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91st Giro d'Italia - GT
Italy, May 10-June 1, 2008
Rest day 2 – Tuesday, May 27:
Surprises in the mountains
Contador hangs tough, but gauntlets are down
By Bjorn Haake
Three long days in the mountains have left their mark on the racers, and several surprises have surfaced. Last year's winner Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes) started to show signs of weakness, with Alberto Contador (Astana) taking the maglia rosa of race leader. The Spaniard wasn't dominating the mountain stages, as some had feared, following his performance in last year's Tour de France. But he hung tough when the others threw down the attacks, with youngster Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval - Scott) looking to be in the best position to seriously challenge Contador, with his gap of only 41 seconds.
Then there was the amazing performance by CSF Navigare, with their new emerging climbing star, Emanuele Sella grabbing the headlines. They started out quietly, with a lacklustre performance in the team time trial, but improved to a stage win via its sprinter, Matteo Priamo. When the mountains started for real, the green team was on the front in force. And quickly, Sella made it clear that he preferred the green jersey for the best climber in the Giro over the similar-coloured team outfit. Three amazing performances and two stage wins and a second place later, he looked solid in the mountains classification. Especially on the rainy day up to the Passo Fedaia/Marmolada the team was incredible, with Fortunato Baliani, Mexican Julio Pérez and Domenico Pozzovivo providing excellent assistance to Sella.
Of note was also the unexpected performance of Belgian Jurgen Van Den Broeck. The Silence - Lotto rider showed his climbing prowess and impressed in both weekend stages, staying with the climbing masters and producing a solid time trial to the Plan de Corones. The move to Italy had paid off, as he could get some good vertical training in.
And while from looking at the profile it was clear that the two time trials wouldn't see a pure chrono specialist take the win, few would have predicted the victory of Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) atop the Plan de Corones, who put up a brilliant ride. The first individual time trial, also not one of the flat sort, saw a more likely winner in Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre).
Surprises were also produced by the Astana duo of Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden, who were expected to play a more dominant role. Maybe the one-week notice was a little short, but at least they had Contador up there.
Things were more regular with the sprinters. Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) and Mark Cavendish (Team High Road) scored one win each at the end of the week and in the tight fastmen's battle the Italian was leading 3:2. Only Robbie McEwen was expected to have a stronger word in the fight for stage glory, but a crash and a season that hasn't gone completely to his liking yet, meant he left the Corsa Rosa on the eve of the mountains without a stage win.
After spending the weekend battling each other in high altitude, the riders deserved their rest day. While the overall classification is clearer now, by no means has there been a decision. Denis Menchov (Rabobank) in seventh is at 2'47 and is still with an outside chance to take over. Riccò (41 seconds) and Simoni (1'21) have the best cards to play, however. Bruseghin is at exactly two minutes and will look forward to the final time trial on Sunday. Pellizotti (2'05) also made his ambitions clear, while Di Luca (2'18) has not looked solid in the last couple of days.
One thing is for sure. The final week will still see great battles as the peloton heads into more mountains, with a finish atop the Monte Pora on Friday and the passing of the Cima Coppi on Saturday – the highest point of this year's Giro with mind boggling 2618 metres, as the peloton heads across the famous Gavia. This is followed by a final time trial into Milano that is pancake flat for once. Any time trial specialist still left in the race will look as much forward to the final day as the sprinters will regret not having their day of glory on the Corsa Venezia.
Stage 10 - Tuesday, May 20: Pesaro - Urbino (Individual Time Trial), 39.4km
The challenging 40-kilometre first individual time trial wasn't for the pure hammerfest specialists and so it was no surprise that Marzio Bruseghin of Lampre clocked the day's fastest time, with a 56'41. He had already won the mountain time trial the year before and held off the Astana duo of Alberto Contador and Andreas Klöden. The chrono-men still did reasonably well, with Marco Pinotti (Team High Road) and Paolo Savoldelli (LPR Brakes) following behind.
From the overall contenders, Gilberto Simoni (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli) produced a terrific run. Not known for his abilities in the fight against the clock (even in last year's mountain time trial that should have suited him he lost over a minute in less than 13 kilometres), reached a top ten, a minute back.
Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes) and Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) lost over two minutes, while Gerolsteiner's Davide Rebellin was even further back at 3'00.
The winner made clear that even an individual time trial is a team effort. "We worked with attention to every detail. We were all working towards this win, the mechanics, everyone."
Race leader Giovanni Visconti increased his slim 34-second lead over Matthias Russ to 3'31, with the latter not being able to live up to his quest to take the maglia rosa.
Stage 11 - Wednesday, May 21: Urbania - Cesena, 199km
16 years as a professional – that's when most professionals start thinking about the end of a career. But Alessandro Bertolini (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni) was happy he stayed around, having finally won a stage in his country's biggest race.
Bertolini was left in the end with Fortunato Baliani (CSF Group Navigare) and Pablo Lastras Garcia (Caisse d'Epargne). Bertolini led the trio into the last sharp turn, with some 650 metres to go. This is usually the worst position to be in the final kilometre, but this time luck was on the side of the gregario to Gilberto Simoni. Baliani crashed, with Lastras being slowed down behind.
