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83rd Giro d'Italia - GT

Italy, May 13 - June 4, 2000

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Stage 19 - June 1: Saluzzo to Briancon, 177 km

Pantani back but strange tactics

By Gabriella Ekstrm, correspondent

Marco Pantani
Photo: © AFP
The valley is endless and empty. The green sides of the mountain and the twisting road far beneath you is all you can see. Whoever built it was a man with visions. The road or the mountain you ask. I will have to answer 'both'. The riders have passed over the top of Colle d'Agnello, the cima Coppi, the highest mountain in this year's Giro d'Italia. Chepe Gonzales, two times king of the mountains in the Giro, was the first rider over the summit. One of few riders who are not riding for a living, but for survival. Unfortunately that makes him try a little harder, where other riders would have eased off instead. Many Colombians who become professional riders dont do it because they dream of a nice car and a nice house with a nice wife in it. They do it so that they and their families can have a decent life when they return to Colombia. Maybe that is why they sometimes break ethic rules in the peloton, or risk everything on one single attack, and end up in a ditch with hopefully nothing broken far too often.

Gilberto Simoni and Paolo Lanfranchi are chasing behind him. It is a long and fast decent but it is not very technical. Thats good for Chepe, 'cause he isn't very technical either. Simoni and Lanfranchi are likely to catch him soon. Behind the two Italians follow Roberto Conti with his jersey Casagrande, Stefano Garzelli, Andrea Noe' and his team mate Pavel Tonkov. Which one of them is in charge varies, depending on which one of them you ask. Hernan Buenahora is there as he usually is, and so is Leonardo Piepoli, more surprising is that Victor Hugo Pena from Vitalicio Seguros rides with them as well. This is the real reason why a Grande Tour is so important. The winner wont be forgotten, but he is often a great rider with or without his victory. For a rider like Pena, a couple of good days in the Giro can change his future.

They have reached a little plateau with a handful of alpine chalets spread on the slopes. It is a sunny day, and the road is bone-dry. It is 50 kilometers to the finish in Briancon, a village not that big, surrounded by high alps. Jose Luis Rubiera joins up with Casagrande's group, more riders are likely to catch them from behind. Chepe is twisting and turning to get rid of his warm west. He rolls his head from side to side. Tired, oh yes. They are close to a smaller village now. The mountain sides consist of nothing but sand, it looks like you could start an avalanche just by looking at it.

Roberto Conti stays at the front with Casagrande right behind him. The road rises a bit and the tarmac is old and cracked. Rubiera and Pena goes away with Lanfranchi just when the chasing group threatens to bring Lanfranchi and Simoni back. Simoni doesn't mind them going away. Garzelli and Casagrande are his main concerns, so he slips to the back of the group. Conti doesn't wind it up either, that could easily crack him or even worse, it could crack Casagrande. He keeps a high and steady pace, faithful that they'll bring them back in time. Rubiera, Pena and Lanfranchi has caught Chepe, cause he wasn't very far ahead. Conti is very relaxed, they pass through the little village and the pace in the group is low, very low. If thats the way Casagrande wants it, thats the way Conti will have it. Rubiera in the break is not so relaxed. He is driving the break ahead of Lanfranchi, who sits with his shoulders a bit shrugged up.

Andrea Noe' raises the speed in the chasing group, but with an attack instead of going to the front. Hernan Buenahora moves to the side of the road and tries to follow. Noe' slips back to last wheel. It wasn't the fastest pee in the world either, so I dont know what it was. The four escaping riders have gained a minute, but that is not enough with a climb like Col d'Izoard coming up. The road has started to rise a bit again. Wladimir Belli, Santiago Blanco, Serguei Gonchar, Vitalie Kokorine and Oscar Sevilla are chasing two minutes behind them. If Gonchar is there, they are probably not going fast enough. Belli and Oscar Sevilla can climb with the best on a good day, but not the others.

Pantani has joined up with Casagrande and Garzelli from behind. He can be a valuable domestic to Garzelli today. He said earlier that he wished to ride through the high mountains together with young Stefano, but until today he hasn't even been close. They pass big fields filled with yellow flowers, in front of them on the road is the thirty kilometer banner, and behind it the mighty silouhette of Col d'Izoard. Garzelli pours some water from his bottle over his short bleached hair. Most of the riders in this group will probably last over the mountain. Chepe Gonzales attacks from the front group at this point, and it makes Victor Hugo Pena lose contact with the group. Lanfranchi and Rubiera struggle a couple of meters behind him. Pena hangs on for dear life, and finally manages to get back to them. Chepe is fifteen seconds up the road.

