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Giro d'Italia Cycling News for May 18, 2007

Edited by Laura Weislo

German adds to Grand Tour stage tally

By Shane Stokes in Frascati, with additional reporting by Jean François Quenet

Förster prevailed
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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After two days of the McEwen-Petacchi show, it was German rider Robert Förster (Gerolsteiner) who was the surprise victor at the end of stage five of the Giro d'Italia on Thursday.

Timing things just right in the twisting, turning final few hundred metres, he pipped Crédit Agricole's Thor Hushovd and Alessandro Petacchi (Team Milram) to net his second career victory in the Italian Tour. He won the final stage in Milan last year, then went on to taste another Grand Tour stage success in the Vuelta a España.

"The end of the stage was very special," he told the media at the press conference held near the finish line in Frascati. "The final three or four kilometres were really dangerous. I had a head-to-head with Napolitano who pushed me towards the barriers. I had good legs. I've risked a lot for winning but it was worth it."

Despite those previous stage wins in the Tours of Italy and Spain, plus a second place on stage three earlier this week, wins in stage five of Settimana Internazionale Coppi Bartali and second places on two stages of the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe, the 29 year old is not on cycling's A-list of sprinters. That may be changing, though, given that he is amassing good results and building confidence.

"I was the strongest of the sprinters today," he said. "I won the Milan stage in last year's Giro but I think I have improved with this one because I've beaten many more sprinters today. I feel stronger than I did here last year."

Förster's season has been a bit disrupted at times, but his form has been building well. "I was a little bit sick in the winter, having problems in January and February. The first victory of the season was in the Settimana Internazionale. I felt I was in good condition and then I went to the Tour of Sarthe and was two times second there.

"The last stage race I did was Romandie. It is not so bad but it is not really a stage race for sprinters. I came here then and felt good."

A good sign is also the fact that he is winning in different circumstances, showing some versatility. "This was a different kind of sprint, when compared to the win in Spain," he said, when asked to compare the two. "The Vuelta sprint was on big roads; the last kilometre was straight, but today it was a crazy sprint.

Two kisses
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"After the climb I had two guys, [Thomas] Fothen and [Sven] Krauss who rode for me and got me into a good position. I knew that in the last five kilometres it was crucial to be in the front. They put me in the front and then it was a crazy sprint – we went right, left... it was dangerous."

The twisting, narrow roads meant that there was quite a bit of chopping and changing, making the sprint a test of nerve as much as bike handling and strength. Petacchi was in the thick of things and was accused by Ceramica Panaria sprinter Maximiliano Richeze of hitting him. Yet Förster said that most of the danger was coming from another area.

"For me, there were no real problem with Petacchi," he said. "It was more [Danilo] Napolitano and some guys who are not sprinters. Normally the small guys are the ones who bump around the place, not really Petacchi."

So, the crunch question – he's taken placings of first and second so far, scoring well in two out of the three bunch sprints. How many stages does he think he can win? "Well, I have taken one now," he answered, knowing that the pressure is now off. "I will try to take a second one, as I hope to get one more during the race. Right now, I'm not sure if I will go all the way to the end [Milan] but I will try to ride strongly in the remaining sprints."

Di Luca has the third week in mind

By Jean-François Quénet in Frascati

Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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The maglia rosa still has a magic impact on the tifosi. When Danilo Di Luca showed up at the start of stage 5 in Teano the day after his convincing win up at Montevergine, the people became crazy. Despite the doping affairs that are hitting Italian cycling these days, the national Tour remains an extremely popular business.

Despite crashing the previous day in a mass pile-up on the slick roads in stage four, Di Luca seem to suffer any ill effects physically or mentally. Even though the finishing kilometre was full of turns, and had its share of bumping and nerves up front, 'The Killer' didn't think the finale was all that bad. "I actually didn't see the sprint at all and I believe the road was large enough for the race to go through," he declared. "I was never afraid of anything today. I haven't taken any risks."

Di Luca talked of wanting to give the pink jersey away before the start of the stage, but his British team-mate Charly Wegelius wasn't sure his team-mate would be so willing to give up the legendary maglia rosa. "It's always nice to have [the jersey], but hopefully the sprinters teams will do most of the work", Wegelius said, and their day went according to the plan.

"When the breakaway went [with Mickaël Buffaz and Mikhail Ignatiev who has already compiled 310 kilometres of racing by himself since the beginning of the Giro, ed.], the teams of the sprinters kept them at distance, it's been a quiet day for us," Di Luca explained.

Stating that he hopes "to listen to the same music tomorrow", he didn't seem to worry about tomorrow's 21 kilometre trip up the famed Monte Terminillio, nor was he concerned that two more short but tough climbs follow it. "I don't think it'll have an incidence on the general classification. There will be a breakaway and we'll let them go. This stage is more adapted for me to lose the jersey. My next goal is on stage 10, finishing in Santuario Nostra Signora Della Guardia."

Despite the difficulties of the Giro d'Italia's second week, Di Luca has his eyes on the decisive third week, which holds stage 17's brutal stage which finishes atop the Monte Zoncolan. "If I have the same condition that day, I'll try to profit from this climb to increase my lead over my rivals, but that will be in the second week of the race only. I'd be happier to be in a situation of defending an advantage at the Tre Cime di Lavaredo and on the Zoncolan."

Ignatiev hungry for success

By Shane Stokes in Frascati

Mikhail Ignatiev
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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Team Tinkoff rider Mikhail Ignatiev was on the attack yet again today, with he and team-mate Pavel Brutt now holding the first two places in the Fuga Gilera breakaway competition due to their constant stints off the front of the Giro peloton.

