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83rd Giro d'Italia - GT

Italy, May 13 - June 4, 2000

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Stage 18 - June 1: Genoa to Pratonevoso, 176 km

Garzelli and co. come good

By Gabriella Ekström, correspondent

The final climb
Photo: © AFP
Milan Kadlec from Mobilvetta is in a break with J.J Gomez and Jose Enrique Gutierrez from Kelme and Oscar Pozzi from Amica Chips, who have indeed been active in this race. So have Gomez and Gutierrez, but Kadlec just started to show himself a couple of days ago. These guys have been away for a while now, and J.J won the two first mountain prizes in Colle di Melogno and Colle di Giovetti. Their gap is just over three minutes, but with the mountain finish in Pratonevoso and so many big teams interested in the G.C riding at the front of the peloton, they can only expect to be caught.

Lampre and Banesto have been driving the peloton for a while, but other teams are starting to move up as they approach the climb. Vini Caldirola have six riders in front of 'Checo' who sees his opportunity to get something to eat. Behind them follow Banesto with six riders which could be a sign of rising form for their pocket sized climbing star Leonardo Piepoli. He doesn't often have bad races, but sometimes he's just not able to go with the best climbers.

The weather is warm but overcast, and there's a chance it will rain in the mountains, but they're not facing any major descents today. The riders have been on their bikes for three hours now, and it's about 40 k's to go. The peloton is stretched a long way out, and the caravan goes on forever at the bottom of the valleys. It can only get worse for the riders who are struggling at this point. One rider has already decided he had struggled enough, it was Dario Pieri from Saeco. It always feels a bit empty when riders abandon, I think it's sad, but there'll be more races for Pieri and the others.

Checo's brother, Filippo Casagrande tries to mix in with the Banesto riders who have once again taking over the front work. The gap is down to two minutes with thirty kilometers to go. Gutierrez and J.J skid through the gravelled corners inside a little village. Easy, mates. The road rises over a little hill and Gomez takes advantage of the fact that the others are tiring. He says goodnight & thank you and disappears. It is great to see how Kelme always attack with two or more riders. All teams have their own tactics, and I'm not sure if Kelme wins more races just because they attack with more riders, but I can't imagine it will make them win less.

The descent after the hill is a fast, non-curvy one. Gomez quickly gains a minute. Kadlec, Pozzi and Gutierrez will soon be caught. J.J has a minute and a half. It is not enough, but it is good publicity and you never have a chance unless you take it. It is Lampre and Polti who are chasing at the front of the peloton. Sergio Barbero and Gabriele Missaglia, behind them sits Casagrande. Wladimir Belli, all yellow Stefano Garzelli and Pavel Tonkov all sit close to him. The gap to J.J is now down to a minute again. After a smaller climb up to Frabosa Soprana the riders face a new descent, this time a serpentined one. From here it is fifteen kilometers to go.

Lampre is still at the front, now with Marco Della Vedova. The climb has started and the peloton immediately splits up. Most riders never try to go with the front, they just resign and wait for a grupetto to form. The remarkable thing is that this year, Marco Pantani is among them. Ivan Gotti, Hernan Buenahora, Pavel Tonkov with teammates Lanfranchi, Noe' and McRae, Stefano Garzelli, Dario Frigo, Leonardo Piepoli, Santiago Blanco, and Oscar Sevilla are all close to the front. They are the front. Missaglia is still setting the pace and Gomez is caught.

J.J is still trying hard, and it's not a pretty sight. He is a tall guy with a heavy climbing style. Maybe his wheel isn't losing air, maybe it's just shocked by the weight. The Spaniard leans over his bars with all his body and puts all his weight on the front wheel. Perhaps he's trying to go through the mountain instead of over it? :-)

Roberto Conti from Vini Caldirola takes over at the front after Missaglia. The group consists of twenty or so riders. Daruisz Baranowski and Francisco Mancebo from Banesto forms the 'coda del gruppo', the tail of the group together with Jose Luis Rubiera from Kelme. Suddenly, Chann McRae moves to the front and the speed goes up. Tonkov instantly gets on his wheel. Tonkov has a couple of guys in the front group, so the future looks bright for the temporary blonde Russian. McRae's move costed a lot to some riders in the group. Checo, Tonkov, Belli, Blanco, Garzelli, Gotti, Buenahora, Noe', Lanfranchi, Simoni, Baranowski and Piepoli are the riders behind McRae.

Santi Blanco slowly moves to one side of the road and rises the speed. Someone shouts 'Allez!', but it's surely not one of the riders. Amazingly how there's no French riders here. The explaination is that there are only a handful of them in the race. Baranowski goes to the front to bring Blanco back, all to make it easier for Piepoli later. Noe' tries to bridge across to Blanco but ends up struggling just ahead of the group. Rubiera manages to rejoin now. Eventually Blanco gets a good gap, but the chasing riders are too hot to let him go away forever. Hernan Buenahora attacks, and no-one makes a move. Everyone has their rider to watch, and especially Casagrande knows his time to chase will come. He will be chasing Simoni and Garzelli, not Buenahora. Once again, Noe' breaks clear from the group and tries to follow Buenahora. Dariusz Baranowski just keeps a high and steady pace at the front.

