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90th Giro d'Italia - Stage 12 Live Coverage Part 1
By Fabio
Date: 5/24/2007
90th Giro d'Italia - Stage 12 Live Coverage Part 1

90th Giro d'Italia - Stage 12 Live Coverage
The climbers and overall contenders are back into action on the slopes of tough Agnello and the legendary Izoard. But the long descent into Briançon could be even more decisive on the stage winner side of the matter.

Courtesy Gazzetta dello Sport

Hi everyone and welcome to our live coverage of the twelfth leg in the 2007 Tour of Italy. After yesterday's sprinters' stage - the last one with most of the fastest wheels still in the bunch - provided us with Alessandro Petacchi's 22nd ever Giro stage victory and notably some weather-related extra drama (first like a man on a solo breakaway, leading the bunch by nine minutes or so, who all of sudden dropped off his bike and didn't want to continue as he just couldn't go ahead because of the heat; but eventually his team manager persuaded Mickeal Buffaz to get back in the saddle and continue his solo journey, that was going to last until 15 km. from the finish.

 And later like the spectacular and dramatic massive pile-up that involved over 20 riders at the finish, with Paolo Bettini and Yaroslav Popovych falling on the wet road big style, GC leader Andrea Noé crossing the line with his bottom side slipping over the tarmac, and Euskaltel's Aitor Hernández unfortunately breaking his collarbone) it's time for the overall contenders to regain spotlight as the race finds back the Alps in the 163 kilometre trip from Scalenghe to the French city of Briançon. (Photos of the finish)

The Colle dell’Agnello (cima Coppi, highest point in the race) and the first category Izoard should tell us what climbers and wannabe Maglia Rosa wearers are hot, and which ones are not. But the top of the last difficulty comes far from the finishing line, and the significant downhill portion in today's stage (43 kilometres, as opposed to a cumulative uphill distance of 37 kilometres ) should give the likes of Paolo Savoldelli - and anyone having a hard time in the saddle when the going gets vertical - the chance to make up for their uphill deficit.

The Falcon might benefit from the Izoard descent to put in a winning fly towards the line, but we wouldn't be surprised if the battle broke out much earlier on the slopes of Colle dell'Agnello, where Saunier could use one of their mountain goats to start the fireworks. Gibo Simoni has never had particularly outstanding performances on the Izoard, but could make up for that today, with some precious support from his young team-mate and early season revelation Riccardo Riccó as well as Tuesday's stage winner Leo "Flying Trullo" Piepoli and - why not? - the Basque Iban Mayo, still not as good as he used to be when he used the rock on L'Alpe d'Huez and other mountain monsters, but reportedly getting better and better by the day.

The Colle dell'Agnello profile. Courtesy Gazzetta dello Sport

Andrea Noè is not unlikely surrender the overall leader's mantle to anyone else: the peloton veteran knows that his job today is just to help Danilo Di Luca as much as possible; and the Liguigas team leader thinks that the time gaps amongst the top competitors at the end of the stage will not be too large and the stage outcome will be determined only in the last, uphill thousand metres. Damiano Cunego sounded a little more convinced about the impact the Agnello and Izoard can have on both the stage and the GC, while Stefano Garzelli his not forgotten that today's hills are just the place where he built his Giro d'Italia 2000 overall triumph. Seven years have passed, but why not giving it a go again?

1230 CEST The stage got underway a dozen minutes ago, once more in darn hot weather conditions, with temperatures up to 32°C.

The skies are sunny over the Giro, even if more and more clouds are amassing over this sport, with the latest doping-related revelations concerning yet another rider, nobody else but Erik Zabel, who gave a press conference in Germany and admitted he used banned susbstances for a week back in the days of the 1996 Tour de France.

The action got started as a group of 167 riders rolled out of Scalenghe town. As fully predictable - and predicted - Robbie McEwen is no longer in the bunch: the Aussie packed his bags (containing "only" one stage victory this year) and pulled out of the race, ready to start his tour de France build-up. Another sprinter like Germany's Robert Forster (Gerolsteiner), winner of the last stage in Milan the past year, as well as George Hincapie and the aforementioned Aitor Hernández also added their names to the list of the Giro 2007 DNFers.

1310 CEST Yuriy Krvitsov (Ukr - AG2R Prevoyance) made the news as the first attacker of the day, whilst Luis Felipe Laverde the Colombian made the news as the first unfortunate rider to puncture, in the first mile of the stage. France's Pierre Drancourt (Bouygues Telecom) won the first Hot Spot Sprint of the day at Macello. His move didn't prosper either, but when his two fellow countrymen Christophe Riblon (AG2R Prevoyance) and Yoann Le Boulanger (Bouygues Telecom), yet another French duo on the attack early into a Giro stage, made their own move at km. 14, the gap was made for real. It took only a few kilometres for the two guys to put up to six minutes into the field - driven, surprise surprise, by Danilo Di Luca's (and Andrea Noé's) Liquigas teammates.

