I have neglected two things in the past few days. And so, without further ado, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ELLA!!! Abby-Daba-Doo-Ella is her formal name -- and she is lovely! I am quite sure that Ella sang her own 'Happy Birthday' song this past Sunday.
The other thing I neglected was the Giro d'Italia. The first of the three Grand Tours, it is frequently characterised by beautiful scenery and steep-as-heck climbing. This year's edition is no exception. The first picture is from yesterday's individual mountain time-trial, a little over 8 miles long and 3500ft of climbing! The picture is borrowed from the Cyclingnews.com website and was taken by Roberto Bettini.
The particular last-minute excitement of this year's race was the last-minute inclusion of Team Astana -- the former team of Alexander Vinokourov, the Flying Kazakh, and while featuring several riders from the Most Glorious Nation (including Assan Basayev) is now largely The-Team-formerly-known-as-Discovery-Channel. Despite this virtual transmogrification, the organizers of both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France decided to make a stand against doping by excluding the team claiming that it was still the dope-ridden team of the previous year. However silly this was, the short version of the story is that with just a week's notice, Tour de France winner Alberto Contador was on a plane for a three-week stage race that he hadn't really been training for. Scarily, though, Astana's inclusion meant that Contador was also surrounded by Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden, both of whom could potentially win the race.
If you want to get a sense of just how much pain winner Franco ('Il Delfino') Pelizotti is in and want to figure out if regular folks like you and me would just have spontaneously combusted, one of the fellows at PodiumCafe put all the info into GoogleEarth. Be afraid, be very afraid. This picture is also borrowed from Cyclingnews.com but belongs to AFP Photo. Today is a rest-day and several riders have made vocal their opposition to such an individual stage coming after two major mountain stages. In regard to the mountain time trial, race director Angelo Zomegnan is quoted as saying: "I think that we need spectacular shows in cycling to pull ourselves out of this mediocrities. Without something spectacular it would be normal, and this is something is extra." I'm just glad it wasn't me.
If I had been blogging in time I would have said that my favorites for the Giro were Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes), Alberto Contador, Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval - Scott), and Gilberto Simoni (Serramenti). After this past stage, Di Luca ('The Killer') has a serious fight on his hands -- while Ricco and Simoni need to try and take some time out of Contador -- because he is a better time-trialer than either of them (and the final stage on June 1st is a much flatter time-trial). The surprises, for me, have been how strong Emanuele Sella (CSF Group Navigare) and Franco Pelizzoti (Liquigas) have proven in the mountain stages riding themselves into the top-10 overall so far.
For folks looking to try and see some of this in real-time, I would suggest checking out Cyclingfans.com. The folks there have a really nice splice available that combines the great live video from Norwegian NRK TV and the English audio coverage from Eurosport. Be aware, though, that occasionally the beginning of audio for cycling doesn't necessarily coincide with the video... so watching the early riders heading out accompanied by commentary for the Roland Garros tennis was nicely surreal.