With the 94th edition of the Giro d'Italia done and dusted, Saddles takes a look back at some of the pivotal moments during what proved to be a completely brutal three weeks in the saddle.
Alberto Contador telling us the race would be "won in the hotel rooms" - The Spaniard was clearly calling everyone's bluff because really the Giro was won in every stage in which Contador was so dominant, which was pretty much all of them.
Alessandro Petacchi 'gifting' win to Francisco Ventoso - Okay, Ale-Jet promises he simply ran out of gas, but from where Saddles was sitting, it looked like the Italian veteran gave Stage 6 in Fiuggi to his Spanish rival. Either way, such scenes set a dangerous precedent for a Giro in which overall leader Contador gifted three stages to other riders, each one more unsubtly than the last.
Italian fossil Andrea Noe retires - Poor Noe, the 42-year-old domestique sure did choose a bad race as his curtain call. Such a demanding route was hard enough for the young bucks, but for a man who was born in the 60s it was bordering on sadomasochism. The Farnese Vini rider was hoping to hang up his Sidi cycling shoes in Milan - near his home in Magenta - after completing his 16th Giro. After years of pulling his team-mates around his home country for three weeks in May, it was sad to see Noe - the oldest man to ever wear pink (aged 38) - have to abandon the race at the end of the second week.
Police raid RadioShack cars on rest day - Whether it had something to do with Yaroslav Popovych's top billing in the UCI doping index leaked by l'Equipe - was there a breakaway in which the 31-year-old Ukrainian was not involved? - we may never know, but the Italian authorities took it upon themselves to do a quick spot check of the American team's vehicles. Nothing was found, but directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel mysteriously vanished the same day, not to be seen again. Had the police been better informed, they would have seen that it was the RadioShack balding veterans over the Atlantic in the Tour of California who were arousing more suspicion than this bunch of Giro underachievers.
Sprinting exodus following Stage 12 - It came as no surprise that all the race's top sprinters pulled out following the last flat stage of the race, which came exceedingly early on. Some 'sprinters' - RadioShack's Robbie McEwen, for example - didn't even make it past the Mount Etna stage on the first weekend. That Alberto Contador topped the red points jersey standings says a lot. Mountain top finishes are great, but the Giro organisers may have to have a rethink next year.
Cavendish rubbishes Appollonio - When Cav won his second stage in Ravenna he said that no one came close. Clearly he wasn't looking over his right shoulder, where Team Sky's Davide Appollonio lurked just half a wheel back. The Italian youngster notched a handful of top-10s on his Giro debut - and it suggests that Cav's presence at Sky (once his HTC contract runs out) may not be needed. Four years ago, Cav had a similar breakthrough season with T-Mobile - a year later, he was a superstar.
Cancellation of the Crostis - As inevitable as a succinct Lance Armstrong denial on Twitter, race organisers' decision to pull the controversial Crostis descent came as no surprise to anyone with half a brain. Perhaps they should have told the locals a few weeks earlier, though, instead of getting them to work on its safety for days upon end. One rider who didn't benefit was Vincenzo Nibali, who proved again and again that his downhill skills were a force to be reckoned with. All the Italian needs now is to arrive at the summits alongside his rivals, as opposed to 50 seconds behind them.
Contador's mechanic expelled - This was clearly a last-ditch effort by race organisers to make the race a bit more exciting by doing away with the man who every day seemed to set up the pink jersey's heroics by swapping his bike at the foot of the last climb. Still, they had a point; the fans might get quite rumbustious at times, but you can't start slamming them with car doors. What's next, the team soigneur peering through the sun roof throwing bidons at the tiresome fans who insist on running alongside the riders in the mountains? Hang on a minute, we might be on to something there...
The wrong national anthem in Milan - Two years after the Tour de France officials played the Danish national anthem for Alberto Contador in Paris, the Giro post-race party organisers played an old version of the Spanish national anthem, complete with Franco-era words. Perhaps it was their way of making a point about Contador's dictatorial status in the peloton?
108 will never have the same meaning - Even this supposedly light-hearted and ribald cycling blog can't fail but mention the terrible scenes witnessed on the third stage of this year's race. Wouter Weylandt's tragic death was a stark reminder of just how dangerous cycling is - whether you're riding around the streets of London or racing professionally for nine months a year. The reaction of race organisers, fans, team Leopard Trek and the whole peloton was both poignant and fitting. Weylandt will be missed by everyone, but his memory lives on.
- Alberto Contador