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Dr Michele Ferrari
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Doctor's orders: The Dr Michele Ferrari Journal

Dr Michele Ferrari, coach to cycling greats including Moser, Bugno, Argentin and Rominger, in addition to five-time Tour de France winner and defending champion Lance Armstrong, has never been afraid to push the boundaries of sports science.

In 2004, cycling's most controversial sports doctor will once again provide Cyclingnews readers with his unique insight into the mindset of what makes or breaks a champion.

87th Giro d'Italia, Italy, May 8-30, 2004

Stage 19 - May 29: The final showdown

Damiano Cunego wins the 87th Giro d'Italia. Simoni abdicates.

Actually Gilberto was never really dropped by Cunego in a direct confrontation: tactics and time bonuses made the difference, while Simoni made a slightly better time trial performance.

With a very intense course full of hard climbs and dangerous descents, the last mountain stage turned out to be a true endurance trial, with a constant yet not too high pace.

Eventually the selection was evident, due to the fatigue at the end of a 3 week stage race. Simoni and Garzelli, together in the front for most of the stage, climbed the famous Mortirolo in 47'30 (VAM of 1642 m/h), the Passo di Vivione in 55'00 (1503 m/h) and the final ascent in 21'30 (1534 m/h).

Stage 18 - May 28: Great Garzelli

A superlative performance by Stefano Garzelli: 1708 m/h was his VAM, from the moment he attacked till the top of the Gavia. Considering the altitude of well above 2000 m, the performance is definitely outstanding. Unfortunately a very "pedalabile" descent and a strong headwind nullified his wonderful action, easily controlled by the Saeco team, once again hors-categorie.

The VAM on the final climb to Bormio 2000 (1650 m/h for Cunego) was affected by the efforts on the Gavia ascent, ridden at a very high pace: glycogen stores were already running low at the beginning of the climb for the majority of the best riders in the front.

Not for Cunego and Gonchar, definitely the most brilliant ones today in the final phases, while Simoni did not seem at the same level of last year: in my opinion his cadence was lower than the ideal one for him, perhaps as a negative consequence of his crash in the Trieste time trial.

Stage 16 - May 25: Perfect tactics

No rivals for Saeco in this Giro d'Italia

With such perfect tactics as to seem almost banal, the red team "throws" Damiano Cunego up to the maglia rosa.

Simoni remained in the "trap" of Popovych, who was, as usual, too alone and today found himself bonking in the end.

On the 10 kilometre climb of the Terento, Cunego pedaled with great efficiency and agility, but Figueras was 30 seconds faster than him, while a definitely troubled Popovych lost no more than 0'50 from the new pink jersey.

If Simoni is at the same level of last year, I'm quite sure he'll take this into serious consideration...

Stage 13 - May 22: Power-to-weight ottimo importante

It was a difficult time trial: more than one hour of continuous effort, under rainy conditions, with uphill ground and many dangerous curves.

The distribution of the effort was crucial: those who started too fast in the first uphill part did pay fatigue's toll in the final flat 20km.

Serguei Gontchar, with his incredibly low pedalling cadence (65-70 RPM uphill and 80-85 RPM in flat distances) got the stage victory and almost wore the maglia rosa, flying the last 22km in 24'44" (53.4 km/h).

Popovych yielded a good 34" over this distance (25'20"), while still being able to ride at 52.1 km/h; McGee, second today, lost only 4" from Gonchar. Fairly good defensive performances for Simoni (26'10"), Figueras (26'10"), Garzelli (26'19"), Cunego (26'29") and especially Pellizotti (25'51").

Evaluating the performances of this final flat part (not affected by crashes and bad weather) and considering the square speed averages (V, as in flats the power output of the cyclist is related to the square of velocity):

Gonchar and McGee: V = 2851
Popovych: V = 2714
Simoni, Cunego, Garzelli: V = 2550

A difference of five percent between the first two and Popovych; 11.8 percent was the gap between the three Italian riders.

These percentage gaps are not so far from the body weight differences between these athletes; surely we'll see great battles in next week's climbs as well as surprising outcomes. Their respective power outputs in watts/kg are very similar, so recovery and endurance skills are going to make the difference.

Stage 11 - May 20: A chance to be taken

As expected, the 11th stage of the Giro, 228 km with arrival in Cesena, was very spectacular and brought forward some very interesting issues.

Notwithstanding the high temperatures (almost 30 C) and the demanding final 80 km, the average speed for the stage was above 44 km/h.

A continuous up-and-down, with short and steep climbs (some reached gradients of 16-18 percent) and winding dangerous descents, didn't give a chance to riders to take a breath and relax, compromising their usual nutrition and hydration strategies.

Throwing himself out of the gruppo with 45 km to go, the young Emanuele Sella, pure climber size, was today's protagonist, showing great endurance, skills and courage.

But today's stage, and for the first time so far, showed a little less efficient Saeco team, with Cunego and Simoni unable (or unwilling) to take advantage of Garzelli's troubles on the climbs, who was eventually able to catch up on the Pink Jersey twice towards the end of the stage.

It is possible that the Saeco duo felt like saving energies for the time trial, but the chance was dainty and in my opinion it was to be taken.

Stage 10 - May 19: Petacchi like a torpedo

5.35 seconds to ride the last 100 metres, a cadence of 110 RPM pushing a 53x11 and a speed of 67 km/h!

These are the numbers of Alessandro Petacchi's 5th successful sprint, once again perfectly set off by Fassa Bortolo and Marco Velo particularly.

Behind him, they shoved one another with their shoulders in order to get his rear wheel, actually wasting precious energy, while not one team is capable of creating a "train" parallel to Fassa's.

