Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Michele Scarponi had an amazing 2011, winning the overall titles at both Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro d'Italia (after Alberto Contador's backdated suspension). The veteran Italian arrived in 2012 as the odds-on favorite to defend his Giro title, but his run up to this year's race has been lackluster. Scarponi likely won't even ride the Tour de France, so if he can't deliver the goods in Italy, his 2012 will be viewed as an unfettered failure.
Ivan Basso, like his countryman Scarponi, needs a podium placing at the Giro to redeem what has been an absolutely horrible 2012 season thus far. Basso was a non-factor throughout the first third of the season, and he is currently racing the Giro (he almost didn't even line up due to poor form) with unknown form. This could play to his advantage as his rivals may underestimate him, but the more likely scenario is he'll be dropped spectacularly when the Giro heads into the high mountains. If that happens, he'll have few chances for the rest of the year to chase individual results. Worse still, a poor showing at the Giro this year could spell the end of Ivan Basso's run as a team captain at grand tours. How far the mighty have fallen.
Tyler Farrar has been a ghost thus far in 2012, and seems to lack that extra gear to get around his rivals in the sprints. In fact, since his dear friend Wouter Weylandt's tragic death at last year's Giro, Farrar has not been the same kind of racer. He wrung a win out of last year's Tour de France on pure emotion alone, but other than that he has struggled to hold the wheels of the world's fastest in the final 500 meters of races. Hopefully his form will improve throughout the Giro, and he arrives at the Tour de France guns blazing. Only 27, Farrar clearly has many years of productivity ahead, but he still has yet to acquire the killer instinct so common in great champions.
Thor Hushovd, to put it simply, has looked slow, fat and unmotivated thus far in 2012. He was a non-factor at his beloved Paris-Roubaix, and thus far at the Giro he has had his doors blown off in the finishing sprints (see the finish of stage 2 here for evidence). Ever since his Credit Agricole team folded, Hushovd has seemed lost on each team he has joined. He had a handful of strong performances at Cervelo TestTeam and Garmin-Transitions, but he looks more than ever like a square peg in a round hole at BMC. The "Bull from Grimstad" would be well-served to give serious thought to reaching out to Bjarne Riis with an eye on 2013. If anyone can help the big Norwegian gain elite status again, it is Riis.
Frank and Andy Schleck seem to arrive each year at the grand tours needing huge performances to redeem themselves. To their credit, they usually deliver. This year though things seem amiss as the two attempt to adjust to the management style of Johann Bruyneel. Lance Armstrong's former Director Sportif has split up the brothers as the grand tours approach, belatedly placing Frank Schleck on the Giro team as leader in Italy. Underwhelming performances from both Schlecks seem an inevitability for 2012, and if the two brothers don't transfer teams for 2013 it would be surprising, as they clearly don't mesh with Bruyneel.
Robert Gesink was once a 22 year old phenom that seemed to have limitless potential as a future grand tour winner. No more. Still only 25, increasingly Gesink looks like a man incapable of taking the pressure that comes with being a team leader. He has found himself unlucky at times with injuries and crashes, but at other times his form seems to be just plain bad. Like Farrar, he needs to find a no mercy mindset when racing if he is to become truly great. Until that happens, he'll likely continue to fizzle at the world's biggest races.
A year ago, each of the above riders would have been above reproach in regards to their performance and results, but a year has made all the difference. Now all of the above riders must dig deep, not only to preserve their reputations as consistent race favorites, but in some instances they need big results to ensure they can continue to earn a big paycheck from racing their bikes. Like it or not, the remainder of 2012 is pivotal for all six of the above riders for 2013 and beyond.
Posted by Briggs at 4:00 AM