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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

91st Giro d'Italia - GT

Italy, May 10-June 1, 2008

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Stage 18 - Thursday, May 29: Mendrisio - Varese, 147km

Complete live report

Live commentary by Susan Westemeyer

13:58 CEST   
Hello, and here we go again. Today's rolling "transitional" stage is also a World Championship stage, so it is no wonder that two-time World Champion Paolo Bettini is the favourite. The race starts out on the Swiss 2009 World Championship course in Mendrisio, and rolls its way into Italy where, only 147 km later, it ends on the 2008 World Championship course in Varese.

14:03 CEST   
All remaining 146 riders took off at 13:30 this afternoon. The first one to jump was Yuriy Krivtsov of AG2R, at km 6, but he was quickly back into the peloton. The next to go was none other than the World Champ himself, Paolo Bettini, who took off at km 8. By km 12 he was joined by 11 other riders and they had a lead of 40" over the peloton by km 14. Astana started leading the chase when the lead got up to 54 seconds.

14:06 CEST   
The group consists of Gabriele Bosisio (LPR), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R), Felix Cárdenas (Barloworld), Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne), Alan Perez (Euskaltel), Simon Spilak (Lampre), Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step), Mauricio Ardila (Rabobank), Jens Voigt (CSC) and Nikolay Trusov (Tinkoff).

14:09 CEST    22km/125km to go
This big group isn't fooling around. They have upped their lead to 2'20 already.

14:15 CEST   
We have DNFs from yesterday or DNSs today, a rare occurrence. Here is the list of those who were unable to make it this far:

;Stage 1 DNS: Maximiliano Richeze (CSF Group Navigare)
Stage 2 DNS: Igor Astarloa (Team Milram)
Stage 2 DNF: David Zabriskie (Slipstream Chipotle – H30
Stage 3 DNF: Bradley McGee (Team CSC)
Stage 4 DNF: Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC)
Stage 4 DNF: Dominique Cornu (Silence-Lotto)
Stage 4 DNF: Tom Stubbe (Française des Jeux)
Stage 5 DNS: Nick Nuyens (Cofidis);
Stage 6 DNF: Enrico Poitschke (Team Milram)
Stage 6 DNF: Kevin De Weert (Cofidis)
Stage 6 DNF: Rene Mandri (AG2R La Mondiale)
Stage 7 DNF: Alberto Loddo (Tinkoff Credit Systems)
Stage 7 DNF: Yauheni Hutarovich (Française des Jeux)
Stage 7 DNF: Aitor Galdos (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
Stage 7 DNF: Patrick Calcagni (Barloworld)
Stage 8 DNF: Steve Morabito (Astana)
Stage 8 DNF: Sergio Ghisalberti (Milram)
Stage 9 DNF: Bingen Fernandez Bustinza (Cofidis)
Stage 9 DNF: Filippo Savini (CSF Group Navigare)
Stage 10 DNS: Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff Credit Systems)
Stage 10 DNS: Magnus Backstedt (Slipstream)
Stage 10 DNS: Steve Zampieri (Cofidis)
Stage 11 DNS: Francesco Bellotti (Barloworld)
Stage 11 DNS: Andrea Moletta (Gerolsteiner)
Stage 11 DNS: Geert Steurs (Silence – Lotto)
Stage 11 DNF: Volker Ordowski (Gerolsteiner)
Stage 11 DNF: Mauro Santambrogio (Lampre)
Stage 11 DNF: Mauricio Soler (Barloworld)
Stage 11 DNF: Rik Verbrugghe (Cofidis)
Stage 13 DNS: Matteo Priamo (CSF Group Navigare)
Stage 13 DNS: Fabio Sabatini (Milram)

Stage 14 DNS: Robbie McEwen (Silence - Lotto)
Stage 14 DNS: Robert Förster (Gerolsteiner)
Stage 14 DNS: Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner)
Stage 14 DNS: Koldo Fernandez De Larrea (Euskaltel)
Stage 14 DNF: Graeme Brown (Rabobank)
Stage 14 DNF: Luciano André Pagliarini Mendonca (Saunier Duval)
Stage 14 DNF: Oscar Gatto (Gerolsteiner)
Stage 14 DNF: Mirco Lorenzetto (Lampre)
Stage 14 DNF: Jonathan Patrick McCarty (Slipstream)
Stage 15 DNF: Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval)
Stage 15 DNF: Matthias Russ (Gerolsteiner)
Stage 15 DNF: Iñigo Landaluze Intxaurraga (Euskaltel)
Stage 15 DNF: Christian Pfannberger (Barloworld
Stage 15 DNF: Ermanno Capelli (Saunier Duval)
Stage 15 DNF: Dario Cataldo (Liquigas)
NOTE: The following six riders missed the time limit cut-off in the mountain time trial.
Stage 16 HD: Raivis Belohvosciks (Saunier Duval)
Stage 16 HD: Mathew Hayman (Rabobank)
Stage 16 HD: Paolo Bossoni (Lampre)
Stage 16 HD: Christopher Sutton (Slipstream)
Stage 16 HD: Lander Aperribay (Euskaltel)
Stage 16 HD: Thomas Fothen (Gerolsteiner)

