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83rd Giro d'Italia - GT

Italy, May 13 - June 4, 2000

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Stage 1 - May 14: Rome to Terracina, 125 km

Cipollini takes his Maglia

Mario Cipollini in the pink
Photo: © AFP

By Gabriella Ekström, correspondent

Leonardo Scarselli riding for the Columbian team Selle Italia rode alone, ahead of the peloton as they were about to enter Terracina where the riders would ride three laps of seven kilometers. Scarselli never had more than a 50 seconds gap, and when they entered Terracina it was down to 35". Saeco rode at the front, making it obvious that this flat stage was designed for their man Cipollini, who was back in his normal red clothes today. The peloton was very streched out during the first lap, and quite a few riders were surprised by how dangerous the course was, with its sharp turns.

Mario Cipollini was the first rider over the intermediate sprint located at km 66. Since he gained six bonus seconds, and only lost four to Jan Hruska yesterday, he will be wearing the leader's jersey tomorrow. Two riders who are not wearing any race clothes today are Linda McCartneys Pascal Richard and Ben Brooks who are both ill with a stomach influenza. Brooks felt ill yesterday but still managed to ride the prologue where he finished last. Notable is that Norweigan Björnar Vestöl, also riding for Linda McCartney has been wearing the lanterne rouge for quite some kilometers now. I could probably make a pun about the McCartneys and their race food, but it has already been done so many times that I'll let it be.

Saeco has a full team lineup at the front, and it is actually a bit sad that they have brought so many riders to help Mario in the sprints, when they have such a a good rider as Savoldelli for the G.C. Remember how US Postal left out their sprinters in last year's Tour and aimed only for the general classification? Still, there's nothing like the publicity of Mario dressed up like the Pink Panther.

Farm Frites is another team that is very interested in this sprint, and just as they sent Michel Lafis up front to check things out, the crash occured. Several riders went down somewhere in the middle of the peloton. Among the victims were Paolo Savoldelli, Tom Leaper and Julio Alberto Perez from Panaria-Gaerne, Marcel Duijn from Rabobank and Fabio Baldato from Fassa Bortolo. Early rumours said that the crash caused only minor injuries, but I think different. Fabio Baldato, who had just found his old form and started to look a bit like we remembered him, did look pale and was in great pain as he reached the line for the second time, and it is not clear whether he rode the last seven kilometers to the finish. He was later diagnosed with a broken collarbone and a fractured pelvis.

Saeco was not happy about Savoldelli beeing involved in the crash, just as the commissaires were not too happy about the way he was beeing paced back to the peloton behind their car. The peloton had split in half, and it took the the second group four kilometers to chase back. Meanwhile Farm Frites had once again moved to the front, this time with Koos Moorenhout, Wim Vansevenant and Servais Knaven. Their new sprinter Robbie McEwen had not been affected by the crash, and sat comfortably behind them. The Australian has found some form this spring, although his palmares might tell something different.

As the road followed the coast, the wind was an evidently element to take into consideration. Another team interested in the sprint, was Ivan Quaranta's Mobilvetta-Rossin. Some of them might be upset from the decision that was taken two days ago to fire their leader Evgeni Berzin, but they revealed little of this during the race.

Something was missing at the front with only a few kilometers to go. There was no 'treno rosso'. Alessandro Galetti, Francesco Secchiari and Guiseppe Calcaterra had lost contact with the peloton, and it didn't seem likely that Cipollini would attend the sprint at all. The Lion King has grown wiser with age, and does no longer do foolish things, although he sometimes dresses like a fool. A late attack came from Vitalicio Seguros' Elio Aggiano, and with him followed Alessandro Petacchi, who also won the only mountain prize of the day, and will therefore start tomorrow's stage in green. Both riders were eager to get a gap to the rest and were working fine with each other, still the velocity of the peloton were too high and the two riders were caught within a few minutes.

Polti moved up closer to the front as they approached the line, but when Blijlevens tried to get a good wheel, (De Jongh's?) he found himself driven off by Mobilvetta's Ivan Quaranta. Quaranta is a sprinter who matures while his reputation grows. More than twenty riders did look like likely winners with 500 metres to go, and with 200 to go, it was by no means clear who would win. Blijlevens had lost Silvio Martinello's wheel, and not surprisingly it was the Italian who put up the better sprint of the two Polti riders. Blijlevens did not keep a steady line either, but the other riders managed to avoid him and also stay upright. Mario Cipollini rode at the front, but he was not riding for the victory, and with a two second lead over Hruska, he didn't have to. Ivan Quaranta was looking for a gap big enough for him to pass, and with 100 meters to go he found it, and came flying past Blijlevens and De Jongh and took the victory in front of Liquigas top sprinter Marco Zanotti.

Mario Cipollini did look a bit lost in the sprint, and obviously the crash on the penultimate lap made great damage to the red train of Saeco. But with or without a stage win, Mario Cipollini will still start the stage between Terracina and Maddolini tomorrow with the maglia rosa on his shoulders.


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