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91st Giro d'Italia - GT

Italy, May 10-June 1, 2008

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Stage Rest Day - Monday, May 19:

Escapes, sprinters and long transfers

By Susan Westemeyer

Quick Step protects Visconti
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The Giro d'Italia started out on the island of Sicily, offering few of the traditional opening week sprint stages. Three different riders wore the leader's maglia rosa in the first nine stages, while Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval) and Daniel Bennati (Liquigas) both took two stage victories.

Team Slipstream had its moment of glory in winning the opening team time trial, and it appeared again on the screen with David Millar's bike-throwing exhibition. Liquigas was the big winner, with Franco Pellizotti wearing the leader's jersey for four days and Bennati using his two stage wins to hold on to the sprinter's jersey firmly.

The happy Visconti family
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Three of the stages went to successful breakaway groups, with the most successful coming in over nine minutes ahead of the peloton. The sprinters took advantage of their three stages, with Bennati and High Road's Mark Cavendish having the fastest legs.

As far as the riders were concerned, the first third of the Giro was marked by long crashes, transfers and late nights. Nearly every day required hours in the team bus or car, and the ferry transfer to the mainland was later and slower than scheduled. There was much dissatisfaction with the peloton at the late hours and lack of time for rejuvenation. The organisers responded by shortening the longest stage from 264 km to 235.

No clear leader had appeared by Stage 9. All of the favourites stayed close together, both on the road and in the overall rankings. Everyone seemed to be wondering what the other would do, with the result that no one tried much of anything.

Young rider Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) wore the leader's jersey going into the rest day, but he and everyone else knew he would not be able to hold it through the upcoming mountain stages.

Stage 1 - Saturday, May 10: Palermo (Team Time Trial), 23.6km

Christian Vande Velde and his Slipstream team-mates
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

United States of America-based Professional Continental team Slipstream got its first Grand Tour off to a perfect start, winning the team time trial and putting Christian Vande Velde in the leader's maglia rosa. "We are over the moon," a happy Vande Velde said.
Astana, which received a last-minute invitation to the race, had been a favourite going into the stage. But the Luxembourg-based team only finished seventh, 29 seconds down. "After so much time away from racing, we can't be dissatisfied with how we did," Alberto Contado said. "We could have gone a little better, but all things considered, we have to be content."

In what would be prove to be a taste of the days to come, the team time trial was held on wet roads, following rain earlier in the day.

Stage 2 - Sunday, May 11: Cefal¨ - Agrigento, 207km

Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval-Scott) overcame an early crash to take the uphill sprint from a six-rider group. The group included some of the race's biggest names, line Danilo Di Lucca (LPR Brakes), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) and Paolo Savoldelli (LPR Brakes).

The Giro's start was more challenging for riders this year than in those gone past. Instead of a flat sprint stage, the second stage was a rolling, hilly expedition across the island of Sicily, with two ranked climbs.

Pellizotti's fourth place finish was enough to give him the overall lead, just one second ahead of Vande Velde.

The leader's jersey wasn't Slipstream's only loss on the stage, with another major setback coming from the loss of David Zabriskie. The American was diagnosed with a cracked vertebra after crashing on a train crossing.

Stage 3 - Monday, May 12: Catania - Milazzo, 221km

Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) takes a victory
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The sprinters finally had their day, and Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) made the most of it. He outsprinted Germans Erik Zabel and Danilo Hondo to take not only the stage but also the points jersey. That gave two special jerseys to Liquigas, as Pellizotti also held on to his leader's jersey, and to top it off, the team led in the teams classification competition.

It was Bennati's first win, in his first Giro. He had previously won stages in the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espa˝a.

The day was marked by breakaways, crashes and high speeds as it raced along the coast to the island's north-eastern-most tip before turning west to the finale in Milazzo.

A crash with 70 kilometres to go took out nearly half the field, but it was a crash with 20 km remaining that had more serous consequences. A bike from a fallen rider went flying into the peloton, and Team CSC lost both Bradley McGee and Stuart O'Grady to broken collarbones in the resulting crash.

Stage 4 - Tuesday, May 13: Pizzo Calabro - Catanzaro-Lungomare, 183km

Another Giro rookie won in Catanzaro-Lungomare, with High Road's Mark Cavendish easily outsprinting Bennati. A large crash within the last kilometre took down or stopped most of the followers, but the top sprinters were already in front.

"I think for sure it is the biggest win of my career," said the young Manxman. "I think to come to the Giro and win a stage is big for any rider. What makes it even more sweet is the way my team worked today.

