Another veteran of the pro peloton, Switzerland's Laurent Dufaux (who will be 33 in May) decided to follow the steps of Cipollini, Tafi and Johan Museeuw, and clinched victory in the first leg of the 32th "Settimana Lombarda" ("Lombard week"), a 5-stage competition to run from Wednesday until Sunday in the Lombardia region of Italy, and featuring the participation of 21 teams, with riders like Figueras, Gotti, Petacchi and Piccoli, along with interesting youngsters such as World U23 Champion Yaroslavl Popovych, Cunego and Bernucci.
In the end of a stage going from Novate Milanese to Carimate over 168.3 km., the former Saeco (and Festina) rider edged out Alessio's teammate Cristian Moreni, while Poland's Kazimierz Stafiej (Gs Mroz) took third.
Dufaux was part of a winning breakaway that went clear with 18 km. to go, although the Swiss actually joined the leaders (Moreni, Frenchman Pichon, Luxembourgian Kirchen, Fincato, Guerrini, Stafiej and Passuello) only some 10 kilometres later after he went after them, along with Ongarato and Lampre's Bertoletti, and bridged the gap. Then he even tried to go clear to win solo, but was reeled in quite soon.
He didn't lose heart though and, also thanks to the fundamental leadout work by Cristian Moreni, he got an extremely important success, after having some very difficult times in the last months: as the rider himself admitted, after his period at Saeco, featured by one win only in 2001 (a Giro del Trentino stage almost 12 months ago) nobody seemed to be interested in hiring him. Only Polish team CCC had offered him a chance, and the man was planning to hang up his bike and keep working for Tour de Suisse boss Marc Biver. But then, in November, Bruno Cenghialta came and took the otherwise unemployed rider to his squad. And today's stage proved him right.
After (now former) appointed captain Niklas Axelsson got a long suspension due to doping-related matters, the Swiss rider's status inside Alessio updgraded to team leader. And no doubts that today he acted as a true leader, taking advantage of the work done by leadout man Moreni during the final sprint, and spending very good words for his domestique afterwards "Today I won only thanks to Moreni's help. He was perfect in setting me up for the stage victory".
As for the former Mercatone Uno rider, pink jersey for three days in the Y2K Tour of Italy, he was gratified by these words, but also happy with his own results, as he took an excellent second spot after all "I come from a very bad 2001, marked by a series of injuries and misfortune. But now I want to get some satisfactions in the coming Giro". Few doubts that, if the man's condition is as good as it was today, he can do it.
Dufaux will likely be watching the Tour of Italy on TV (of course the Italian contigent at Alessio has the priority in their "home race"), but such an experienced and still winning rider, a veteran of the "Grande Boucle", could be extremely of help in the team's first ever Tour de France bid in July.
RESULTS - TOP 10 PLACES:
1. Laurent Dufaux (Swi - Alessio) - 4h21'30"
2. Cristian Moreni (Ita - Alessio) - s.t.;
3. Kazimierz Stafiej (Pol - Mroz) - s.t.;
4. Kim Kirchen (Lux - Fassa-Bortolo) - s.t.;
5. Domenico Passuello (Ita - Selle Italia-Colombia) - s.t.;
6. Marco Fincato (Ita - Mercatone Uno) - s.t.;
7. Mickael Pichon (Fra - Bonjour) - at 5";
8. Giuseppe Palumbo (Ita - De Nardi-Montegrappa) - at 15";
9. Mikhaylo Khalilov (Ukr - Selle Italia-Colombia) - s.t.;
10. Paolo Lanfranchi (Ita - Index-Alexia Alluminio) - s.t.;
As for Gilberto Simoni, the Saeco captain sounds quite confident of his chances of a full recovery before the Tour of Italy: "Friday's second half-stage ends up to Colle di San Fermo. I don't know well the climb, but I'd like to test my skills there. Next week's Giro del Trentino will be a more important test in order to understand if I have the chances to be in pink in Milan again"
Very bad news for Ivan Quaranta instead. As I wrote in yesterday's article (see link at the bottom of the page) the "neo-daddy" was back to racing after the crash he had while training in Belgium some weeks ago, which caused him a broken metacarpal (the fourth) in his right hand.
Unfortunately after a few kilometres of riding he had to pull out of the competition, as the hand pain was too strong for him to continue. And now the Index-Alexia sprinter will have to undergo special treatement to his hand in order not to miss the coming Giro d'Italia, which is going to start in Holland within less than four weeks, and the man's participation seems in jeopardy.
The 32th edition of the race, once reserved to Amateurs only and going under the name of "Settimana Bergamasca", consists of Five stages (with Stage Three, to be disputed on Friday, divided in two halves). The legs are as follows:
Stage 1: April 17: Novate Milanese-Carimate - 168.3 km.;
Stage 2: April 18: Airuno-Alzate Brianza - 164.5 km.;
Stage 3a: April 19: Villongo-Chiuduno - 78.3 km.;
Stage 3b: April 19: Sarnico-Colle San Fermo - 73.5 km.;
Stage 4: April 20: Roncadelle-Roncadelle
Stage 5: April 21: Trescore Balneario-Stezzano - 162,3 km.
Stage two - featured by a final circuit - is likely to end up in a bunch sprint, just like the previous one. The decisive stages are expected to be Friday's "afternoon session" and Saturday's fourth leg, which contains the "Little Mortirolo" ascent.
More news of today's stage liekely to come soon ...