By Andrew Hood
Sunday’s final time trial gave Slipstream-Chipotle and High Road the perfect way to celebrate what’s been a very successful Giro d’Italia for both teams.
Five riders from the two U.S.-registered teams filled out the top-six in the final stage of the 91st Giro, with Marco Pinotti scoring High Road’s fourth stage victory of the race while Christian Vande Velde and Danny Pate capped a successful Giro with fifth and sixth, respectively.
“I said to myself, just focus on surviving and the last time trial, and today I gave everything I’d saved in the last 10 days,” Pinotti told reporters. “When I got the best time, I knew that I’d have to wait for Contador to finish, because he could beat me, but then I also know that he wouldn’t be taking too many risks in the last four kilometers, so maybe I could still win. … Your strength is like a candle: every day a little bit burns away and at the end of the race you have nothing. So I was telling myself that would happen to the GC riders today.”
The 91st Giro was an important milestone for both teams.
The corsa rosa marked first grand tour for Slipstream-Chipotle while High Road moved forward without missing a step in what’s its first grand tour following the departure of longtime sponsor, Deutsche Telekom.
While neither team came with GC contenders, both met and surpassed their respective pre-Giro goals.
For Slipstream, it was mission accomplished after winning the opening team time trial that put Christian Vande Velde into the maglia rosa.
“We came to the Giro with three goals – to win the team time trial, to prepare for the Tour de France and be in the hunt for a stage victory,” said Slipstream sport director Matt White. “We accomplished all three. This Giro has been a success.”
Vande Velde became only the second American to wear the maglia rosa, following in the footsteps of Andy Hampsten and the 20th anniversary of his 1988 overall victory.
“It was huge for the team to win the pink jersey,” said Doug Ellis, chairman of Slipstream Sports. “For some people who weren’t familiar with our program, they were uncertain if we deserved to be in these races or that we’d be somehow off the back. It’s important for us to come with a team and be competitive. … Our competitiveness is there. That’s very satisfying to dispel the notion that somehow we don’t deserve to be here.
Illness and crashes depleted the team on the arduous road to Milan. Dave Zabriskie crashed out in stage 2, Magnus Bäckstedt and Pat McCarty succumbed to illnesses while Chris Sutton missed the time cut at the Plan de Corones climbing time trial. Kiwi sprinter Julian Dean abandoned ahead of the final mountain stages.
The team’s four riders who arrived to Milan all finished in the top 50 in the final time trial to finish off the Giro on a good note, with Vande Velde fifth, Danny Pate sixth, David Millar 14th and Ryder Hesjedal 45th.
“This race was already a success for us after winning the team time trial,” Vande Velde said. “But we’ve also worked a lot of a little details and got everything operating smoothly ahead of the Tour. That’s important for what’s new for the team riding at this level. It’s been a great Giro for us.”
For High Road, winning four stages surpassed the team’s expectations.
Sprinter revelation Mark Cavendish proved he’s the real deal, taking two sprint victories ahead of a world-class field to claim his first grand-tour victories of his promising career.
“It’s my first Giro and I’ve won two stages, so this has been very successful,” said Cavendish, who suffered over the hard final climbs to finish the Giro. “I think it’s promising that some day maybe I can win the points jersey at the Giro or the Tour.”
German sprinter André Greipel also took an impressive win in the final week that confirmed the team’s fast-improving sprint train, giving High Road three victories in the six stages that concluded in bunch sprints.
“I think we had fastest train here in the Giro. No one could follow us. Only one guy from Milram was with us,” said Greipel, after winning stage 17. “Cavendish and I have shown that we are the fastest sprinters and we’ve won three stages in the sprints.”
Pinotti capped the race for High Road his first-career Giro victory Sunday in Milan. The Italian wore the pink jersey in the middle part of last year’s Giro, but he said the final-day victory was just the perfect ending the team wanted from the Giro.
“Can you remember that we weren’t even invited to the Giro at first, in February? Of course I was upset, then, because I’m Italian. When did finally get the invitation, we just wanted to do well and honor the race,” Pinotti concluded. “Another important thing is that we’re finishing with eight riders – and we only lost Siutsou yesterday because he’d been in a long break the previous day and developed a tendon problem, probably because of the cold. We didn’t bring climbers – just very good, motivated riders. We should also thank (Bob) Stapelton, who’s the best manager a team could have. He always lets us focus on the racing. It wasn’t easy for the team this winter, but I was never worried, because he was able to keep the pressure on himself and not on the team.”
Up next? The Slipstream crew heads to St. Moritz for some well-deserved R&R before reloading for the Tour de France.