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91st Giro d'Italia - Stage 7 Live Coverage
By Staff
Date: 5/16/2008
91st Giro d'Italia - Stage 7 Live Coverage

91st Giro d'Italia - Stage 7 Live Coverage
Abruzzo local Danilo Di Luca is eager to stamp his authority on home soil in the first real test for GC contenders, with the uphill finish at Pescocostanzo. But Riccò and others in the pack are unlikely to agree..


Hello and welcome to our live coverage of stage seven in the 2008 "Corsa Rosa". The time has come for wannabe winners to get the first gauge of their form in the first "true" mountain top finish at Pescocostanzo, at the end of a 180-kilometre effort that gets underway at Vasto city.

The flag is dropped in a seaside town but the early portion of the leg is almost completely uphill, until they reach the crest of the Castiglione Messer Marino hill after 55.6 kilometres. Some undulated riding comes next, before the girini (as the Giro d'Italia crew are sometimes referred to in Italy) are given the opportunity to show off their descending abilities on the way to Isernia, but the going gets vertical again about 60k from the finish, in the short (roughly three kilometres) but quite steep - or quite steep but short if you like the other way around - first category climb going under the name of Macerone. The peloton may look very stretched out over there, but on paper its slopes do not have the potential to cause a GC shake-up.

The next uphill challenge, the Rionero Sannitico ascent at the border between Molise and Abruzzo in Central Italy, is apparently more selective; several riders could well lose contact with the group in the early, more demanding kilometres, as well as its steep last slopes (the halfway point of such climb would give their legs a break instead ...). More food for the Savoldellis of the pack follows, then there's a flat portion of the route spanning over about 20 kilometres.

Riders hit the third difficulty of the day, the Pietransieri climb (Cat.2) , at Ateleta. It's a matter of nine-ten kilometres, and those with the best climbing legs can ride at 25 kph or so in the first part, with a 5-6 percent average gradient (the maximum gradient goes up to 10%). Expect a front group of 15 to 30, depending on the pace set over there, to make it to the top, situated about ten miles from the finish, first.

The pack fly down the descent to Roccaraso. When in town, they just keep riding towards Pescocostanzo and get ready for the last dash to the line, and for the road to tilt upwards one more time, in the three-kilometre battle which is meant to tell us something about who's hot and (perhaps more significantly at this point in the race) who's not. The slopes aren't excessively steep in the first half - the gradients are around 4 percent - but become like that as the finish gets closer. Plus, after covering such a challenging trip of 177 kilometres, even the gentlest slopes can make some damage. Former pro rider turned Italian TV commentator Davide Cassani predicted a small bunch of 15 to 20 guys, with all top GC contenders inside, to fight it out for stage honours, but also warned us of the risks and surprises this kind of stages may often have in store.

The reference point in the peloton is obviously Danilo Di Luca today. The first ever Giro d'Italia winner from south of Tuscany is going to meet the roads of his home region Abruzzo, and every time anything similar has occurred, it has provided the boy from Spoltore with some extra-motivation. Just like three years ago: the local tifosi were on cloud nine as their idol powered to stage victory and took over the Maglia Rosa with a strong move 600 metres from the line in Abruzzo's main city L'Aquila. Needless to say, to create a sense of deja vu amongst the same fans is what he'll be aiming for later in the afternoon. The fact he knows today's route, which happens to be his "training field" a couple weeks during the summer, better than anyone else in field could well help, couldn't it?

He's not the only guy with the potential to rock the race today. There's also a certain Alberto Contador, even if the Tour de France reigning champion downplayed his chances, confessing that he's still far from top form, and even a stage victory is a hard task for him today. He thinks he'll just stay inside the bunch and "use" this stage to fine-tune his form. And we even tend to believe him!! Perhaps more dangerous to Di Luca and his winning ambitions is Riccardo Riccó.

The man in yellow from Modena and surroundings has got determination, good legs, and a route that suits his skills, so watch out for him. Saunier's young team leader didn't back out. Lack of ambitions is not part of his dictionary: "when my legs are okay, I always give it at shot at winning. I proved that point at Agrigento, and if my condition is the same today, I'll try again". But he's also aware of Di Luca's thirst for victory on home roads ("he's gonna be very determined today"), as well as Rebellin's excellent form. In Ricco's opinion selection will be made on the penultimate climb of this hard stage.

