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92nd Giro d'Italia - GT

Italy, May 9-31, 2009

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Rest day 2 - Tuesday, May 26: Chieti

Changing terrain, changing fortunes

By Susan Westemeyer

Denis Menchov (Rabobank)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The Giro d'Italia's second week delivered the mix of racing fans had hoped for. Two sprint stages, a punishing time trial, successful breaks and a host of tough mountains in searing heat resulted in a definitive, albeit slight, lead for a Russian stalwart.

Cavendish proved his sprinting superiority by easily winning two stages before dropping out of the race to rest up for the Tour de France. Meanwhile, behind the Brit opponents squabbled with one another, most likely out of frustration at not being able to get around the speedy Manxman.

Rabobank's Denis Menchov powered his way around the feared and lengthy Cinque Terre time trial to take the maglia rosa from Danilo Di Luca, although the Italian was able to hang on doggedly to second place. Astana's Levi Leipheimer moved up to third overall following a strong showing in the TT, although after stage 16 he would drop to sixth overall.

Popular opinion had Astana's Lance Armstrong a favourite for the time trial, with the American apparently planning to hunt the win; it soon became clear that it was not to be. He went through the first time check 43 seconds down and continued to lose time along the way.

The seven-time Tour de France champion finished in a time sandwiched between the defending Tour champion and an Australian Giro hopeful (Carlos Sastre and Michael Rogers) but time lost in the subsequent stages meant he lies in 12th place, 11 minutes down on Menchov, by the second rest day.

Stage 10 - Tuesday, May 19: Cuneo - Pinerolo, 262km

Danilo Di Luca
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Danilo Di Luca proved why he was the man in pink, leading the chase to catch a solo escapee and riding away to win solo.

With 15km of the stage remaining, Di Luca went after Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) who looked to be on his way to the win. His powerful burst was so hefty that only four of the other top riders could follow.

And once Pellizotti was caught, Di Luca kept on going, eventually outdistancing his companions on the final descent to cement his overall lead.

The day's course featured three difficult climbs and lived up to claims it would shake down the rankings. Those who couldn't keep up with the speedy LPR rider included Ivan Basso (Liquigas) and Leipheimer, both of whom lost 30 seconds.

Stage 11 - Wednesday, May 20: Motoring - Arenzano (Genova), 214km

Mark Cavendish
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

A category three climb only 20km before the finish line isn't enough to stop the sprinter who won Milano-Sanremo. Columbia-Highroad's Mark Cavendish made it look easy, as he always does, when powering to his second stage win of the Giro.

Other sprinters weren't as pleased as the Briton. Third-placed Alessandro Petacchi (LPR) grumbled about those who didn't obey the "correct code of sprinting ethics", but was careful not to mention the name of rival second-placed Tyler Farrar and his Garmin-Slipstream teammates.

Stage 12 - Thursday, May 21: Sestri Levante - Riomaggiore (ITT), 60.6km

Denis Menchov
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Denis Menchov proved to be the best on the long, undulating, technically-difficult time trial, while two Americans who had been picked to win came up short. Rabobank's Russian set the best time at each intermediate time check and won by 1:27 ahead of Di Luca, moving the pink jersey to Menchov's orange-and-blue shoulders.

Many pundits were looking to either of Astana's two Americans to take the stage win and the overall lead here, but Leipheimer came in 10 seconds short and had to settle for second on the stage and a move up to third place overall. Armstrong had pre-ridden the route and was thought to be aiming for the win but only finished 13th, nearly two-and-a-half minutes down.

Stage 13 - Friday, May 22: Lido di Camaiore - Firenze, 176km

Numero tre
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Another flat stage, another mass sprint, another Cavendish win. Petacchi managed to make second place this time but there was really no question as to how the race would turn out.

A trio of riders got away only 12km into the race, and the last one, Björn Schröder of Milram, was caught with less than 6km to go. The sprinters weren't about to let one of their few chances get away, and with the GC favourites all safely tucked inside the peloton the racehorses moved to the front of the pack to come thundering in.

Stage 14 - Saturday, May 23: Campi Bisenzio - Bologna (San Luca), 172km

Simon Gerrans
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Seeing how the escape group the previous day nearly made it, today's break took heart and was able to succeed. Simon Gerrans of Cervélo TestTeam and 12 others took off at the 12km marker; the Australian outlasted his companions out front and finished at the head of proceedings in Bologna.

It was a very hot day on a course with five ranked climbs, including a particularly nasty closing climb up to San Luca. Gerrans' former escape companions dribbled into the finish before the group of favourites came charging over the line barely a minute later. Leipheimer lost another three seconds on Menchov and Di Luca.

Stage 15 - Sunday, May 24: Forlì - Faenza, 161km

Leonardo Bertagnolli
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Yet another breakaway attempt was successful on another blistering hot day, as Leonardo Bertagnolli won on a stage that featured four climbs. The Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli rider started out in a group of more than a dozen and held on as all the others fell off, crossing the line with nearly a minute's lead over his nearest competitors.

The two biggest losers of the day were Cervélo's Serge Pauwels and Basso. Pauwels was alone in the lead with Bertagnolli when the team told him to wait for Carlos Sastre but the Spaniard never caught his helper, and Pauwels saw his chance for a stage win go down the drain. Basso tried a break on the final climb but found that he had few friends in the peloton, and was soon caught again by Menchov and Co.

Stage 16 - Monday, May 25: Pergola - Monte Petrano, 237km

Carlos Sastre
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Carlos Sastre put on an incredible show of strength in the final three kilometres to break away from Menchov, Di Luca and Basso, flying past Yaroslav Popovych and taking the stage win. He moved into third place overall, replacing Leipheimer, who had a bad day and lost nearly three minutes to drop to sixth overall.

It was a classic mountaintop finish, with riders dropping back from the escape group and the peloton with the favourites grinding away and shelling riders out the back. The decisive move came when Basso jumped with eight kilometres to go, joined only by Menchov, Di Luca and Sastre.

The Spaniard then took off on his own, and easily motored his way to the win while Menchov increased his lead by sprinting for second place to take crucial bonus seconds over Di Luca.

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