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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

87th Giro d'Italia - Grand Tour

Italy, May 8-30, 2004

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Stage 18 - May 28: Cles Val Di Non - Bormio 2000, 118 km

Commentary by Chris Henry

Complete live report

Live coverage starts: 14:30 CEST
Estimated finish time: 17:30 CEST

14:30 CEST   
Welcome back for the beginning of the end in this year's Giro. Today is a short but action-packed mountain stage finishing atop the climb to Bormio 2000. There are three major climbs on the menu, the Passo del Tonale, the famed Passo di Gavia, and Bormio 2000, a 10km climb with an average gradient of 7.5 percent.

Yesterday's transitional stage, won by Pavel Tonkov, did no damage to the general classification, but today's stage could prompt a few changes. The question still remains who will emerge as the top man for Saeco, current leader Damiano Cunego or defending champion Gilberto Simoni? Popovych, Simoni, and Gonchar are the closest challengers, while Garzelli is about four and a half minutes back.

14:41 CEST    31km/87km to go
At the 16 kilometre mark, a big group of 20 riders broke clear of the main field, looking for an early advantage before the serious climbing begins. In the group is the winner of eight stages this Giro, Alessandro Petacchi. Safe to say he is not a contender today.

The breakaway consists of Leonardo Bertagnolli and Gorazd Stangelj (Saeco), Kyrylo Pospyeyev (Acqua & Sapone), Vladimir Miholjevic and Cristian Moreni (Alessio-Bianchi), Luca Mazzanti (Ceramiche Panaria), Igor Pugaci (De Nardi), Andris Nauduzs (Domina Vacanze), Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo), Philippe Gilbert (FDJeux.com), Marcel Strauss and Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), Daniele Righi and Francisco Vila (Lampre), Volodymyr Bileka and Nico Siymens (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago), Daniel Schnider (Phonak), Rubens Bertogliati and Juan Gomis Lopez (Saunier Duval), and Oscar Mason (Vini Caldirola).

The advantage over the main field is steadily going up, currently at 2'20.

14:49 CEST   
Giuliano Figueras (Ceramiche Panaria-Margres) was a non-starter this morning, the only rider who didn't take the start. That leaves 141 riders left in the race, though today could do some damage as well.

The breakaway continues to build its advantage. Aside from a number of sprinters/non-climbers, there is an important man in the move, Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), who currently leads the mountains classification ahead of maglia rosa Damiano Cunego.

14:51 CEST    37km/81km to go
Landbouwkrediet-Colnago's Jacky Durand has pulled out of the race at the 35km mark. Make that 140 rides left in the race...

14:58 CEST   
Figueras, who didn't start this morning, abandoned due to an illness which hit him the night before last. He survived Thursday's stage 17 but was unable to contemplate today's heavy dose of climbing after another rough night last night.

15:05 CEST    39km/79km to go
On the slopes of the Passo del Tonale, Petacchi is already having some trouble keeping pace with the leaders. Wegmann and Strauss are setting pace, obviously thinking of Wegmann's climber's jersey and taking the points at the first summit.

15:10 CEST    40km/78km to go
Saeco is taking the responsibility for minding the chase in the main field while the Gerolsteiner duo continues to drive the break on the Passo del Tonale.

15:15 CEST    41km/77km to go
The weather is not particularly pleasant for the riders today, cold and chilly on the climbs. Arm warmers and rain vests for some are the order of the day. Snow fell on the Gavia last night but the climb is passable today.

As the break hits the summit of the climb, Strauss leads out Wegmann for the mountain points, which Wegmann takes uncontested ahead of Strauss and Gomis Lopez. The riders all sit up to add a jacket for the cold descent.

15:17 CEST   
The peloton passes the summit of the Passo del Tonale 2'43 behind the break. The gap between break and peloton has gone out and come back a bit on the climb but has yet to top the three minute mark.

15:23 CEST   
The field is winding its way down the slick descent, with nearly all riders bundled up in a rain cape. Saeco is still leading the bunch with Cunego and Simoni well-placed up front.

Ahead, three riders look to have separated themselves from the break on the descent.