1335 CEST The leading pair made it to the Valle Varaita, the valley leading up to Sampeyre town and to the foot of the Colle dell'Agnello climb; Riblon and Le Boulanger extended their advantage to 09 minutes and 10 seconds with 110 km to go. The average speed after the first hour of racing is 46.1 km/h.

1345 CEST At the kilometre 53 check Christophe Riblon and Yoann Le Boulanger increased their lead to 11'40", and their advantage further ballooned to over fourteen minutes with 104 km. to go, turning 31-year-old Le Boulanger, now riding along the Varaita river, into virtual race leader on the road. The peloton, now led by four Saunier Duval guys, are not looking too worried about it anyway. Much more worried is Paolo Savoldelli, but about the possible impact of his recent misfortunes: Il Falco was one of the riders that fell yesterday, and hit the same foot he broke this past winter when a brick fell upon it.

1410 CEST The road started to tilt upwards, even if the race hasn't reached Sampeyre town yet. The gap didn't start to come down at all instead. Quite the opposite we would dare to say: virtual Maglia Rosa holder Le Boulanger and his breakaway compmanion Riblon could boast a 17'20" margin at the Brossasco time check!!

1445 CEST The gap started to come down at least, even if very slightly: Le Boulanger and Riblon were leading the field by 16 minutes 10 seconds as the former won the Traguardo Garibaldi at Sampyere. Mickael Buffaz, the "star" of yesterday's stage, made the all-French top three complete as he drove the pack across the Sampeyre Intermediate Sprint line. The race is about to meet the mountains, with the average speed down to 40.2 km/h as a result of the increased gradient.

1455 CEST Tim Klinger (Germany - Gerolsteiner) dropped out of the race, while stage leaders Christophe Riblon (France - AG2R Prevoyance) and Yoann Le Boulanger (Fra - Bouygues Telecom) held onto a lead of 15'32" with some 80 kilometres left. Le Boulanger, sitting in 48th place overall at the stage start, about thirty minutes down on Andrea Noé, stays with the "virtual maglia rosa" virtually on his shoulders, but he's going to take it off (virtually, of course) very soon ... The "Red Bird Army" of Saunier Duval on the front of the peloton are picking up the pace now.

1500 CEST 75k to go for the two frontrunners. Acqua & Sapone's Gabriele Balducci might have finished second yesterday, but he was first in losing contact to the main peloton on the Colle dell'Agnello slopes (and even in the easiest part of the ascent ...). More sprinters like Danilo Napolitano followed; the frantic pace set by Gilberto Simoni's teammates is thinning down the field already. The summit of the Agnello is only 10 kilometres away.

1508 CEST - gap at 14:40 to the break, Danilo Di Luca is keeping an eye (better, two) on the Saunier Duval boys in yellow riding just ahead of him. The ascent, and the "red bird warriors", have split the field into three-four smaller groups. Simoni is on his best in a hard race, so probably that's why the red birds are working. It's possibly the first time that we have one team taking the initiative like that since the very early portion of the Agnello climb.

Yoann Le Bolunager dropped Riblon at 9 km from the top of the ascent. Le Boulanger is riding alone in the lead but it's a very tough climb. He rides what about 5 km/h. The gradient is a good 12% or so in the place the (now) solo frontrunner is currently taking on. Paolo Savoldelli looks in good shape now; his foot is not giving him too many problems. Iban Mayo is not there with the other Saunier Duval guys on the front. Bad news (perhaps the only bad one) for the boys in yellow.

Attack Ivan Parra out of the bunch. It looks like the Cofidis Colombian has never enough of attacking. He was on the move two days ago, and so he is today! But the Saunier Army has NO intention to let anyone go.Parra is chased down by the red birds

And it's Riccardo Ricco in person that looks after covering his move. Savoldelli with problems as Ricco is setting the pace. All of the above resulted in more and more riders (Commesso and Cancellara included) getting dropped. Popovych dropped out as well; Paolo Savoldelli, Yaroslav and Stefano Garzelli having to struggle already. Andrea Noé lost contact too; Bruseghin, Vila, Noe dropped as well.

The gruppo Simoni is about 10/15 riders strong, Iban Mayo stays some 50 metres behind the best ones, Marzio Brusgehin a further 30 metres behind, along with Popo and the Falcon, while Vincenzo Nibali is still inside the Simoni/Cunego group. We are 7-8 kilometres from the top of the first climb!

