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83rd Giro d'Italia - GT

Italy, May 13 - June 4, 2000

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Stage 14 - May 28: Selva Val Gardena to Bormio, 205 km

Simoni comes good as Casagrande edges closer

By Gabriella Ekström, correspondent

Gilberto Simoni
Photo: © AFP
Of the sixteen riders in the front group only six remain. Danilo Di Luca from Cantina Tollo, Victor Hugo Pena, the time triallist(!) from Vitalicio Seguros, Paolo Lanfranchi from Mapei, Eddy Mazzoleni from Polti, Felix Raphael Cardenas from Kelme and Chepe Gonzales from Selle Italia of course, telling you he's after the green jersey. They have just started the killer climb of Passo di Gavia, a 2600 metre high mountain. They are four minutes ahead of the main field, led by Lampre. Gilberto Simoni has the form of his life right now. Close to Lampre, Mercatone Uno sits with a handful of riders, let me guess that they are going for Garzelli by now.

Between the leaders and the peloton are, just like yesterday, several riders who couldn't handle the pace once Passo di Gavia started. Amica Chips' Ivan Basso though, found his second wind and is now closing in on the leaders again. Di Luca is taking care of most of the work in the lead. His knees are pointing out and he looks very aggressive. Wladimir Belli moves up to the front in the peloton, could it mean that they have trust in Frigo, or is he just checking out the others form?

The road is very narrow, giant spruces balanced just on the edge of the abyss, and brown, dried grass flows over the edge of the old stonewalls on the riders inside. Marco 'Cavallo Matto' Fincato from Fassa Bortolo has moved up to the front of the peloton, and is now helping Belli. So it is still Belli then! Chepe Gonzales has moved up to the front in the lead group together with Paolo Lanfranchi and Di Luca. Little blonde Di Luca will be known, if he's not already, as the heartbreaker no. 1 in the peloton. Yea, I've heard he's engaged :-)

The weather has been bad, and it's about to get worse. The estimated temperature at the summit of Gavia is just above zero, and the snow is piled up in drifts. The road is still dry though. Di Luca has stripes tied around his lower legs, just under his knees.

Was that what made him finish more than six minutes behind the leaders yesterday? The speed in the peloton suddenly increases, a Lampre rider has gone away. His helmet is unstrapped, and the straps are dangling under his chin. It is Simoni. One rider follows at a distance. Aguardiente Selle Italia. Buenahora. The Colombian moves straight to the front when he reaches Simoni, but Simoni says no thanks to his help, and simply drops him. He didn't even take advantage of the Colombian pulling for a minute. Basso is once again dropped from the front group. The roads are scary up here, no barriers, no safety rails, just the precipice.

More riders are closing in on Simoni, but it's not a big group. It is Casagrande, Belli, Gotti and Tonkov, although the Russian is in severe trouble right now. Casagrande reaches Buenahora, and together they make it up to Simoni. Gotti and Belli are about a serpentine behind them. Tonkov is further down. Andrea Tonti from Cantina Tollo, who was in the early break is beeing passed. He is in no situation where he would try to follow. Santi Blanco from Vitalicio Seguros are struggling to reach the front group, he is just in front of a group that contains Jose Enrique Gutierrez from Kelme, Serguei Gonchar from Liquigas, Stefano Garzelli in Mercatone yellow, Dario Frigo, and someone who looks like Andrea Noé, Mapei.

The tarmac is really bad here, only the white line that borders the road looks new. The names and artistic paintings of male body parts in white are also new of course. The Devil tries to improve his condition by running alongside the riders. I hope that doesn't affect the riders' condition in any way. Paolo Savoldelli can be spotted further down the mountain together with Saeco team mate Pavel Padrnos and Roberto Sgambelluri from Cantina Tollo. At this height, the mountain looks as deserted as the landscaping on the moon, no trees, no grass, nobody lives here. It is just the mountain, the snow and the heaven above. The rain has started to fall on the riders.

It is incredibly steep, even riders like these, the best athletes in the world are having problems when climbing it. Gotti is suffering in the front group, his head moves from side to side. He looks like his team mate Virenque in a time trial. Garzelli is working flat out in his attempt to get back on with the leaders. Gutierrez manages to bridge his way up to Casagrande's group. Di Luca is tired now, he is no longer with the front group.

It is really cold, the snow covers the ground at both sides of the road, Di Luca is really suffering but is putting on a brave face. The front group is beeing split up, Chepe Gonzales and Victor Hugo Pena are the riders making up a new front group. Gonzales is surely a light rider with a certain climbing skill, two mountain jersies in the Giro proves that. What makes me hesitate is his way of crashing out every now and then, and his somewhat unsporting style. In a sport like cycling, sportmanship is important.