Just don't write off the likes of Pellizzotti, the Veterans' Commander-in-chief (is it Gibo Simoni? or is it the same Tin-Tin Rebellin? maybe wannabe maglia rosa conqueror Daniele Nardello? ) and - why not? - some other Astana guys than Alberto.

This a hilly stage, you know, with plenty of KOM points at stake, so a few words should be spent on the current holder of the mountains jersey, Emanuele Sella. We suspected the guy has got a plan: to give it everything in early climbs and pick up as many points as possible in order to consolidate his leadership, and he "confirmed" our suspicions during pre-race interviews in front of the Italian TV cameras. Of course if he had the chance to win the stage he would try not to waste it, but we'd rather pick him as an "earlier" protagonist of this leg.

Unfortunately Rene Mandri was not at the start line today. The Ag2r-La Mondiale athlete from Estonia didn't show up at the finish yesterday either: he fell badly at km. 76, while he was on a breakaway, and suffered multiple fractures. Venezuela's Carlos Ochoa (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli) got an injured shoulder as he also fell after 110 kilometres, but managed to make it to Peschici.

1230 CEST Things got kick-started under grey skies a couple minutes past midday, with the top 10 overall looking like this:

1. VISCONTI, Giovanni ITA QST - 27h14'04"
2. RUSS, Matthias GER GST - s.t.
3. NARDELLO Daniele ITA SDA - at 01'22"

4. PEREZ LEZAUN Alan ESP EUS - at 04'42"
5. GAVAZZI Francesco ITA LAM - at 05'34"

6. PRIAMO Matteo ITA CSF - at 09'07"
7. PELLIZOTTI Franco ITA LIQ - at 09'08"
8. DI LUCA Danilo ITA LPR - at 09'15"
9. POSSONI Morris ITA THR - at 09'16"
10. NIBALI Vincenzo ITA LIQ - at 09'16"

1235 CEST The stage got off to a quick start, but regardless of the high pace a flurry of attempts to break away came. Because of the high pace, none of them prospered. It looked like the move from Tinkoff's Belarusian Vasil Kiryienka after eight kilometres was going to be the good one, but it wasn't. No breakaways so far, but at least such hectic beginning caused the peloton to split into two different groups, the second one trailing the leaders by about 20" at Furci town, fourteen kilometres into the stage.

The gap went up, and as the race progressed a group of 37 riders formed, not containing overall leader Giovanni Visconti. The first attack worthy of such name came at km. 21, with Kiryienka in the limelight again, albeit with Di Luca's domestique Gabriele Bosisio (Team LPR-Ballan) and CSF-Group's Filippo Savini as companions. Savini's capitano Emanuele Sella, the man on a green mission, stepped up a solo chase of the trio. The front group was leading Sella by 32", with the first peloton a further eight seconds back.

1300 CEST Emanuele Sella was absorbed by the first, huge peloton, now consisting of 35 guys. The leading trio is enjoying an advantage of about five minutes on the "Visconti group".

1312 CEST The breakaway group was upgraded to a quintet as Spanish-speakers Felix Rafael Cardenas Ravalo (Col - Barloworld) and Pablo Lastras García (Spa - Caisse d'Epargne) got across to join Kiryienka, Gabriele Bosisio and Savini. A total of 40.1 kilometres were covered in the first hour in the saddle.

1335 CEST The situation is fluid, and uncertainty reigns on the road. Apparently Sella succeeded in his bid to get into the breakaway, that now contains just the green jersey wearer plus Bosisio, Kiriyenka and Cardenas, whilst Savini is inside the first chase group, trailing the leaders by about one minute.