Tonkov attacks, and he looks fresh! Much better than he did last week, who can follow? Casagrande has to follow, and so must Garzelli. Simoni is there, and they have already forgotten about Buenahora who was caught as soon as the giants started to move. Blanco passes the five kilometer sign, still ahead of the peloton. Belli, Simoni, Piepoli, Casagrande, Garzelli are the only survivors after Tonkov's attack. Buenahora manages to catch them again. What an effort. Tonkov attacks again as he must do. Casagrande and Garzelli follow without hesitation, and a few seconds after Simoni can join with the rest of the group behind him. The speed slows down, and Lanfranchi and Noe' tries to get back to the group. Stefano Garzelli is all nerves right now. Gotti sees his opportunity to get back to the group, and wants to follow Lanfranchi, who when he sees it, simply jumps away from his fellow Italian and rides on without him. Buenahora moves up to the front, he is setting the pace. Why on earth is he doing that?

Simoni attacks with his unzipped jersey blowing in the wind, Belli neutralizes his break. Noe' has reached them again. Belli makes sure the speed stays high, but Simoni attacks again. This time it is Garzelli who brings it back, but Casagrande cannot follow. They notice that they have a small gap. Belli, Garzelli and Simoni are ahead of Casagrande but is the gap big enough for them to stay away? Again Buenahora goes to the front. Buenahora has nothing to benefit from the break that has gone away, he would rather catch them. Checo is grateful. Piepoli jumps from Casagrande's wheel and bridges up to the first group. Simoni's group is fourteen seconds behind Blanco. That is of course not enough time for Blanco. Simoni pulls at the front, Garzelli comes to his help. It is important for them to drop Casagrande, but it wont happen. The road has flattened a bit and Casagrande is on his way back with Tonkov on his wheel.

Simoni is annoyed, he jumps again and Garzelli knows that he has to follow and behind him sits Casagrande. It is less than two kilometers to go and the group has slowed down. Everyone is looking, waiting and planning. Simoni looks very fresh, but it is Tonkov who attacks first. Garzelli follows instantly and so does Casagrande who is as offensive as ever. He has a face of stone. Be sure that this guy Checo has what it takes to be one of the really big riders. Blanco has a peculiar look on his face, but the favourites must be Garzelli or Simoni. Piepoli tries to get away, ah-ah-ah, where are you going little man? Piepoli tries again but Garzelli brings him back. Wouldn't it be a nice thing if Belli took the stage? He is always there, but never at the top of the podium.

Garzelli is so keen now, he can see the line. A true sprinter would had waited, but Garzelli has waited enough. He goes really early, he knows it might be too early, but he also know that once the gap has grown big enough the others will give up. Garzelli was right, and he was also very, very strong today.

Complete Live Report

15.15 CET - Welcome to stage 18 from Genoa to Pratonevoso, 176 km, with three major climbs: Colle di Melogno, Colle dei Giovetti and finally to the finish at Pratonevoso.

The situation before today's stage:

1 Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Vini Caldirola-Sidermec        82.28.41
2 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Mercatone Uno-Albacom                  0.33
3 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Lampre-Daikin                           0.57
4 Wladimir Belli (Ita) Fassa Bortolo                            1.05
5 Dario Frigo (Ita) Fassa Bortolo                               1.52
6 Ivan Gotti (Ita) Team Polti                                   2.27
7 Pavel Tonkov (Rus) Mapei-Quick Step                           2.35

With less than 60 kms to go a quartet leads by four and a half minutes: Kelme's José Enrique Gutierrez and Jose Javier Gomez Gonzalo has been up front since the first climbs, Kadlec (Mobilvetta) and Pozzi (Amica) joined them some minutes ago. The top contenders are still awaiting the final battle up to Pratonevoso in the peloton.

15.30 CET - The peloton is coming closer without too much effort, right now it's Fassa Bortolo and Casagrande's Vini Caldirola taking care of the speed. The lead is down to 2.45 now. Dario Pieri (Saeco) is reported to have abandoned the race.

15.40 CET - The lesser riders are picking up bottles from the team cars at the back of the peloton. It's hot today, a bit overcast and humid. The final climb to Pratonevoso is eleven kilometres long and rises at an average 8.86 percent and the finish will be at 1615 metres so there isa little less than an hours ride before the climb starts. They are now approaching the Intergiro at 137 kms in Santuario di Vicoforte.

15.45 CET - Gomez is chatting with Kadlec before the Intergiro at the back of the group. It's Gomez leading out with Gutierrez on the wheel but Kadlec takes the Intergiro ahead of Gutierrez and Pozzi. Konyshev is in the peloton and also Intergiro leader Guidi and there are some Intergiro bonus seconds left to fight for since the six best at the Intergiro point gets bonus in that classification. Konyshev is first in the peloton ahead of Guidi. The gap is still over two minutes to the leading quartet.

