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Giro d'Italia Cycling News, May 20, 2008

Edited by Greg Johnson

Giro enters second week with demanding time trial

By Gregor Brown in Pesaro, Italy

Giovanni Visconti leads heading into today's stage
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The Giro d'Italia enters its second of three weeks with a demanding time trial today, following on from the race's first rest day in Pesaro. The overall classification has yet to take any significant shape. While young Italian Champion Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) temporary holds the race's maglia rosa, changes to the general classification are expected after the 39.4-kilometre run from Italy's beachside town to the walled city of Urbino today.

This year's Corsa Rosa was noted for its time trials when unveiled last December, but on closer inspection the time trial kilometres will suit smaller riders over larger traditional flat stage time trialists. Today's Stage 10 time trial contains 376 metres of climbing in the final 20 kilometres alone.

The Le Marche stage may not favour pure time trial engines like Italy's Marco Pinotti (High Road) and Great Britain's David Millar (Slipstream), but it does suit climbers hoping to win the overall classification when the race concludes in Milano on June 1.

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"If the time trial would have been a flat one then [Riccardo Ricc˛] would lose more, around four minutes," stated Di Luca of his GC oponent. The Italian knows that his rival's weak point is long time trials and will seek to take advantage of that on today's stage.

The 'flat' stages of this year's event will be left on the distant horizon after this week. Saturday's stage from Verona to Alpe di Pampeago is the first of five significant mountain stages that mark the remainder of the event.

Long, impressive first week

The Giro's first week saw exciting stages fought out from Palermo to San Vincenzo, where the leaders jersey changed hands from USA's Christian Vande Velde (Slipstream Chipotle - H30), to Italy's Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) and now rests with Visconti.

Only three sprint finishes marked the first week in the race that historically features multiple wins by Mario Cipollini, Alessandro Petacchi and Robbie McEwen in the first week alone. One sprint went to Mark Cavendish (High Road) while Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) claimed two victories. Stages were instead marked by escapes and uphill finishes.

Despite all the controversy surrounding the sport fans have been tuning in to watch the racing, with Italian television ratings high. Sunday's Stage 9 to San Vincenzo contended with Inter winning the Italian football championships and Italy's Valentino Rossi succeeding in the MotoGP at Le Mans, France but the viewing audience still peaked at 19.63 percent (around 2.67 million).

The public's positive reaction to this year's Grand Tour was a nice ending to the Giro's first phase, which features long transfers and complaints from riders, team staff and journalists alike. The situation was so bad that Giro director Angelo Zomegnan shortened the stage to Peschici as a compromise, allowing the riders more sleep on the Thursday morning.

The race has already lost 19 riders along the way, and will start with 179 competitors on Tuesday. Out of the race so far are Maximiliano Richeze (CSF Group Navigare), Igor Astarloa (Team Milram), David Zabriskie (Slipstream Chipotle - H30), Bradley McGee (Team CSC), Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC), Dominique Cornu (Silence-Lotto), Tom Stubbe (Franšaise des Jeux), Nick Nuyens (Cofidis), Enrico Poitschke (Team Milram), Kevin De Weert (Cofidis), Rene Mandri (AG2R La Mondiale), Alberto Loddo (Tinkoff Credit Systems), Yauheni Hutarovich (Franšaise des Jeux), Aitor Galdos (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Patrick Calcagni (Barloworld), Steve Morabito (Astana), Sergio Ghisalberti (Team Milram), Bingen Fernßndez (Cofidis) and Filippo Savini (CSF Group Navigare).

Italy's Savini is one of the race's many fallen heroes. On Stage 9, the CSF Group rider just returned from the team car to fetch water battles and was handing one to team-mate Matteo Priamo when the group suddenly slowed. The 23 year-old did not have time to brake and ended up on the roadside with a fractured hand after 1600 kilometres of racing and just 30 kilometres from the stage finish. He heroically tried to continue while the ambulance waited and then finally gave into the pain and climbed off his bike.

Last on the classification, Ermanno Capelli (Saunier Duval-Scott), will depart first in the Urbino time trail, at 13:00 in Piazza del Popolo. Visconti starts last, at 16:17.

Di Luca's aims to limit time trial losses

Danilo Di Luca tipped Klöden to win
Photo ©: AFP
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Winner of the 2007 Giro d'Italia, Danilo Di Luca, is prepared to march towards victory. The 32 year-old Italian from Pescara, currently fourth in the classification, faces a demanding time trial Tuesday and mountainous two weeks to follow. Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown was in Pesaro to hear what 'The Killer' had to say of the Corsa Rosa thus far and what's to come.

Danilo Di Luca aims to be the first rider in 15 years to score back to back wins in the Giro d'Italia, a feat not equalled since Spain's Miguel Indurain did the double in 1992-93. To do so, Di Luca must limit his losses in Tuesday's time trial, an event in which he freely admits that he is not the strongest rider. Instead, he tipped German Andreas Klöden (Astana) to take the win in the 39.4 kilometre test.

"It is a not just a difficult time trial course – it's extremely difficult," Di Luca said at the rest day press conference in Pesaro. "The first 19 kilometres are fitted to the specialists, whereas the finale will be adapted to the climbers, like me."

Although feeling that the course was challenging, he predicted that this would not translate to big time gaps. "I think it will be Klöden," Di Luca said, predicting the winner, "but I think that the time differences by the day's end will be smaller than what they [Team Astana] are expecting." While the Italian has improved his abilities in this discipline over the past few years, he said, "I aim to lose no more than 90 seconds to Klöden."

