Good morning / afternoon / evening / night (??) wherever you are, and welcome to our live coverage of the Giro d'Italia 2009 seventh leg. That's another lengthy stage, in fact only a little shorter than yesterday's, and connects three different nations: Austria, with the start line located in Tyrol's main city Innsbruck; Switzerland, that plays host to today's only categorised climb, the not-too-steep Maloja pass (summit at 1845m asl), that riders are going to take on after winding through the well-known European jet set resort Sankt Moritz; and of course Italy, with the Corsa Rosa crew back to the race homeland in the Sondrio province of Lombardy just to cross the line at Chiavenna town after a voyage of 244 kilometres.
The long descent - spanning over 37 kilometres - from the top of the Maloja into Italian soil is meant to help most of those dropped to regain the peloton, to the delight of the fastest wheels, that should go for stage honours in a massive sprint in the 500-metre finishing straight, which goes slightly uphill in the very last 50 metres. One for the Petacchis and Cavendishes/Boasson-Hagens around, provided their lieutenants are good enough to keep the "breakaway of the day" (we're definitely going to have one also today) from taking too much of a lead, and do not make the same mistake we saw yesterday, when a late reply from the pack resulted in Michele Scarponi's solo victory, the first ever Tour of Italy triumph for the Diquigiovanni-Androni athlete.
Vladimir Isaychev (Rus - Xacobeo-Galicia)
... have now covered 40 kilometres already. The distance between the lead quartet and stage glory is no more than ... 204 kilometres. C'mon guys, you can do it (maybe).
Bartosz Huzarski, born on 0ctober 27, 1980, turned a professional rider with the Mroz team in the 2002 season, and he stayed in their rosters until the past year. The man's few wins since took place mostly on home soil, his latest triumph coming at the 2008 Szlakiem Grodow Piastowskich in the in Lower Silesia region of Poland. He can boast also two King of the Mountains crowns at Tour de Pologne. Huzarksi also keeps a giro d'Italia 2009 diary on his own website. Only, it's in Polish.
Quick Step's Mauro Facci (born May 11, 1982 in Vicenza, Italy) was welcomed into Fassa Bartolo six years ago. He hasn't done much since, apart from helping their squad win the Coppi & Bartali week Team TT for two years in a row (2004 and 2005). He raced with the Barloworld outfit in the 2006 season, and switched to his current squad two years ago. Without any major results. But recently he has given it a shot at getting himself into breakaway groups more than once. Whether such late efforts would finally earn him some glory or not, is a totally different story.
It's raining big time at the finishing line at Chiavenna, buy notably also on the Maloja's long and fast descent, making an already tricky downhill piece even more dangerous. Hopefully nothing bad is going to happen there ... We think many a good riders will stop and change their wheels before the start of the descent.
Sergei Alexandrovic Klimov (born July 07, 1980 in Saint Petersburg, Russia) rode for the Itera team in 2001 and 2002, for Lokomotiv Moscow the next three years, and joined Tinkoff in the 2006 racing season. He's a good track cyclist, with major wins in Team Pursuit events and point races, but his career tally features also a Settimana Ciclista Lombarda 2008 stage victory on the road (that was a Team TT however) and triumphs at Tour de Normandie and Volta a Tarragona in his younger years.
1315 CEST Not so much to tell about the current situation on the road. The escapees started to have their lead cut down, but they could still enjoy a consistent advantage of seven and a half minutes at km. 90. LPR, Columbia and the other sprinter's teams basically have the situation under control.
1330 CEST Gap update: Klimov, Isaychev, Facci and Huzarski are about to enter Swiss territory in adverse weather conditions. Their lead after 105 kilometres hovers around eight minutes. Temperatures near the Sankt Moritz Hot Spot Sprint are 14-15 degrees (centigrade scale).
1340 CEST Neither the leading quartet - now finally gracing the roads of the land of Swiss cheese - nor the bunch - currently trailing them by under seven minutes - have met any rain yet. But it's anxiously waiting for them on the Maloja slopes, or even earlier.
The youngest member of the "Breakaway Club" is definitely Vladimir Isaychev. The Russian turned 23 the past April, 21st. He's a sophomore in the professional cycling ranks, as he joined Karpin-Galicia, now Xacobeo-Galicia, the past year. Still has to find the way to stamp his authority on the pro cycling scene. He was given freedom by his team bosses today, after Xacobeo "man for the overall" David Garcia Dapena had to drop out of the race yesterday.
1350 CEST The Fab Four are reportedly close to the feed zone, their advantage stays close to the seven-minute mrk. Isayhev, Facci, Huzarksi, Klimov keep taking turns as they wind through the picturesque Upper Engadine Valley, racing alongside the Inn river much of the time.
