There’s no colder test of individual prowess on a bike than the time trial, but there’s typically no more boring competition to watch. Riders cruise along flat terrain, in the bike fetal position, head down, back bent, grinding out mile after mile, chasing the ghost zephyr of the clock.
They’re laying it all on the line. But from a spectator standpoint, they might as well be at spinning class.
Leave it to this year’s Giro to throw in a diabolical wrinkle. Two days after the punishing climb of Monte Zoncolan, riders were cast back into the cauldron of oxygen debt and altitudinal nausea.
For the record, David Arroyo (ESP) held onto the pink jersey, although his lead shrank over rivals Ivan Basso (Liquigas) and Cadel Evans (BMC). Riding out of the saddle much of the route, Evans placed a surprising 28 seconds ahead of Basso, cutting Basso’s advantage almost in half.
Basso is now second overall, and Evans fourth.
The 13-kilometer profile of the Plan de Corones looked like the long side of a carpenter’s level. The final 1-kilometer kicker included a stretch of 24 percent grade, just how you like to finish a hard ride out of the saddle.
Plus much of the route is dirt and gravel, always a pace killer. And there was a headwind at the top. The only factor working in the riders’ favor today was the sunny weather, in the 70s at the start and the 50s at the top of the dirt climb.
Carlos Sastre, a strong climber, was riding a 34 X 28 gear, the only place outside Zoncolan and Angliru (Spain) where the bike gets fitted that low, according to his team mechanic (and VeloNews’ Andrew Hood).
Never in the Tour de France. This climb is that brutal.
34 X 28 … that’s our spinning gear! (Sastre, alas, was the day’s big disappointment, looking listless over most of the route and never challenging for the stage win.)
Alberto Contador, the winner of 2008’s Giro, finished fourth in this time trial at 40:48. The winner, Franco Pellizotti, averaged 19.14 kilometers an hour.
Most of the times in today’s stage, won by 2000 Giro overall champion Stefano Garzelli in 41:28, were well off the 2008 pace. It could be the result of the Giro’s difficulty level so far, and of Monte Zoncolan two days ago.
Also possible, in our view, is that the slower times are another pointer toward this year’s Giro as the true start of the post-doping era. The 2008 winner, Pellizotti, is under suspension for doping violations, and the No. 5 place, Riccardo Ricco, was suspended not long after the 2008 Giro for doping as well. The top six riders in 2008 were faster than today’s winning time over the same course.
On-road conditions also play a role, but today’s weather was perfect. Let’s hope it stays that way through the closing mountainous stages of the Giro.