Hell of the South
With thanks to Fabio for field notes -
The 68th Giro del Lazio is having a complete change from its traditional course this year. Although remaining in the Lazio region, it will start in Rieti and finish in Nettuno, after 196 kilometers, which will give "the Hell of the South" a completely new parcours. The other innovation this year will be a KOM competition which will be based upon the climbs of Palestrina, Rocca Priora, and Rocca di Papa (Campi di Annibale). So the best climbers in the race will be rewarded for their efforts.
Just to make the race even more spectator friendly, there will be three 4.6 kilometre laps of the city centre in Nettuno.
Massimo Donati, last year's winner, will once again have stiff competition from the likes of Michele Bartoli, Davide Rebellin, Paolo Bettini, Andrea Tafi (winner in 1991, 1996 and 1998) and the Italian champion Salvatore Commesso.
Up and coming riders will include Franco Pellizzotti (recent winner of Giro del Friuli), Ivan Basso (best young rider in the Tour de France), Simone Masciarelli (main protagonist of last year's Giro del Lazio) and the "Great" Yaroslav Popovich.
Italian races are always enthralling, especially as the World Championships are only three weeks away. Mario Cipollini will go to Belgium as team leader but it is known that there will be more than one team Captain. Franco Ballerini, the Italian team selector, was watching today's events unfold with interest - for whoever could win this race, the third most prestigious one day race in Italy (after Milan San Remo and Giro Lombardy) would surely be certain of a place in the Italian squad. With the eyes of Italy and the cycling world watching the selection process with interest, the "race of the centurions" took epic significance this afternoon.
The race opened at the 130 kilometre mark Marco Serpellini (Lampre-Daikin) made a bold attack. Too dangerous an opponent to let slip away, the quick (both in terms of cadence and thought) quickly formed the winning breakaway move. Ivan Basso, Dario Frigo (Fassa Bortolo), Paolo Bettini (Mapei-Quick Step), Fabiano Fontanelli, Luca Mazzanti (Mercatone Uno), Cristian Gasperoni (Acqua E Sapone), Leonardo Giordani (TEAM Colpack), Freddy Gonzalez (Italia Colombia-Saddle), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Gianluca Tonetti (Maglierie Cage-Olmo), eliminated the rest of the field in one brave move and entered the seaside town of Nettuno knowing that one of their number would be the victor.
As the riders went under the Flamme Rouge it was Leonardo Giordani; the Colpack-Astro rider, U23 World Road Champion in 1999, who went for a coveted home win (he's from the Latium region, indeed). He came agonisingly close to the finishing line but it was il "Grillo," Bettini, who judged his effort with beautiful precision to steal the victory and the kisses from the misses from the unfortunate Giordani, who banged his handlebars in frustration as he crossed the line.
It is true that had the course been 50 metres shorter Giordani would have won. Equally, had the race been 50 metres longer, Davide Rebellin would have finally gained his first victory of the season. The "Serial runner up" once again had to be content with the second step on the podium.
No problems of distance judgement from Bettini though. Second ranked in the world UCI ratings, leader of the world cup Bettini has booked his place into the World Championship squad (was it ever really in doubt?) and added yet another victory to his list of palmares.
Meanwhile Ballerini must be thinking back to the mud and cobbles of the Hell of the North - and thinking how much simpler life was then!
1 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Mapei
2 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner
3 Cristian Gasperoni (Ita) Acqua & Sapone-Cantina Tollo
4 Fabiano Fontanelli (Ita) Mercatone Uno
5 Marco Serpellini (Ita) Lampre-Daikin
6 Ivan Basso (Ita) Fassa Bortolo
7 Dario Frigo (Ita) Tacconi Sport-Emmegi
8 Fredy Gonzalez Martinez (Col) Colombia-Selle Italia
9 Luca Mazzanti (Ita) Mercatone Uno
10 Leonardo Giordani (Ita) Team Colpack-Astro