Such group features:
Filippo Savini (Ita - CSF-Navigare), Fortunato Baliani (Ita - CSF-Navigare), Daniele Pietropolli (Ita - LPR Brakes), Nicolas Rousseau (Fra - Ag2r-La Mondiale), Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz - Astana), Assan Bazayev (Kaz - Astana), Steven Cummings (GBR - Barloworld), Joan Horrach Rippoll (Spa - Caisse d'Epargne), José Rujano Guillen (Ven - Caisse d'Epargne), Yann Huguet (Fra - Cofidis), Markel Irizar Aramburu (Spa - Euskaltel-Euskadi), Iñigo Landaluze Intxaurraga (Spa - Euskaltel-Euskadi), Lilian Jegou (Fra - Française des Jeux), Volker Ordowski (Ger - Gerolsteiner), Kanstantsin Sivtsov (Blr - Team High Road), Sylvester Szmyd (Pol - Lampre), Simon Spilak (Slo - Lampre), Dario Cataldo (Ita - Liquigas), Andrea Noè (Ita - Liquigas), Alexander Efimkin (Rus - Quick Step), Juan Manuel Garate Cepa (Spa - Quick Step), Theo Eltink (Hol - Rabobank), Mauricio Alberto Ardila Cano (Col - Rabobank), Iker Camaño Ortuzar (Spa - Saunier Duval-Scott), Alessandro Bertolini (Ita - Serramenti Diquigiovanni-Androni), Raffaele Illiano (Ita - Serramenti Diquigiovanni-Androni), Ruslan Ivanov (Mol - Serramenti Diquigiovanni-Androni), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Bel - Silence-Lotto), Wim Van Huffel (Bel - Silence-Lotto), Danny Pate (USA - Slipstream-Chipotle), Jens Voigt (Ger - Team CSC), Michael Blaudzun (Den - Team CSC), Sergio Ghisalberti (Ita - Team Milram) and Alberto Ongarato (Ita - Team Milram).

The "Gruppo Maglia Rosa" was reportedly over nine minutes adrift (!) at the most recent check.

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1350 CEST After 60 kilometres Sella, Bosisio, Kiriyenka and Cardenas were leading the 32-strong group by 01'38", with Joan Horrach, Simon Spilak and Fortunato Baliani somewhere in between.

1405 CEST Joan Horrach, Simon Spilak and Fortunato Baliani closed down on leaders Emanuele Sella, Gabriele Bosisio, Vasil Kiriyenka and Rafael Cardenas by km. 69, resulting in a seven-man breakaway. Their advantage over the "chasers" ballooned to over three minutes.

Again, at the end of the steadily changing first portion of the stage, we got:

* Seven men in the lead: Joan Horrach (Spa - Caisse d'Epargne), Simon Spilak (Slo - Lampre), Fortunato Baliani (Ita - CSF-Navigare), Emanuele Sella (Ita - CSF-Navigare), Gabriele Bosisio (Ita - Team LPR Brakes-Ballan), Vasil Kiriyenka (Blr - Tinkoff Credits System) and Rafael Cardenas (Col - Barloworld);

* about thirty riders almost four minutes adrift

* and the peloton with Visconti and the other top contenders? Missing in action! Well, in fact they are "enjoying" a deficit of 08'15" at km. 80 (100 km to go). The first group sits in between. The average speed dropped a little (to 37.6 kph) in the second hour of racing.

1435 CEST According to the last update, coming all the way from Carovilli town (km. 96/74k to go), well into half two of the stage, the seven frontunners hold on to a 03'45" lead on the first, thirty-strong group, with the Maglia Rosa and all other "big guns" cutting the gap down to six minutes and 35 seconds.

Late in the stage yesterday riders like Leipheimer and Soler were hampered by some motorbike that followed the race and consequently lost about 20 secs. The jury will be reportedly looking again at pictures from the stage, and decide whether to give them those seconds back or not.

1450 CEST The main peloton reached the rifornimento (feed zone) with their gap to the seven wonders up front further shrinking to 06'20". The chase looks serious enough finally.

1456 CEST - The TV screen are currently split in three parts: the seven frontrunners to the left, the Gruppo Maglia Rosa, making solid time gains on them, to the right. And those thirty guys trailing by three minutes in the middle.

1500 CEST - Emanuele Sella, currently undisputed leader of the mountains, drives the breakaway over the last slopes of the Macerone climb. The summit is located at km. 116 (64 km from the finish). Jerseys of Simoni's Serramenti-Diquigiovanni and his former squad (now just Ricco's) Saunier Duval mix up on the front of pack.

Three riders have added their names to the list of Giro d'Italia DNFers so far today: Aitor Galdos (Spa - Euskaltel), Alberto Loddo (Ita - Tinkoff) and Yahueni Hutarovich (Blr - Francaise des Jeux).

1508 CEST - To nobody's surprise, Emanuele Sella took the points at the Macerone mountain sprint, with other good climbers like Cardenas and Baliani in the remaining top three spots.

A few minutes prior to the stage kick-off, Bettini talked to RAI's überjournalist Alessandra de Stefano, and did just not pick himself as possible stage winner but, despite Contador's own "modesty", said that he thinks the Spaniard could do very well at Pescocostanzo: "I see him ride in the bunch every day, and I can tell you that his current condition is not the same as in Palermo ..." were the words from Paolo the Wise.