"I had freedom in this stage and the team indicated this yesterday," the stage winner explained afterwards. Baliani seemed to almost smile when he came to the finish, trying to downplay his misfortune. "I hit a step in the curve and I crashed; I was not able to fight for the win," the Italian added.
Lastras on the other hand wished one of his half dozen attacks that he threw at his adversaries throughout the break would have succeeded. Instead, the Spaniard stood empty-handed in the end.
Stage 12 - Thursday, May 22: Forlì - Carpi, 172km
When Daniele Bennati of Liquigas and High Road's Mark Cavendish crossed the line in Carpi, neither sprinter did the usual arms-in-the-air celebration. Most times sprinters will know who won, but this time even the TV replay couldn't reveal the answer. Only half a metre from the line it looked like Benna had taken it, but Cavendish was moving up so fast that by the time they hit the line they were dead even.
Only the finish line photo revealed a three-centimetre gap to the advantage of Bennati, who was able to get his third win in this year's race. This was in fact the second time Bennati had a close encounter, after he narrowly beat Paolo Bettini in stage 9.
Cavendish had messed up the final turn and had to close quite a gap. His comeback was strong, but not strong enough. Bennati took note, however. "Cavendish is a sprinter in the last 100 to 50 metres," the Italian realised.
On another wet day there was no change in the overall and Visconti could enjoy the luxury of being served sandwiches on a tray by his waiter, Bettini.
Stage 13 - Friday, May 23: Modena - Cittadella, 177km
There was no need for a photo this time, as Manxman Mark Cavendish easily out-sprinted Bennati for his second win of the race. A frantic finale saw Cavendish move over from his team-mate's wheel to catch the tail-end of the Bennati-Zabel duo. It did look as if Cavendish was running out of space and would get squeezed into the barriers on the right, but gentleman Bennati moved over to the centre and opened up the way for 'Cav.'
This move netted him a "Thanks" from the Briton after the finish. "I have to say again, 'thanks.' It is great sportsmanship and we are able to see who is the fastest." Cavendish also used the champagne to celebrate his birthday, which happened two days prior.
The stage was a typical sprinters' affair, with Mickaël Buffaz (Cofidis) and Josu Agirre (Euskaltel - Euskadi) being the break of the day, before Liquigas, High Road and Milram moved into the front, with Visconti just trying to stay out of trouble. The Italian easily defended the race overall lead, while Bennati kept command of the sprinters' jersey.
Stage 14 - Saturday, May 24: Verona - Alpe di Pampeago/Val di Fiemme, 195km
Finally the climbers were able to show off their skills, and CSF's Emanuele Sella wasted no time. On the attack since kilometre 13, in a group of 13, Sella scored the mountain points, but was not satisfied until he took off solo on the Passo Manghen, with 50 kilometres remaining.
On a wet day in the dolomites, the Italian held off the remnants of the break and soloed in for victory.
The surprise of the day was Jurgen Van Den Broeck, who hung with the favourites and came in with a select group of Simoni, Pellizotti and Riccò. Menchov looked the strongest of them all, but his late surge only gained him some 10 seconds.
Behind, Di Luca lost almost half a minute to Menchov and Contador another 15 seconds. Pre-race favourite Klöden struggled in 20 seconds after his team-mate and Leipheimer had lost all chances, with a gap of 13 minutes behind the day's winner.
Visconti fell apart on the first day in the mountains and had to surrender the lead to previous stage winner Bosisio, who did a stellar ride for his LPR Brakes tea. He secured a five-second lead over Contador, who was disappointed not to get it.
Sella increased his lead over second-placed Vasili Kiryienka in the mountains classification.
Stage 15 - Sunday, May 25: Arabba - Passo Fedaia/Marmolada (Dolomites Stars), 154km
It was same procedure as Sella took his second stage in as many days, producing another solid ride with an early escape and leaving his companions behind, although this time he waited for the final mountain, the Passo Fedaia, to solo away.
While the finale was steep and the groups splintered, the time gaps between the big guns were not as big as expected.
Contador finally got the maglia rosa, as Bosisio struggled the same way Visconti had the day before. Van den Broeck was still there, the rest of the top 10 in the GC was made up of the usual suspects, with Riccò, Di Luca, Bruseghin, Menchov and Simoni within 90 seconds of the lead.
The day contained some three kilometres of flat roads, which was used for the only intermediate sprint of the day. The rest was just up and down, starting immediately from the first kilometres, when the Passo Pordoi had to be cleared.
Stage 16 - Monday, May 26: San Vigilio di Marebbe - Plan de Corones (Individual Time Trial), 12.85km
The most epic time trial one can imagine brought the riders up to the Plan de Corones, after having conquered five kilometres of unpaved roads, with pitches up to 24 percent. Emanuele Sella looked to make it three in a row, having set the best intermediate time of the day, but it was Franco Pellizotti who took out the stage win in the end by some six seconds.
Sella extended his lead in the mountains classification, however, and barring accident he will ride it into Milano.
Contador fought his way to fourth, slightly increasing his lead over Riccò in GC, as the Italian had some trouble with his back wheel spinning on the steep gravel sections. Simoni had a good day, with Di Luca struggling, almost two minutes back.
But technically, everyone until Menchov at 2'47 still has a shot at overall victory, which leaves six contenders heading into the final week after a well-deserved rest day.
Go to the first rest day wrap up.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net