15:26 CEST    56km/62km to go
The three riders clear are Miholjevic, Righi, and Vila. They've finished the descent and are immediately on the first slopes of the mighty Gavia, which this year is the Cima Coppi of the Giro, the highest point of the race.

The sun is out for the moment.

15:29 CEST   
The lead trio has about 20" on the rest of the break, which is splitting a part a bit as some riders give chase. Strauss and Wegmann are leading in this second group, caught out by the move on the descent.

Saeco has two men in the early break and is well grouped in the main field as well as the Gavia begins.

15:32 CEST    58km/60km to go
Righi is losing contact with the other two leaders now as Miholjevic forces the pace.

In the main field, Saeco continues to set the tempo. Brad McGee is tucked in just behind the men in red.

15:39 CEST   
Vila and Miholjevic are carrying on with their escape, enjoying sunshine for the moment on the long climb of the Gavia. The pace is modest in the main field, which is still reasonably big and under the watchful eye of Saeco, which has three riders setting the pace up front.

Strauss and Wegmann are still the primary chasers behind the two leaders, with Daniele Righi stuck somewhere in between. Having lost contact with the lead duo, he should be back in the chase soon enough.

15:44 CEST    63km/55km to go
It's important for Wegmann to catch the leaders before the summit of the Gavia, since as it is the Cima Coppi it carries the most points for the mountain classification (20 points for the first rider to cross).

Miholjevic and Vila have hit some of the steeper slopes of the Gavia and the road has narrowed considerably too.

In the main field, Cunego is having a snack, anticipating the efforts to come.

15:46 CEST   
The maglia rosa group is steadily shrinking, down to about thirty riders.

Popovych has punctured but he's had a quick wheel change. Still, he'll use a bit of energy to get back to the main group.

Up front, Miholjevic looks to be putting Vila in a bit of trouble.

Popovych is back already, working his way back to the front of the Cunego/Simoni group.

15:48 CEST   
Garzelli has attacked the maglia rosa group! The Vini Caldirola leader has jumped clear, getting a small gap on the narrow, steep roads of the Gavia.

No major panic in the Saeco camp yet, which is still setting a steady tempo. Garzelli is 4'26 back on GC, so he has his work cut out for him.

15:52 CEST   
Wladimir Belli is alone trying to chase Garzelli, while Sylvester Szmyd leads the chase for Saeco about 19" behind.

Cunego is in third position behind Szmyd and Mazzoleni, with Simoni on the wheel of the maglia rosa. Gonchar, Popovych and the other favourites are still in this group.

15:54 CEST   
Miholjevic is alone at the head of the race and riding well, still putting more time between himself and the Cunego group, although Garzelli's acceleration could start to hurt Miholjevic's chances.

Garzelli is still 8" ahead of Belli and 25" ahead of the Cunego group. He's steadily picking up the stragglers from the early break. Garzelli is looking better today than he has in a while.

15:57 CEST   
This could be a tough day for Brad McGee. The Australian is currently hanging onto the back of the Cunego group. McGee has made great progress in the mountains but today's stage could prove a bit much against riders like Simoni, Cunego, Garzelli, etc.

Garzelli has now caught up with his teammate Oscar Mason, who was in the early break. If Mason can hang on he can be a great help to Garzelli and open up the gap even more on the maglia rosa group.

15:59 CEST    69km/49km to go
Indeed, Mason and Garzelli are pouring on the power now. They've picked up Philippe Gilbert, who tried to hang on but has popped pretty quickly.

Saeco still sets the pace in the ever dwindling main group, 35" behind Garzelli.

Miholjevic is still alone in the lead but the focus for the moment is on the Garzelli-Saeco duel.

16:02 CEST   
Garzelli is leaving Mason behind now, back on his own but looking very strong. The speed is evident as some discussion has taken place among the Saeco riders to ease up a bit.

Miholjevic has just under 50km to race as he continues toward the summit of the Gavia.

16:07 CEST   
Garzelli is hitting the snow line of the Gavia, steadily picking off the riders who figured in the break of 20. In fact, he's come up to a group of four riders including Wegmann.

He's got a minute now on Cunego's group and straight away he moves to the front of the small Wegmann group.

