Time flies when the racing is this exciting
As the saying goes 'time flies when you're having fun' and the last two months have been nothing if not enjoyable with some great racing spread across Europe (and beyond) but it all pales in comparison to the race looming large on the horizon.
The Giro, for me, is the highlight of the year. More relaxed than the Tour, less brutal than the Vuelta, it fits my idea of the perfect race - an exciting romp around some gorgeous countryside plus an overabundance of large mountains. Couple that with a disregard for pan flat stages (preferring to stick a hill in wherever they can), a propensity for technical stage finishes and one of its strongest fields in years and you have a thrilling race in the making.
Anyway, the season so far has thrown together its fair share of stories from the rise of Columbia to the fall of Belgium, the strength of Spartacus to the weakness of Sky it's all been in there.
Post Tirreno-Adriatico/Paris-Nice (god that seems so long ago) I was struggling with just 90 World Tour points and 1352 fantasy points. If a week is a long time in politics though, that's nothing compared to cycling with my fortunes on the rise ever since Fabian Cancellara entered the fray.
Team 'advertise here' standings heading into the Giro:
World Tour points: 1037 total / 851 based on top 5 riders
Fantasy points: 2583
All that leaves me an unexpected 100 World Tour points ahead of Team Sky, my benchmark for the season, going into the Giro. This team management lark is dead easy...
With 351 points my stand out performer is clearly Fabian Cancellara. After a poor season last year blighted by injury I thought he'd be sure to have a better 2013 but never expected him to dominate the cobbled classics quite so comprehensively. My lack of Sagan worried me heading into the classics me but Sagan was never in the same league as Cancellara and thanks to a Paris-Roubaix 1-2 I managed to put some real distance into my rivals. Boonen obviously disappointed but injury affects even the best and he'll be the first name on my team sheet for next year as he looks to bounce back and re-assert his leadership of the OPQS classics squad.
The Ardennes classics though didn't go quite so well with Carlos Alberto Betancur and Phillippe Gilbert my only consistent performers. They were solid but too many of my other picks, riders like Jelle Vanendert and Sammy Sanchez, underperformed.
Away from the northern European classics, but not away from the horrific weather that plagued them, Spain played host to two of the first real week long challenges of the season. The Vuelta a Ciclista Catalunya and Volta a Pais Vaso may not be the most glamorous of races but they serve a greater purpose giving contenders a chance to hone their skills before their major targets and those on the cusp of stepping up a level a chance to show what they can do.
The latter riders were the ones who set the story with Dan Martin finally making the kind of step up many have expected for years and my own Nairo Quintana taking the Pais Vasco crowd confirming his great potential.
Move forward to last week and the Tour de Romandie. The story there was of big name GC contenders looking to hold or find form for the Giro or make further progress towards targets later in the year. Chris Froome is clearly following the Wiggins model this year and riding every race to win. On the other hand Robert Gesink, Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans will be desperately looking for form before the Giro heads into the mountains after failing to show anything promising through the week. A solid performance from Wilco Kelderman rounded off a great build up for me and added to his surprise points haul from the Tour Down Under.
The Giro then. I've a strong looking team. Based on the squads announced so far my team is:
Wiggins, Kelderman, Betancur, Durbridge, Sanchez, Cavendish, Bouhanni and Matteo Cattaneo.
Obviously a lot can happen in three weeks but with the race favourite, a stage hunting Sanchez, two young GC contenders in Kelderman and Betancur (assuming they don't have to nurse Gesink and Pozzovivo, their respective team leaders) and two strong sprinters in Cavendish and Bouhanni I have a lot to be hopeful about. I'm particularly looking forward to seeing how Kelderman can do. No doubt he'll start the race as a dutiful aid to Gesink but given Gesink's habitual bad luck I hope Kelderman is given the nod when the time inevitably comes to take over the mantle.
As far as the season so far goes I think I'm starting to appreciate just how complex the job of a Directeur Sportif really is. Its not just a case of running one team, at any one point during the season you're running three or four separate units working towards a number of different goals. Look at team Sky for example, they have on the go a Giro squad targetting the GC with Wiggins, a Tour de France squad targetting the GC with Froome and a classics squad who's job is now done and one would assume that select riders fold back into the main squad with an eye on goals later in the year. Add into that the smaller races Sky send teams to and the training work being done with riders not currently racing and you begin to understand just how much organisation goes into running a top level team.
For my part, by luck rather than judgement, I've followed a similar path to the big teams by having specific season targets. I aimed for success in the classics and put together a strong squad of riders for those races and by picking Wiggins I aimed for the Giro too. The classics worked out well for me and Giro is looking good but I'm already looking ahead to the rest of the season and I'm nervous.
Looking at my squad, other than Wiggins who may or may not be targetting a Giro/Tour double, I'm light on the ground as far as genuine Tour GC contenders are concerned and the Vuelta is looking decidedly dodgy for me. With the Tour likely to be stacked with quality riders I don't think Nicholas Roche is really going to cut it. I'm lucky enough to have a strong batch of sprinters to concentrate on but the one thing I've learned so far is GC is king when it comes to World Tour points. I've hit the front early in our competition but the season is a long way from over.