Savoldelli's chances to stamp his authority on the stage are getting slimmer and slimmer, regardless of the long descent in the last portion. Garzelli is back in the Simoni/Di Luca/Cunego group that contains also three more Liqui-guys: Nibali, Pellizzotti and Charles Wegelius. Emanuele Sella and his Panaria teammate Pozzovivo are there too. But the young climber from southern Italy is NOT having easy time taking on the 12% section of the Colle.

1527 CEST Oops, Astana's Eddy Mazzoleni is in the Simoni/Di Luca/Cunego group too. And NOT with his suppose team leader Paolo Savoldelli, this means the Falcon, still sustaining the consequences of yesterday's fall, is already giving up his stage winning chances, doesn't it? David Zabriskie stays some 20 metres or so ahead of the small group with Savoldelli. Zabriskie is doing a motor pacing ride on the Agnello and is back in the gruppo Simoni.

CSC's Andy Schleck and Spain's Arroyo of Caisse d'Epargne is also are part of the "main group", while Yoann Le Boulanger stays in the solo lead. Le Boulanger still has 10.45 on the chasing group with favorites.

Abandono Gabriele Balducci. Riccardo Riccó is arguably paying the price for his previous pace-setting efforts, and currently struggling a lot to follow Gibo, Di Luca, Cunego and the other top riders. Zabriskie, Parra and Arroyo are also about to lose contact (again).

1529 CEST - Riccó and Tiralongo are dropped too. They're are 30 secs down on the Simoni group already. Wegelius and Nibali dropped out as well; while Di Luca seems to have problems with the pace of the yellow guys. Di Luca firmly stays on such group too; but he told something to Charles Wegelius, and the Brit stopped and waited for the the next small group containing Vincenzo Nibali.

Piepoli, Simoni, Cunego, Garzelli, Mazzoleni, Schleck and Di Luca are in the first chasing group. Perhaps the Ligui-guys still want to defend Andrea Noé's jersey; but the peloton veteran is now trailing Gibo, and the others by some two minutes already. Following orders from Gibo, Leonardo Piepoli keeps forcing the pace again and again and again, while Danilo Di Lica stays at the bottom of such group. And Garzelli looks like he's struggling too. Piepoli accelerates again, Di Luca and Garzelli with some little problems, Garzelli dropped off the back.

Damiano Cunego sits in third wheel as the Gibo group rides 5 km. from the top of the ascent. Yoann Le Boulanger is about 2 miles ahead of them. Andy Schleck is there too. The boy from Luxembourg, aged 22, is doing impressively fine (again). Damn that's too much fog on the top of the Agnello; Le Boulanger still has 8.40 on the gruppo Simoni.

1540 CEST - One kilometer to the top of the ascent for Le Boulanger, making his way through an impressive crowd of tifosi. Piepoli and Simoni slowed down a little bit, to the delight of Danilo di Luca; that can keep them within striking distance.

The French Boulanger, came first atop the Cima Coppi of the 2007 Tour of Italy! he is now 5000 euro richer. He's no longer the Maglia Rosa Virtuale, but so what? The money thing (which is no small thing) aside, his efforts are absolutely praiseworthy. Absolutely.

1541 CEST - Gibo, Piepoli, Cunego, Mazzoleni, Schleck, Di Luca etc. stepped into the last two kilometres of the Agnelllo leg torture. Riblon is on the top of the Agnello and is 2.50 down on Le Boulanger. Riccó and Savoldelli are far from the Simoni/Cunego group already; the former trails Gibo by 02'10" and things are going from bad to worse for him. The Falcon rides a further 20 seconds or so behind. Stefano Garzelli stays 10-15 seconds down on Gibo and the other top players.

1546 CEST - The gruppo Simoni is on the top and is about 6.00 down on Le Boulanger. Damiano Cunego has been sitting in third wheel for the last few minutes, Di Luca and the "star of tomorrow" (or is it of "star of today" already?) Andy Schleck follow them. And there's Eddy Mazzoleni too! Garzelli is back in the group with Favorities, a 2nd chasing group with Sella is about 1.30 down on the group simoni

1548 CEST - So we have got one solo leader (Yoann Le Boulanger), the Simoni group with 6 more riders half a dozen minutes behind as they tackler to Agnello descent too, and France's Riblon in between. Popovych is 2.30 down on Simoni/Cunego/Di Luca. David Zabriskie, not the best descender around, has been joined by the Sella / Pozzovivo Group. A group with Savoldelli is on the top at 3.30 from the Simoni group.