The motorcycles are or aren't very conviniently placed. It depends on who you are or where you wanna go. As long as they are just in front of Conti, in a pace that both he and Casagrande feel comfortable with, he'll overlook it. The road is very steep here and Simoni with his helmet unfastened is the most aggressive rider. He attacks and his attack shows that many of the riders in the group were just on the edge of getting dropped. Simoni passes Pena, he reaches Lanfranchi and Rubiera. Tonkov had to let go of the group when the attack came, and so did Noe'. Tonkov hangs on just behind them, he needs the pace to slow down just a little, but when it does he will be right back. With Tonkov it is seldom a lack of strength, it is more of a problem to accelerate, but he can always come back stronger than when he first was dropped. Piepoli was also lost. The pace in the little group has once again increased, just when Tonkov got back. Pantani has moved to the front, and he attacks in an aggressive way. Conti is on his way to get dropped, he puts his hand at Checo's back and gives him a big push. Then he's gone. They are so cute.

Pantani said he wanted to help Garzelli, but maybe this is more than Garzelli can take. Pantani doesn't just go to the front to rise the speed and catch Simoni, he attacks. Garzelli struggles to follow, Casagrande is very pleased cause he hasn't pulled a meter! Pantani reaches Simoni, but it is really hard for Garzelli to follow. If this had been one of the opening stages, it could had been considered as normal to test who is the strongest rider in the team, but with Garzelli just seconds after the maglia, and Pantani almost an hour behind in the G.C, he should really only help Garzelli. Pantani attacks again, but yet another time Simoni follows him. When Simoni reaches him, he counters and goes away. In what way this helped Garzelli isn't clear. Pantani looks back and waits for his struggling leader. Tonkov is gone again. Pantani tries to repair the damage he made. He has to bring Simoni back. Luckily for Mercatone Uno, Simoni's gap isn't too big. Lanfranchi has to give up again on the rough and cracked tarmac.

Casagrande has everything to win today. He hasn't made an ounce of effort more than what's absolutely necessary. First he had Conti with him, and now Pantani pulls at the front. When Simoni goes away, and he does, over and over again, Pantani chases after, and when Garzelli cannot follow, Casagrande challenges him to chase back. It's your team mate and you dropped him. You can't seriously mean that I should bring him back? No, Garzelli doesn't mean that, quietly he chases after Pantani.

Simoni moves to the edge of the road, cause they are passing a big serpentine. Chepe Gonzales rides closest to the bend, and Simoni makes sure to ride a long way from him, and the road wasn't so steep close to the edge of course. Gonzales keeps fighting in his own little pace a bit up on the road. Pantani moves to the front again, and brings both Simoni and Gonzales back. Garzelli couldn't have a stronger team mate with him in the mountains, but Pantani tries to be more than a water carrier which he normally never is.

Pantani attacks again and it is Simoni who brings it back, with the straps from his helmet flapping around his ears. The tactic of one rider vs two is old. The bad thing is that it's always the lone rider who takes it at the end of the day. Garzelli struggles now. Pantani attacks another time, he moves away from them very easy, and Simoni catches him just as easy. Casagrande looks confused, but he has no complaints.

Pantani moves to the front and the speed goes up yet another time, again it is Simoni who takes on the task to chase him back. Simoni got on Pantani's wheel alright, but nobody else did. Garzelli is dropped and Simoni attacks when Pantani hesitates. Pantani could follow Simoni if he wanted to, no problems but it would be at Garzelli's cost. Pantani could also win the stage, a very prestigious stage, but if Simoni was at his wheel, he would also make sure that Garzelli lost the Giro. Tough.

Casagrande has put on his stone face again. If Garzelli had some nerves he could ask, even demand Casagrande to chase after Simoni. After all Casagrande wears the jersey and not Garzelli. Still Garzelli is doing all the work. Piepoli and Tonkov are chasing behind, there is a chance they could rejoin on the descent. 25 kilometers to go now.

Simoni is still ahead of the group, but he will be brought back by Pantani who is chasing. There is about a bike length between Pantani and Garzelli all the time. Maybe they have an agreement, maybe it looks more odd than it is, but it looks weird alright! Buenahora and Lanfranchi are not too far behind the leaders, just like Piepoli and Tonkov, as soon as Tonkov and Lanfranchi find each other, they'll do everything to get back on. Piepoli is dropped by Tonkov now.

