Monday, May 21, 2012

Rest day conclusions

With six stages to go in the year's first Grand Tour, the peloton today takes a well deserved breather before the racing gets underway again with a punchy stage to Pfalzen tomorrow. For Euskaltel's part, the search for a stage win goes on, but Mikel Nieve is not too far off a top ten overall and should have plenty of chances to climb the standings in the traditionally hard last week. Here's what we've learned from the first 15 stages:

A top ten is realistic for Nieve:
Mikel Nieve have surprised quite a few with solid racing in the mountains, especially as his season up to the Giro was a nightmare. After a disastrous first week of racing (time loss-wise that is), he's now a healthy 18th on GC. He's 4:20 off Rodríguez in the pink jersey, so that's never going to happen, but he's no more than 2:07 off Sandy Casar in tenth. With stages to Pfalzen, Cortina, Alpe di Pampeago and Stelvio to go, he's in line to better his placing of last year. Some of the guys ahead of him, like Cunego, Moreno, Tschopp, De Gendt, Casar and Cataldo, to name but a few, should be within his reach if current form is anything to go by, while Pozzovivo and Urán's travails yesterday should further encourage him. Stage 19 to Pampeago should suit him to a tee what with the distance and numerous climbs, meaning a stage win isn't a utopia either. If he is to achieve his goals of a top ten and a top stage placing though, there's no hiding his team-mates have to provide better support in the high mountains than what they've been able to provide thus far. He's been well looked after on the flats, but equally isolated on the climbs.

The Giro is hard on Euskaltel's debutants:
While Euskaltel have done their faire share in animating the race through breaks, the race is taking its toll on the team. The likes of Cabedo, Sáez and Izagirre deserved credit for toughing it out in their maiden three-week race and looking out for their leader expertly on the flats, but they've been rather anonymous up until this point. The breaks have been Minguez and Txurruka's property (and Cazaux's to a lesser extent), and it would be ideal if they could share the burden with more members of the team. A few of the stages, Wednesday's ride to Cortina in particular, should suit a punchy guy like Izagirre, while tomorrow's ride to Pfalzen is tough to call.

Oroz should get into a break:
One of the most versatile riders on the team, Juan José Oroz, has enjoyed a relatively strong, if somewhat subdued, Giro so far. The 31-year-old is 42nd overall and has been climbing solidly whilst helping out Nieve, but could be a dangerous man for the team if he was to get into a break on one of the remaining stages. He climbs and descends well, and is no mean rouleur, so he'd be tough for any break to shell out the back. He's probably tasked with road captaining duties in this race, but should be given the freedom to hunt breaks.

Velasco is a warrior:
Iván Velasco deserves huge credit for keeping at it in this Giro after his hard fall in stage 10. His injuries, which have seen his whole left side bandaged up, would have given the majority of the riders a welcome excuse to abandon (hey Fränk!), but he's still in there. We all remember how he broke his collarbone towards the end of stage five in last year's Tour but still got up and finished the stage, so he's quickly establishing a reputation as one of the peloton's hard guys. The rest day could have not come at a better time for him.

Txurruka is back:
The Amets Txurruka we all know seem to have returned in this Giro. Injuries have ruined his last few seasons, but he's stayed out of trouble thus far (except for a minor crash in the TTT) and is now reaping the benefits. His climbing seems to be improving by the day, and the last week offers a plethora of chances for breaks to go all the way. If he's interested, the blue jersey of best climber should also be up for grabs as he's eighth in that particular competition, 30 points off Rabottini.

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