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83rd Giro d'Italia - GT

Italy, May 13 - June 4, 2000

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Stage 9 - May 22: Prato to Abetone, 140 km

Casagrande creams them

By Gabriella Ekstrm, correspondent

Francesco Casagrande
Photo: © AFP
The line of riders follows the narrow road that twists its way up the mountains. Filippo Casagrande from Vini Caldirola rides close to the front together with Mariano Piccoli from Lampre with those white glasses. Alberto Ongarato from Mobilvetta tries to get away, I dont see a reason why he would try to get the pave up, so he is definitely trying to get away. Diego Ferrari from Amica Chips is following, and then Fassa Bortolo's Andrea Peron closes the gap. Fassa Bortolo are in charge of the peloton, but will it help Tosatto survive the day? Not likely. Kelme has started to prepare for the climb of San Pellegrino. They are moving closer to the top with the pink jersey Gutierrez. They are passing a little village that is split in half by a streaming river. Also Cantina Tollo moves up to the front, it is no secret that Danilo Di Luca wants the jersey. He wants it bad. Who doesn't?

King of the Mountains, Karsten Kroon is King of the Gruppetto before the climb has even started. A rider from Ceramica Panaria-Gaerne is following a misplaced MC. How come they are always misplaced? More and more riders have discovered the vehicle, and are taking advantage of it to get away from the peloton. Saeco has taken over the front work. They're not letting anyone flee. Matthew White, also from Vini Caldirola moves along with the front riders. It is actually easier than what one first thinks to find out who's hot and who's not, by looking at the riders at the front. If Saeco's 'treno rosso' rides at the front with ten kilometers to go, Mario Cipollini will win. That is easy. But if only one rider from Mapei mixes with the guys from Saeco, then Tom Steels will win. It never goes wrong! There are teams that would start a lead-out without having their sprinter in form, and there are teams who would never bother unless their sprinter already promised he would win.

This stage is not for sprinters though, but you can easily tell that someone in Vini Caldirola is feeling alright. Saeco isn't preparing for the Intergiro sprint either as one could have guessed. They have nothing to gain there. Cipollini is helping Savoldelli out by riding at the front. You might not be used to see him riding at the front like this, but it happens, it happens! Behind him follows Dario Pieri, the bleached Italian who does all those funny things. People say about him that "Pieri is mad!" and laugh, but he doesn't seem to mind. That's right, just ride on dear!

You can also tell who is the better and who is the worse climber in Saeco. Cipo is definitely the worst, that's why he started to pull. Pieri isn't much better, so he followed after Cipo, and after them Galetti and Conte will take over. Padrnos is strong and will get on later. Secchiari might save himself for the Intergiro, and Scirea is the one who will stay with Savoldelli if things goes right. Calcaterra? He will keep an eye on the Colombians.

Mercatone Uno has gathered around Pantani at the back of the peloton. They are crossing a giant bridge made of stone. It's an excellent piece of work, but the riders have no time to stop and admire it. A little rider in yellow is fighting hard not to lose the wheel in front of him. Yes, it is Pantani, and no, he has no form. His team are desperately trying to put him in a better position without stressing him too much. Where's Garzelli in this situation? Sadly enough, he isn't at the front.

Victor Pena from Vitalicio Seguros tries a smaller attack, without any success. The Intergiro sprint is here, and Tosatto isn't where he would like to be. Fabrizio Guidi from FDJ is battling it out with Dmitri Konyshev, and takes it in front of the Russian even though he sprinted half a wheel behind him all the time. Ruben Marin from Aguardiente Selle Italia attacks when everybody else is relaxing after the sprint. The road starts to rise here. A sharp turn to the left, then it heads straight up. Ruben Marin is caught when the road flattens. They are not far away from San Pellegrino.

Filippo Casagrande goes to the front again with three other riders from Vini Caldirola. Francesco Casagrande is one of them. Roberto Conti moves forward and takes over after Filippo. Pavel Tonkov from Mapei is riding close behind him, and after him follows Wladimir Belli from Fassa Bortolo. A grupetto is formed already. Pantani is not in the grupetto yet, he is among the last riders at the back of the main group. His old team mate, Roberto Conti is slowly killing him.

Belli moves up on the outside of Casagrande and challenges him a little. It's mental, not physical. Tonkov, Andrea No, team mate with Tonkov, Danilo Di Luca, oh yes, and Andrea Tonti from Cantina Tollo, Paolo Savoldelli, Ivan Gotti from Polti, Santi Blanco from Vitalicio, Gilberto Simoni from Lampre, Hernan Buenahora from Aguardiente Selle Italia and Roberto Conti forms the first group together with Belli and Casagrande. San Pellegrino is a beautiful mountain. I must thank Sweden's Eurosport commentator Roberto Vacchi for this one: "Maybe Pantani won't shine as bright as his earrings today!" No, he certainly won't.

