Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bob Roll's Thoughts about the Giro

"Lance Armstrong will not win the Giro D’Italia. Levi Leipheimer however might very well do so. Lance better than anybody recognizes you can’t win every battle if you want to win the war. It’s well known that Lance’s war has always been fought at the Tour De France. Let’s not forget that Astana was not invited to last years Tour de France and had no been invited to the Tour when Lance had decided to compete in Giro. Now that that situation has been rectified I believe Lance will go all out at the Tour and use the Giro D’Italia to build his fitness rather than make an all out assault on winning it. In bike-racing sometimes prudence is as important as power. Realistically speaking 3 years is a long time, even for the greatest Tour de France champions and a broken collarbone will definitely take the wind out of your sails.

Nobody racing today is as capable of overcoming these obstacles as Lance Armstrong but even for Lance the Giro D’Italia comes a bit early in his comeback and the Tour is a more realistic prize that is still within his grasp. Lance will emerge from this race with absolutely spectacular fitness and flying form. I believe his form will be as good as it was during his hay day when he won 7 Tours in a row because number 1- the food is awesome, number 2-the media blitz and high pressured frenzy that are hallmarks at the tour is slightly muted during the Giro D’Italia and it gives the athletes a more relaxed atmosphere which helps build fitness, number 3 – Lance will under a bit less pressure to perform himself and has shown he is perfectly happy working for his teammates, most notably Levi Leipheimer at the Amgen Tour of California, 4 – While the Giro D’Italia is difficult contest physically the intensity of the battle for position is slightly less than it is during the Tour which gives all the riders a tiny bit more space on the road. All of these factors add up to an excellent formula that Lance can use to move forward with his main objective of the year, the Tour De France.

The Giro D’Italia will enable Lance to win the Tour De France. The Giro D’Italia turns 100 years old this year and is going to be a gorgeous race. It begins with a team time trial in Venice, one of the most beautiful cities on earth. It finishes in the eternal city, Rome. In between those two landmarks a very classic Giro D’Italia will be fought out. Some of the ridiculous climbs that have been featured in the last couple years have been replaced by more rational and in the end competitive stages. There will be no more dirt roads to the top of Ski Mountains as there was last year, thankfully. There is however a very challenging individual time trial along the coast of the famed Cinque Terre. This is not mountainous but is very long, is very technical and brutally hilly and favors the rider with experience, raw power, and fantastic bike-handling skills. Riders like Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer.

Levi has been astoundingly prominent in the time trial discipline and it’s been a long time since he has lost one of these contests. A course that is as difficult and technical will provide Levi with a chance to gain even more time. Anybody that wants to beat Levi will need a 3-5 minute cushion depending on their time trial abilities. For Lance Armstrong the Giro D’Italia provides the perfect racing opportunity to build his fitness for the Tour De France. More importantly the Giro also provides Lance with enough time to recuperate from the huge effort before the Tour De France begins. Astana will bring a very talented team to the Giro D’Italia and the proven track record of success that Johan Bruyneel has had in the grand tours.

The Giro D’Italia is a very difficult race to win for anybody that is either not Italian or not on an Italian team. Both of these things happened last year when Bruyneel delivered Alberto Contador successfully to a grand tour victory which no other director could have accomplished given the short notice Astana was provided before last years edition. The Italians always bring all of their passion and competiveness to the Giro D’Italia Levi’s main challenger is likely to be his former discovery teammate Ivan Basso. Basso is returning from a 2 year suspension because of his admitted involvement with the scandalous doping Dr. Fuentes. Basso has a lot to prove, is riding well, and has a very strong and dedicated team and the hopes of his nation rest on his slender shoulders. Basso won the Giro D’Italia in dominant fashion the last time he competed in 2006. It remains to be seen whether or not basso can recapture that winning form in a race of 3 weeks duration.

For American fans not only Lance and Levi are to be followed as the Garmin-Slipstream squad won the team time trial last year putting Christian Vandevelde into the pink leader’s jersey who became the first American to lead this race since Andy Hampsten did in 1988. Tyler Farrar has proven himself to be fast enough to beat the best in the sprints but more importantly he’s also proved himself capable of surviving stages that don’t suit pure sprinters. The sprints will be a spectacle at this years Giro D’Italia as the other American team Columbia-Highroad send the fastest man on 2 wheels Mark Cavendish. What’s going to be fun top watch is these two battle it out. Cavendish might have the edge on a pancake flat stage but Tyler can get over some hard climbs, as he showed in the Tour of Romandie, while the pure sprinters will very likely be dropped in a number of Giro D’Italia stages that are not pancake flat and yet not in the high mountains.

The Giro D’Italia is a spectacular bike race and I am sorry to report that only one American has ever won the race, his name is Andy Hampsten and I’m happy to say I rode on his team in 1988 when he won. The Tour De Franc is so massive and the prestige that winning bestows is so lucrative American bike racers have always focused more on the Tour de France than the Giro D’Italia. I hope that this year another American can add their name to the list of winners. I believe that the pink jersey, given to the race leader and overall winner, is the most distinguished of all the prizes in cycling. Everyone knows about the yellow jersey. Let’s hope that this year that the fame and luster of the pink jersey can rub off on the American cycling fans through Lance Armstrong participation. Lance has never raced the Giro D’Italia and I hope he enjoys it as much as I did when I was a professional. People ask me what my favorite race when I was racing and I always tell them it is the Giro D’Italia."

After the Giro we'll get back to "regular programming": everything from A to Z about Italian cycling. Stories, including cycling trip stories, for the Italian Cycling Journal welcome; contact

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