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83rd Giro d'Italia - GT

Italy, May 13 - June 4, 2000

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Stage 8 - May 21: Corinaldo to Prato, 255 km

Merckx and Gutierrez in a crash performance

By Gabriella Ekström, correspondent

Axel Merckx
Photo: © AFP
We are climbing. "We" means Chepe Gonzales from Aguardiente Selle Italia, Ivan Parra Pinto from Vitalicio Seguros, Jose Enrique Gutierrez, Jose Joaquim Castelblanco and Jose Javier Gomez from Kelme, Eladio Jimenez from Banesto and Axel Merckx from Mapei. The latter is showing a form he never had before. So, probably is Gutierrez! The mountain prize goes to Chepe Gonzales. Filippo Casagrande from Vini Caldirola, the brother of Francesco, Danilo Di Luca from Cantina Tollo, Mariano Piccoli with the white glasses, riding for Lampre, Paolo Lanfranchi from Mapei and Max Sciandri from Linda McCartney have been following them for a while and manage to join them with 42 kilometers to go. Kelme has to do the work at the front. Not because they are strong and mean machines, but for the reason there's three of them.

All Swede's darling of the race, Niclas Axelsson, has been forced to abandon today. He has been suffering from bronchitis from the start of the race. Polti's Enrico Cassani, the Italian with the wavey hair attacks from the peloton and is followed by Freddy Gonzales from Aguardiente Selle Italia. Saeco was not at the top of the peloton when it happend, or else the Colombian might had thought twice about it. The peloton streches out as Fassa Bortolo goes to the front. Enrico and Freddy are brought back, but the pace stays high, and the streets are narrow and almost ancient so the peloton better stay out streched.

Di Luca attacks from the leading group. He is thinking of the pink jersey. He knows that he wants it very much. Another rider who could be taking the jersey today is Gutierrez. Gutierrez attacks when Di Luca is brought back, and the pace is so high that only Merckx and Lanfranchi can follow. Ivan Parra Pinto tries to fight himself back to the top, and thanks to the driving skills of a MC driver he finds his way back. Merckx had to let go though. The pace is still set by Gutierrez and Di Luca, and Lanfranchi stays close to them.

Christian Moreni from Liquigas goes to the front and rises the speed back in the peloton. Eladio Jimenez from Banesto attacks over the top but crashes into some spectators on the descent. A mother and her child is hit by his bike but quickly get back on their feet. One man remains on the ground, and I'm not sure what has happened to him. Jimenez is back on his bike again. Meanwhile Axel Merckx and Jose Joaquim Castelblanco have fought their way back to the front group again. Two riders are chasing inbetween them and the peloton. It is Max Sciandri and Filippo Casagrande who was dropped from the front group earlier, but have managed to stay ahead of the peloton.

30 kilometers to go, and the road goes up again. The riders pass through tiny villages with narrow passages between the houses. A group of men are running alongside the road in their underwear! The guys are surely riding a bit faster. To put in the miles between them and the nude guys...

Davide Rebellin from Liquigas attacks from the peloton, just as Eladio Jimenez reaches the last rider in it. He looks alright. 25 kilometers to go and they are close to the top of Monte Acuto. Mercatone Uno moves to the top of the peloton, but Marco Pantani has never been further away from an attack. Filippo Casagrande and Max Sciandri are closing in on the six leaders who have just started the dangerous descent. If you wanna know just how dangerous, take a look at Eladio Jimenez. He decides here and now to only take part in flat races from now on. A sharp turn and there goes Gutierrez. He crashes into the spectators, and luckily stays there. The spectators in front of Axel Merckx move, so he disappears down a slope. Paolo Lanfranchi, Filippo Casagrande, Max Sciandri, Ivan Parra Pinto and Danilo Di Luca continue without them. Castelblanco is also missing but he is probably trying to bring Gutierrez back. Gutierrez and Castelblanco manage to get back on with ten kilometers to go, but Merckx is still 23 seconds down and he is pissed off.

The peloton is a minute down on the leaders. Saeco is doing all the work, for some reason Fassa Bortolo isn't helping them out. Tosatto's jersey isn't lost yet, but in a few kilometers it will be. Gutierrez doesn't look affected by his crash as he tries to attack from the group. Merckx is steadily closing in, and with five kilometers to go he is finally there. Castelblanco rides at the front, Di Luca follows right behind him. Gutierrez and Parra Pinto moves up to take their share of the work. They are co-operating quite well, but we are all waiting for Di Luca to jump. Two kilometers to go, and the attack comes, but not from Di Luca. It is Axel Merckx. He gets a gap, no-one really tries to follow. Merckx passes under the red flag, and his attack was hard enough. He has the gap he needs to win this stage!

