Saturday, May 08, will see the start of the first Grand Tour of the 2004 cycling season, with the 87th Giro Ciclistico d’Italia kicking off with a Prologue Time Trial in the streets of downtown Genoa. It’s the first Giro of the post-Pantani era, but quite curiously the parcours again suits the climbers. It’s the first Giro of the post-Pantani era, but quite curiously the main stars of the event are meant to be the same as one year before: Gilberto Simoni, Stefano Garzelli and Yaroslav Popovych are the main suspects to battle it out for overall victory, while Alessandro Petacchi and Mario Cipollini should steal the show in the sprints, with the likes of Robby McEwen, Ivan Quaranta, “Fast Freddy” Rodriguez and Angelo Furlan ready to give them some unpleasant surprise. Davide Rebellin’s comeback is arguably the biggest novelty in this year’s edition (along with the absence of Kelme, a team many would miss), but even if the man should add any stage wins, and some days as Maglia Rosa
holder, to his sensational early season tally, he would hardly have a deep impact on the eventual GC.
Waiting for all the men above to speak out, we start the Daily Peloton’s extensive coverage of the 2.HC event in a different way, with the points of view of those that, for one reason or another, are not included in the “possibile protagonists” list. Former winners, simple journalists, riders that should have been at the startline but won’t, and riders that will be at the startline, but only as domestiques, with few opportunities to make the headlines in the “Corsa Rosa”. All of them had their say, and here’s what they said.
Paolo Savoldelli and Ivan Gotti predicted a close battle between the two red hot favourites, Stefano Garzelli and Gilberto Simoni "They will battle it out to the very last bend. It will be a very tight fight, and the show will have everything to gain from that" said the 2002 winner of the "Corsa Rosa", while fellow Bergamasco Gotti, two-time victor of Italy's #1 cycling race - in 1997 and 1999 respectively -, highlighted the role the three climbs of the terrible penultimate stage could play in determining the eventual outcome: "On the Mortirolo, Vivione and Dezzo, all three steep ascents, and located within a 121-km. distance, only the rider with a better handling of his power will be properly rewarded", were the words from the former Gewiss, Team Polti, Gatorade-Chateau d'Ax, Saeco and Alessio professional cyclist.
After scoring his first win of the season, the fifth one to date as a professional, at Sunday's Giro della Toscana in Arezzo, 29-year-old (but will turn 30 in a few days) Matteo Tosatto of Fassa Bortolo is ready for his next challenge: the Tour of Italy. The man will be at the startline in Genoa come Saturday, and briefly talked about his own targets, his team's, and the men he picks as main favourites to take the win: "My Giro d’Italia mission? The same as always: I'll be there to be helpful to the team, and Petacchi in particular; but if I'm given the chance, I'll be riding for myself too. It would be great for me to repeat the stage victory I got at Montebelluna in 2001. I eyed the two stages running in the Treviso area so, well, let's just wait and see ..."
Tosatto was outspoken about Fassa's Giro objectives too: without any serious GC contenders in the roster, they'll put most of their money on Petacchi's sprinting skills "To equal the number of stage wins (8 out of 21 stages) we got last year would be great. And we'll have a go at that. Unfortunately Frigo is unfit and will have to skip the race, but when it comes to the overall, there's Massimo Codol (who finished 14th last year) that may do something good".