Ignatiev went clear early on with Frenchman Mickaël Buffaz (Cofidis) and then pressed on ahead alone, whipping the pedals around in his distinctive flat-back trackie style. After he was recaptured with 18 kilometres to go, team-mates Salvatore Commesso and Elia Aggiano each tried solo moves.

"The team was very motivated today, but it's the same every day," Ignatiev said in a mixture of English and Italian after the finish. "We have been in breakaways each day and apart from that, we have Evgeni Petrov and Ricardo Serrano for the general classification.

"I am in good shape after doing the world track cycling championships. I knew it would be hard to win today but I think the second and third week of the race will be better for me. I will keep trying."

Hushovd missed out on Norwegian national day

By Jean-François Quénet in Frascati

Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) on this day in 2006
Photo ©: AFP
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One year ago, Thor Hushovd was proud to win stage 3 of the Tour of Catalunya because it was May 17, which is the Norwegian national day. At the start of today's stage five of the Tour of Italy, Hushovd donned socks in his national colours in Teano, the place where captain Garibaldi and King Vittorio Emmanuele II met on October 26, 1860, and agreed on their plan to unify Italy.

The day before, Hushovd tested himself at the bottom of the climb of Montevergine. "I felt pretty good," he said. "I could even have stayed with the good climbers longer but I didn't want to push myself too hard for nothing. I had some hard time at the beginning of the Giro. It was necessary for me to get the rhythm of the competition again. Now I'm ready to go for a stage win."

He was told by former pro rider and now RAI commentator Davide Cassani that the finish of the stage in Frascati was actually the same as last year in Tirreno-Adriatico when Hushovd took second to Paolo Bettini. He knew then that the slightly uphill and curvy finale suited him, which increased his motivation towards the end of the stage. However, the Viking is still chasing his first win this year since Robert Förster passed him in the last twenty meters.

"That was close," Hushovd commented afterwards. "I'm happy to be up there again but I would have liked to win this one. At least I know for sure that I'm back in a winning shape. Hopefully I'll make it next time I'm in a similar situation." It's still unsure whether or not the winner of the prologue of the Tour de France and the last stage on the Champs-Elysées last year will complete this Giro. He's also scheduled for the Dauphiné that starts on June 10 one week after the end of the Italian race.

Horrillo hurts his back

Pedro Horrillo (Rabobank)
Photo ©: JF Quenet
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The stage finish in Frascati would have been a good opportunity for Rabobank's Pedro Horrillo to surprise the sprinters, had the Spaniard had his full capacities at his disposal. However, Horrillo was one of the 80 other riders who crashed the day before, and he was suffering from the wreck.

"My back really hurts," he said in Frascati. "One vertebra is twisted. I was fortunate that the bunch went piano piano for a long time today. I hope it'll get better." His compatriot Joan Horrach from Caisse d'Epargne, who was a stage winner in the Tour of Italy last year, couldn't start stage five due to the consequences of his crash.

Italian sports minister comments on Puerto

By Jean-François Quénet in Frascati

Giovanna Melandri
Photo ©: JF Quenet
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With Frascati being close to Roma, the location of the stage finish made a convenient trip for the Italian minister for sport, Giovanna Melandri, and the magistrate in charge of the Italian revival of the Operación Puerto case, Ettore Torri, to pay a visit to the Giro.

Melandri made her feelings about the doping issue clear. "Behind the doping, there is a huge market, there's an international traffic around a criminal circuit," she said. "In Italy, we have an important history of drugs in sport. We're also one of the very few countries – France is another one – with an anti-doping law.

"About Ivan Basso, it's up to the sport and civilian justice to apply the law. The world of cycling must have the courage to enter the courts. Focus and determination are needed to turn the page on doping."

Ms. Melandri was amazed by the enthusiasm of the crowd in Frascati, and she knew it was the same for every town in which the Giro has landed. "When I see the crowd and especially the number of young people who are here for the race, I'm convinced that [the cyclists implicated in Operación Puerto] this isn't the model for the new generation."

She called for a globalization of the antidoping laws and even for the eventual "reduction of the sanctions", should they favor the investigations. "The WADA code is also expected to be improved and we are fully behind the process of a better fight against drugs, especially at the level of the European Union where our law, as well as the French one, is considered as an example to follow."

In Italy, new laws regarding social doping are being drafted at the Ministry of Health, but there are doubts about the application of the existing law in the case of Basso.

Simeoni wants to exit with dignity

Italian magistrate Ettore Torri clarified his comments on the physical threats that Ivan Basso could face in the bunch, "where riders are likely to end up in the gutter", he said previously. At the stage finish of Frascati, he made clear that "this isn't a declaration from Basso." He interpreted what the winner of the 2006 Giro d'Italia told him, "not only in his statement but also during our casual talks."

Torri also touched on the past allegations of threats against former Domina Vacanze rider Filippo Simeoni, who had a run-in with Lance Armstrong over Simeoni's testimony against Armstrong's friend and advisor, Dr. Michele Ferarri. In the 2004 Tour de France, Armstrong made an unprecedented breakaway to prevent Simeoni from having a chance at winning a stage. The move prompted Simeoni to file a lawsuit against Armstrong, which was later dropped. "We know that in the past, professional riders have been threatened," he continued. "I've read the files of the inquiry about Simeoni. He has been threatened. We must take it into account."

Filippo Simeoni was also present in Frascati. The 35 year-old rider from Aurum Hotels explained, "I only did what I had to do. I was asked by the court to testify about Dr. Ferrari because I was one of his clients and Lance Armstrong was another one. I've paid for the consequences of what I said, maybe too much. After that, I wasn't able to get a start in a Pro Tour team and I would like to receive an important sign from the cycling community before I stop racing because I'd like to finish with dignity."

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