Complete Live report

Welcome to the eighth stage of the Giro d'Italia. Or the first "real" one with some tough climbs, two second categories and one of the first category at 198 of the days 255. There's some time for regrouping after the major climbs but the road into Prato is not entirely flat.

Paolo Savoldelli (Saeco) is the highest placed of the favourites but no one has fallen out so far. This stage would suite him. He is a good climber but not the best but it usually making up for losses going downhill. Last year's sixth, Axelsson (Panaria) suffers from bronchitis and today he will find out whether it is a good idea to go on. Today we will follow the final hours of the stage from 1400 CET with some updates before that at the major climbs.

1200 CET: - The stage is on but with an average speed under 30 kilometres per hour in the first hour (wanna ride along, anyone?) everybody is taking it easy until the first climb at Bocca Trabaria at 91.8 kms.

13.10 CET - The first climb is approaching. The last hour has seen some minor attacking from Simeoni (Amica) and Dierckxens (Lampre) but nothing serious so far. Everybdy is preparing for the climb.

13.30 CET - The climb of Bocca Trabaria wasn't too dramatic with the peloton calmly staying together most. That allowed current KOM Karsten Kroon (Rabobank) to sprint for some more points for the green jersey. He passed first ahead of Mariano Piccoli (Lampre) and Paolo Valoti (Mobilvetta).

14.05 CET - The peloton has come down as one from the first mountain of the day. The road now goes slightly upwards for some 25 kilometres and then the actual climb for Valico di Spino starts. It is 12 kilometres long and rises 5.2 percent, a fraction steeper and a little shorter than the first climb at Bocca Trabaria. After this climb there is an Intergiro sprint at Bibbiena Stazione and the road to the third and last climb, Passo della Consuma, is fairly flat but the climb is steeper than the others. The average is basically the same though, since there is a little downhill part some kilometres before the top.

14.35 CET - The second climb, Valico di Spino, has started, so far without attacks. The pace for the first four hours has been extremely slow, barely above 28 kph. The field might pass this mountain an hour after the scheduled time. Attacks from Daniele Contrini (Liquigas) and "Chepe" Gonzalez (Nectar) has been neutralized.

14.40 CET - Fortunato Baliani (Nectar) and Jose Javier Gomez (Kelme) has attacked together. Both are more than 10 minutes behind in the general classification though. At the same time sprinters Cipollini (Saeco) and Quaranta (Mobilvetta) are suffering.

14.50 CET - Baliani and Gomez are allowed a fair gap, 22 seconds at last control. More riders are falling out in the back: yesterday's winner McKenzie (Linda McCartney) and Ludo Dierckxens (Lampre).

15.00 CET - Gomez is leaving Baliani behind before the summit and wins the mountain prize with a ten seconds margin. The peloton is 40 seconds behind. On the way down Baliani is caught while Fincato (Fassa Bortolo) attacks. He is only 1.37 behind in the GC.

15.20 CET - Gomez as well as Fincato are caught by the peloton on the way down from Valico di Spino and the peloton is once again together.

15.40 CET - At the Intergiro in Bibbiena Stazione (168 kms) a quartet has got a gap. It is green jersey Karsten Kroon (Rabobank), Oscar Pozzi (Amica Chips), Ruber Alverio Marin (Nectar) and Daniel Schnider (La Francaise des Jeaux). They get 20 seconds to the peloton but are reeled in at Poppi (173 kms).

16.15 CET - After an unsuccessful attack from Frattini and Gonzalez the leader Tosatto (Fassa Bortolo) attacks and a group of eleven is formed. Simeoni , Tonti , Chepe Gonzalez , Peña , Ochoa , Tonti , Cardenas , Moreni , Sevilla , Merckx are the others. This group was also caught soon and in the final major climb another group is formed with Chepe Gonzales (Nectar), Guiterrez (Kelme), Gomez (Kelme), Axel Merckx (Mapei), Parra (Vitalicio), Jimenez Sanchez (Banesto). Gonzalez wins the last mountain prize with 46 seconds to the peloton. 57 kilometres left.