An attack comes from Buenahora, but Casagrande goes right after him, then he counters. Belli hesitates, but it's up to him to bridge back. Casagrande rises the speed again, Simoni, Di Luca and Belli closes. On a 'fait tu menage', we have cleaned this place up. The riders who are not with the front now aren't likely to catch them later.

Gilberto Simoni sets the pace, and it's high. He climbs with a straight back and his head rised. So does Savoldelli, it looks classy, but it wasn't enough. Savoldelli doesn't climb with the leaders today. Also Gotti climbs standing up, looking further up the mountain.

Tonkov increases the speed again, and Casagrande goes to his wheel. Stefano Garzelli joins them from behind. What an effort. The Italian fighter and the people around Pantani realized that he wouldn't climb with the best today. Could it be that Garzelli has already been working too much? Leonardo Piepoli from Banesto, (you know the little guy?) and Dario Frigo from Fassa Bortolo are also riding with the front group. Hernan Buenahora, Leonardo Piepoli and Di Luca are the only ones wearing a helmet. It is still Casagrande who is riding at the front, with Tonkov and Di Luca right behind. The gap to Pantani is already 55 seconds. Di Luca is the virtual leader now. Tonkov is irritated, he wants some help from No here. Buenahora has to let go of the front group, so you can understand the pace is high. Oh, how I love these stages. I was always terrified by the bunch sprints as a cyclist. I was passed in the time trials, I was wasted on the endless flats and I always hated the wind, but I could never go wrong in a mountain.

No has gone to the front, according to Tonkov's wish, but he would probably see Tonkov helping him instead. Ah, that is No. A gap grows between Piepoli's front wheel and the guys ahead of him. Casagrande looks back and then goes even harder. Blanco and No disappears out from the back, and also Gotti is sinking through the little group. Casagrande sees how they suffer. Di Luca is glued to Francesco's wheel. He's exhausted, but he doesn't see stars dancing around. Pink jersies are dancing in front of his eyes. Casagrande looks around and raises the speed again when he sees that Gotti almost has to let go of the group.

Di Luca doesn't give away anything. Tonkov is gone, and so is Gotti. The road is crowded with people, and with two Italians leading the race, they cannot be anything but mad and crazy. Di Luca stays focused, this should be way past his limits. A little gap starts to grow. The crowds can't accept it, Di Luca is pushed through the crowds, but he has to let go of Casagrande here. Francesco knew he was the best rider when he started this climb, he looks so fresh that it is almost unreal. The fans are everywhere, and mostly where they aren't allowed to be.

Di Luca, Garzelli, Frigo and Simoni are the closest following riders. It might have been hasty and unwise by Di Luca to follow Casagrande for so long. He should had ridden in his own pace. What does it matter? Now he is a loved man! Francesco Casagrande has started the descent. Is it possible that Savoldelli "THE Descender" could come up with something while going down? Oscar Pellicioli from Polti, the one with his race number under his saddle punctures in a sharp turn, and tries to come to a stop before he leaves the road. A parked car ends his journey in a brutal way, but he gets back on his feet. He is a brave little man. Another rider takes the same way, Christian, our Christian, Moreni from Liquigas crashes into the car ahead of Pellicioli's car. Christian does not get back on his bike until much later.

Casagrande has fifteen kilometers to go. Nine riders are chasing behind him. Andrea No, who got back to the others on the descent, Wladimir Belli, Ivan Gotti, Pavel Tonkov, Danilo Di Luca, Gilberto Simoni, Stefano Garzelli, Dario Frigo and Leonardo Piepoli are following at 40 seconds. Casagrande is safety personified while descending. Dont you worry about him. Savoldelli has in fact gained some time on the descent, but is still well behind the front riders. Francesco Casagrande is now the virtual leader of Giro d'Italia. It is twelve kilometers to go and he has started the climb up to Abetone.

Frigo is setting the pace ahead of No, Gotti and Di Luca. After them follows Tonkov, who by the way has coloured his hair blond. He looks like some kind of ice cream. A long way behind them, Mercatone Uno is struggling to keep Pantani's morale up.

My sister passes the TV and takes a look at the guys in yellow. "Are they tourists?" Nope, they're just 5.25 down on Casagrande. Francesco has five kilometers to go, his earlier companions are two minutes behind him, but he is getting nervous.

"Quanto?" He wants a time check, and when he gets one he doesn't trust it and asks for another. Di Luca is the last rider in his little group. He is talking to his car. The management would like him to attack, but he hesitates as does everyone else. No-one want to risk getting tired, passed and left behind. Tonkov moves to the front and increases the speed, but Simoni easily brings him back. He looks fresh, Simoni.

Casagrande passes under the red flag. The flag means one kilometer to go, but it also means that the road will be closed with barriers from here on. Casagrande no longer has to be afraid of ending his day in a ditch with some Italian enthusiast. He crosses himself and finds some time to fix his hair before he streches his arms into the air.

Di Luca advances closer to the front, but there's no pasta left in his legs. Tonkov rides at the front, preparing for the sprint. Piepoli has to let go of the group when they increase the speed. Frigo and Garzelli are keen on the second place, and also Simoni squeezes past Di Luca, who never really contested the sprint. The stage goes to Casagrande, as does the jersey. His daughter with the giant nipple gets the race mascot.