The Devil runs alongside the riders to take a close look. The riders avoid looking at him. A somewhat overweight Vini Caldirola fan leans to a mountain wall. I doubt it's one of their ex-racers, but it's not for kids to tell the difference. :-) Simoni has his fan club located close to the top, and they've printed T-shirts with his name all over and they are of course very happy and very annoying to have around. Simoni looks strengthened by their cheers though, and attacks again. His attacks don't last long enough for a big gap to grow. The experienced riders behind make sure to keep their own pace, and after 500 metres he is caught again, and again and again.

Tonkov has found Lanfranchi in this crowd of people and motorbikes. The barriers are ignored by the spectators, and there's no room for the riders to pass. People will step aside just to let them pass, but if the riders would like to see the road ahead of them? Haha, funny joke! Casagrande who has a good chance of winning the mountain jersey moves to the front for the very first time just to take the points at the summit. 19 kilometers to go, and the descent has started. Pantani stands up and sprints like a maniac to get a gap while going downhill. Simoni follows him and makes sure to close every little gap. Say whatever you want, but there's nothing wrong with the fighting spirit of these two guys. Who needs a Savoldelli when Pantani descends like this. Oops, Simoni almost took a shortcut down to next serpentine. Casagrande is still the last rider in the group. He hasn't been close to being threatened today.

Tonkov and Lanfranchi are still chasing behind, they are much closer now. Tonkov sits huddled up, with his head low and Lanfranchi pedals for all he is worth while pushing Tonkov ahead of him. We didn't see that. Simoni drops back to Casagrande to talk when Pantani attacks again. Tiring little man, this one.

Simoni is on his guard, he brings Pantani back for the n-th time today. Garzelli turns around, he wants some help from Casagrande. Casagrande literally sits up, stretches his back and almost yawns as well. He has no intention of helping Garzelli with anything. Garzelli makes a gesture to the road behind Casagrande, 'but Tonkov?'. Lanfranchi and Tonkov are already there. The pace is very low, Lanfranchi looks around and Pavel Tonkov gives him a little push, 'Why dont you go for it?'. Lanfranchi is gone.

Pantani and Garzelli move to the front, Casagrande and Tonkov sit behind. Lanfranchi looks good, he stands up and climbs with a good rhythm. The road is rising slightly here. Pantani's pace at the front makes Tonkov suffer a little bit. Seven kilometers to go, Garzelli moves up to Pantani and Casagrande squeezes his own wheel in between them. A little slope, then the road goes up again, and sure, Pantani goes away again. Casagrande and Tonkov can follow. Garzelli is the one who struggles behind. Lanfranchi has twenty seconds already. Buenahora is closing in from behind. Lanfranchi enters the outskirts of Briancon with a couple of kilometers to go. He has 40 seconds now.

The road inside Briancon can only has been made for walking. It is a really bad and bumpy road with gratings in the middle of it. The final kilometer goes nothing but up. There's people everywhere, and there's just 50 centimetres left for the riders to pass through. Yea, thats right, 50 cm's of grating. Pantani has attacked from the group, Simoni is chasing like a mad man, but for the first time today he cannot bring Pantani back. Tonkov moves up in front of Simoni and closes the final metres to Pantani. He is protecting Lanfranchi, and Pantani knows that very well. He also knows that Simoni is tired now. He is finally tired. Tonkov slows the pace down as much as he can, and when it gets too obvious, Pantani attacks again. This time no-one follows.

Lanfranchi struggles on the final climb. Pantani rides at a higher pace, it would be really hard for Lanfranchi to be passed in the final kilometer. Pantani has the ability, but the gap might be too big. Lanfranchi can't see the street in front of him, in fact there is no street in front of him. Just the bumpy bars in the ground, the pav someone has thrown in as decoration and lots and lots of spectators. When he enters the finish, he is however, in front of Pantani and the others, and there isn't time enough for anyone to change that.

Complete Live Report

Welcome to the nineteenth stage with the final shoulder-to-shoulder battle in the Giro d'Italia. Tomorrows ITT from Briancon to Setriere might be decisive for the race and some riders trust their TT skills, others will have to do something today.

Since the ninth stage to Abatone Francesco Casagrande (Vini Caldirola) has been in control. Ridden economically, often on his own on the final climbs with team mates long since left behind. But on yesterday's final climb he had to let the main opponents Stefano Garzelli (Mercatone Uno) and Gilberto Simoni (Lampre) get a gap, just a few seconds, but it was not until the road "flattened" a bit up to the finish line that he managed to make contact again. The first sign of weakness.

