Giro d'Italia - Five lessons from stage 15
An outstanding ride from Mikel Nieve made it two victories in as many days for the Basque team Euskaltel - who had previously never won on the Giro in their 17-year history.
Talk about buses all arriving at the same time. Usually the only Spanish one-twos you get in Italy are consecutive dope test failures. This, however, was just pure class by the Basque boys in orange.
And these were no normal stages either: Saturday's jolly up Monte Zoncolan and Sunday's interminable jaunt through the Dolomites were easily the toughest two days on this brutal 93rd edition of the Giro.
So, what did we learn from Sunday's epic action?
Johnny Hoogerland is a sponsors dream: The Dutchman is fast proving himself to be the most exciting, if unpredictable, rider in the peloton. Hoogerland is clearly a lunatic, but in the nicest sense of the word. At first, BS thought he was perhaps just a little tactically naive; now, it's obvious that Hoogerland simply gets bored riding in the peloton and is carried away by a great story over any leaning towards realism. For example: winning stage 7 on his birthday, or aiming to be the first Dutchman to take the Cima Coppi. As long as he keeps on attacking, the Grand Tour stage win will surely come at some point - and while we're waiting, he's giving Vacansoleil loads of positive air time.
Nibali is a downhill maniac: You'd think the combination of lashing rain, melting snow and narrow, steep descents might make most riders take things easy; no such reasoning for Vicenzo Nibali. The Italian roared down the back of the Passo Giau as if there were no tomorrow - and for the first time in God knows when, Alberto Contador actually looked concerned. Take note Andy Schleck: this is how you should ride a Grand Tour. Nibali then lost 57 seconds on the Passo di Fedaia - but then made it up again on the downhill. Contador's face, when informed of the Shark's return by Roman Kreuziger, was something to savour.
Bad day for the Grupetto: Seeing that stage winner Nieve came home in 7 hours 27 minutes and 14 seconds, it was never exactly going to be stroll in the park for the stragglers. The combination of the Giau, the Fedaia and the final climb to Gardeccia-Val di Fassa was the cycling equivalent of being punched in the face, kicked in the ribs and then spat on when wincing in pain on the gravel. Australian Matthew Wilson was the last rider to finish, 44:55 down on Nieve - that's almost eight and a quarter hours in the saddle. And footballers complain when they have to play two 90-minute matches in a week.
Fanatical fans are no fun: They may think they're doing their favourite riders a favour while running alongside them, topless, and shouting in their ear. But they're probably not. On Stefano Garzelli's way to crossing the summit of the Fedaia, one half-naked, ginger-haired and generously insulated tifoso did just this for about 20 seconds. In the end, Garzelli just clobbered him with his elbow. That'll learn him!
If at first you can't succeed, then try dirty tactics: Hats off to Nibali who tried his best to use his most potent weapon - descending - to destabilise Contador. But despite his best efforts, the tenacious Spaniard was holding his own. So BS can understand Nibali's decision, alongside former team-mate Kreuziger, to attack the Spaniard when he had dropped back to chat to his team car. Great spectacle - and given his track record on fairplay (remember Chaingate?) Bertie could have no complaints.