Complete Live Report

16.00 CET - Welcome to the ninth stage of Giro d'Italia. Today those riders with overall ambitions will have to show their cards. The stage ends on a mountain top, Abetone, the third major climb of the day. Yesterday we saw a slow start, around 28 kilometres in the first hour. Today it's around 26. Alvaro Gonzales de Galdeano (Vitalicio) is probably grateful, he was able to crash, or rather fall at that speed, but soon was back in the peloton again.

A small attack by Guidi, Pieri and Nocentini was neutralized quite soon. After two hours and 45 minutes Saeco is at the front of the peloton.

16.15 CET - We have the Intergiro coming up in Fornaci di Braga just before the climb up to San Pellegrino in Alpe, the second climb of the day. This is where the race starts. But so far Cipollini is still along, as it seems that Saeco has ambitions for the Intergiro.

Order in the Intergiro: Guidi, Konychev and Peron.

16.25 CET - The climb is on. Vini Caldirola is driving upwards. Pantani is farther down in the field while the other top contenders ride up front in the first 10 percent climb, it's getting less steep in a while. "Everybody" up front is looking back for a little bald man in yellow. Buenahora attacks, Casagrande counters. Pantani is in a second group now.

16.33 CET - It's about a dozen riders up front. Not only Pantani but also Savoldelli is in trouble with Rebellin and Lanfranchi. Gotti raises the tempo in the front, Casagrande tags along and so does di Luca. Others: Tonkov, Simoni, Blanco, Belli, Piepoli and Garzelli is coming up from behind. Savoldelli has lost half a minute.

16.40 CET - Di Luca (Cantina Tollo) is riding for the pink jersey. Gutierrez (Kelme) is left behind quite early. More names in the front group: No (Mapei) and Frigo (Fassa Bortolo). Tonkov (Mapei) is keeping the pace now in style with Casagrande (Vini Caldirola) at his shoulder. Pantani's group is one minute behind so there is still hope. Buenahora (Nectar) is left behind by the front group now.

16.49 CET - Savoldelli's (Seaco) group also has Moreni (Liquigas) who is keeping the pace, trying to keep the gap down. Pantani's gang another minute behind with Zaina and Velo working as usual. But a bit farther down than usualHe also has Sgambelluri (Cantina Tollo) and Ruslan Ivanov (Amica) with him. The front is approaching the steepest part now. Piepoli (Banesto) is in trouble now. Blanco (Vitalicio) and No (Mapei) also left behind. It's Casagrande up front and a bobbing Garzelli (Mercatone) in the back.

16.57 CET - Gotti is in trouble now when Casagrande is driving once again. And di Luca is the only one to follow. The others are behind but they know that there is one mountain more to climb. Casagrande goes alone towards the mountain prize when di Luca has to sit down. The crowd is wild, they leave a mere metre free in the middle of the road. Casagrande takes the mountain prime almost 20 seconds ahead of di Luca who is in company with Garzelli and Frigo.

17.09 CET - Savoldelli passed with his group around two minutes behind the leader Casagrande, Pantani four and a half. He is going well down the mountain now with 20 kilometres to go, he is in the valley now. The others in the front group seem to be regrouping behind.

17.20 CET - Casagrande has more than a minute when the final climb starts. This is not as tough as San Pellegrino, but of course hard enough when you have nine others chasing. The nine are Tonkov, No, Gotti, Belli, di Luca, Simoni, Garzelli, Frigo and piepoli. More than a minute behind and it is reported that Savoldelli's gang is closing in from behind.

17.25 CET - Casagrande passes the 10 km banner 1.43 ahead of the group. Savoldelli another minute down.

17.30 CET - Pantani is more than five minutes behind Casagrande. The chasers in the front were closing a bit but there doesn't seem to be any danger with five kms to go. It's 1.43. This hill allows fairly high gears and Casagrande is able to hold them off it seems.

17.35 CET - "Quanto?!". Casagrande wants to know how much there is to the chasers, and it almost two minutes again when Tonkov is attacking or at least raising the speed. Simoni covers. He has been quite passive today but now he tows Belli and Tonkov. Casagrande wants to talk to his team director in the car. Worried? Tired?

17.45 CET - Francesco Casagrande has really impressed today. He took charge, with Roberto Conti, on the first heavy climb at san Pellegrino and got rid of Pantani and Savoldelli. Then he left the others. He comes alone to the finish after have being fastest up the climbs and down the slopes. A worthy winner on this stage dedicated to the memory of Gino Bartali. The margin is more than a minute and a half. Garzelli sprints to second followed by Frigo and Simoni. Then di Luca, Gotti, Tonkov, Belli, Piepoli and No. Buenahora comes in alone another minute and a half behind.

Casagrande rides in pink tomorrow, di Luca still second. Pantani comes in seven minutes behind with pink jersey Guiterrez with him. One day only of glory for him


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