Felix Raphael Cardenas are trying to hang on behind them. It looks a bit uncertain. Gonzales clearly is the stronger one, he is giving Pena a hard time. Two kilometers to the summit of Passo di Gavia. Di Luca is chasing the front riders together with Paolo Lanfranchi. Gotti and Belli are in trouble. The tarmac is all wet now, and this mountain has a dangerous descent. Colombians and others should look out. It is really cold, the spectators are wearing wooly hats and thick jackets, the riders are bare legged and in short sleeves. Some of them have kept their arm warmers around their wrists, and luckily, rain jackets are waiting behind the mountain prize.

Chepe crosses the mountain prize first without having to sprint, just as it suits a rider who has been pulling much of the way. Di Luca and Lanfranchi are 47 seconds behind them. The sky is dark from the grey clouds, the descent will be freezing! Ivan Basso and Francisco Mancebo are caught just when they cross the mountain, they will stay with the better groups. Casagrande's group is less than two minutes behind Chepe and Pena. Chepe has moved away from Pena on the descent, he is very daring, not thinking of the wet surface.

Stefano Garzelli and Dario Frigo are 2.13 behind over the top. Ivan Basso is close to going head over heals over the safety rails when his wet brakes let him down. Short cuts like that are painful and forbidden. Simoni tries to break clear from Casagrande's group on the descent. They have now reached the lower regions of the mountain, the trees that grow here makes the landscape look less sterile and deserted. Lanfranchi and Di Luca have reached Chepe Gonzales and Victor Hugo Pena. Di Luca's big cap keeps the rain out and covers all of his face. Chepe crashes hard in a sharp turn. Pena who rode in front of him lost his back wheel for a second, Chepe reacted and that was enough to send him over the tarmac.

Two groups are following the front riders, one with seven riders at twenty seconds, then another with six riders, fifty seconds behind. Santi Blanco in the second chasing group inspects the tarmac where Chepe fell, a bit closer. Slippery section. Paolo Lanfranchi is helping Pena and Di Luca out at the front, even though his leaders are far behind. Danilo gets something to chew on from the car, but it wasn't what he wanted it to be, so he throws it to the ground. A wet souvenir if someone likes it. Reports says that Pantani is now 16 minutes after the leaders. The road rises a bit with ten k's to go, Lanfranchi rises the speed and Pena is the rider who can follow best. Chepe Gonzales is back in the group. Casagrande has eye contact with the leaders, and his group will soon join the four riders up front.

Paolo Lanfranchi who was just up the front, taking a hard turn, looks behind him when Casagrande's group joins his. No Tonkov, and the chance of a stage win was lost when Casagrande joined. Lanfranchi pulls over and waits for Tonkov. They are still a fair bit over sea level. Simoni, Casagrande and Belli are riding at the front. Santi Blanco tries to reach the front group. Garzelli and Piepoli are 15 seconds behind them. Garzelli is chasing like a mad man, and his shoulders moves from side to side in the same rhythm as his legs. He is trying so hard, and it is really hard, cause Casagrande has once again moved to the front. Garzelli and Piepoli have reached Blanco, but he cannot go with them. Garzelli is so hot.

The road descends here, and this time the safety rails nearly lets Chepe Gonzales down. He is too small. He crashes out and almost falls out under them. Buenahora ends the spectacle with crashing into Gonzales. Simoni and Casagrande gets a little gap. Simoni keeps looking behind him, and that pisses Casagrande off. He would rather see his compatriot look ahead. The group is rejoined, and Belli tries an attack, but almost crashes into Eddy Mazzoleni so he calms down.

They have passed the red flag, and it is four very tired riders who reach the finish first. Mazzoleni is riding along side the right side, when the attack comes from Simoni who goes out in the middle of the road. Casagrande can do nothing about it, his mind doesn't trust his legs. The other riders don't try. Simoni fullfills his great ride during the day by also winning the stage.

Complete Live Report

Welcome to stage 14 and another of those tough climbing stages. Designed for Marco Pantani who is riding the Giro as a build up for the Tour de France. Instead we have seen his team mate Stefano Garzelli as the major challenger to leading Francesco Casagrande (Vini Caldirola).

15.08 CET - Just like yesterday it's Gilberto Simoni (Lampre) going fastest among the top contenders on the way up to Passo de Gavia. He attacked in the Casagrande group just a few minutes ago. When the Gavia climb started eight lesser placed riders were in the lead but the focus is now on the top riders a bit farther back on the climb.

