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91st Giro d'Italia - Stage 18 Live Coverage
By Staff
Date: 5/29/2008
91st Giro d'Italia - Stage 18 Live Coverage
91st Giro d'Italia - Stage 18 Live Coverage
Welcome to the 2009 UCI Road World Champs at Mendrisio. Oops... no, it's the 2008 Worlds in Varese. Oops... no, it’s Thursday's stage at the Giro. And also the last call for Paolo Bettini and all those without climbing/TTing abilities.

Stage 18 Mendrisio - Varese 147 km

Hello everyone, welcome to our live coverage of the 18th stage in the 91st Giro d'Italia. Or is it welcome to the UCI Road World Championships? Well, not yet: this is still the Corsa Rosa, even though today's unique stage spans over 147 kilometres from the Swiss municipality of Mendrisio, host town of the World Champs in the year 2009, to the Italian city of Varese, battlefield of the very next "rainbow jersey wars" come September.

You say Road World Champs, you think of Paolo Bettini, don't you? Plus, today's undulating course looks tailor-made for the winner of the last two editions of the Worlds, and the "Californian" (as in ... from the La California hamlet in Tuscany, of course) should be extra-motivated today: the three final stages to come, all of which crucial factors determining the overall winner of the Giro d'Italia 2008, give him no chance to clinch that darn stage victory he's been looking for since his "last time" in the 2006 edition.

But Paolo Bettini's current condition looks tailor-made for his rivals: Il Grillo is far from being 100 percent fit, and such factor might take toll on his performance today. Breakaway specialists are those more likely to take advantage of Bettini's problems, while the sprinters look quite unhopeful: they know that it's going to be very hard for them to keep the race together on such a parcours.

Regardless of the stage outcome, today's leg is of extreme significance to all would-be rainbow jersey contenders: the first part of the route gives them a precious chance to test the circuit of the 2009 Worlds on Swiss soil (to be covered twice today - and a few more times next year ...) and the last portion runs on the Varese 2008 loop (also to be covered twice today - and a few more times in September ...). The Worlds 2008 circuit - aka today's final circuit - features two climbs: the shorter Montello (1,100 metres; average gradient: 6.8%) and the longer Ronchi (3 km, average gradient: 4,6%). Today's finishing line is located in a different place though: not the Le Bettole horse track - that will be giving way to "bike-knights" in World Champs time - but Via Sacco in downtown Varese. Today's only categorised mountain sprint comes at Brinzio after 89.8 kilometres. Prior to this, riders will be contesting the Milan Expo 2015 sprint at the Varese province town of Luino, some 70 kilometres into the stage.

Switzerland's Mendrisio hosted the Road World Championships also in the 1971 season, with a certain Eddy from Belgium adding a rainbow jersey to his legend. Twenty years earlier, the rainbow warriors had made it to Italy's Varese, with ... a rider from Switzerland claiming the gold medal: the hopes to reap the greatest rewards of joy in a great home victory which both Fiorenzo Magni and all Italian tifosi were harbouring that day in 1951 got dashed as Ferdy Kubler just had the best legs.

Speaking of Giro stage finishes, Varese brings back (or used to bring back) pleasant memories to Cesare Del Cancia - winner in the town back in the days of 1938 -, Alfredo Sabbadin, first across the line in the year 1957, Belgium's Willy Vannitsen (who triumphed there twelve months later), and Wilmo Francioni, "stage champion" in the 1977 Tour of Italy. And you can be sure that the thoughts of ... er ... helicopter pilot Gianni Bugno are going to make a joyful comeback to the time of his stunning performance in the uphill ITT to Campo dei Fiori (the hill overlooking Varese), a key ingredient to his Giro d'Italia 1990 overall winning recipe, when flying over the Varese/Campo dei Fiori area today.

But Varese and surroundings have got many more connections to bike racing: local idols Alfredo Binda (the first ever campionissimo in Italian cycling) and Luigi Ganna as well as the Tre Valli Varesine one-day classic, running every year in August, just to name a few of them...

1350 CEST - The action got kickstarted on Swiss soil at around 1:15 PM local time. The peloton stayed as one all over the four opening miles, until Yuriy Krivtsov (Ukr - AG2R-La Mondiale) made the first attack of the day. The boy was reeled in after a couple kilometres, but a dozen riders immediately counter-attacked and opened up a small advantage of 25 seconds over the field.