Stefano Garzelli has says that tomorrow's TT climb will be decisive. He is indeed a better time triallist than Casagrande on the flat, but how about a climb? Simoni on the other hand is farther behind and might probably gain less on Casagrande in a TT. What will he do today? Wladimir Belli (Fassa Bortolo) is the dark horse, 1.11 behind. He almost passed Casagrande at the flat TT stage. Does he think that he can do it tomorrow, or will he attack today?

The situation before this stage:

1 Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Vini Caldirola-Sidermec      87.11.09
2 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Mercatone Uno-Albacom                0.25
3 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Lampre-Daikin                         0.53
4 Wladimir Belli (Ita) Fassa Bortolo                          1.11
5 Pavel Tonkov (Rus) Mapei-Quick Step                         2.41
6 Andrea Noe' (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step                          3.39
7 Hernan Buenahora Gutierrez (Col) Nectar-Selle Italia        3.43
8 Ivan Gotti (Ita) Team Polti                                 4.25
9 Dario Frigo (Ita) Fassa Bortolo                             4.34
10 Santiago Blanco Gil (Spa) Vitalicio Seguros                4.39

15.25 CET - Chepe Gonzales (Selle Italia) is leading up the climb up to Col del Agnello at 115 kms, with some 60 kms to go. But a minute and a half after him comes Gilberto Simoni with Mapei's Lanfrachi in the wheel. And he has a 30 seconds gap to the other top riders: Casagrande and Garzelli with Blanco (Vitalicio), Piepoli (Banesto), Buenahora (Selle Italia) and Pavel Tonkov who was in trouble for a while and right now Marco Pantani is coming up to the group. The pirate is back!

15.30 CET - Pantani still has some metres to the Casagrande group but No has been able to come up in the fog. Stage leading Gonzales is riding in the green mountain jersey, and a matching helmet, but is not any threat in the overall classification. He is above the clouds now in the sun. Simoni riding second is 53 seconds behind overall and still has some twenty to take on Casagrande. Lanfrachi, Tonkov's team mate, still just hanging on off course. They are not so far ahead of Casagrande & Co. This group has some more members: Conti (Vini Caldirola) and Pena is Vitalicio Seguros, Blanco seems to be behind. Casagrande doesn't care to take on a jacket.

15.35 CET - Wladimir Belli, at 1.11 overall in fourth, is the loser of the day. He is not among the eight chasing Simoni and Lanfranchi but not too far behind. He might join them on the way down. Lanfranchi and Simoni will be caught by Casagrande's group. Piepoli is actually in between now going downhill.

15.40 CET - Simoni and Lanfranchi are caufght by the group that still is growing and now it is Pantani that have joined. Interesting also is that Casagrande for once has a team mate, Roberto Conti, along. Pantani is handing a bottle over to Garzelli. Rubiera is coming from behind to the group and Belli ought to be there to since they passed the top together.

15.45 CET - Rubiera actually came up alone without Belli. The group: Simoni (Lampre), Lanfranchi, Tonkov, No (all Mapei), Casagrande, Conti (both Vini Caldirola), Garzelli, Pantani (both Mercatone), Piepoli (Banesto), Buenahora (Selle Italia), Pena (Vitalicio) and Rubiera (Kelme). Belli is reported to be 1.25 behind Casagrande's group. Their gap to Gonzalez, still on the way down, is 1.15.

15.55 CET - Lanfranchi, Rubeira and Pena attacked going down and caught Gonzalez in the valley. They are noe preparing for the second climb of the day Col d'Izoard, a classic passage in the Tour de France, because now we are in France.

16.00 CET - Belli is actually closing in now from behind but has still not caught the Casagrande group. The leader is in his turn 1.08 behind the four stage leaders now. In Belli's group are also Gonchar and Blanco and they have Casagrande within sight now. It's Conti working in that group approaching the climb. It has actually started but not too seriously yet.

16.05 CET - Veteran Conti is standing up now, Pantani style, with the pirate himself along, also he standing. They are nine riders chasing the front quartet. Or rather keeping each other under control. They are a minute behind the stage leaders.

16.10 CET - It is still Conti driving Casagrande, Garzelli, Simoni, Pantani, Piepoli, Tonkov, Buenahora and last No, trailing the leading quartet Rubiera, Gonzalez, Pea and Lanfranchi. The road is still straight, it's not to steep yet. Belli's group is still behind them.

16.15 CET - 30 kms to go, 10 of them upwards. The four in front, where Gonzalez has attacked again, passed the 30 km sign 46 seconds ahead of Casagrande's group and 1.40 ahead of Belli, Blanco, Kokhorine (Amica), Gonchar (Liquigas) and a couple of Kelmes.

