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87th Giro d'Italia - Grand Tour
Italy, May 8-30, 2004
Giro phase two: The real battle begins
With the 158 riders remaining in the race enjoying their first of two rest days, the real battle for the overall has yet to begin. Tim Maloney, Cyclingnews' European Editor, gives a preview of Stages 10-16.
Today was a rest day in Porto Sant'Elpidio for the riders and as Phase Two of the 2004 Giro d'Italia begins, the battle lines have been drawn in this year's Giro.
Wednesday's Stage 10 from Porto Sant'Elpidio to Ascoli Piceno over 146km and Thursday's long Stage 11 from Porto Sant'Elpidio to Cesena that covers 228km will both be tough, tactical and tricky races for the Giro d'Italia gruppo. Saeco will have to ride strong and smart to prevent an attack from upsetting their strategy to control the race action. And Friday's 210km Stage 12 from Cesena to Treviso is another perfect chance for Fassa Bortolo to put super-sprinter Ale-Jet Petacchi in position to win his fifth stage in their sponsors' hometown, both Fassa and Pinarello being from Treviso.
Friday night, the Giro entourage will transfer to Trieste, Italy's easternmost city, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its return to Italy this year. Trieste is the site of the Giro's only time trial, which has become even more crucial with the closeness of the race this year. Stage 13's 52km TT from Trieste-Altopiano Carsico is similar to the Giro TT stage here won by Alex Zulle six years ago. Up and down through Prosecco and Sistiana on the escarpment above Trieste to the climb at Rupingrande after 17.8km, it's then a fast run back down the carso to the city, ending in the historic Piazza dell'Unita d'Italia.
Stage 13 will see some key changes in GC. Power riders are favored on what could be a windy day and look for Yaroslav Popovych (Colnago-Landbouwkrediet) to move up from his fourth place on GC, with Simoni and Cunego likely to lose time. Stefano Garzelli (Vini Caldirola) must have an excellent race on Stage 13 if he has any hopes of winning this year's Giro. Watch for Aussie Brad McGee on Stage 13; the FdJeux.com man is having an excellent Giro so far, sitting in 13th on GC 1'49 behind Maglia Rosa Cunego, and if he doesn't lose more time before Trieste, McGee could take back the pink tunic for the third time this Giro.
Sunday and Monday have two stages that head down the Istrian peninsula and then back to Italy on a long classic sprinters' stage. Sunday May 23 is the 175km Stage 14 from Trieste-Pola, while Monday's 234km Stage 15 from Porec/Parenzo-San Vendemiano is the Giro's longest day and likely to be won in a sprint or by a break of lower-placed riders.
With Sunday's GC shakeout behind them, the Giro d'Italia heads due north across the Veneto into the mountains for the next shake-up. On Tuesday, May 25, Stage 16 from San Vendemiano to Falzes covers 217km and four hard climbs: Forcella Staulanza (m. 1.773) at km. 12.4 - gradient 6.8%; Valparola (m. 2.200) at km. 15.4 - gradient 5.8%; Passo Furcia (m. 1.759) at km. 12 - gradient 6.2%; and Terento (m. 1.252) at km. 7 - gradient 7.1%.
Heading north past Belluno, the stage then turns west at Longarone and into the heart of the Dolomiti and over the steep Forcella Staulanza south of Cortina. Then it's the Valparola, part of Passo di Falzarego and up the Val Badia to the cut off that leads to Passo Furcia, Val Pusteria and Brunico, but not before the final tough 7km climb up Terento before finishing in Falzes. Wednesday, May 26 is a rest day in Falzes, so Stage 16 should go a long way to determine the final outcome of just who will win the 2004 Giro d'Italia.
Up until now, two teams have dominated this year's Giro, Saeco and Fassa Bortolo. Saeco has the Maglia Rosa with young phenom Damiano Cunego and sitting pretty in second place, last years Giro champion Gibo Simoni. Il treno rosso of Saeco has flexed their muscles whenever the situation has called for to support their team leaders and it's worked so far. But Cunego isn't a top time triallist nor is Simoni, so their performance in Sunday's TT is crucial. Although there may be some surface tension between the two riders, it is clear that Cunego is here support Simoni. But should Gibo falter, Cunego is probably ready to pick-up the pieces for Saeco.
Podium contender Yaroslav Popovych has been riding smart so far: he's been very quiet, just conserving his energy and not making any dumb moves. Popo looks stronger than ever this year, but his Colnago-Landbouwkrediet team isn't that strong and Popo will be on his own in the key moments ahead in this years Giro. Let's hope he's up to it. Although Stefano Garzelli's Vini Caldirola team is strong, last year's Giro runner-up doesn't seem as solid as in 2003. When the key attacks went in the finale at Corno alla Scale and Montevergine, Garzelli seemed like he was maxxed-out out right away. Let's see how the classy 2000 Giro winner from Varese handles the multiple attacks from Saeco duo Simoni and Cunego on the mountain climbs to come.
Alessio-Bianchi's Franco Pellizotti's Giro has been good so far; at least in the two times he's shown himself. The skinny Venetian climber with the blond Afro is more likely to be a candidate for stage wins than GC honors after Saturday's TT. Other outsiders to watch for on GC are Pellizotti's team-mate Andrea Noe', Gerolsteiner's Sven Montgomery, Phonak's talented Slovenian Tadej Valjavec, and Austrian Gerhard Trampusch from Fred Rodriguez's Aqua Sapone team.
Fassa Bortolo is a non-factor for GC, as their team is 100 percent designed to support sprinter Alessandro Petacchi, although Fassa's Dario Cioni may be allowed to have some freedom in the last week of the Giro. But Petacchi still has a chance to win at least one and possibly two stages before next Wednesday's rest day in Falzes on May 26.