Astana leads the chase as a strong group of 12 made their escape early.
Photo © 2008 Fotoreporter Sirotti

1355 CEST - The "dirty dozen" on the front, whose names will be named as soon as possible, extended their advantage over the pack, that is driven by Alberto Contador's Astana royal lieutenants, to 54 seconds by the km. 15 check, and to 01 minute 38 seconds after 19 kilometres.

1405 CEST - The gap has gone up to 02 mins, 20 secs at kilometre 22.

1420 CEST - The peloton's time deficit to the "breakaway of the day" is growing exponentially: it was a good 04'22" at the km. 29 check.

1430 CEST - A little update from the Tour of Belgium: two escapees, Roy Curvers (Hol - Skil-Shimano) et Fabio Polazzi (Bel - Bodysol-Euromillions) are leading the peloton, driven by Topsport-Vlaanderen, the team of first and current GC leader Kenny Dehaes, by 05'04" about 55 km from the finish of today's stage two, which runs between Eeklo and Tirlemont over 201 kilometres. The flying Dutchboy and the Belgian with an Italian-sounding name made their move about 50 kilometres into the stage and achieved a maximum advantage of seven and a half minutes on the bunch.

1435 CEST - Back to Italy (and Switzerland). Daniele Bennati (Ita - Liquigas) was well aware of the tiny chances of a bunch sprint finish today, but had a "B Plan": the Tuscan got himself into the breakaway of the day! And he won the hot spot sprint at Clivio, with Giovanni Visconti (Ita - Quick Step) in the runner-up spot, and the pack trailing by five minutes already. The frontrunners covered 38.8 kilometres in the first hour of racing on the Mendrisio circuit.

1440 CEST - The gap stopped its uphill run in the last few miles and kept hovering at five minutes. It was 05'02" after 50 kilometres, with the peloton finally back onto Italian soil.

1445 CEST - The breakaway of the day got several big names inside. One of them is Paolo Bettini, who gauged his legs by winning the next intermediate sprint at Porto Ceresio (km 47. the advantage up to 05'12").

1455 CEST - Here are the names at last! We mentioned the World Champion (Paolo Bettini), the Italian national RR champion Giovanni Visconti and the cyclamen jersey holder (Daniele Bennati). And those are their nine breakaway companions: Gabriele Bosisio (Ita - LPR Brakes), Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita - Ag2r-La Mondiale), Felix Rafael Cárdenas Ravalo (Col - Barloworld), Joaquím Rodríguez Oliver (Spa - Caisse d'Epargne), Alan Pérez Lezaun (Spa - Euskaltel-Euskadi), Simon Spilak (Slo - Lampre), Mauricio Alberto Ardila Cano (Col - Rabobank), Jens Voigt (Ger - Team CSC) and Nikolay Trusov (Rus - Tinkoff Credit Systems).

Felix Cárdenas is the most dangerous guy in the breakaway GC-wise: he sits in 15th place overall, about 11 minutes behind Contador. That's why Astana are careful not to let the escapees take too much of an advantage. They are quite successful in such a bid: the "dirty dozen" were leading the pack by "just" 05'20" at km. 50.

1500 CEST - Tour of Belgium update: the advantage of Roy Curvers and Fabio Polazzi is coming down fast: it's a mere 02'20" about 32 from the finish.

1505 CEST - The gap is still in its growing ways at the Giro: it's 05'40" as the race makes it into Luino town. Bettini, Bennati, Visconti and the none others up front are about to battle it out at the former Intergiro.

Here comes the Milan Expo sprint. It's a two-man battle between Daniele Bennati and Alan Pérez Lezaun, with the Italian as winner.

1515 CEST - The advantage of Paolo Bettini, Giovanni Visconti, Daniele Bennati, Gabriele Bosisio, Rinaldo Nocentini, Felix Rafael Cárdenas Ravalo, Joaquím Rodríguez Oliver, Alan Pérez Lezaun, Simon Spilak, Mauricio Alberto Ardila Cano, Jens Voigt and Nikolay Trusov further grew to six minutes. No way the "chasers" are going to catch them, we think.

1520 CEST - More news from Tour of Belgium roads: Roy Curvers and Fabio Polazzi are going to get caught soon. The Dutch-Belgian pairing holds on to a very tiny advantage of 35 seconds with slightly over 20 km remaining. It looks like we're going to have a field sprint there at least.