 The group Maglia Rosa is 4 minutes down on Simoni and company, in this group also the former Maglia Rosa Pinotti. Vincenzo Nibali is slightly over one minute down on the group containing Simoni, Cunego but notably his team leader Danilo di Luica, whom he might join while coming down the Agnello climb. Crash Wim van Huffel in the descend of the Agnello together with a Caisse rider. The Lotto Belgian, a protagonist of the 2005 Giro, was the first "victim" of this tough and difficult descent.

Less than 50 km to go, Popovych dropped Ricco and Rasmussen in the descent. The Ukrainian is "only" 45 seconds down on the Selle /Pellizotti group, that he could catch soon (could, we said).

The Caisse d'Epargne rider affected by van Huffel's mistake, and himself hitting the tarmac too, was Spain's Arroyo, by the way. Both guys were immediately back in the saddle though. Le Boulanger still has 5.28 on the 7 chasers Simoni, Piepoli, Di Luca, Mazzoleni, Garzelli, Cunego and Schleck. Riblon is still swimming between them at about 3.00. The seven-strong chase group gained "just" half a minute on solo leader Yoann Le Boulanger in the first part of the "discesa".  Riccardo Riccó and Rabobank's Rasmussen follow. A bunch with Petacchi is almost at the top of the Agnello and now already at 21 min back of the French guy in front

1600 CEST - Gilberto Simoni drives the seven wonders down the descent. Danilo Di Luca is with him and the others, but it would be great for the Liquigas leader if Vincenzo Nibali joined such group (asap). Strange but true, Savoldelli has been caught by the Noé / Bettini / Spezialetti group in what was meant to be one of his strong points, the Agnello desecent. A further proof of the fact Paolo is not fine at all today.

Paolo seems to be suffering a bit from his crash in the massive crash in the sprint yesterday. And at the same time Arroyo and Van Huffel (re)gained the wheels of Riccó and Rasmussen. Thus setting up a four-man second chase group. With Vincenzo Nibali still sailing in between, as much as Riblon is sailing in between Le Boulanger and the Simoni Group.

1607 CEST - 40 km to go, Oops, sorry folks,: also Emanuele Sella and Yaroslav Popovych are in between the Simoni group and the Rasmussen group. And the two guys could well catch Nibali quite soon, by the way! While Nibali's chances to join Danilo Di Luca are dropping big style. Ivan Parra the Colombian stays one minute behind the Simoni/Cunego seven-man gruppo. Nibali is some 25-30 secs further back. Charles Wegelius is with Sella and Popovych too.

35 km to go, Riccardo Riccó lost three minutes to the Simoni group. It looks like the boy from Modena is no longer a GC contender. And it's happening earlier than many expected. 35 km... The Gruppo Maglia Rosa, containing also Savoldelli and Marco Pinotti, trails Gibo, Damiano and Danilo (and four more guys) by four minutes.

They are now on the first parts of the Izouard, 14 km to the top. Last year In the Dauphine Libere they had a similar stage on the Izouard and the citadel in Briancon. It was Turpin of Ag2r who won that stage ahead of Mancebo. Piepoli was 5th and the first rider who rides now in the Giro in that stage.

Ivan Parra continues in his pointless attempt to close down on the seven-man group all by himself. With Vincenzo Nibali just a few seconds adrift, it would make much more sense for the Colombian to wait for the Italian, that could be of help to him, but he's not doing ...

1615 CEST - Okay, so our top riders are on the Izoard already, with Yoann Le Boulanger still on the front. Whether the French will be ALSO at the summit of the climb or not is a truly different matter. Riblon is always in between Le Boulanger and the Seven Wonders.

Riblon is about to get caught by the seven GC riders. Again, the "Seven Wonders" are: Gilberto Simoni, Leonardo "serial pace setter" Piepoli, Damiano Cunego, Danilo Di Luca, Eddy Mazzoleni, young sensation Andy Schleck and Stefano Garzelli.

It's EIGHT WONDERS now: Riblon caught! But we tend to think they'll be back to their Seven Wonder status very, very soon.

 Simoni attacks!! Piepoli attacked earlier, Schleck and Di Luca are following. The Flying Trullo cranked up the pace, Gibo followed and attacked, and Cunego was given a hard time. Cunego rejoined the group Simoni after the attack as well... Mazzoleni, Garzelli and Riblon dropped off. Mazzoleni rejoins while Garzelli tries do the same It was just the Gibo way to test the legs of his closest challengers, and at the same time thin his group down a little bit. Seems it worked anyway. Garzelli rejoins the group again.

30 km to go...

The Race action continues in Part 2 of our live coverage of stage 12...

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