16:11 CEST   
McGee is still hanging in there with the maglia rosa group.

Garzelli has already dropped the Wegmann group, which means Wegmann is unlikely to take points on this climb.

Miholjevic is still alone, within about 2 kilometres of the summit.

16:15 CEST   
It's slow going for all parties on the Gavia. This is a tough climb and the speed is quite slow. Saeco is still setting the tempo. Popovych looks to be in a bit of trouble in this group, along with McGee. A slight gap opened up but they're still in contact.

Garzelli is 1'05 on Cunego, about 2'15 behind Miholjevic.

16:17 CEST   
Wegmann is back in the Cunego group now which means he won't be taking any points on the Gavia.

Miholjevic is grinding his way to the summit, while Garzelli is looking much faster and steadily closing in on the leader.

Cunego looks comfortable but for the moment Saeco is holding steady.

Garzelli catches some of the last chasers behind Miholjevic. Catches and passes...

16:20 CEST    71km/47km to go
After the Gavia there is a long descent, a bit of a transitional valley, one small climb, then the final ascent to Bormio 2000. It's a longer transition than there was between the first two climbs.

Gomis is doing a pretty good job of hanging onto Garzelli's wheel, the only rider so far to be able to accelerate and hang onto the Garzelli express.

Popovych looks to still be at the back of the Cunego group. Simoni is making some gestures to his teammates, perhaps to pick up the pace a bit in the chase.

Miholjevic now hits the Cima Coppi, the highest point of this year's Giro d'Italia. Great climb by the Alessio rider and he now begins the long descent off the Gavia.

16:21 CEST   
Garzelli grabs a long jacket from a team assistant at the side of the road, getting ready for what will be a cold descent. He and Gomis cross the summit just 1'05 behind Miholjevic.

16:25 CEST   
As the Cunego group cross the summit, Garzelli has an impressive 1'50 on this group.

There's quite a bit of snow on the back side of the Gavia, but the road is clear (with some wet spots).

16:30 CEST    75km/43km to go
Miholjevic is flying down the descent with Garzelli and Gomis giving chase behind. The sun is still out and it's a quick plunge but the riders have to be careful of the runoff from melting snow making the road wet in some of the turns.

Among big names who made it over the summit in Cunego's group were Simoni, Popovych, McGee, Gonchar, Cioni, Tonkov, Pellizotti, etc. Former stage winner Emanuele Sella was also there.

16:35 CEST   
The situation is still Miholjevic in the lead, chased by Garzelli/Gomis, behind whom are Moreni and Belli, a few more possible stragglers from the early break, then Cunego's maglia rosa group which contains the rest of the GC favourites.

Another rider having a great day is Christophe Brandt (Lotto-Domo), the best-placed Belgian, who is still in with the Cunego group.

16:37 CEST   
Miholjevic is getting some encouragement from his team car. He's off the big part of the descent with a descent lead on the chasers, but he'll likely need more time to have hopes of staying away on the final climb to Bormio 2000.

16:43 CEST   
Garzelli and Gomis are having trouble pulling back Miholjevic and the gap is still about 1'10. They've got help now though as Vila and Moreni (Miholjevic's teammate) have caught them on the descent. Vila might be willing to help but Moreni will probably not want to work against his man in the lead.

(Note that it was in fact Vila chasing with Moreni, not Belli.)

16:48 CEST    97km/21km to go
Miholjevic is still alone, approaching the Intergiro sprint for the day, but his advantage is now starting to slip pretty seriously. Garzelli and Gomis are doing most of the work in the first chase, while Saeco is as always controlling the pace in the Cunego group. Cunego and Simoni still have two teammates with them up front.

The transition between the Gavia and the final climb is not smiling on Garzelli's group either...

Miholjevic has entered the town of Bormio.

16:50 CEST   
Miholjevic passed the Intergiro on a narrow, cobbled street in Bormio 1'54 ahead of the Garzelli group. Miholjevic is taking more time, which is impressive considering he's on his own.

