CyclingRevealed's Giro Perspective
Tappa 9, May 15th,
Francavilla al Mare to Termoli, 147 km
Return of the Gruppeto
Surviving and succeeding at a Grand Tour is greatly impacted by measuring effort and focusing on recovery. For the past two days the GC contenders and mountain goats have been wreaking havoc on the bunch. Those with no GC pretensions took a back seat. The sprinters, domestiques under orders to ride easy as preparation for later stages, those experiencing their first Grand Tour, riders with poor form and others either exhausted, injured or sick from previous stages occupy the “gruppeto”.
The gruppeto (which is known as the ‘autobus' at the Tour de France) usually rolls in a long way behind the days winner. Yesterday Robbie McEwen reached the finish with his gruppeto 23mins 48secs after Basso. The day before that Robbie's gruppeto had arrived over 21mins after stage winner Rik Verbrugghe. Yesterday Verbrugghe accompanied McEwen in the gruppeto obviously paying for the efforts from his outstanding stage win the day before. Another ‘passenger' on both days was CSC's Bobby Julich who was suffering badly from pollen allergies.
For the gruppeto riders there are two key objectives; firstly to use as little energy as possible to get to the finish and secondly to arrive ahead of the time cut to avoid elimination from the race.
Today's stage profile was once again to the liking of the sprinters. Consequently many of the previous two stages gruppeto riders (especially the sprinters and their domestiques) were dictating the race. Other domestiques that had languished in the gruppeto were now enrolled up front to protect their GC team leaders as the sprint teams set about their business. Yet other gruppeto riders who had been harboring their strength set out on their optimistic quest in a break to foil the sprinters.
Again today the riders had little time to appreciate the drop-dead gorgeous Adriatic vacation coastline as a hard working break of just two riders attempted to be the first to reach Termoli. Yuriy Krivtsov (Ag2r) and Cyrille Monnerais (FdJ) were both gruppeto comrades these past two days. Yesterday Monnerais was in McEwen's gruppeto, second last in 186th place 23'48" behind Basso and Krivtsov was in the gruppeto four minutes ahead of Monnerais. The day before yesterday (Stage 7) both Monnerais and Krivtsov arrived together in the last gruppeto 21mins behind stage winner Verbrugghe.
The bunch dangled the two “gruppeto-istas” out front for most of the day. A perfect scenario to give the rest of the peloton a relatively leisurely day. On queue the domestiques were ordered up front to start the slow erosion of the break's advantage with about 45km to go. Monnerais was dropped by Krivtsov and then snuffed out by the bunch at 35km to go. A powerful looking Krivtsov resisted until he too succumbed in the hills approaching the finish town with 30km to go. ‘Gruppo compatto', the advantage now turned to the sprinters.
(top) Vaitus nips Bettini, (bottom) Bettini's celebration is too early [ Images ©: www.gazzetta.it ]
Today the gruppeto ruled. Tomas Vaitkus (Ag2r) just edged out Paolo Bettini in a photo finish. Robbie McEwen was fourth just inches behind his distinguished gruppeto mate of yesterday Olaf Pollack (T-Mobile). Vaitkus had ridden in McEwen's gruppeto for the past two days. Out of the top ten places today, six of the riders were Robbie's gruppeto companions over the past couple of days. And what of Krivtsov and Monnerais today? For all their breakaway efforts their only reward was to finish with today's gruppeto!
Tomas Vaitkus (Ag2r) the happy stage winner [ Images by Fotoreporter Sirotti ]
On a daily basis you may ignore the long list of riders cruising in long after the winner, but often this list will give strong clues as to what is ahead. This is yet another example of the complexity and fascination of professional cycle racing. So beware of ‘the return of the gruppeto'!
Tomorrow: the race reaches its southernmost point in Italy this year. The 190km from Termoli to Peschici starts and finishes on the coast but along its way tackles some small, twisting inland roads that have break written all over them. Check back for our report.
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