Leading out at 180m from the finish, Alessandro was able to express his usual sharp progression, made possible by an excellent power/weight ratio and a particularly penetrating aerodynamic profile.

Whenever he launches the sprint, Petacchi takes a very low position with the head, while the shoulders shrink to his neck and sides: he definitely looks like a torpedo!

Stage 9 - May 17

Perhaps 'frightened' by the fierce head wind, Petacchi started his sprint a bit too late today, and there was a ready and excellent Fred Rodriguez to cut the finish line before the Purple Jersey, with an anticipated volata.

When Alessandro responded, he maybe did it with too long a gear that hindered the prompt 'acceleration' reply: I could check an RPM below 110 for him in the final sprint, too low a cadence in my opinion for such a power output.

We're at the 9th stage of the Giro and it's already time for some technical evaluations.

The excessive power of Fassa-Bortolo in the flat stages really clipped the wings of every possible attacker's fantasy and courage, resulting in not so significant getaways, easily controlled and nullified in the final phases of the stages.

Impressive was the work of men like Bruseghin, Codol, Cioni, and Velo, being able to keep the pace in front of the peloton for hours, and make such a strong sprint 'train', that no other team can challenge.

Equally disarming was the Saeco men's supremacy in the climbs. Mazzoleni, Stangelj, Bertagnolli, Szmyd were just perfect 'wingmen' for Simoni and Cunego, the rider that seems to be in the best shape for the moment and who's now in fact wearing the Maglia Rosa.

Waiting for Trieste's time trial to settle gaps and places in the general classification, thursday's stage with finish in Cesena, a total of 228 km with a hilly final section, will certainly be interesting.

Stage 3 - May 11: Popovych takes the bait

The fierce attack of Damiano Cunego 3 km to the finish line was bait for a ready response by Popovych, and as soon as the two found themselves in inevitable oxygen debt, Simoni decisively came forth, quickly gaining more than 20 seconds.

Gilberto was climbing at a VAM of 2000 m/h and, although he had to slow down a bit in the last km, he took both the stage win and the Pink Jersey.

His VAM for the last 3 km of the climb was 1872 m/h (with an average gradient of 9.2%), a remarkable performance if we consider it was done at an altitude of about 1400 m, where the lack of oxygen begins to be relevant (VO2max value drops down by 6-8% in comparison with sea level).

The Saeco team is literally dominating the race, further confirming the excellent fitness conditions showed in the events prior to the Giro. We're only at the 3rd stage and all the weight of responsibility to control the race is already on Simonise team shoulders.

Prologue - May 8: Light and powerful

27 corners in a 6.9 kilometre prologue: the perfect course for powerful and not so heavy sprinting riders, willing to take some risks in the curves.

Every slowing down forces the athlete to an additional effort in the subsequent acceleration that is proportional to the rider's body weight. A cyclist riding at 50 km/h, developing 450 watts, forced to slow down to 40 km/h in the corner, will have to push approximately 650 watts for 6-8 seconds in order to reach the previous speed.

Many riders decided to utilize slightly larger tubulars (21-23 mm) so to have a better grip on the roads, especially on the pav.

Such a hard and technically demanding course therefore justifies the consistent gaps between the best riders today. A great and experienced specialist as Bradley McGee gave 20 seconds to an excellent Popovych; the difference about three seconds per kilometre of racing.


Objective: Pink Jersey

The 1993 Giro d'Italia started from Isola D' Elba: a short stage in the morning and an even shorter time trial in the afternoon.

Two days before the start, the teams were already on location, busy with the last preparations. I was there too, among the Mecair-Ballan crew with Moreno Argentin, and as usual I had my bike with me.

The day prior to the start of the Corsa Rosa, early in the morning, I was pedaling on the roads of the first semitappa. After just 4 km the road was already going up through a forest: the gradient was not impossible, but the course was extremely winding. The pavement had been rendered wet and slippery by the heavy rain of the days before, and a carpet of dead leaves and pine needles had covered it almost completely.

The following ascent, always in the shade of the forest, was very dangerous. A couple of other climbs had similar asperities. It was undoubtedly a difficult start, and an ideal ground for ambush.

As I got back to the hotel, I spoke about it with Argentin and the team director Emanuele Bombini. Argentin, being a professional for more than 10 years, had never worn the Pink Jersey, even though he had all the qualities to do it: an extraordinary hunter of the Classics and a great finisseur, he had placed third in the Giro d'Italia of 1984, after Moser and Fignon.

The great favorites for the final victory of the stage race were all focused on the noon time trial: Indurain, Bugno, Chiappucci, Fondriest tried their special TT bikes on the course more than once.

The morning of the race, the alarm clock for the Mecair team riders was set at 5.30 a.m.: they went out for a "pre-warm up" of 40-50 km, then a little breakfast and finally the start of the semitappa at 9 o' clock

As the flag gave the start, the group was already stretched and long, broken by the first climb and especially by the insidious descents. Lots of riders, still "cold" in the first hours of the morning, struggled to keep the furious pace; while none of the "greats" were able to keep in the front. Attack after attack, a small group of 5 riders was able to break away and gain ground in a few km; Argentin was among them.

The rough profile of the Isola D'Elba and the fierce wind made a further ruthless selection on the fugitives and Argentin found himself ahead of everyone with a 3 minutes advantage. In the last 20 km the great Indurain put his whole team, full force, in the head of the peloton: eventually the gap was reduced to just below 2 minutes.

Argentin held the jersey for more than a week. Indurain took the Giro.

I'm sure also this next Giro d'Italia, with some very nervous and hard courses from the beginning, is going to present situations and possibilities that might give surprising outcomes to those with courage and fantasy.