16:53 CEST   
Saeco is getting more serious with the chase and looks to have Garzelli's group in its sights before the climb to Bormio 2000. Saeco has five men in the maglia rosa group, which is a sign that they are very much in control. Bertagnolli, who was in the early break, is still up with the team leaders, along with Szmyd and Mazzoleni.

Garzelli continues to do the work in his group but against the red train of Saeco his time gap is minimal now.

Miholjevic sheds a vest on the small climb before the start of the finish to Bormio 2000.

16:57 CEST    100km/18km to go
The steepest section of the climb to Bormio 2000 (12%) comes near the beginning, after which it is a very consistent gradient to the finish. The climb is 9.9 kilometres and averages 7.5%.

The Cunego group is moving quite quickly now, almost entirely single file.

16:59 CEST   
Garzelli's chase group has dropped Gomis, but it's probably academic as the capture by the Saeco group is almost inevitable. Cunego's group is just 15" behind now.

17:01 CEST   
Since Garzelli has probably used up his chance for the day, who can attack the Saeco armada? Even within the team... Will Simoni have a go or will Cunego finish once more in the jersey?

Garzelli is back in the fold. Now it's just Miholjevic alone up front and the maglia rosa group revving up behind.

17:04 CEST    103km/15km to go
Brad McGee gets rid of his vest as the climbing begins. Simoni and Cunego have done the same.

Miholjevic is looking rather good considering his long escape over two difficult climbs already. He's crossed over the last little climb before the biggie. There's a short descent before the first slopes to Bormio 2000.

All of the top 15 riders on GC are present in the Cunego group, still led by the Saeco team.

17:08 CEST   
Popovych has had another mechanical problem and is getting paced back to the Cunego group, which is descending to the start of the final climb.

Miholjevic, meanwhile, is about to hit the first slopes of the climb.

17:12 CEST    108km/10km to go
Final 10km to go for Miholjevic who is hitting the final climb to the finish. He still looks very strong but the attacks are bound to come from the Cunego group.

To answer a reader's question about removing helmets, Miholjevic has just tossed his to a team helper standing along the road. (Nice catch) Riders don't just toss the helmets at any old spot along the road...

17:16 CEST    109km/9km to go
Cunego sits in third position now behind two teammates with Gonchar on his wheel.

Miholjevic is hurting now... It's clear he won't hold up against the Saeco train but it's still be an impressive ride today.

Mazzoleni takes over the pace-setting for Saeco and the damage is starting to show behind. Gonchar and Tonkov are the first riders on Cunego's wheel. Simoni is a bit farther back.

17:16 CEST   
McGee is losing ground and letting a gap open, Garzelli is losing ground farther behind.

Simoni attacks! Is this the moment for the defending champ?

17:18 CEST   
Lampre's Garate leads the chase with Belli on his wheel. Cunego is a few riders back. Emanuele Sella now goes clear in a counter attack. Impressive acceleration and he gets a huge gap quickly.

Watch out, here comes Cunego! He jumps after Cioni and goes after Sella.

Sella caught Simoni. (insert sound of fireworks here___)

17:19 CEST   
Gonchar, Mazzoleni and a few others have come up to Cunego's wheel. Popovych is notably absent.

Simoni is out of the saddle and pushing hard with Sella now stuck to his rear wheel.

17:21 CEST    111km/8km to go
Sella takes over briefly for Simoni setting the pace, but the chase is coming up behind, led by Cioni. In this group are Cunego, Mazzoleni, Gonchar, and Valjavec.

Simoni's still trying.

17:22 CEST   
Break finished for Miholjevic. Simoni and Sella catch and pass him.

17:24 CEST    112km/6km to go
Simoni and Sella have 18" on the Cunego group, which has grown a bit in size. Popovych is back in the group.

Simoni accelerates and Sella begins to lose ground. Simoni is now off on his own.

17:26 CEST   
Popovych, Simoni's closest rival on GC, is once more having trouble at the back of the Cunego group.

Gonchar leads the chase group which is trying to reel in Sella first, then Simoni. Lampre's Garate and Belli share words in this group.

17:27 CEST   
Cioni attacks now, once more with Cunego on his wheel. They've caught and passed Sella. Gonchar quickly marks the move.

