this article originally appeared on The Roar.
Ah Cadel! Gallant perseverance proved to not quite be enough in the end, and didn’t he look to be suffering on the bike on Stage 15.
As the race for the GC headed up the Montecampione ahead of him, Cadel looked spent. He didn’t lose too time much in truth, but then this wasn’t a particularly hard mountain. Steeper inclines could have spelt more trouble for him, something he’ll have to face in the final week.
At the top of the climb, once he had climbed off the bike in the knowledge that the deficit to race leader Uran Uran had grown to 1:03, he still refused to give up the race.
Which is why Cadel Evans is Cadel Evans.
“Today wasn’t my best day and I think Uran raced very well, while I probably could have raced a little bit better. But there’s not much I can do about that now,” said Evans.
“I think as I understand I lost 15 seconds [actually 31] today but that isn’t a lot on a bad day. We’ll see what that means. We’ve still got a lot of difficult days to come. I’m not going to give up for sure. This Giro is so close that anything could happen.”
Uran Uran may have suffered slightly on Stage 14 but he looked good on Sunday, and Evans is going to have to watch over his shoulder for the men behind him on the GC. Right now, Rafal Majka and Fabio Aru look quite likely to make more gains on the Australian in the hills and to threaten his podium spot.
Rigoberto Uran Uran might be a man missing two ‘D’s from his name, but he certainly stamped some Colombian authority on the race. He pulled out a scintillating time trial that would have left his rivals doing little more than shaking their heads after Stage 12.
Uran is no stranger to challenges – he lost his father months after he had introduced him to cycling, when he was tragically assassinated by one of Colombia’s many paramilitary gangs.
There’s no doubt that the native of Urrao can ride a bike, but that he had that in him was surprising, at least to me.
At Sky though, his natural instincts had obviously been blunted by team orders. Too many big guns in one squad does not a happy team bus make, but Sky’s loss is Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s gain and their management will be rightly thrilled to have finally found a man for the GC in the Grand Tours.
OPQS have been sorely lacking one for years, so he is a welcome addition and still young even in cycling terms, at 27, to get even better. He seems to be coming nicely into his own. I’d pin the ‘favourite’ badge on him firmly now.
Evans, though I wish it was otherwise, is I think on the wane. Fabio Ura looked great on Stage 15 and moved to fourth but I think Uran Uran could dig deep in necessary and go with him, or at least limit his losses, when required.
Which brings us to Tinkoff-Saxo’s Rafal Majka, the 24-year-old Polish rider who has put in a fantastic ride so far to sit in third on the GC.
I’ll admit that he was completely off my radar before the race and many would have had to google him when the commentators first mentioned his name at this Giro, but he’s embedded himself in cycling’s consciousness now quite firmly.
In his second year as a pro, he took the Best Young Rider classification at the Tour of Beijing to signal his stage racing pedigree, but his third at last year’s Giro di Lombardia was the more impressive result.
His form this year has been building, with a fourth place at the Criterium International, another race at which he took Best Young Rider. He’s on for the same at the 2014 Giro, having held it now since Stage 7.
Can he keep it though? He’ll have to fight for it, with Fabio Aru just behind him, to whom he conceded almost a minute on Stage 15. He will also be gunning still for second place, as he is now just 47 seconds down on Evans.
And how about Nairo Quintana? The Movistar rider might be forgiven for looking a little enviously at the explosion of popularity that the pink jersey has afforded his countryman Uran Uran back home in Colombia – although he experienced the same back in 2013 after taking the Mountains Classification, Best Young Rider and second at the Tour de France.
Is he biding his time? He’s now 2:40 down on the OPQS leader, though he did claw back 20 seconds on Stage 15.
Certainly he is one of the world’s top climbers, better on his day than Uran Uran, but will his day come? He’ll be hoping so and so will a huge chunk of cycling fans worldwide. I’m envisioning some battles royale in this last week and Quintana would be a brilliant addition to the fray.
Last but not least, a word on the pattern of this Giro. The organisers vowed that they were bringing humaneness back to the Giro after several years of very hard races, in some cases from day one. It has to be said though that this one is a slow burner.
Have the new organising team got the balance right? As ever with these Grand Tours, the proof will be in the eating. But things are definitely hotting up at the Giro.