14:18 CEST    26km/121km to go
This group, which contains some pretty big names, is really flying! They are now 3'22 ahead.

14:20 CEST   
Who could be surprised that Jens Voigt is in today's group? "There should be room for a few more attacks and of course we're gonna try our best to be there," said DS Team Kim Andersen.

14:29 CEST   
The weather doesn't look good today. The forecast for Varese is 20°C with light rain and it is supposed to stay that way all weekend.

14:31 CEST    39km/108km to go
The race has left Switzerland now and has returned to Italy. The lead is up to five minutes.

14:35 CEST   
The race now heads up north to the shores of Lake Lugano again, before turning west at Lavena Ponta Tresa at km 56.8. The course hugs the Italian-Swiss border for a long way.

14:38 CEST   
This looks like the group of the day. The most prominent name in it has to be two-time World Champion Paolo Bettini of Quick Step. When he talked to Italian TV this morning, his voice was very hoarse. Had he already celebrated a potential stage win? He certainly hopes to make a difference. "It is our last chance for a stage win," he explained that the mountain stages and time trials won't be good for the team.

14:42 CEST    50km/97km to go
Believe it or not, the stage is already one-third finished. The lead is now 5'02 and Astana is still leading the chase.

14:43 CEST   
Milram has fired its rider Igor Astarloa. The Basque was taken out of the race by the team, following irregularities after some blood tests. Milram took the consequences, although the 2003 World Champion has not accepted the decision and involved a lawyer. Astarloa was not tested positive, but the so-called blood passport that the riders are now required to use, showed irregularities. The blood passport was introduced to get around the problem of not having the means to detect certain substances, instead looking for strange parameters that could indicate foul play.

It is the second firing at Milram in a short period of time, following the Petacchi case.

Contador's pink jersey is safe for now from the break
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

14:47 CEST   
Astana doesn't have to worry too much about losing Alberto Contador' lead -- yet. The best placed in the escape group is Barloworld's Felix Cárdenas, who is 11'24 back in 15th place.

Current race situation

  • Gabriele Bosisio (LPR Brakes), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale), Félix Rafael Cárdenas Ravalo (Barloworld), Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne), Alan Perez Lezaun (Euskaltel - Euskadi), Simon Spilak (Lampre), Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step), Mauricio Alberto Ardila Cano (Rabobank), Jens Voigt (Team CSC) and Nikolay Trusov (Tinkoff Credit Systems)
  • Peloton at 5.00

14:50 CEST   
Bettini confirmed that "winning solo is nice. It is more tiring, but gives you a tremendous satisfaction. I didn't get a victory yet, although I really wanted to attack. But of course in the first part of the race we had to work for Giovanni [Visconti, who held the pink jersey]. For all the tifosi who supported me in the mountains, a victory today would be fantastic."

14:54 CEST   
The route should suit Bettini for an attack. He confirmed with a smile, "yes, there are nice capi today!" speaking of the little climbs that today go up to 503m in altitude.

14:59 CEST   
Fabio Baldato of Lampre certainly sees the opportunity, as his captain, Marzio Bruseghin will just sit back today. "But I don't know if I have the legs," Baldato reminded that it takes the mind and the body to succeed to get into a break. Definitely, "today is a day for a break." Yes, it is, but unfortunately, Baldato isn' t in it.

15:03 CEST   
Elke from Brussels points out that rainy weather will be beneficial for Contador and other pollen allergists. We number ourselves among those who suffer from pollen and can confirm her statement.

15:07 CEST   
Astana must be worried about this high-powered escape group. It is pulling the peloton along fast enough that it is single file. Levi Leipheimer in his distinctive "Captain America" jersey looks very thoughtful as he tears along.