"They had a lot of faith - even though there was a climb near the finish, they believed in me, they waited for me on the climb, they took me back and then they went straight to the front and got working," added the 22 year-old.

Pellizotti maintained his slim lead of one second over Vande Velde.

The Giro returned to the Italian mainland starting with this stage. Many riders complained of the long, tiring transfer, with most of them not getting to bed before midnight.

Stage 5 - Wednesday, May 14: Belvedere Marittimo - Contursi Terme, 203km

Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

This was a day of firsts: Pavel Brutt took the first ever Giro stage win for Tinkoff Credit Systems, and he was the first Russian to win a Giro stage in four years. It was also the first stage where a long breakaway successfully made it to the end.

The stage also featured the first bike thrown off of the course by a frustrated rider, as Slipstream's David Millar put on an understandable show of temper in the finale.

The day's group had established itself by kilometre 20. It built up a lead of up to eight minutes in light rain as the peloton continued to move northwards. The group held on to the slimmest of leads as it passed under the one kilometre marker. Brutt attacked just as Millar's chain broke. The angry Scot threw his damaged bike over the barrier in frustration as the peloton thundered past him.

The remaining four all crossed the finish line before Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) led the peloton across it only 31 seconds behind the winner - the first, but not the last, successful long break of the Giro.

Pelizotti continued to hold on to his lead.

Stage 6 - Thursday, May 15: Potenza - Peschici (Circuito del Gargano), 231.6km

Today's escape group wasn't going to fool around with a 30-second lead over the peloton and Matteo Priamo (CSF Group Navigare) crossed the line a whopping 11'34 ahead of the peloton. Race organisers had to dig deep into the rule book to determine the maglia rosa, as two riders were tied with the identical time, but they finally awarded it to Quick Step's Giovanni Visconti ahead of Gerolsteiner's Matthias Russ.

The stage was shortened from its planned 264 km to 231 km, after consultation with the riders, who were still unhappy with the lengthy transfers and late bedtimes.

The break got away at kilometre 50 and built up a lead of up to 16 minutes. At the end of the day, all the favourites were over nine minutes down on the general classification, but none of them worried, knowing they would be able to make up time in the later mountain stages.

Stage 7 - Friday, May 16: Vasto - Pescocostanzo, 180km

Bubbly time for Italian rider Gabriele Bosisio (LPR Brakes)
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

The breakaway trend continued with Gabriele Bosisio (LPR Brakes) the only one to survive a four-man escape group to the end. He took the win on the stage his captain Danilo Di Luca had targeted, with Di Luca and the other favourites coming in two minutes later.

The constantly rolling course held three ranked climbs in its last half, plus an uphill finish. In a show of things to come, Emanuele Sella (CSC Group Navigare) won all three of the mountains climbs.

Visconti easily defended his leader's jersey while the favourites all arrived in the same time, still huddled close together on general classification.

Stage 8 - Saturday, May 17: Rivisondoli - Tivoli, 208km

Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval-Scott) did it again, blasting his way up an ascending finish in a mass sprint of a group containing the favourites in the race. A disappointed Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) took second place, and again Visconti retained his pink jersey.

A group of four including High Road's Adam Hansen got away after kilometre 42, and were later joined by Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli's Daniele Nardello. With 15 kilometres to go, most of the group sat up and waited for the peloton, but Hansen kept on going solo before being overtaken only three kilometres from the finish.

Astana's Alberto Contador crashed about halfway through the race, suffering what was eventually diagnosed as a fractured elbow.

Stage 9 - Sunday, May 18: Civitavecchia - San Vincenzo, 218km

Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) believes he's won
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The sprinters had another of their rare chances and Bennati did it again, beating World Champion Bettini in a photo finish while Visconti continued to hold his lead over Russ. "This is incredible. I am in great condition, but today I had a bit of luck, too," said Bennati.

The 34 year-old Bettini was happy, too, even though it was his second second-place finish in as many days. "I only lacked a little bit," he said. "I am very content, as I was a protagonist again today. I am not a pure sprinter, but nonetheless I participated in the sprint and I got second. Va bene!"

Yuriy Krivtsvo (AG2R) and Mickael Buffaz (Cofidis) were the break of the day, taking off immediately after the start and staying away for over 200 kilometres. High Road controlled the rest of the race, setting up its sprinter Cavendish, but he was able to finish only seventh, as he crossed the finish line shaking his fist at another rider.

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