1525 CEST - Back to Giro d'Italia action, but without big news: the dirty dozen (Paolo Bettini, Giovanni Visconti, Daniele Bennati, Gabriele Bosisio, Rinaldo Nocentini, Felix Rafael Cárdenas Ravalo, Joaquím Rodríguez Oliver, Alan Pérez Lezaun, Simon Spilak, Mauricio Alberto Ardila Cano, Jens Voigt - the one struggling the most each time the road keeps tilting upwards, like in the Brinzio ascent - and Nikolay Trusov) kept a 05'40" margin on the Astana-led pack at the most recent time check.

Cardenas and Visconti lead on the Brinzio. Photo © 2008 Fotoreporter Sirotti

Contador's teammates have a clear goal: to keep Càrdenas within (comparatively) striking distance. They'd better not bring the escapees back though; today's stage finish suits Riccardo Riccó and the main overall threat to Alberto could take advantage of the bonus seconds up for grabs at the line and cut down his gap to the current Maglia Rosa holder.

1535 CEST - Tour of Belgium news: Roy Curvers and Fabio Polazzi were chased down. The peloton is all together again with 10 km to the finish.

1540 CEST - On to the Giro d'Italia again: Mauricio Ardila Cano took maximum points at the Brinzio KOM sprint (3rd category) ahead of Joaquín Rodríguez and Rinaldo Nocentini. The twelve frontrunners, now coming down the Brinzio, keep working perfectly together. Jens Voigt does much of the job on the flatlands, but now it's The Cricket that drives the breakaway charge on the descent. And Astana keep driving the "chase". But despite the decent pace set by Contador's team they're not making gains: the gap is still a great 05'48".

All the race leaders over the Brinzio. Photo © 2008 Fotoreporter Sirotti

1542 CEST - Team LPR drive the peloton in Belgium, about 4km from the (upcoming bunch sprint) finish

1547 CEST - No news from Italy, while they're getting ready for the sprint in Belgium: 2K to go.

1550 CEST - The day came down to a field sprint at Tour of Belgium, with a Russian winner: Boris Shpilevsky of the Italy-based squad Preti Mangimi, that got also the stage runner-up: Marco Zanotti.

1. Boris Shpilevsky (Rus)
2. Marco Zanotti (Ita)
3. Sebastian Siedler (Ger)
4. Allan Davis (Aus)
5. Jurgen Roetlands (Bel)
6. Gert Steegmans (Bel)
7. Stefan Van Dijk (Hol)
8. Roberto Ferrari (Ita)

Paolo Bettini leads the break, Bennati, Voigt, and Cardenas. Voigt looks to be suffering; or so it would seem. Photo © 2008 Fotoreporter Sirotti

1555 CEST - Back in Italy, with the twelve escapees, now led by Italy-based Rabo-boy Ardila Cano, tackling the Varese circuit, climbing the Ronchi hill for the first time. Erik Zabel made the news as he punctured a few minutes ago. Jurgen Vandenbroeck's Silence-Lotto are giving Astanas and their fellow Belgian Bruyneel a helping hand at the front of the field.

1600 CEST - The testa della corsa (front of the race) group have made it to the summit of Ronchi.

1606 CEST - Jens Voigt put in a solo attack around the feed zone, but the other escapees reacted. The German gained only 300 metres on them.

1606 CEST - Jens Voigt put in a solo attack around the feed zone, but the other escapees reacted. The German gained only 300 metres on them. As usual, it's raining over the race, but the CSC attacker doesn't seem to care.

Jens Voigt on the attack. Photo © 2008 Fotoreporter Sirotti

1612 CEST - Voigt has been away all by himself over the last 7 kilometres. His ten chasers (Nikolay Trussov got dropped) are trailing by some 30 seconds. The Tinkoff Russian is struggling to make contact again with the "first chase group", but he's succeeding.

1616 CEST - Trussov managed to join again the others, but the group is down to ten men again, as Rinaldo Nocentini sped off on his own and stepped up his solo chase of Jens Voigt. More Silence-Lotto guys joined the "chase machine" (sort of) in the pack. More skirmishes come in the "Bettini group"; cooperation is no longer the same.

Simon Spilak of Lampre, top ten finisher at Tour of Flanders, one of the youngest guns in the bunch, launched his own attack. Visconti paces Bettini while Voigt's lead slightly came down to 28 seconds. The German is close to the foot of the Ronchi climb.

Our live coverage of stage 18 continues in: Stage 18 Live Coverage Part 2

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