Di Luca has waded through some murky swamps to arrive at the 91st edition of Italy's Grand Tour. The first southerner to win the Giro was faced with two doping investigations over the winter; he successfully fended off the Italian Olympic Committee's (CONI) allegations of plasma injections following the 2007 stage to Monte Zoncolan all the while serving a three-month suspension for his relations to Doctor Carlo Santuccione (Oil for Drugs). Over the winter, he has changed teams from Liquigas to LPR Brakes, and has Giro backing from the likes of two-time Giro d'Italia champion Paolo Savoldelli, stage winner Gabriele Bosisio, Daniele Pietropolli and close mate Alessandro Spezialetti.

To read the full feature, click here.

Riccò unsure about time trial

Riccardo Ricc˛ (Saunier Duval - Scott) is ready
Photo ©: AFP
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Saunier Duval-Scott's Riccardo Riccò was unsure how he would fair in today's crucial time trial when asked at a press conference during the rest day. The Italian rider has claimed two stage wins to date, but will need to go into damage control mode today to limit his losses on the 39.4 km time trial to Urbino.

Riccò, who was vocal about the road conditions on the event's early stages, says he's improved his abilities. "I've improved my time trial skills over last year, but I still don't know how it will unfold [today]," he said. "I'd be content with giving up to two minutes to [Astana's Andreas] Klöden, but then I shouldn't let [Danilo] Di Luca go off."

The Saunier Duval-Scott leader said he wasn't nervous ahead of today's individual time trial. The stage will likely be better suited to Giro contenders Andreas Klöden (Astana) and Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes).

"Anyway, tomorrow is a decisive leg for other riders, not for me," he said. "We need riders like [Paolo] Savoldelli, [Denis] Menchov or [Levi] Leipheimer to take control of the Giro and give us climbers time.

"I'm not nervous, I've scored two stage wins and there are quite a few mountain stages ahead," he added. "Even if I didn't do well [today], if I came in far behind the first bunch, I'd still have a lot of legs to make up for lost time. So I have to be relaxed and take it easy."

Riccò described his Giro campaign to date as being perfect. The Italian claimed his first victory on Stage 2, where he out-sprinted Di Luca from a small bunch, and claimed another win on Stage 8 where he outpaced compatriot Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) from a larger group of riders.

"My Giro's been perfect so far, and I'll be on the attack if I feel fine, but I know I must give up some things if I'm interested in the GC," he said. "Am I nasty because I'm taking too many victories? Name a rider who's willing to give his victories away!"

Riccò wouldn't be drawn into comparisons between Di Luca's form and his own. The Italian hinted that he thinks the form of last year's winner isn't as strong in 2008.

"When you can win, you have to win, there's no other way," he said. "Di Luca? He's below last year's shape, or maybe I'm above. Anyway, our duel hasn't been too close. Neither of us has attacked the other one, so you can't tell who's stronger, can you?"


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by AFP Photo

Contador to continue despite fracture

Alberto Contador (Astana)
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Tour de France champion Alberto Contador (Astana) has pledged to fight on at the Giro d'Italia despite having a fractured elbow. The Spaniard used yesterday's rest day to visit a radiologist and have his injury further investigated.

The fracture - without dislocation - stems from his crash on Stage 8, from Rivisondoli to Tivoli. While he was able to complete the stage and continue on Sunday's Stage 9, the bruising and discomfort prompted Contador to have x-rays on the Giro's first rest day.

"As all riders know, winning a Grand Tour takes some hard work, luck and health," said Contador. "Unfortunately, having a small fracture does not make the journey to Milan any easier, but I'm motivated and will try to fight through the pain."

Following the x-rays Contador went for a training ride to see if the pain had eased from the prior day. The Spaniard reported he was feeling strong enough to continue and was looking forward to the challenge ahead.

"I do not intend to leave the race," said Contador. "During my training ride of today, I felt my elbow, but I felt as well that I could do the normal or desired efforts. So, why should I leave the race then? Moreover, this race is one of the big cycling monuments. I am a hard one, I stay. The last days my legs felt better and better. The longer I was in the Giro, the better I felt."

The injury could, however, have an impact on Contador's time trial position for today's stage. Contador hopes the injury won't hurt his aerodynamic position too much. "That is a problem," he added. "I hope I still make a good time trial. The doctors tell me that it is a small fracture. With a bit luck, I can recover a bit during the 'easier' stages of Wednesday to Friday."

Contador's Kazakh team-mate Assan Bazayev also required a check up on the rest day. Peculiarly Bazayev spent his rest day afternoon at the dentist.

Soler to continue on day-by-day basis

Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) will continue to contest the Giro d'Italia despite reports in the Colombian's homeland that he would withdraw from the event. Soler, like Spain's Alberto Contador, underwent examinations on yesterday's rest day to check on injuries sustained during the Grand Tour's early stages.

Soler crashed on the Tour's opening stage to Sicily and underwent an x-ray at the time which cleared him of any damage. The 2007 Tour de France King of the Mountains winner experienced pain all week, and another x-ray yesterday revealed he does have a micro-fracture in his wrist.

"We’re going monitor Soler’s condition day-by-day," said team doctor Massimiliano Mantovani. "He's going to feel some pain but continuing in the race will not affect his recovery."

Soler wasn't the only Barloworld rider requiring a check up on the rest day, with Francesco Bellotti also having x-rays. Bellotti also has a micro-fracture, but in his left elbow after crashing on Saturday during the stage to Tivoli. The Italian rider will continue to contest the event under the watchful eye of the team’s medical staff. Bellotti hopes that his condition improves in the next few days, however the team has already said it will be difficult for the rider to make the finish in Milano.

"We definitely haven’t been very lucky so far in the Giro but we’ve got to fight back because the race is very long and there are still chances of success," said team manager Claudio Corti. "We’re going to monitor things very closely because we obviously don’t want to put the health of our riders at risk."

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