17:28 CEST   
Cioni, Cunego and Gonchar are closing in on Simoni. This is dangerous for Simoni because if they're caught the logical counter could come from Cunego. Or, at least he would be ready for the next attack if Simoni can't go twice.

Popovych is losing ground but keeping the rest of the group in sight.

17:30 CEST    114km/4km to go
Simoni is still away but he doesn't look to have the spark he needs to stay away. Cioni is steadily reeling him in, while Cunego looks awfully comfortable along with Gonchar.

McGee seems to have disappeared too. Garate and Belli are leading the second chase behind the Cioni/Cunego/Gonchar group.

17:31 CEST   
Cioni is putting in a great ride for his GC position and he's just about caught Simoni.

Done. Simoni is caught and he takes the last wheel of the now leading quartet, behind teammate Cunego.

Gonchar takes over the lead.

17:32 CEST    115km/3km to go
Gonchar's motivation is to put time on Popovych, which he's doing. Cioni can move up ahead of McGee. Cunego and Simoni, well... We know their story.

Perez Cuapio has put in a strong counter and bridged to this group. Five men in the lead now with 3km to go.

17:35 CEST    116km/2km to go
Popovych is holding his ground and really digging deep. He's at the head of the first chase group now, along with Mazzoleni, Garate and Belli, among others. Sella is trying to bridge back to the lead group.

Cunego now sets the pace with 2km to go.

17:36 CEST   
Cunego continues to lead with Gonchar on his wheel. Popovych's group is 23" behind. Perhaps Cunego is working now to set up Simoni for the sprint.

17:38 CEST    117km/1km to go
Perez Cuapio is no doubt thinking of a stage win too. All riders will want the stage with the 20" time bonus on offer to the winner, though Cunego among all can afford to let it slide if he works for Simoni.

One kilometre to go.

17:38 CEST   
Simoni looks around at Perez Cuapio, keeping an eye on the Mexican.

Gonchar now takes over the front with Cunego on his wheel.

17:39 CEST   
The sprint is coming up, Gonchar still leads with Cunego who's looking for an attack behind.

17:41 CEST   
Cunego puts his hands in the drops and gets ready as they go through a final turn.

Popovych's group is coming up behind but won't make contact.

Simoni is now in third spot, but boom! Cunego goes and nobody can do a thing about it.

There is no sprint, he gets a huge gap and flies across the line. Cioni gets second followed by Gonchar, Simoni, then Perez Cuapio.

17:41 CEST   
Popovych comes across 40" later and will lose his third place overall to Simoni.

17:42 CEST   
McGee is in a minute behind. Strong ride for McGee, who in the end finished ahead of the climber Sella.

Garzelli struggles home 2'03 behind after a valiant effort earlier in the stage.


1 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Saeco                                     3.56.31
2 Dario David Cioni (Ita) Fassa Bortolo                             0.05
3 Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) De Nardi                                      
4 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saeco                                       0.10
5 Julio A. Perez Cuapio (Mex) Ceramiche Panaria-Margres             0.18
6 Eddy Mazzoleni (Ita) Saeco                                        0.36
7 Juan Manuel Garate Cepa (Spa) Lampre                              
8 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago                   0.40
9 Wladimir Belli (Ita) Lampre 
10 Andrea Noe' (Ita) Alessio-Bianchi
11 Bradley McGee (Aus) FDJeux.com                                   1.01
12 Tadej Valjavec (Slo) Phonak Hearing Systems                    
13 Emanuele Sella (Ita) Ceramiche Panaria-Margres                
14 Luis Filipe Laverde Jimenez (Col) Formaggi Pinzolo Fiave'      
General classification after stage 18
1 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Saeco                                    80.38.46
2 Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) De Nardi                                    1.31
3 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saeco                                       3.07
4 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago                   3.23
5 Dario David Cioni (Ita) Fassa Bortolo                             4.44
6 Wladimir Belli (Ita) Lampre                                       
7 Bradley McGee (Aus) FDJeux.com                                    5.24
8 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Vini Caldirola-Nobili Rubinetterie         6.45
9 Juan Manuel Garate Cepa (Spa) Lampre   

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