Winning an extra-long time trial at the Giro dItalia is no guarantee of becoming the overall race champion. But thats the gamble reigning Olympic time trial gold medalist and Tour de France champ Brad Wiggins is taking in this Saturdays stage 8 time trial. Hes hoping that hell gain a couple of minutes (or more) on rivals such as Vincenzo Nibali on a hilly and twisting 55.4-kilometer course between Gabicce Mare on the Adriatic coast and the hilltop town of Saltara.
Over the past 50 years, the Giro has seen only 14 time trials longer than 50 kilometers, only six of which were won by the ultimate winner (see detailed results below). Of the men who achieved that TT-overall winner double, four were acknowledged time trial specialists (Jacques Anquetil in 1964, Vittorio Adorni in 1965, Miguel Indurin in 1992 and 93, and Denis Menchov in 2009); the other one was more of a climbing specialist, Franco Chioccioli, who had already wrapped up his 1991 Giro victory before he won a very hilly 66-kilometer TT through the Apennines on the second-to-last day.
The same situation applied to Indurin in the two years he won the Giro, when the extra-long time trials that he won came on the final and second-to-last day respectively. So the most relevant comparisons to this weekends time trial are those stages that took place before the major mountain stages were contested: two of them were in the 1960s, and one just four years ago.
In 1964, French legend Anquetil, already a four-time Tour champion, won the fifth stage of the Giro on a flat 50.4-kilometer course in the Po Valley. The Italian Italo Zilioli came in 10th in that time trial, conceding 2:38 to Anquetilwho held on to the maglia rosa for the remaining 17 stages, defending well in the mountains to beat eventual runner-up Zilioli by 1:22. The following year, Zilioli again placed second overall. This time he lost by a whopping 11:26 to Vittorio Adorni, whod already won a mountain stage before beating Zilioli by almost three minutes in a rolling 50-kilometer time trial on the island of Sicily.
Fast forward four decades and we come to the 2009 Giro, when the race was pretty much decided in the stage 12 time trial up and along the Cinque Terre coast. That 60.6-kilometer TT, featuring more than 4,000 feet of climbing (and descending!), was so tough that all the contenders rode regular road bikes (some fitted with clip-on aerobars). The average speed of stage winner Menchov was just 38.483 kilometers per hour, but it was enough for him to take over the race lead from Danilo Di Luca by 34 seconds and then keep the pink jersey by a similar margin all the way to the end of that Giro.
Looking over the results below, youll see that the worst that a Giro winner has ever done in one of these ultra-long time trials was the 23rd place of Damiano Cunego nine years ago. He conceded more than three minutes in the 52-kilometer stage 13 at Trieste, dropping from first place to sixth, but made up more than that loss in the remaining mountain stages to beat TT winner and eventual Giro runner-up Sergei Gontchar by 2:02.
Can Wiggins beat the odds?
As the Olympic TT champ, and in the absence of current and past world TT champions Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara, Wiggins is clearly the favorite to win this Saturdays Giro stageespecially as the other top time trialists in the field, including Luke Durbridge, David Millar, Taylor Phinney and Svein Tuft, are either under the weather, short on racing this year or not suited to the hilly course.
After a flat opening kilometer, the route climbs to the famed Gabicce Mare Corniche, a scenic road of 50 turns that snakes up to 550 feet above the Adriatic Sea, dipping and climbing between a succession of hills. The corniche ends with a fast drop into the city of Pesaro, birthplace of the composer Rossini, where the first time check is posted at 26 kilometers.
After passing vineyards, fruit orchards and lines of poplar trees, the course soon climbs again, this time to the village of Novilara, before descending to the outskirts of Fanosaid to be home to the most beautiful women in Italy. From here the riders turn inland on a straighter, flatter roads to the second time check at Calcinelli after 51.5 kilometers.
The remaining 3.3 kilometers are all uphill, first on grades averaging 4 percent before hitting a series of switchbacks into the town of Saltara and a final 650 meters tipping up at 11.2 percent. Its a rough challenge for everyone, especially as the top GC riders starting in the late afternoon will likely face rain showers and a headwind on the finishing climb to Saltara.
On the amazing time-trial form he showed last July, when he beat Nibali by 3:38 in the Tours final TT of 53.5 kilometers, Wiggins could well establish a commanding lead in the Giro on Saturday. But Team Astanas Nibali, who has been working on his time trialing and lost a couple of pounds in bodyweight since last year, shouldnt lose more than two minutes.
The time gaps could be much less for Garmin-Sharps highly motivated defending Giro champ Ryder Hesjedal, who has shown excellent form this week, and BMC Racings Cadel Evans, whos returning to the fitness and strength that won him the Tour in 2011. Others with the ability to do well include Team Blancos Robert Gesink, RadioShack-Leopard-Treks Robert Kiserlovski and Euskaltel-Euskadis Samuel Sanchez.
With a half-dozen mountaintop stage finishes coming up in the second half of the Giro, including an uphill time trial, Nibali and the other climbers will get their chance to gain back time on the stronger time trialists. And if the Giros history tells us anything, its that the odds are stacked against Wiggins pull off his big gamble.
Giro Time Trials of 50KM or longer in past 50 years. (Overall winner is in bold)
1963 Stage 16: Treviso circuit (56km)
1. Vittorio Adorni (47.323 kph); 2. Ercole Baldini, at 0:47. (7. Franco Balmamion, at 3:50)
1964 Stage 5: Parma-Busseto (50.4km)
1. Jacques Anquetil (48.036 kph); 2. Ercole Baldini, at 1:23.
1965 Stage 13: Catania-Taormina (50km)
1. Vittorio Adorni (41.077 kph); 2. Felice Gimondi, at 1:22.
1980 Stage 21: Saronno-Turbigo (50.4km)
1. Giuseppe Saronni (47.974 kph); 2. Gregor Braun, at 0:40. (4. Bernard Hinault, at 0:46)
1989 Stage 22: Prato-Florence (53.8km)
1. Lech Piasecki (49.232 kph); 2. Greg LeMond, at 1:03. (5. Laurent Fignon, at 2:21)
1990 Stage 10: Grinzane CavourCuneo (68km)
1. Luca Gelfi (44.461 kph); 2. Gianni Bugno, at 0:06.
1991 Stage 20: Broni-Casteggio (66km)
1. Franco Chioccioli (42.451 kph); 2. Gianni Bugno, at 0:52.
1992 Stage 21: Vigevano-Milan (66km)
1. Miguel Indurin (50.127 kph); 2. Guido Bontempi, at 2:46.
1993 Stage 19: Pinerolo-Sestriere (55km)
1. Miguel Indurin (34.203 kph); 2. Piotr Ugrumov, at 0:45.
1996 Stage 19: Vicenza-Marostica (62km)
1. Evgeni Berzin (50.282 kph); 2. Abraham Olano, at 0:01. (4. Pavel Tonkov, at 1:27)
2001 Stage 15: Sermione-Sal (55.5km)
1. Dario Frigo (46.509 kph); 2. Gilberto Simoni, at 0:29.
2004 Stage 13: Trieste circuit (52km)
1. Sergei Gontchar (46.741 kph); 2. Brad McGee, at 0:18. (23. Damiano Cunego, at 3:02)
2006S tage 11: Pontedra circuit (50km)
1. Jan Ullrich (51.020 kph); 2. Ivan Basso, at 0:28.