First anti-doping tests on Thursday morning:The 86th Tour of Italy had a good “start” on Thursday morning, when the anti-doping tests, which so much affected the race (and its outcome) in recent years, began as all participants underwent the first blood tests, carried out by a special team of “UCI Vampires” led by Belgian doctorMarc Vandevyvere, in their hotels. But today the news was good: all tests were negative, all hematocrit values were in the normal, and all riders have ben admitted into the race. Hopefully this “trend” will continue throughout the competition. More detailed exams on the blood samples will be carried out in the Como and Lausanne laboratories anyway.
Tosatto hits the ground: bye bye Giro ?: But even if he passed the blood tests, poor Matteo Tosatto couldn’t be happy for long. The 29–year-old Italian from Castelfranco Veneto, riding with the Fassa Bortolo outfit, crashed later in the morning while training on the roads around Lecce. The man, stage victor in the 2001 Giro, has been taken to the Lecce hospital for further examinations, and his replacement with another rider is now far from being a remote possibility.
Paolo Savoldelli speaks out, and picks Simoni: Within less than 48 hours, some 170 riders will get on their bikes and go for the most coveted of all prizes: the maglia rosa on the Milan podium. But the man who got it last year will not be there trying to defend his title. Due to a mix of team choices (the Telekom directors opted for skipping the race in favor of the two other Grand Tours of the season) and the injuries he suffered due to a training fall in Spain a few weeks ago, the man who swept the race in its queen stage and beat Tyler Hamilton (another star of the past Giro that won’t get back to Italian roads) in the decisive ITT, will not take the start. And as long as the start of the 21-stage contest is nearing, Savoldelli’s regrets keep growing, as the man himself told Italian newspaper “Gazzetta dello Sport” in a recent interview.
Asked about who, in his opinion, his successor on the Milan podium might be, he chose not to amaze and picked the guy many see as red (not just for his jersey’s colour) hot favourite: Gilberto Simoni “I think there are several strong rider that might go for the overall. My money is on Simoni first, as he’s’s the one that looks most in form to me. Apart from him, I can see a great Aitor Gonzalez as main challenger”. Also when it comes to name their other rivals, “Il Falco” choses the usual suspects “Frigo, Garzelli and the likes, and among the youngsters, Yaroslav Popovych”.
Time to talk about himself now: when will the Falcon be flying again ? “Currently I don’t feel like promising anything to anyone. I’ve been training for about one and a half months, and I’ll go on for 15 more days, then get back to racing and check my condition. I had to begin all over again, you know. Without that accident, maybe now I could say that I would be aiming for a podium or Top 5 spot at the TdF. But now I don’t want to do that.” And when will you be back to the Giro, Paolo? "I don’t know. Maybe next year. This time, after Ullrich moved to another squad, the Telekom directors opted for skipping the Giro and racing both the Tour de France and, as a build-up for the Worlds, the Vuelta a España”.
Simoni: I’ll go for the overall, but I fear Gonzalez: Paolo Savoldelli regards him as the most likely Giro winner, but what does Gilberto Simoni have to say, less than two days before the start of the edition that could see him back to the top of podium, after his 2001 triumph and the unlucky 2002 marked by “Auntie’s cookies” affair ? According to the Saeco team leader, thrice a top three finisher in the last 4 years (he was third in both 1999 and 2000) the race will not be easy at all, but talking about his goal is: all he wants is nothing short of the overall victory.
Briefly interviewed by the RAI TV journalists, “Gibo” said “I think that all mountain top finishes and the ITTs will be important for the final outcome. To start from the Terminillo Stage (Stage 7, Avezzano-Terminillo - km. 146 to rin on Saturday, May 17th), whose final ascent may not be extremely steep, but is long and represents a first, significant test for overall contenders. And with a team like mine, I will not be waiting for the others (to make their move).
As combative and outpsoken as usual, the man from Palú di Giovo (same town as Francesco Moser, whose niece he married more than a year ago) was questioned about his most dangerous rivals “The names are the usual, well-known ones. Casagrande, Garzell etc. But if you want me to name one rider only, then I’d say Aitor Gonzalez”. The Spaniard is the main suspect to bring the Giro title back to Spain, ten years after Miguel Indurain’s last triumph in the “Corsa Rosa”.
And just like “Big Mig”, the 2002 Vuelta winner is a more than excellent time triallist. But winning an ITT would not earn him any time bonus, while all other stages award 20 seconds to their winners (12” to runner-ups, 8” to the third place finishers). Quite a good advantage for the mountain goats, as winning three stages (not an impossible task for a good climber like Simoni, in a race featuring five mountain top finishes) means to get a time bonus of no less than a minute
“That’s an interesting thing” Simoni said “which could change the race in its first part. But when the mountains come, the difference will not be a matter of a few seconds”
Petacchi: Cipo has a strong team, but ...: Fassa Bortolo is not just “TerminAitor” González trying to get his biggest victory outside home soil. And it’s not just Dario Frigo trying to succeed in a race where he has never been particularly lucky (the Lombard abandoned after a crash in the year 2000, was excluded - with just two stages to go - because of a doping-related affair the following year, and bonked at the wrong time twelve months ago) either.
Fassa Bortolo is also one of the fastest guys in the whole peloton. Alessandro Petacchi. With all the hype on Cipollini vs. Binda match, with the Lion King trying to beat the Giro stage wins record set by the first “Campionissimo” several decades ago, not many have talked of the Cipo’s main rival “on the road”. But the 29-year-old from La Spezia, who last year was forced to play second fiddle (and even third fiddle when McEwen was still in the race) to the Giro sprints dominator, will be trying (again) to depose the Lion King. Not an easy task for sure, even though Petacchi’s palmares in the early part of the season speaks in favor of the Fassa guy: 6 victories for him (most of which in Spain), only 2 (both at Tirreno- Adriatico) for the regining World Champion.
But when “Super Mario” is in front of his home crowd in Italy’s biggest race, things change, and Mario always is at his best. And Petacchi is perfectly aware of that “Sure that I have won many a time so far this year, and I want to beat Mario, but every sprint is a different story. I comfortably took many sprints in the past, with the help of the the excellent lead-out work of my teammates. But in this Giro things won’t be that easy. Mario has got a great train, a great team, and we’ll have to make the most out of their work”.