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Giro d’Italia 2013: five observations – part three

The 2013 Giro d’Italia lived up to all the hype, providing drama on almost every stage. 

The Giro was a significant success for Great Britain, despite Wiggins’ woes, thanks largely to Mark Cavendish, but also to stage eight winner, Alex Dowsett, stage two winners, Team Sky, and the exemplary service of Steve Cummings (BMC Racing) and Adam Blythe (BMC Racing) for two of the sport’s superteams.

The home nation, of course, had more to celebrate, thanks not only to a career-defining success for Vincenzo Nibali, but also to a septet of stage wins, and ownership of half of the jerseys on offer.

Here are five observations on the final week of the 96th corsa rosa.

Forza Cav!

Mark Cavendish has entered his peak years with Omega Pharma-Quickstep. It’s time to enjoy them

After an unsettled season at Team Sky last year, Mark Cavendish returned to his very best at the 2013 Giro d’Italia. A tally of five stage wins tells its own story, but overall victory in the points competition, and definitive ownership of the maglia rossa will perhaps mean more to the Manxman, given how close he has come in recent years (Cavendish lost out to Joaquim Rodriguez last year, on the final stage and by a single point). This year, he rolled up his sleeves and scrapped for every point, regardless of terrain or weather, in a race that offered little reward for sprinters. By doing so, he completed the set of Grand Tour points jerseys, adding to those won at the Vuelta a Espana in 2010 and the Tour de France in 2011, proving those who predicted his departure at the mid-way point of the Giro spectacularly wrong.

The varied nature of Cavendish’s victories, sometimes led out by team-mates, on other occasions making his own luck, proved again his versatility. His sheer speed, however, is what continues to set Cavendish apart from his rivals. Sacha Modolo (Bardiani-Valvole) had a bike length on the former world road race champion as they closed on the finish in Brescia, but Cavendish revealed afterwards he had only been riding at 80 or 90 per cent of his capability early in the sprint. The Manx Missile at 100 per cent is a terrifying prospect for his rivals. After an early career as HTC’s wunderkind, and a success rate below his own high standards at Team Sky, Cavendish has clearly begun his peak years with Omega Pharma-QuickStep, a happy coincidence for the Belgian squad, whose sprint train continues to falter. It’s time to enjoy what could be Cavendish’s best years.

Shark Attack

The first of Vincenzo Nibali’s stage wins came in the unexpected surroundings of a time trial

The Shark devoured his rivals at this Giro d’Italia, showing his teeth in every discipline: climbing, descending, and even time trialing at a pace beyond his rivals. Bradley Wiggins’ departure made little difference to the overall outcome. The Giro witnessed a Nibali improved in every department, especially in time trials. After dropping only 11 seconds to Wiggins on the stage eight test, he romped to victory against the clock on stage 18.

What next for the Astana leader? It will take an iron will to resist the lure of the centenary edition of the Tour de France, and stick to his stated goal of riding the Vuelta a Espana as preparation for a serious attempt at the world road race championships in Florence. Nibali’s undefeated record on Italian soil this year, with overall victories in Tirenno-Adriatico and the Giro del Trentino, as well as the corsa rosa, will place him among the favourites for the rainbow jersey should he stick to plan A. The temptation to test what is obviously the form of his life against his rivals in what is likely to be the most significant Tour of his lifetime will be difficult to ignore.

The Giro vs. the Tour

The 2013 Giro d’Italia provided far more drama than the 2012 Tour de France. La Grande Boucle must raise its game for this year’s centenary edition

The Giro d’Italia proved to be very much its own race again this year. The corsa rosa as mere hors d’oeuvre to the Tour is a concept that exists only in the mind of the casual observer. The greater challenge of its peaks and of its weather proved that the Giro is a challenge separate from, not inferior to, La Grande Boucle. With minimal transfers and superb stewardship when the weather threatened to disrupt the race entirely proved that race director, Michele Acquarone, and his team were very much in control of events, rather than being controlled by them. Fans may have missed out on the spectacle of the Stelvio and the Gavia, the San Pellegrino and the Giau, but stage 20 made up for passes absent and provided a classic, snowbound finish to rival Andy Hampsten’s blizzard-beating trip across the Gavia in 1988. The 2012 Tour de France, British interest aside, was dull by comparison. The ASO is preparing to roll out the big guns for this year’s centenary Tour. The Giro will not allow them to be complacent.

Rigoberto Uran Uran – so good, they named him twice

Team Sky’s Rigoberto Uran gave everything on stage 20 to take second place on the road and second overall

Uran proved to be the finest of the finest contingent of South American riders since the Café de Columbia squad of the late 1980s. Team Sky’s stand-in leader gave nothing less than his all on every stage, despite knowing in his heart that the time sacrificed waiting for Wiggins on stage seven had cost him any realistic chance of overall victory. His determination on stage 20, refusing to allow a blizzard to deter him from the business of snatching second overall from an ailing Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), was symptomatic of his approach to the race. He is likely to do duty again at the Tour, having already ridden in service of Froome at Tirreno, prompting the question, just how many potential leaders does Team Sky have? Word on the street is that Uran will head for pastures new next season. Dave Brailsford and his staff must make the most of Uran’s considerable talents while he remains.

Forza Gran Bretagna!

National time trial champion, Alex Dowsett, did Britain proud by winning stage eight

The 2013 Giro d’Italia was a significant success for British teams and riders. Cavendish’s five stages are reason enough for celebration, but the coming of age of Alex Dowsett, seemingly entirely at home with his new team Movistar, and hugely impressive in winning the stage eight time trial, provided further reason to be cheerful. And before it all went wrong for Bradley Wiggins, his Sky team crushed their opposition in the team time trial on stage two. It’s fair to assume that the Olympic time trial champion played more than a supporting role in this success. Steve Cummings and Adam Blythe (both BMC Racing) did a sterling service for one of the biggest teams in the sport. Riders from our shores now routinely feature among the world’s best, a pleasing state of affairs underlined in the Giro.

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