15:09 CEST   
The leading group is tearing through a town with a few raindrops falling on them.

15:09 CEST    72,7km/75km to go
They are already at the intermediate sprint of the day, and the surprise winner was: Daniele Bennati!

15:11 CEST   
The intermediate sprint was held in Luino, km 72.7. This town on the banks of Lago Maggiore is known for its weekly market, said to be the largest in Europe.

15:13 CEST   
It seems to us that we just mentioned Levi Leipheimer, so let's see what he has to say about things. Needless to say, he is thrilled with the way the race is going. "I think it would be amazing if we could win this race and under the circumstance of this year. I can't think of anything better. I think it is unbelievable what Alberto has done." The American champion will help his captain in the two upcoming mountains stages. "No attacking. He has the lead, and he just has to stay with the leaders and conserve the lead. That is what it is all about."

15:14 CEST   
In the Tour of Belgium, the break is a lot smaller, only two riders: Roy Curvers and Fabio Polazzi (Bodysol - Euro Millions - Pôle Continental Wallon). They only have 30km to go, but also the lead is smaller, with only 2'27. We'll keep you posted on the race, too.

15:16 CEST   
Astana leads the way through the intermediate sprint, an astonishing 5'59 back! We are considering whether to already predict that this break will not be caught. What do you think?

15:17 CEST   
Bettini and Bennati have a lively conversation near the back of the escape group.

15:21 CEST   
Danilo Di Luca, defending Giro champion who is currently 2'18 back in sixth place, hasn't given up hope yet. "I think it is still an open Giro," he said. "We are all there, within two minutes. There are still two very important stages. ... It is still open, two minutes is not a lot and there are two important stages."

15:22 CEST   
Tour of Belgium: The leaders have passed the finish line for the first time, but the final lap is 25km. They are now 22km from the finish and the gap has gone down to 32 seconds, as Topsport Vlaanderen is driving the pace behind.

Danilo Di Luca does not think it's too late to get out of the saddle and into the winning move.
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

15:26 CEST   
The 32 year-old Di Luca thinks he will have an advantage over Contador in the upcoming mountain stages. "I have seen Monte Pora, I know the two stages of Friday and Saturday very well," he said. Contador has never raced the Giro d'Italia before and doesn't know the climbs.

Current race situation

  • Gabriele Bosisio (LPR Brakes), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale), Félix Rafael Cárdenas Ravalo (Barloworld), Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne), Alan Perez Lezaun (Euskaltel - Euskadi), Simon Spilak (Lampre), Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step), Mauricio Alberto Ardila Cano (Rabobank), Jens Voigt (Team CSC) and Nikolay Trusov (Tinkoff Credit Systems)
  • Peloton at 5.50

15:31 CEST    87km/60km to go
Astana continues to lead the way, on the narrow cobbled streets of an Italian village. The lead is 5'45 as the leading group starts up the day's only official climb.

15:32 CEST   
The race has turned to the south, coming to the day's one and only ranked climb, the Cat. III Brinzio (km 89.8). The peloton rides 55 km up the 503 meter high mountain. The gradient has an average of 3.9 % with a maximum of 9%.

15:33 CEST   
Tour of Belgium: The break is caught. There are still 15km to the finish as the sprinters' eyes are starting to gleam.

15:35 CEST   
Ardila seems to be falling off the back of the group as it roars up the mountain.

15:38 CEST   
There is a race in Bayern, too. 10km to go and a sprint finish is likely.

15:38 CEST    94km/53km to go
We were wrong about Ardila. He in fact was the first over the mountaintop.

15:39 CEST   
Bettini has picked up the speed and is pulling the escape group apart. Looks like the little Italian is serious about winning today.

15:40 CEST   
Tour of Belgium: How do you stop a large peloton flying down the roads at 60km/h? In Belgium they use narrow railway underpasses as the road went from five metres wide to maybe 1.50. The backend comes to a complete stop at this funnel. Eight more to go as Quick Step is taking charge.

15:43 CEST   
Yury of Moscow, Russia, says, "I think that escape group will not be caught. And winner will save about 2
minute in advance of peloton."

15:47 CEST   
Tour of Belgium: 3 more km to go. A super bad crash of Ken de Vaere. No wonder it involved a park car on the left hand side of the road. Belgium is notorious for that.

15:47 CEST   
Tour of Belgium: flamme rouge in Belgium. Quick Step on the front.

15:48 CEST   
Tour of Belgium: Lotto is close behind as well. But where is leader Dehaes?

