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87th Giro d'Italia - Grand Tour
Italy, May 8-30, 2004
87th Giro d'Italia Report - Part One: "Bellisimo" Giro d'Italia for 2004, more climbing and fewer TT's favour Simoni
By Tim Maloney-European Editor
American artist Mark Kostabi's painting "Il Fuoco de Giro" is the graphic theme of the 2004 Giro d'Italia, and with a tough parcours with more climbing and less time trialing than the previous edition, there will be plenty of fireworks culminating in an intense last week of racing through the Italian Dolomite and Alps before the winner rides down Corso Venezia in Milano wearing the Maglia Rosa of race leadership the final.
Certainly, the favourite to win the 87th edition of Giro d'Italia is two-time winner Gilberto Simoni (Saeco); the tough little Trentino climber likes what he saw when the Giro was unveiled in Milano on Saturday, November 8th. "It's a 'belissimo' course, said Simoni, "and Lance Armstrong would be the favourite. I would like to challenge him to guarantee a great spectacle. In the season where Lance is going for the record of six consecutive Tours, why not? In the past, he has often said that he wanted to ride the Giro at least once before he finished his career. Why not in 2004?"
But despite Gibo's cage rattling, Armstrong is 100 percent focused on winning his 6th consecutive Tour de France and it's highly doubtful that the American and his USPS-Berry Floor squad will be at the Giro start next May 8th in Genoa.
Simoni's evaluation continued, saying, "The 2004 course is a lot like that of my first Giro win two years ago. There is only one time trial and the toughest stages are in the last few stages. But I doubt if the race will be stale until the stages to Bormio or Presolana. A mountaintop finish like Corno alle Scale could change the GC already on the 3rd stage."
Without Armstrong, Simoni's most dangerous adversary will once again be Stefano Garzelli (Vini Caldirola). However, with almost a full season behind, the talented Garzelli may provide even more competition for Simoni in 2004. Although Garzelli was on vacation and not available for comment, third place Yaroslav Popovych (Colnago-Landbouwkredit) was on stage at Milano's Auditorium for the presentation of the 2004 Giro d'Italia. Popo is not off Simoni's radar; "I'm not ignoring Popovych; last year he was third but I'm sure he'll be looking to improve." The young Ukranian agreed with Simoni's assessment, saying, ""In my first Giro I was 12th, and this year I was third; this year, in the final TT, I didn't ride well. For next year, the Giro only has one TT, and that could help me. But to improve, I'll have to have great form in the final, decisive part of the Giro."
On hand for the presentation but not slated to ride the 2004 Giro d'Italia was 2002 Giro winner Paolo Salvoldelli, who was enthusiastic about the course as well. "This looks like a great Giro and I hope I can convince [Telekom team director] Walter Godefroot to put our team in the race."
With eight or nine stages for sprinters in the 2004 Giro, Cipo and Petacchi will certainly continue their thrilling sprinters mano a mano next year. Apart from the struggle for the general classification, the impending sprinter showdown between Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) and Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze) looms large in the 2004 Giro d'Italia. Cipollini is the all-time Giro stage winner, but was overshadowed by an incredible Petacchi this season. Although Cipo was training in the desert sun in Sharm-el-Sheik, Egypt and did not attend the Giro show, he told the assembled crowd via TV hookup "I have a personal desire for a comeback I still want to compete just like a kid!"
Petacchi was also on the line from the Caribbean, where he is on vacation until late November and pointed to Stage 1 from Genoa to Alba and its significance. "It's important to start the fist stage well I see a hard, tough Giro ahead." Cipollini's long time Director Sportif Antonio Salutini explained," The results [this year] of Petacchi have brought out all the determination he has inside him [Cipo] is thinking of nothing else other than getting his revenge on Petacchi. That is the kind of thing that makes [Mario] strong. The organizers of the Giro haven't forgotten how important the sprinters are; how important the challenge between Mario and Petacchi will be."
Despite the sprinters fireworks, a challenge for the Giro d'Italia going forward is to attract the major international teams. As well-know international cycling journalists like Gianfranco Josti of Corriere della Sera and Philippe Brunel of L'Equipe have pointed out, the difficulty of the Giro organizers is to attract the top teams. Interviewed on Italian TV, Josti sagely pointed out that "In the end, it's the riders who make the race. If the riders aren't good, the (Giro) will lose out."
Coming soon: 87th Giro d'Italia Report -Part 2: A stage-by-stage breakdown