16.20 CET - Gilberto Simoni attacks again alone! Pantani does the job to catch him! And now he goes up again with Garzelli on the wheel and Casagrande following. Simoni and Tonkov is also along. Pantani goes on his own now and gets a gap. Only Simoni can follow. What is happening? Pantani goes down to help Garzelli but Casagrande is also along. They are closing in on Simoni.

16.25 CET - Simoni catches Gonzales but they are both caught in their turn by Pantani, Garzelli and Casagrande. Tonkov is off. But now a new attack from Pantani. Simoni covers with Garzelli and Casagrande tagging on. But why care about Pantani? And Garzelli is in trouble now. Some help he gets from Pantani who slides down to help his team mate.

16.30 CET -Simoni has a little gap but the others are catching up on him once again. Did Pantani attack to break Simoni? It seems like he is wearing out Garzelli instead. Casagrande is just following. What can he do down the hill? He must have more than the 23 seconds he has overall to Garzelli.

16.35 CET - Tonkov is closing in from the rear, leaving Piepoli behind. It's Pantani keeping the pace at the front now when they have caught Simoni up the mountain. This is Simoni's last chance to attack, but on the other hand it's a long way to go down after the top. But here he comes in another attack but the others are following. He must keep going now to wear the others down. He has to keep going. And he does.

16.40 CET - Simoni gives up after all, the others could hang on. Casagrande looks cool as fourth all the time. But now Garzelli goes up but Simoni counters and Casagrande sprints to take the mountain prize, and now the road is going down. Tonkov and Lanfranchi passes some 25 seconds behind.

16.45 CET - It's full speed down the valley. Less than 20 kms left of the day. There is a little climb at the finish, otherwise it's downhill. And now he attacks, he is going for the stage. It's Simoni trying to hang on and Garzelli close to him. Simoni is in trouble in one of the turns but is OK.

16.50 CET - Pantani cooled off a bit. Garzelli seemed to be going OK down. Casagrande is on last wheel all the time. He has actually been very discreet on this stage. It has been a fight among the others. Pantani and Garzelli talk now in the front. Garzelli needs bonus seconds from a stage win. Pantani second would be great and Simoni third. Then he would gain 12 seconds. Simoni and Casagrande start talking to each other but then Pantani attacks again. But the others cover and Lanfrachi and Tonkov is still closing in the awaitening quartet. Pantani attacks again when Tonkov and Lanfranchi connect. Pantani is caught again.

16.55 CET - Lanfranchi attacks almost immediately and nobody cares. Pantani is sour because now he has to cover so that Garzelli can win the stage. No one else works. Pantani backs down to eat. Attack coming? Oh yes, he raises the speed again but the others catch him with seven kms to go. Lanfranchi has 20 seconds now.

17.00 CET - Buenahora is coming from behind now. He will pass Belli overall and probably No, he is going for fifth. Nobody wants to ride in the group with five kms to go. Lanfranchi seems to be riding towards his finest win ever, there hasn't been many during his eight pro years. The group is doing nothing right now. In the town of Briancon the Italian has 40 seconds. He is going out on a little round out of town and then to the finish. This will probably hold even if the group seems to be riding faster now.

17.07 CET - With 1300 metres to go the final climb begins for Lanfranchi while Pantani attacks down town but Simoni is covering back in the group but it's Tonkov catching Pantani. Buenahora tries. It's very steep and there might be gaps. Pantani attacks now in the final climb. No one covers. The gap to Lanfranchi is to wide though. But Pantani is alone now in the streets of Briancon. But Lanfranchi wins. Pantani, a sensation today, is second at some 50 seconds, Simoni follows with the others a minute behind.

17.20 CET - The result of the day:

1. Paolo Lanfranchi (Ita) Mapei                5.32.07
2. Marco Pantani (Ita) Mercatione Uno             0.50
3. Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Lampre-Daikin            1.00
4. Francesco Casagrande(Ita) Vini Caldirola       
5. Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Mercatone Uno 
6. Pavel Tonkov (Rus) Mapei                       1.06
7. Hernan Buenahora (Col) Selle Italia            1.08
8. Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) Banesto                 2.00

General classification:
1. Francesco Casagrande(Ita) Vini Caldirola     
2. Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Mercatone Uno           0.25
3. Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Lampre-Daikin            0.49
4. Pavel Tonkov (Rus) Mapei                       2.46
5. Hernan Buenahora (Col) Selle Italia            3.50
6. Wladimir Belli (Ita) Fassa Bortolo             4.47
7. Andrea No (Ita) Mapei                         5.26
8. Jos Luis Rubiera (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca     6.35








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