1518 CEST - Simon Spilak and Joan Horrach lost a dozen seconds to the breakaway, subsequently down to five men (Kiryenka, Sella, Cardenas, Baliani and Bosisio). The Gruppo gained yet another minute on them. Visconti, Di Luca etc. have got to nullify a five-minute deficit "only".

A few riders, amongst them Garate, Siovtsov and Van den Broeck, have attacked the first chase group. green-clad Sella keeps riding tempo on the front as the breakaway hit the tough Rionero Sannitico, a first category climb, whose early slopes are hard enough. Astana are giving Saunier and Diquigiovanni a precious helping hand back in the field.

1525 CEST - Indeed, Tour de France "champion" Alberto Contador is the man on the front for Astana. Szmyd, Garate, Sivtsov, Alexander Efimkin and Van den Broeck were trailing the five on the front by 02'42" at km.124 (56k left).  Does Contador's "domestique" attitude mean Levi and Kloeden took over the leadership inside Astana? Behind, the formerly thirty-strong group is fragmented; Astana pair Iglinskiy and Bassayev look to have practically sat up.

1529 CEST - Ordowski and Ongarato, remnants from that meaty group, are passed and shelled by the maglia rosa group. The first chase group is 55 seconds down, with the second now at 2'25". The maglia rosa group is slowly closing the deficit; it's 5'40" now. Horrach and Spilak extended their time losses to their former breakaway mates up to 01'18".  The pairing is likely going to get caught by Szmyd, Garate, Sioutsou, Alexander Efimkin and Van den Broeck.

The maglia rosa group is being paced by three Quick Step men - despite the fact that Garate and Efimkin are up the road. Perhaps they're just tapping through, for now.

 Despite being a proud member of Di Luca's LPR crew, Milano's own Gabriele Bosisio never took a wheel-sucking attitude in the breakaway. Quite the opposite: the Lombard rider was very helpful to his fellow escapees, but also to his team leader, forcing other teams like Saunier, Astana and Diquigiovanni into wasting energies in the chase.

1535 CEST - In the breakaway, Fortunato Baliani paces Sella at the front. Their outrageous green designs this year go coincidentally well with the maglia verde... Sella took first at the Rionero KOM sprint too. With Cardenas in the runner-up seat again. He is serious about this jersey - Pozzovivo for the overall for CSF then? Or a two-pronged attack from Sella?

1540 CEST - 45 km to go, Another small group from the big breakaway comes through the KOM line 4'01" down, including Savini and Van Huffel. Emanuele "El Salboneo" Sella further strengthened his grip on the jersey. The rider from Veneto is nickanmed "Salboneo" after a kind of "Goblin of the woods" in the Vicenza area of Veneto.

The peloton is about to make it to the Rionero summit too, and Di Luca is about to get back ino his own Abruzzo. As the pack crosses the passo, still numbering about forty riders, their chase has lost some bite. They are 6'20" down on the leading riders. The gap surprisingly started growing again on the final slopes.

1546 CEST - 45 km to go, The bunch was slow on the pass, perhaps because the main squads were careful not to get many of their domestiques dropped, and lost about half a minute to the leaders. And further ballooned to 06'45" as the bunch went under the 45k to go banner.

The break flies through Castel di Sangro, a town of 6,000 in the province of L'Aquila; there is a very  narrow corridor there at the finale before the climb in the city, it will be a factor today.  Known to me (an Englishman), as their football team made it into Serie B (the second best rung of Italian football) in 1996 against the odds, despite being so small. I believe the team was disbanded in 2005, only to be reformed a year later. (Anyway, I digress). They're about to bring Cataldo and Noé back, whilst the Sivtsov-Garate gruppo, a little be over two minutes down on the leaders, are not giving up the pursuit.

1551 CEST - 35km to go for the fugitives, they have 2'52" on the Horrach/Rujano group.  Serramenti and Astana are on the front of the maglia rosa group, it looks a bit more serious again. The big question is: what rider are Astana currently working for? If things go on like this, with LPR's smartly saving their legs inside the field, there's some that the answer is ... Di Luca! If Kloden still has form from Romandie, he'd be the most logical option. Clearly it is Levi.. with that time protest yesterday..

Combined efforts from several teams in the field are starting to take toll as the gap significantly moved back to its dropping ways.

Our live coverage of Giro d'Italia - Stage 7 Live Coverage continues in Part 2

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