Cloudy Sky, slight chance of reign?
For months now, the sometimes bizarre media sparring over Tour leadership between Sky’s two top men, 2012 Tour winner Bradley Wiggins and runner-up and heir apparent Chris Froome, has kept grand tour fans guessing who will ultimately lead the team come July. Following his Tour win, Wiggins committed to supporting Froome at the 2013 Tour and set his own sights on the Giro. But Wiggins has since made statements indicating that he wants to defend his crown in France, either as the designated leader, as co-leader, or perhaps most intriguingly to those familiar with cycling history, by letting the race decide.
On Monday, Sky boss David Brailsford did what he could to put rumors and chatter to rest, reiterating the team’s commitment to backing Froome at the Tour and dismissing the possibility of starting the race with two leaders. Assuming Brailsford’s statements accurately reflect the team’s mindset, the Giro will be Wiggins’ best and last chance to change his management’s mind. It will be an uphill battle in more ways than one.
So far this season, the publicly available data trend solidly in Froome’s favor. In winning the Tour of Oman, a stage of Tirreno-Adriatico, the Critérium International, and the Tour de Romandie, Froome has built a solid foundation for a run at the Tour and laid a strong claim to the leadership that was promised him after his supporting performance in 2012.
Wiggins has not been prominent on the results sheets in advance of the Giro, with a pair of fifth places in the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya and the Giro del Trentino as the centerpieces of his season to date. Collective Sky wins in the team time trials at both Trentino and on Sunday in stage 2 of the Giro are promising, but certainly not reminiscent of the storming run-in Wiggins had to his Tour victory. On Tuesday, he lost 17 seconds after he was gapped in the finale in Serra San Bruno.
Wiggins, however, has cast this season’s lackluster results as merely part of the plan. He has noted that, in keeping with Sky methodology, he has prioritized specific training in Mallorca and Tenerife over competition to ready himself for the Giro’s sharper climbs.
If he genuinely wants a shot at Sky’s top spot for the Tour and not just the No. 1 on his back, Wiggins will need to deliver the top result at the Giro. He has been unflinching in his assertion that he is in Italy to win, and anything less will be seen as a failure, even if a more reserved performance might be better preparation for a Tour defense.
But even if Wiggins takes the Giro by storm, there’s a catch. To lobby for full support in France, Wiggins would need to win the Giro in a manner that allows him to leave enough in reserve to allow the full recovery and rebuilding needed to mount a full-blown challenge at the Tour — all in the four weeks between the Giro finale in Breschia and the Tour start in Corsica. And in modern cycling, riders no longer have the luxury of simply pleading their readiness to directors. At data-driven Sky in particular, Wiggins will need to show the numbers to back up claims of readiness.
If Brailsford is as steadfast in his backing of Froome as his statements indicate, Wiggins’ Giro performance might have little impact on Sky’s actual Tour leadership decision but a substantial effect on how that decision will be perceived by fans. If Wiggins triumphs in Italy, denying him leadership status and a shot at a potential Giro/Tour double will be easily construed as a slap in the face of a defending champion and two-time grand tour winner. If he falters even slightly in Italy while Froome continues to thrive in his own preparation, supporting Froome will be more easily accepted as a calculated, pragmatic decision from the sport’s most pragmatic team.
- The focus of the USA Cycling Pro National Racing Calendar moved to New Mexico for the 27th Annual Silver Cityand#39;s Tour of the Gila powered by SRAM from May 1-5. After five days of stellar racing, there is a new menand#39;s leader and strong competition for standings points on the seven-event NRC.
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