1400 CEST The latest gap was up to 07 minutes, 50 seconds. The escapees keep an average speed of 40.651 kph.
It's not about the rain only. Fog is also waiting for the race in the Maloja's final kilometre. The weather is likely to have an unpleasant impact on the TV coverage later in the day. Well, hopefully not ... but we expect the worst in this sense.
1417 CEST Garmin-Slipstream outnumber Barloworld and all other teams on the front of the chasing bunch. They seem to be confident in Tyler Farrar's chances. Both squads have done the lion's share of the work in the peloton so far today.
The stage stepped into the last hundred kilometres. Skies are grey, but the rain has yet to come.
All Astana riders but Kazkahstan's own Andrey Zeits are racing with sponsors names on their jerseys faded out today, in protest against the team's lack of salary payments.
Regardless of the UCI "ultimatum", Johan Bruyneel promised that the squad is going to finish the Giro, and also race Le Tour de France, no matter if they had to attend the Grande Boucle under a different team name.
1425 CEST Garmin and the gruppo are much more serious about the chase, and their attitude is having some impact on the time distance to the leaders, that started to drop again.
1435 CEST Earlier this morning, Bruyneel made his point also in front of the Italian TV cameras, speaking out with RAI's "serial interviewer" Alessandra di Stefano: "I got in touch with the Kazakh sponsors, I told them than the whole payments thing had to be fixed, that both the riders and personnel were unhappy at the way they are being treated. We're just workers doing our job, and I think we're doing a fine job too. We expect all sides to abide by their agreements. We've waited for some time, but as nothing at all has happened thus far, we've made this decision; we wanna send them a strong signal, let them know that we're here at a big race the Giro, and as a significant part of the game, 'cause we're getting plenty of media coverage with a GC contender like Levi Leipheimer, and with Lance, the man everyone's talking about".
"We wanted to let them know that they can't think that everything is going fine like that. Plus, there's the "May 31st" ultimatum by the UCI, but what we're doing now has nothing to do with it; we are just trying to find a provisional solution, we just want to look after our problems with the sponsors, I know that they are still capable of working things out. Later, the UCI will make their own final decision".
1445 CEST The gap to the leading quartet is coming further down while Jesus Del Nero (Fuji-Servetto) pulled out of the race around the halfway point in the stage. The Spaniard is the fifth addition to the list of DNFers in seven days.
1455 CEST The Sankt Moritz intermediate sprint is still 30 kilometres away, and the finishing line at 85 kilometres, but Bartosz Huzarski (Pol - ISD), Mauro Facci (Italia - Quick Step), Sergey Klimov (Rus - Team Katyusha) and Vladimir Isaychev (Rus - Xacobeo-Galicia) see how their advantage is coming down even faster now. It was no more than three minutes and fifty seconds at the most recent check. Milram and Team Columbia are also doing their own share of the work amongst the pursuers.
1500 CEST Temperatures are down to 6-7 degrees (celsius scale, as usual... That must be like 43°F) near the Maloja summit. The road is slightly tilting upwards, resulting in a lesser average speed, now under 40 kph.
1510 CEST A man in Team Columbia colours rides sandwiched in between two Garmin guys. The two American teams, fierce rivals when it cmes to Team TTs, have forged an alliance on the road today.
1515 CEST 75 km to go for the Fab Four. 20 kilometres to Sankt Moritz. It's Milram and Barloworld's turn at the front of the pack now. Basically close to all sprinter's teams have sent a couple riders to help the chase. The gap has fallen under three minutes.
Just like in much of the past two stages, the Giro is going through a bilingual area. But this time the combination is truly different, as in the Engadine valley German (better, "Swiss-German") teams up NOT with Italian but with Romansh, an ancient language that was awarded the status of Switzerland's fourth national language.
1525 CEST Milram, Garmin, Columbia, Barloworld keep working with each other, and the gap is no bigger than two minutes with under 70k to the finish. The sun made a brief appearance over the pack, but rapidly gave room to today's usual cloudy skies. Still, no signs of rain as they're getting nearer to the Sankt Moritz Hot Spot Sprint. It even stopped raining at the finishing line, by the way.
1535 CEST Many in the peloton have more clothes on than the Inuits of Alaska's North Slope. Buy as we told you before, today's a darn cold day in the saddle. So they're just being wisely careful ...
1540 CEST The gap stopped coming down. Chasers accomplished their (first) mission and those in the bunch are now busy getting themselves ready for the adversities they're about to find on the way to the finish, both climbing the Maloja and in its dangerous ascent. The rain just abated a little also in the last part of the parcours anyway.
1546 CEST It's Raining Men! Hallelujah! (Hallelujah ????). The race found some wet roads in the last minutes.
55 km to go for the breakaway. The four escapees are making their way to Sankt Moritz. Again, the fugitives are: