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85th Giro d'Italia (GT)

Italy, May 11-June 2, 2002

News for May 17, 2002

Edited by John Stevenson

Euro-Giro becomes Giro-Giro; Giro d'Italia returns home

By Tim Maloney, European editor

Avowed cycling fan and European Union President Romano Prodi is bullish on the 2002 Giro d'Italia, the "Euro-Giro", so named to commemorate the launch of Europe's single currency this year. "It was a marvellous spectacle," Prodi proclaimed in Belgium as the Giro passed through on the way back to Italia. "It seemed like a crazy idea, but instead this Giro is a grand idea," said the former university professor and avid cyclist.

Prodi may be correct; although the 2002 Giro d'Italia looked gimmicky on paper, with a start far from Italy in Groningen, Netherlands and then stages in Germany, south through Belgium, across the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and finally into France before transferring back to Italy on Thursday. But after all, it seems that so far, with some exciting racing and larger than expected crowds despite the sometimes sketchy weather, the Euro Giro d'Italia has lived up to its tradition as a Grand Tour despite the gimmickry.

Spaniard Juan-Carlos Dominguez of Phonak was a surprise winner of the prologue TT in front of a quarter of a million fans in Groningen, but the Spanish all-rounder lost his Maglia Rosa to Mega-Mario Cipollini (Acqua & Sapone) the next day in Munster, Germany. Stage 2 saw a thrilling finish on the tough, hilly final 10km of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege course, where Giro favorite Stefano Garzelli (Mapei-Quick Step) imposed a sprint win on the front group and took over over the race lead from Cipo.

Mega-Mario was back to his winning ways on Stage 3 in Luxembourg, where he took his 36th Giro stage win, only 5 behind Italian great Alfredo Binda for #1 on the Giro d'Italia all time stage win tally.

Yesterday's Stage 4 concluded the festa di bici on the northern side of the Alps for the Euro-Giro as antipodean Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Addeco) had a breakthrough stage win in Strasbourg, France ahead of who else but Mega-Mario.

After an air transfer back to Italy, the Euro-Giro portion of the program has concluded and now let the games begin! Maglia Rosa Garzelli will commence the battle for Giro supremacy Friday on the first mountain stage with 2001 Giro Champion Gilberto Simoni (Saeco-Longoni Sport), Maglia Verde climbing leader Francesco Casagrande (Fassa Bortolo), redemption-seeking Dario Frigo (Tacconi Sport), question mark Marco Pantani (Mercatone Uno), old warhorse Pavel Tonkov (Lampre-Daikin) and American dark horse Tyler Hamilton (CSC-Tiscali) among others… Venite pure il Giro-Giro 2002!

Hondo out of Giro

Telekom rider Danilo Hondo has pulled out of the Giro d'Italia after receiving the sad news of the death of his mother on Wednesday.

Hondo got the news by SMS after stepping out of the shower after Wednesday's fourth stage and immediately returned to Berlin to join his girlfriend.

Telekom was hoping that sprinter Hondo would collect a stage win or two in the Giro, but his departure is another blow for the team after Jan Ullrich's withdrawal from the Tour de France. Telekom's hopes now rest with 23-year-old Matthias Kessler, currently fifth on GC. However, Telekom directeur sportif Rudy Pevanage commented that the Giro "presents its first serious test today, with the mountaintop finish in Piemont and a terribly difficult final ascent of up to 20 percent grade."

McEwen becomes a dad

It's been a hectic week for Australian Lotto rider Robbie McEwen. As well as carrying the national champion jersey across the line ahead of Mario Cipolloni in Wednesday's Giro stage, McEwen became a father this week.

Cyclingnews understands that Ewan McEwen arrived a couple of weeks earlier than expected, on May 10. The 5lb 5oz (2.45kg) new arrival entered the world in Zotegem, Belgium, and Robbie was whicked to the Giro start in Groningen by private jet shortly after.

Pantani takes a pop

After the arrest and suspension of Antonio Varriale, Marco Pantani has entered the fray in the ongoing debate over doping in cycling.

The Reuters news service reports Pantani as saying "Thinking about what happened to me, there's always a fierce attack on whoever is involved."

Obviously believing attack is the best form of defence, Pantani has a go at former team-mate and current Giro leader Stefano Garzelli, saying, "A few years ago they (Mapei) said the first five in the overall standings in major stage races were on dope. Now they have a rider who is in the lead."

Pantani is himself facing a four year ban for allegedly possessing insulin in last year's Giro, and is only competing in this year's race because the Italian Cycling Federation says it is unable to impose the ban because of a breach of procedure.

Mapei PR Alessandro Tegner said: "Pantani's assertions do not deserve to be commented on."

Garzelli was also unimpressed with Pntani's outburst. "It went in one ear and out the other, he said. "I'm concentrating on Giro d'Italia."

Did he considerPantani -- who has not won a race since 2000 --- a rival for the Giro? "It's up to him to show what he's worth," Garzelli replied.

So far, Pantani has failed to show much, but in typical style has announced that today's stage will be decisive for him.

Garzelli scopes out the Moro, rivals

Stefano Garzelli didn't spend the Giro's day off lounging around in his hotel. Instead the race leader spent the day reconnoitring one of today's most serious obstacles, the climb of the Colletto del Moro.

"I took the opportunity to get familiar with the Colletto del Moro and I don't regret it," he told reporters on his return to his hotel on Thursday afternoon. "It is a very hard climb, harder than the Mortirolo but much shorter."

Today's 150km fifth stage from Fossano - Limone Piemonte takes in the 3.9km Moro, 22.5km from the finish. At its steepest the climb has a stretch of 21 percent grade. Garzelli seems to be looking forward to it: "The Giro starts for real with this stage and something important could happen on the climb to the finish," he said. "It will help me understand who my rivals are."

Garzelli sees a number of riders as threats to his continued possession of the maglia rosa. Gilberto Simoni is 52 seconds behind Garzelli, but hasn't shown the form so far this year that propelled him to the top spot in last year's Giro. Is he a threat? "It is necessary to wait and see," said Garzelli. "Simoni remains a dangerous adversary."

Francesco Casagrande is another possible danger, despite the weakening of his Fassa Bortolo team by the departures of Stangelj and Bartoli. "Casagrande is in form, that is certain," said Garzelli. "I am also wary of Hamilton, who seems to be in great condition."

"As for Frigo, I get the impression that he does well one day, less well the next."