5 things for Irish cycling to take from the Giro d’Italia

Posted on: May 31st, 2018

Irish cycling

Irish cycling and the Giro: The Bennett-Sagan mix at Bora-hansgrohe is something the Irishman, and his team, obviously needs to manage. But with Bennett’s stock having shot up during the Giro, his riding the Tour in the same line-up as Sagan is definitely not impossible in the years ahead.

 

1 The manner of Sam Bennett’s stage wins

No analysis of the Giro would have any credibility without starting with Sam Bennett.

He went to the race looking for a stage win and came home with three. And for a Giro that was said to hold few opportunities for the sprinters, the Irishman and Elia Viviani claimed seven stages between them.

Two of Bennett’s wins came in straight-out bunch sprints. They were against Viviani, who has been having his best season ever.

He has 10 wins already this year, three points classification victories and also claimed the Dubai Tour overall.

But in Rome last Sunday and into Praia a Mare on stage 7, Bennett went up against Viviani and his QuickStep lead-out, arguably the best in the world, and was simply too fast for them.

Those wins show he can beat any sprinter in the world in any race.

His victories in Paris-Nice and Sparkassen Münsterland Giro last year had already proven that point. He beat the fastest men in the world on both occasions.

But it was Bennett’s win into Imola on stage 12 that was most impressive.  It was windy and wet; the bunch splitting with 25km remaining.

And even some of the general classification men commented on how hard it was.

Yet Bennett was so comfortable in the closing stages, up a categorised climb towards the finish, he briefly went off the front to keep out of trouble.

 

Irish cycling

Bennett and Sagan may star in the same line-up at the Tour de France; in the years ahead.

 

Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida) and Carlos Betancur (Movistar) attacked late. And it looked like they just might hang on.

But Bennett sprang from the bunch so early it proved to be an attack that closed down the escapees. And then he had to sprint off that effort; much easier said than done.

The footage, especially the overhead shots, showed just how powerful Bennett was. It was reminiscent of Sean Kelly at his best.

And but for Mohoric and Nico Denz (AG2R La Mondiale) attacking on stage 10 and surviving, Bennett would have won that too. In the end he took the bunch sprint for 3rd.

The Imola stage profile, as we have said, featured an undulating finale. It meant in the analysis before the stage Bennett was to be counted into the shake-up while the other sprinters were automatically ruled out.

And therein lays the real success of this Giro for Bennett; he won pure sprinter stages but when it came to ‘road men’ stages he was the only sprinter strong enough to make the grade.

That versatility is invaluable. And it gives him endless options for the years ahead.

 

2 Ryan Mullen’s step forward

Having misjudged his efforts in the opening TT at the Giro, Ryan Mullen had two weeks of stages before he got another shot against the clock.

The stage 16 TT was mostly flat at 34.2km in length. Mullen is already a world class tester and has been since he was a junior.

At every major championship, without a big climb, he is always a rider who people feel might pull off a result for Ireland.

 

Irish cycling

A quality tester, Mullen has now done it at a Grand Tour, though cramping prevented his securing the result he would have.

 

And as an U23 he claimed silver at the Worlds. He was beaten to gold by less than one second by Campbell Flakemore of Australia, who has since abandoned pro cycling.

He also claimed bronze in the TT at the elite European Championships last year.

But one new feature about the second Giro test for Ryan Mullen was that it came after a very hard couple of weeks racing.

Furthermore, it followed some very, very hard climbing which does not suit riders like Mullen.

Because of that, it was far from a foregone conclusion he would race with his usual strength against the clock. But that’s exactly what he did.

His 13th on the stage was a very good result. But it doesn’t reflect the full story.

Mullen cramped and had to freewheel for a while. He was also forced to ease back a little to try to deal with the cramp.

While he was 13th, he was only 12 seconds off 9th place. And without his problems he would have, at the very least, broken into the top 10.

This ride was a hugely positive sign for Mullen. His ability to perform like that in the middle of a Grand Tour – his first ever – is a new departure and a big step forward.

And with a career first Grand Tour now in his legs, he will take significant added strength and experience from it.

Furthermore, let’s not forget Mullen was in breakaways on two stages, including the finale into Rome.

This Giro, from an Irish perspective, was all about Sam Bennett. But it was also very significant for Trek Segafredo man Mullen.