15.55 CET - From now on the road is starting to rise even if the foot of the actual climb still is some 25 kilometres away. In the peloton little brother Filippo Casagrande is driving the peloton right now, the gap when the climb started was 2.12. Marco Pantani is still seen in the peloton, there were not too many victims of the first two climbs. Blijlevens is also around with 30 kms to the finish right now.

16.00 CET - The gap is less than two minutes at the 30 kms mark. Up front Gomez is off alone. In the peloton riders are falling out at the back. Guidi is off and now Pantani also is at the back but advancing passed the riders falling back, it's altmeister Lafis (Farm Frites) at the last wheel.

16.05 CET - Gomez is more than a minute ahead when the other three in the little group is caught. It's Banesto doing the job in the peloton. But the gap now is 1.32 to the peloton. Gomez is without victories so far in his career.

16.10 CET - The gap is shrinking slowly, 1.28 at the latest report. In the peloton Simoni's Lampre is coming up behind Banesto, Gotti (Polti) is talking to Peliccoli a bit farther back. Something's up?

16.15 CET - 20 kms to go, still 1.19 for Gomez. In a while there is a little piece of road going downhill but soon after that the serious job is waiting. Pantani is still in the peloton but struggling. It's Barbero (Lampre) driving the peloton and now Casagrande's Vini Caldirola is coming up. All the big shots are up front now. At the same time it looks like Gomez' front tyre is loosing air.

16.20 CET - 55 seconds for Gonzales at 18 kms to go and the road is going downwards for some five kilometres. It's Lampre driving really hard now at the front down the serpenting road.

16.25 CET - 11 kms to go with a climb rising 974 metres. 42 seconds now for stage leading Gomez. The speed is high now but all the stars are still along. Pantani in real trouble now when Della Vedova (Lampre) has done his bit at the front leaving the job to Missaglia who has captain Simoni in the wheel.

16.30 CET - Some 30 riders left in the peloton when Casagrande's team mate Conti goes up front. Gomez is caught now, thank you for a good show, now the real drama starts. Casagrande is on Conti's wheel now. Less than twenty riders in the peloton after another kilometre.

16.35 CET - Conti has driven the group with Casagrande in the wheel. But it is McRae rising the speed with To nkov on the wheel and after that only thirteen riders remain. But all the top contenders are still on with Gotti a bit back in the group. Lanfrachi and Noé, both Mapei, are still along so Tonkov has three mates. We have seen Blanco in the group but now Frigo is left behind completely exhausted. He is fifth overall.

16.40 CET - Blanco (Vitalicio) attacks but who cares. Well, Baranowski (Banesto) does and rises the speed but the gap is there. Blanco is twelfth and 4.23 behind, but a stage win is tempting of course. Casagrande hollers at a motorcyclist who is too close. Buenahora tries to bridge the gap while Baranowski still drives the group for Piepoli who should have a fair chance on this very steep climb. Casagrande looks cool though, Simoni seems a bit tense.

16.45 CET - The fist major attack comes from Tonkov but Casagrande covers with a bit more than five kms to go. Gotti is behind with Lanfranchi, Noé and Buenahora. Piepoli is waiting and Simoni must attack. Garzelli rides along because he is a better TT rider than Casagrande. A second attack from Tonkov has the same result, Buenahora is even soming beck. And even Gotti is trying to coming back. Giklberto Simoni attacks now and Belli is along but only Noé suffers from that little attack.

16.50 CET - More attacks, first from Belli and then from Simoni and it is Garzelli following and Casagrande is in trouble. It's Simoni, Garzelli and Belli going now. The gap is less than 50 metres but there is a gap. Piepoli attacks from the second group. Casagrande cannot follow him either. But the gap is small still. And Buenahora is driving him up and the gap is growing when Piepoli has come up and Blanco is caught. They are five leaving Casagrande behind, it's sme ten seconds but now the road is flattening a bit to the finish. Casagrande has a chance to close the gap and he does it! But there is a new attack from Simoni and Garzelli but in vain.

16.55 CET - Final kilometre: Tonkov attacks, Garzelli hangs on but so do the others and Tonkov cools down. Garzelli is a good sprinter…but at 500 metres Piepoli attacks but Garzelli covers and Belli. Casagrande in Garzelli's wheel. And he will stay there now when Piepoli attacks again and here they come Piepoli ahead of Garzelli who starts the sprint and wins ahead of Simoni and Casagrande. A well deserved win for Garzelli and he gets some bonus seconds now to Casagrande who showed weakness today. It will be a long day tomorrow for him. And for Gotti this day was to long, he has lost almost two and Frigo is far back and even more out of the picture.

17.00 CET - The result: Garzelli, Simoni, Casagrande, Piepoli, Belli, Tonkov in one group. Buenahora followed some seconds later. Pantani comes in at seven minutes and some seconds with Merckx and some others.

In the overall it is still Casagrande in pink but with the bonus for the stage win Garzelli now is 25 seconds behind and Simoni 53.

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