15:49 CEST   
Tour of Belgium: It is Russian Boris Shpilevsky who wins the sprint! What a surprise! Steegmans got boxed - in the middle of the road!

15:51 CEST    97km/50km to go
And still a lead of 5'55.

15:52 CEST   
Tom A. of the Netherlands also thinks they will make it to the end, and is picking either Bettini or Rodriguez. Carlo is also predicting they will come through, but he favours sprinter Bennati. And Coyote Hills says bluntly, "With Bettini in the break, it will not be caught."

15:55 CEST   
The second stage in the Bayern Rundfahrt ended with the expected sprint but a surprise winner: Olaf Pollack of Team Volksbank, ahead of yesterday's winner Gerald Ciolek of High Road. That is the first win this season for the Austrian Professional Continental team.

15:58 CEST    102km/45km to go
The race is now two-thirds done, and Bosisio and Bettini have slightly pulled away from the leaders. Six minutes behind them, Lotto has moved up to take over the chase work. Erik Zabel has to stop and get a new bike.

15:59 CEST   
Zabel's wheel change was so efficient. cool, calm and collected. Just what you'd expect for such an experienced rider.

16:00 CEST   
Bettini is really starting to dominate this group. Long hard turns on the front and the gap is rising. He's so hungry for the win on this course.

16:03 CEST   
With the difference at 6'15, it looks pretty definite that the group will make it safely to the end. Meanwhile three Milram team-mates have moved back to help Zabel back to the peloton

16:05 CEST   
The escape group crosses the finish line for the first (but not the last) time, and who takes off? Jens Voigt!

16:06 CEST   
One quick look back to see the reaction and now he's at full throttle trying to get a gap. He's a sly old fox....

16:07 CEST   
Will they let such an experienced rider get away and establish a gap? Who will chase? And if it comes down to a sprint, how will Quick Step ride? Will Visconti drive for Bettini?

16:08 CEST    104km/43km to go
Voigt has built himself a lead of 25 seconds

Current race situation

  • Jens Voigt (Team CSC)
  • Gabriele Bosisio (LPR Brakes), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale), Félix Rafael Cárdenas Ravalo (Barloworld), Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne), Alan Perez Lezaun (Euskaltel - Euskadi), Simon Spilak (Lampre), Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step), Mauricio Alberto Ardila Cano (Rabobank) and Nikolay Trusov (Tinkoff Credit Systems) at 0.26
  • Peloton at 6.15

16:11 CEST   
Lotto leads the peloton over the finish line for the first time 6'12 later.

16:12 CEST   
Voigt grabs a water bottle in the rain, 33 seconds ahead of the escape group.

16:14 CEST   
Voigt is 36 years old and lives in Berlin with his wife and five children. He turned pro in 1997, and joined CSC in 2004. His list of Palmarès is much too long to list here. This year he won the Criterium International -- for the third time!

Jens Voigt (CSC) is in time trial mode again
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

16:15 CEST   
Voigt is still relatively dry, but the chasing field has been caught in a real downpour. Serves them right for being so slow......

16:17 CEST   
Nocentini of AG2R pulls out of the chasing escape group and takes off after Voigt. He is soon joined by Bosisio.

16:18 CEST   
The group has fallen apart and is not organized. Bettini and three others take off next.

16:19 CEST   
Bettini tries his best to get away from Bennati and the others following him., but he can't. Spilak is the next to go.

16:20 CEST   
He doesn't get away, either, and Bettini keeps on trying. Voigt is some 30 seconds ahead.

16:22 CEST   
Spilak did get away, and is between the group and Voigt. The German has now built his lead up to 45 seconds.

16:24 CEST   
Jeff in Jasper picks " Jens Voigt because he always works hard, and never gets as many wins as he deserves." We can't argue with that.

16:25 CEST    129km/18km to go
And we think Voigt's chances look very good right now. He is 54 seconds ahead of his former escape group.

16:27 CEST   
Kerry thinks that the circuit may be short enough that "the break might actually loop back and pass very close to the peloton pursuing them; close enough to see them even? That would be fun!"

16:28 CEST   
Trusov has now fallen out of the first chase group. He has a long way alone ahead of him now.

16:29 CEST    130km/17km to go
Voigt has a 40 second lead over the chasers, who have caught Spilak and he now falls back. The remaining chasers have split in their wild attempt to catch the CSC rider.

