We’ve often wished the Grand Tours featured at least one downhill time trial. At first blush it sounds a bit pointless: Don’t you mainly coast downhill on a bike? Why have a race?
As today’s riveting Giro d’Italia Stage 19 proved, downhilling can be just as thrilling as ascending.
In the mountain biking world, of course, downhilling is a whole separate World Cup event and series. As we watched the world’s top pro road riders take wide turns, brake at the wrong time and fail to leverage banking, we wondered if they shouldn’t hire someone like world champion Steve Peat or former rainbow jersey holder Sam Hill to advise on descending ability.
One rider did stand out: Race leader David Arroyo of Caisse d’Épargne, who made up a stunning minute on the stage leader, Ivan Basso, during the descent down from the vicious climb up legendary Passo del Mortirolo, averaging 10 percent grade over eight miles. On rain-slickened pavement, Arroyo was a velo zephyr, gliding through turns and bulleting down straights like he was riding aloft.
It looked like Arroyo might have saved his pink jersey as race leader with his alacritous descent. It was not to be — Ivan Basso rode into the lead with power and grace up Mortirolo and the final climb to Aprica — but for us, Arroyo’s flight down was as memorable a ride as Stage 19 had to offer. If anything, the stage showed why ascending skills are so much more crucial on the road, and why descending gets little attention. Basso not only made up gaps he lost on descent, he improved on his margins.
In the end, Basso finally made the inevitable a reality, using his inspiring ascents and a 12-second time bonus for finishing second on the stage to take the pink jersey by nearly a minute. Basso finished behind Michele Scarponi (Androni Giocattoli) and ahead of Liquigas teammate Vincenzo Nibali, this Giro’s breakout star, at the finish of the stage.
Other favorites, Cadel Evans (BMC), Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) and Carlos Sastre (Cervelo), were bunched with Arroyo across the finish line three minutes behind Basso’s break.
Unless Arroyo can pull off a miracle, or something untoward happens to Basso, the 2010 Giro d’Italia belongs to the Italian, who won the Giro in 2006. Tomorrow’s mountain stage, even more brutal than today’s (plus snow may fall), could provide an opportunity for Arroyo — if it went further downhill than up. As it is, the stage will peak over hallowed Gavia Pass, the highest point of this year’s Giro and the fourth of five withering climbs in the stage.
Full VeloNews report.