16.25 - A new group is trying to bridge and it contains Danilo di Luca (Cantina Tollo), Filippo Casagrande (Vini Caldirola), Max Sciandri (Linda McCartney), Piccoli (Lampre) and Lanfranchi (Mapei). A seventh rider is also along in the front group: Castebklanco (Kelme). In the front group Merckx is attacking at gets one of the three Kelme, Gutierrez, riders on the wheel.

16.32 - Merckx's attack is going nowhere. The septet is rejoined with 42 kms to go. The three Kelme riders are doing most of the job of course. The di Luca group joins from behind and now Kelme's Gutierrez is leader on the road. He is only 14 seconds behind leading Tosatto. Di Luca is 31 so they will really have a hard time trying to hold the peloton off.

16.40 - 37 seconds now from the front group to the peloton, and there more attacks than team time trial in the peloton. It is still the three Kelme riders that are doing the job in the front group, trying to drive Gutierrez into the pink leader's jersey. Sad news for all Swedes: Nicklas Axelsson (Panaria), last year's number six, abandoned the race a little while ago.

16.52 - The gap is growing again. Fassa Bortolo is working hard now to keep Tosatto in pink. The situation in the front group is that di Luca takes the leader's jersey if he wins the stage, not unlikely, and if Guiterrez misses the podium and the bonus seconds. The two Kelme riders Casteblanco and Gomez are working while Gutierrez is resting when di Luca attacks but Gutierrez hangs on and Lanfranchi joins. The leading group is split now. Question is if it is too early. Di luca attacks one more time in the little climb, the last one for today. But Gutierrez answers boldly.

17.00 CET - Parra is on his way to join the leading trio but has problems to reach all the way. The others from the leading group are now caught one by one. Up frony Gutierresz is working hard now, knees almost pointing out. Parra was within five metres but is not able to hang on but Eladio Jimenez (Banesto) is coming while Tosatto has problems in the climb. Alone. His mates are in the top of the peloton, trying to keep the speed down when Chepe Gonzales is caught.

Now Jimenez falls in the front group but is quickly up on the bike. On the way down Parra is finally catching up so they are four anyway. In the peloton Tosatto is back.

17.10 CET - 30 kms to go. There are now six riders in the front. Castelblanco (Kelme), Merckx (Mapei) has joined . Two riders, Filippo Casagrande (Vivi Caldirola) and Max Sciandri (Linda McCArtney) are 23 seconds behind and the peloton is at 58 seconds. Davide Rebellin has attacked from the peloton to reach Sciandri and Filipo Casagrande and then maybe the rest.

17.20 CET - The gap is around a minute and there are not so many riders left in the peloton. It might be hard to get a good train going. It's Mercatone Uno now doing the job. Meanwhile Casagrande jr and Sciandri is closing in on the leaders and catches them going down now from 600 metres to some 80 metres.

17.30 CET - The gap to the peloton even grows a bit and now it looks as there will be a new leader after today's stage. The two Colombians have some problems downwards.

Gutierrez falls now when he hits a bystander so di Luca now goes to the front. Merckx is behind. Such a pity for Gutierrez. Castelblanco is also behind, he might have crashed at the same place as Gutierrez. Down on the flat di Luca gets a gap with Filippo Casagrande when Sciandri refuses to take his turn. The little group is soon together again.

Question is if Gutierrez can join with Merckx. Yes, he does. He has Casteblanco with him and they are closing in while the front group is calming down a bit. They have passed Merckx. Under the ten kilometre banner the Kelme duo joins the front group. Merckx has some more metres.

17.40 CET - In the suburbs of Prato. The peloton is now 48 seconds behind. Merckx is also closing in. Saeco riding hard in the peloton. Gutierrez attacks now! He gets some twenty metres but that's all. And Merckx is closing in, he has reached the motorbikes now and might be able to catch them. At five kilometres from the finish he tags along at the back of the group. The rain has started to fall. No more crashes please. Still 47 seconds for the peloton. Di Luca and the two Kelme's are working most.

17.45 CET - Building up for the sprint now. If di Luca wins Gutierrez must be among top three. Gutierrez must keep his attention on di Luca. But Merckx attacks on the city streets and is first under the kilometre banner. A sharp left turn. What a race he has done today. He rode faster than the chasing peleton when he reached the leaders.

Axel Mercks wins! Some seconds ahead of the group where Sciandri is fastest.

17.52 CET - José Enrique Gutierrez, Kelme Costa-Blanca, takes the pink leader's jersey, well deserved after a crash on the final descent. Axel Merckx also crashed in the same place. He won the stage. Impressive.

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