A very big win is coming for him, and it will very likely be this year.

 

3 Nicolas Roche’s testing Giro

This was a difficult Giro for Roche and a hard one to analyse. His brother Florian has been diagnosed with serious illness again.

 

Irish cycling

With his teenage brother diagnosed with serious illness Nicolas Roche’s mind, understandably, looked elsewhere.

 

Roche wrote about that in his Giro Diary and he struck a positive tone. But the Irish rider simply did not look himself on this race.

And with other things on his mind, it is perhaps not surprising.

The fact he has ridden 19 Grand Tours and this is the first he has abandoned says it all.

Roche’s plan after leaving the race was to go and see his brother Florian in hospital. That was a strong indication where his mind was at during the Giro.

His performance in the race is a reminder, if it were needed, that even the top pro riders aren’t robots.

We wish him, and Florian and the rest of the Roche family, our best. And there is no doubt Roche will be back in the thick of it soon on the bike.

But sometimes other things are simply more important.

 

4 Bad Giro for Dan Martin

It may seem strange to include Dan Martin here, seeing as he wasn’t even in the race. But Giro d’Italia 2018 has implications for him; possibly big ones.

Martin joined UAE Team Emirates on a two-year contact specifically for support in the Tour de France. Fabio Aru also signed for the team during the off season.

Aru was to focus on the Giro and Martin on the Tour; a pretty simple plan. In recent months the noises coming from the team have been more mixed.

 

Irish cycling

Fabio Aru may have win the 2015 Vuelta, but he had an awful Giro. And, for now anyway, that doesn’t look like great news for team mate Dan Martin.

 

Aru has never been ruled out of the Tour. The Italian champion had a dismal Giro; abandoning on stage 19. He was 27th overall at the time, more than 45 minutes down.

Having performed so badly, the pressure will be on Aru to get back on track and earn his corn at the Tour.

It seems inconceivable now that he won’t ride the Tour de France. Anything is possible, of course. He may skip it and ride the Vuelta instead.

But his poor form, and Martin’s lack of results so far this season, means this is now a team under pressure.

And that very likely means both the Irishman and the Italian will start the Tour.

It would, in theory, maximise the team’s chances in what is rapidly becoming a mission to rescue the 2018 campaign.

Having said that, Martin is the type of rider who can win big before the Tour, which would ease nerves in the team.

And Aru’s presence, if it happens, may make no difference whatsoever to Dan Martin during the Tour. They may even work well together.

But sharing team leadership in July is not what Martin joined this team for.

Only time will tell how it all pans out. But following Aru’s bad Giro, it now has the potential to get messy.

Aru aside, Chris Froome’s win at the Giro is not good news for Martin. Had Froome won after being in top form for the whole race, his ability to peak again for the Tour would be in question.

In hindsight he was very undercooked in the early stages. And having only hit his stride in the last days of the race, peaking again for the Tour seems well within his reach.

The Giro seems to have panned out perfectly for a Chris Froome looking towards the Tour; something that doesn’t suit Dan Martin.

 

5 Irish cyclists at the Tour de France

With so much Irish interest in the Giro, it follows there will be fewer Paddies in the Tour de France.

Most riders who contest the Giro won’t go on and ride the Tour. It looks certain neither Bennett nor Mullen will be there.

Bennett said himself that with Peter Sagan also in his Bora-hansgrohe team; having both of them in the Tour might be tricky.

 

Irish cycling

Dan Martin has ridden so well at the Tour over the past two years, taking 6th overall last year despite a very bad crash.

 

We think it can happen and probably will happen; but not this year. A rest and a ride in the Vuelta looks like the order of the day for Bennett.

For Mullen; having just ridden his first Grand Tour, and as he is still only 23 years old, riding the Tour would be crazy.

It is unclear what Roche’s plans are and we will hopefully catch up with him in the next few days.

Philip Deignan is unlikely to get the nod by Team Sky for the Tour, simply because of the competition for places.

That means only Dan Martin is a nailed on certainty to ride the Tour. And it seems certain the only other Irish rider who may contest the three-week race in France is Roche.

However, the Irish should be out in number for the Vuelta. And there are world class riders in the mountains, sprints and time trials now in the ‘Irish line-up’.

It means the Vuelta could be a spectacular event from an Irish perspective.

 

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