15.18 CET - After the Passo de Gavia, a truly classic climb, there are about 35 kms downhill to Bormio, with a little hill after some ten kilometres. But still the riders are going uphill… In the front group is yesterday's big loser Danilo di Luca (Cantina Tollo) who is more than five minutes behind overall. Others in this group: Lanfranchi (Mapei), Chepe Gonzales (Selle Italia), Mazzoleni (Polti), Pena (Vitalicio), Cardenas (Kelme) and Basso (Amica). It's di Luca doing lots of the work. Wants to put on a good show today of course. Had he been cooler earlier in the race he might have been in a better opposition overall.

15.25 CET - Passo di Gavia is more than 2 600 metres high. The speed is around 15-16 kph, there is some snow still lying on the top at some five degrees centigrade. Simoni is caught again by Casagrande while they are picking up riders from the leading group that falls apart now. Belli and Gotti are fairly close behind while Garzelli, second overall, now has lost 40 seconds. In the lead of the stage it is all Colombia now with Cardeñas, Peña, and Chepe Gonzales.

15.35 CET - Simoni is 1.05 behind in the overall but today he seems to be the major threat for Casagrande. The Colombians pass the top with Chepe Gonzales first ahead of Cardenas and Peña. Casagrande now has Buenahora, Belli, Simoni and Gotti along in his group.

15.40 CET - Gonzales is alone in the front now on the descent. Tke pink jersey has also passed with his main contenders Gotti, Belli and Simoni but with Garzelli more than a minute behind with Frigo and nobody else. Casagrande's group is still picking up break aways, Basso among them, but the question is if anyone wants to help Casagrande to get rid of Garzelli for good.

15.48 CET - Casagrande and Simoni are now alone on the descent, and up front the Colombians are regrouping. Tonkov has teamed up with Garzelli and Frigo and several others so now it seems as there is a chance for them to go up to Casagrande's group. With the exception of Simoni's early attempt there hasn't really been any attacks on the Gavia. There are still a number of climbing stages in the race. It is now reported that Ivan Quaranta has abandoned so the road might be open for Blijlevens in the sprints coming.

15.55 CET - Chepe Gonzales has fallen badly whilst in the lead. Di Luca has joined the other Colombians and Garzelli and Tonkov are only 20 seconds behind Casagrande's group on the way down. Gonzales came up on his bike again and caught the others in the leading group. The Colombian is now virtually in the green climber's jersey.

16.00 CET - Frigo and Garzelli are in the Casagrande group that also consists of Mazzoleni, Simoni, Buenahora, Casagrande, Belli, Gotti, Mancebo and Basso. They are some 45 seconds behind the stage leaders while Tonkov is reported to be a couple of minutes behind. There is reason to believe that there will not be too high a speed now. Casagrande will not waste his powers of ridding Tonkov for good. It's Garzelli that is the main opponent, 18 seconds behind in the overall classification.

16.06 CET - With ten kilometres left the little front group is caught by Casagrande and company. A little later the new group falls apart on the little climb some seven kms from the finish. It's Frigo leading Casagrande and Garzelli is in difficulties again some eighteen seconds behind. Now Casagrande has a good reason to start moving. If Frigo helps him with the work, the stage winner is given unless more riders tag along. Frigo on the other hand should take it easy in the interest of Belli.

16.12 CET - The Casagrande group was stretched out on the climb but no real split. With five kilometres to go Garzelli is behind though. The group now: Casagrande, Buenahora, Simoni, Di Luca, Lanfranchi, Pena, Gonzales, Cardenas, Gotti, Belli and Frigo.

16.22 CET - The final kilometre in Bormio approaching: The riders are looking at each other. Casagrande is attacking in the final km but the others are along and it's Simoni winning the sprint ahead of Mazzoleni, Casagrande and Belli. Francesco has once again defended his pink jersey in style. To day he got another fifteen seconds to his closest opponent Garzelli, some uneasy 18 seconds behind before the stage.

16.30 CET - The results of the day: 1. Simoni 2. Mazzoleni 3. Casagrande 4. Belli

At fifteen seconds: Piepoli , Garzelli , Gotti , Di Luca , Chepe Gonzalez , Frigo , Cardenas , Buenahora , Peña

At 1.26: Noé, Tonkov, Lanfranchi

In the general classification Francesco Casagrande still is first, now some 40 seconds ahead of Stefano Garzelli.


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