And when it comes to the overall, who are Tosatto's main suspects to wear the Maglia Rosa in Milan? "Well, the choice is not that wide. Simoni. Garzelli. And Popovych, that has never shown up so far this year though. Who else? Well, Tonkov said he'll be working for Garzelli. And we gotta see whether Figueras will be aiming for the overall classification or not. Rebellin? hmm ... Davide's actual targets were the Classics of the North, and he may not have the endurance required (to win the Giro); but he could grab the Maglia Rosa early into the race and be overall leader throughout the first part ”
Besides Dario Frigo, the Fassa Bortolo’s Giro roster is going to miss also one of the fundamental wagons of Petacchi’s train: Guido “L’Americano” Trenti; the Milanese-born, whose mother is from Boston, raced with the U.S. National Team outfit at last two World Championships, courtesy of his USCF license, and knows what the word “sprint” means: a good sprinter himself, he had he honour of being part of both Cipollini’s and Petacchi’s “leadout crews” (he was Petacchi’s “last man” in the Fassa train) in recent years, but he won’t this time: a collision with a car while training in the outkisrts of Venice a few weeks ago resulted in him being sidelined for most of the season (courtesy of the multiple fractures he suffered at pelvis, jaw, tibia and elbow) and even having his career in jeopardy, though he shouldn’t run that risk any longer anyway. To add insult to injury (literally), the man set a new record for being awarded the most ridiculous fine in the history of cycling: he was fined for not fitting his race bike with a …safety bell! Unbelievable but true, and perfectly legitimate under Italian traffic laws (gotta wonder whether law makers knew that if you are ringing the bell, you can’t pull the brakes, and that the sound of a rider’s voice may have the same “audio effect” as a bell, but that’s a whole different matter …)
In any event, the man sounded more resigned than upset about it, and as for the accident, it seems the worst is over now, such that he’s still harbouring hopes to be back in the saddle in time to wear the US Team jersey at the Verona Worlds; in the meantime, “L’Americano” keeps himself busy talking on the phone and giving opinions and predictions on the sprints at the upcoming Giro, just like he did on Monday, when he intervened - via a phone call- to a cycling transmission on an Italian local TV channel, and had his say on the top two sprinters around, that he knows very well:“I regret missing the Giro this year, but Mario and Alessandro will no doubt be the two beacons of the race. Both of them have got excellent trains, and it will be nice to see which of the two can prevail on the line. I think Fassa and Domina will control the peloton (in “sprinters stages”), while Ivan Quaranta and the other fastmen will be trying to take advantage of the work of these two teams”.
From a man who knows his stuff when it comes to sprinting, to one that knows the meaning of winning a Giro d’Italia: His Majesty Gianni Bugno, a classy rider that achieved an almost unique accomplishment (only three other riders such as Girardengo, Binda and a certain Eddy Merckx did) as he won the Giro wearing the Maglia Rosa from beginning to end in 1990. Another guest of the afore-mentioned transmission, Bugno sees fellow Lombard Garzelli as #1 favourite to wear the Maglia Rosa on the Milan podium, as in his opinion the Vini Caldirola team leader currently is the man in the best condition, and Gibo Simoni as Garzelli’s “main challenger” only. Bugno didn’t write off Popovych either, but when it comes to Damiano “man of the moment” Cunego, the former professional rider was a bit more cautious. Not that he’s unaware of the young rider’s talent; it’s just a matter of how to handle it. And a matter of timing: unlike some pundits that see Cunego as possibile GC contender even in this year’s Giro, Bugno would opt for a more gradual approach, as he thinks it’s a little to early for the Saeco youngster to be burdened with excessive responsibilities in a race like the Tour of Italy.
And last but not least, something from “Gazzetta dello Sport”. They are race organizers after all, so they are entitled to have their say. And if you look at the online edition of Italy’s number one sport paper, you can find a piece from journlist Ciro Scognamiglio pointing out the differences in the build-up of the three main favourites: while Garzelli took a high-profile approach, with several excellent performances in pre-Giro races like Vuelta a Aragón (he won the GC) and Tour de Romandie (despite not aiming for the overall, he got a stage victory and did quite well in the closing ITT), Simoni walked on a different path: with Le Tour and late season races like the Athens Olympics and the Verona World Champs among his possible objectives, he spent less energies than in past years in early season contests (Aragón, Trentino etc.), and got worse results, but his latest performances proved the man is getting in shape. And as Scognamiglio wrote, Simoni “will be strong, but not very strong, in the first days; only to be VERY strong, and not just strong, in the last days. The decisive ones”.
As to Popovych, there’s a big question mark on him: the Ukrainian never burst into spotlight so far this year. Not a single win, not a single podium finish. So what are his real current conditions? We’ll get to know since Saturday. One thing is for sure anyway: as Mr. Scognamiglio correctly pointed out, Popo’s lack of wins and podium placings in 2004 may raise some doubts and stir some discussions now, but should the man get any at the Giro, nobody would give a damn about his early no-show any longer.
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