Thursday, May 24, 2012

Giro d'Italia Bonus: Todd Gogulski takes us inside the Giro's final stages.

Cadence has a pretty large extended family.  As a member of that family I feel very lucky to know or have access to some pretty incredible talents in the cycling industry.  So when I was looking for a bit of insider info into the final days of this year's Giro d'Italia, I looked to one of Cadence's former coaches and current Universal Sports cycling commentator, Todd "GoGo" Gogulski.  
"GoGo" during his racing days
Todd Gogulski is a retired professional cyclist turned cycling broadcaster, and is currently covering the Giro d'Italia for Universal Sports, his ninth Grand Tour in the past four seasons. Often referred to as "GoGo" from his aggressive style of racing, he will be back in Philadelphia for the upcoming 28th edition of America's greatest single day race, the TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championship, which will be broadcast on Comcast SportsNet and the NBC Sports Network.  His cycling palmares are just as impressive as his broadcasting, with over 100 professional wins to his name between 1981-1991.  "GoGo" was twice the U.S worlds team captain, and raced on teams with cycling legends like Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong.  

I talked to Todd about what he thought of the last few key stages of the Giro and this is what he had to say:

"Yesterday's stage 17 had about 15,000' of climbing.  Stage 19 has almost 17,000' and then stage 20 has almost 20,000'.  Follow those with the 30km flat TT in Milan and you can see why everyone said this final week was going to be the most important.  There are realistically only four guys left in the race who can win:  Joaquim Rodriguez (note spelling of first name with the letter "m"), Ryder Hesjedal, Ivan Basso and Michele Scarponi.  From what I saw today, Ryder Hesjedal was the big winner in stage 17.  He's the best against the clock of the contenders, and he finished another very challenging day in a very enviable position:  only 30" from the overall lead, and not having to defend the Pink jersey.  Rodriguez has said that he thinks Ryder will put 2' into him in the final TT, Basso is thinking he will loose 1' and Scarponi was on the ropes today and is similar in ability to Basso in a TT, generally.  Obviously, there are no guarantees that Ryder would out-perform the others in the TT with the gaps mentioned here, but it looks good for him at this point.  But it's far from over, when you look back at the history books, neither Rodriguez nor Hesjedal have ever been this good this late in a grand tour, so this is uncharted water for them.  Basso knows what it takes as he has two Giro titles (2006, 2010), and Scarponi is also more accomplished over the three-week timeframe in being the defending champion.  What does this all tell me?  This race is still open, but only to these four guys.
Yesterday's Stage 17 profile
"Let's look further into stage 17.  Basso looked the strongest to me.  He set the bulk of the pace on the Passo Giau once he had used up his team.  Though it was a brutal day in the saddle, the fact that it wasn't a summit finish turned it into a bit of a stalemate up the final climb, so it was more of a race of attrition - eliminating some who were previously still in the hunt for the GC like Roman Kreuziger and outsiders like his teammate Paolo Tiralongo.  Michele Scarponi was in big trouble, dropped and cramping, but he retooled somehow and chased back on, and managed not to loose any time.  To see Ivan Basso's strength in the sprint, that was also telling for a guy who's sprint isn't legendary.  
Stage 19 profile. 
"I have also spoken with Joaquim's DS, Valerio Piva, since the finish of stage 17.  He told me that though stage 20 to the Stelvio via the Mortirolo (22% max gradient) is very famous and will be spectacular he actually thinks that stage 19 is harder and will be more selective.  Think about that, more selective than the a stage with 20,000' of climbing, five categorized climbs, including one with a 22% max gradient, followed by a summit finish at 9,000' - the highest ever for a Grand Tour.  Piva actually believes that stage 19 is one of the hardest stages of the Giro in years, and he was there last year when the stages were so challenging that the director of the Giro was relieved of his position after the race.  So what's all the fuss over stage 19 about?  All the big climbs come in succession in the last half of the race, and the Pampeago (which they do 2x), is consistently over 11% and has a 16% pitch just 1.4km from the finish.  So, it's the classic juxtaposition, length of grade verses severity of grade, and we will find out in the next couple days what creates greater separation.
Stage 20 ends atop the legendary Passo Dello Stelvio.
"Here are my predictions:
Stage 19 is going to be a free-for-all.  Rodriguez knows he needs more time for the stage 21 TT in Milan.  He's got the punch to put the other GC men into serious trouble on steep climbs, and there is an actual summit finish for stage 19 on the Alpe di Pampeago so there's no time to catch back up on the run-in to the finish.  It's not a super long climb at 7.7km/4.8mi, and Rodriguez is the best in the world at climbs like that when he's on.  Rodriguez will go on the rampage and leave the others scrambling to limit their losses.  If Rodriguez gains over 1' 30" on Hesjedal, he's in the driver's seat to win the Giro.  But the next day, will he crack after such a huge effort?  On long climbs in a Grand Tour he's always had at least one bad day, and the finish on the Stelvio is plenty long at 22.4km/13.9mi.  So he won't be out of the woods until the Stelvio is over.  

Ultimately, there is nobody who has yet shown that they will be the winner of the overall in Milan, and stages 19 and 20 can show the advantage swing one way and then the other before the TT settles the score.

Currently Hesjedal has won the battle, but will he win the war?

It's going to be a great weekend."
I couldn't have said it better myself--which is why I didn't even try.  I want to thank Todd for taking the time to give me his insider perspective on what I'm sure will be an exciting few days in Italy. 
Check out Todd's own blog here and be sure to tweet him @BiciGoGo.  Also don't forget to ask your local cable provider to carry Universal Sports here

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