Current race situation

  • Jens Voigt (Team CSC)
  • Gabriele Bosisio (LPR Brakes), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale), Félix Rafael Cárdenas Ravalo (Barloworld), Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne), Alan Perez Lezaun (Euskaltel - Euskadi), Simon Spilak (Lampre), Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step), Mauricio Alberto Ardila Cano (Rabobank) and Nikolay Trusov (Tinkoff Credit Systems) at 0.38
  • Peloton at 7.00

16:31 CEST   
Visconti, Nocentini and Bosisio have pulled away after Voigt.

16:32 CEST    132km/15km to go
The three are 38 seconds behind and the rest of the group, including Bettini is 57 seconds back.

16:34 CEST   
The roads are very wet, increasing the chances for crashes. Bosisio falls slightly back but catches up again.

16:37 CEST   
Voigt is 30 seconds ahead of the three followers, and 53 seconds ahead of the rest of the chase group. he peloton is over 7 minutes down.

16:38 CEST   
The next attack is Bettini! He quickly builds up a small lead. The peloton is now 7'43 down!

Current race situation

  • Jens Voigt (Team CSC)
  • Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale), Gabriele Bosisio (LPR Brakes) and Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) at 0.38
  • Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne) and Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) at 1.15
  • Félix Rafael Cárdenas Ravalo (Barloworld), Mauricio Alberto Ardila Cano (Rabobank) at ?
  • Alan Perez Lezaun (Euskaltel - Euskadi), Simon Spilak (Lampre), Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), and Nikolay Trusov (Tinkoff Credit Systems) at ?
  • Peloton at 7.43

16:40 CEST   
Voigt continues on doggedly in the rain, 38 seconds ahead of the three chasers, with Bettini and Rodriguez one minute back.

16:41 CEST    137km/10km to go
Will Voigt make it alone to the end? Or will one of the chasing groups catch him?

16:42 CEST    140km/7km to go
Voigt is making good time!

16:43 CEST   
Benoit tells us that we cannot say "list of Palmarès", but must say simply "Palmarès". We stand corrected.

16:44 CEST    142km/5km to go
Voigt's style isn't the easiest on the eye but he's getting things done; turning a big gear and taking plenty of risks.

16:45 CEST   
The chasing trio comes under the 5 km mark 52 seconds later. That should be more than enough for Voigt!

16:47 CEST   
Uh oh, Voigt seems to be having a problem with his brakes. He has a big lead -- one minute now -- but a mechanical problem could eat that right up.

16:49 CEST   
Remember the peloton? We think we have seen them at some point today..... it is now eight minutes back!

16:50 CEST    145km/2km to go
Let's hope Voigt's bike holds together now for the rest of the way!

16:50 CEST   
Going into today's stage Voigt was 49th, 50'09 down. He will make a nice leap upwards today.

16:51 CEST    146km/1km to go
Voigt is in the last 1000 meters now.

16:52 CEST   
He looks back and waves to someone. Or is he shaking his fist?

16:53 CEST   
Voigt has plenty of time to raise his arms in celebration, pull his jersey down and enjoy the moment as he rolls over the finish line.

16:54 CEST   
A sprint for the next three places: Visconti takes it, 1'07 later.

16:55 CEST   
The Bettini group is the next to come over. Ardila opens the sprint but Bennati takes it ahead of Bettini.

16:56 CEST   
Ivan Basso may be (temporarily) gone, but he is definitely not forgotten. Someone has painted his name all over the road.

16:59 CEST   
That makes two stage wins in a row for German riders, but neither rides for a German team. Yesterday was Andre Greipel of High Road and today was CSC's Voigt.

17:00 CEST   
Slipstream's Ryder Hesjedal has a mechanical problem at an unfortunate time, and gets a new bike.

17:01 CEST   
The peloton is finally approaching the finish line. Contador sprints out, but is second over the line as they cross in 6'57.

17:02 CEST   
Tomorrow will definitely be a different sort of stage and finish, as the race goes up into the mountains once again. Join us then for the climbing fun!

Provisional results

1 Jens Voigt (Ger) Team CSC
2 Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Quick Step                  1.07
3 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
4 Gabriele Bosisio (Ita) LPR Brakes
5 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas                      2.04
6 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step
7 Félix Rafael Cárdenas Ravalo (Col) Barloworld

General classification after stage 16

1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Astana)
2 Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval - Scott)                0.41
3 Gilberto Simoni (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni)        1.21
4 Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre)                             2.00
5 Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas)                          2.05

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