Stage 1 - May 12: Groningen-Munster, 215 km
The possibility of accidents during the first few days of a major Tour are always high. All the riders are full of energy, being urged on by their managers to get an early result and eveyone seems nervous. Even when the road is long, straight and wide, as it was for much of the day, the peloton, which rode very comfortably together only a week or so ago suffers from frirst day nerves.
So it was today, even with a comparatively slow speed in the early stages due to a headwind the crashes started almost from the off. After 49 kilometres Gabiele Colombo of Acquae e Sapone and Paolo Bettini of Mapei were some of the first to fall, in what was to be a day of accidents and high drama.
Surprisingly the first sprint of the day was a fairly low key affair Belgian Marc Streel (Colnago-Landbouwkrediet), taking the honours from Columbian John Fredy Garcia (Selle Italia), and Belgian Kurt Van Lancker (Lotto) in third.
The pace of the peloton did not really pick up until the inter-giro sprint with its all important time bonuses loomed near. Not surprisingly, Mario Cipollini's Acqua e Sapone zebra squad went to the front in an effort to control the peloton. They had to battle first with Colpack -Astro, then Phonak and Fassa-Bortolo, while a very cool Robbie McEwan and his Lotto team along with Saeco had their own train on the other side of the road.
Timing is everything in such matters and the experianced Acqua e Sapone squad had judged their efforts to perfection. Cipollini had the perfect lead out from Giovanni Lombardi and shrugged off the challenge of Fassa's Alessandro Pettachi to take the sprint and it?s vital bonus seconds.
From this moment on the pace continued to rise as the approach of the finish came closer and closer. This was not due to any particular attack and counter attack, but rather the fact that the entire race was winding up. Inevitably as the pace got hotter the crashes beacame more frequent. Saza Gajicic (Formaggi Trentini) touched wheels and ended up in the middle of the road , Gert Verheyen (Rabobank), Gian Mario Ortenzi (Mercatone Uno) and Paolo Lanfranchi (Index-Alexia) were also victims, fortunately so far there had been no serious injury.
As the now speeding peloton reached Munster, it was Gerolsteiner doing the pulling at the front, with Coast and Telekom taking over. The importance of a victory for the three German teams in this race (in itself a testament to the surging poularity of German cycling) on todays stage cannot be over emphasized. The race was bradcast live on German TV (while another channel was showing the Peace Race) and was of high prestige for the teams and potential sponsers. Thousands lined the streets of the decorated and festive town.
The Zebra men of Cipollini were obviously aware of the tactical advantage of using the German teams efforts to their advantage. As first the Gerolsteiner team ran out of steam, were succeeded by Coast and finally the Telekom effort also ran out of steam with 4 kilometres to go, the Acqua e Sapone train took over. All the time, easily recognisable in his Australian Champions jersey Robbie McEwan kept himself tucked in and out of trouble.
With two kilometres to go the Zebra train was at full steam, while McEwan and Quaranta found themselves fighting for Cipollini?s wheel. A touch of wheels further back caused mayhem in the speeding peloton as Cipollini took full advantage of a perfect lead out from Lombardi to seal a memorable victory and the pink jersey.
McEwan can consider himself very unfortunate for as Lombardi peeled off the front of the peloton he forced the Australian to take the long route around to the finish line. Brown, a late replacement for the banned Figueras had ridden a canny race on the inside line to steal second place from his national champion.
Meanwhile, the split peloton caused time losses to Casagrande and Frigo, and disaster for Bartoli, who was seriously injured and will not take further part in the race. A bad day indeed for the Fassa boys who have lost two of their strongest men in the last two days. Casagrande, who was forced to retire on day one last year, must be considering the the possibility that there may be a Giro curse on his efforts.
Cipollini was full of praise for the race organisation and the public: "the passion of the spectators along the route today was remarkable. The public was unbelievable! It reminded me of the Tour de France stage in Germany a few years ago. It makes me very happy that it is our sport that gives so much enjoyment to so many people."
The victory in Munster was Cipollini's 35th in the Giro. While the legendary Alfredo Binda celebrated 41 stage wins between 1926 and 1933. "I take each stage, as it comes. Perhaps I can even get the record this year, who knows? I will try , but that is all," said Cipollini with a very large grin!
Meanwhile the Gerolsteiner camp had little to show for its hard work. "We knew all about the danger of falls in massed sprints," explained Christian Henn "therefore we wanted to be at the front as much as possible in the closing stages, in order to minimize the risk. Inspite of our efforts, Davide Rebellin still got caught in the accident and has suffered cuts and bruises. However, he should be able to continue to race. Naturally he lost time today."
So disappointment for the German teams and Fassa, but inspite of this the day belonged to the showman supreme and, a fact often overlooked, a hugely talented and dedicated SuperMario!
Stage 1 Results
1 Mario Cipollini (Ita) Acqua e Sapone 5.37.14
2 Graeme Brown (Aus) Panaria
3 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Lotto-Adecco
4 Danilo Hondo (Ger) Telekom
5 Sven Teutenberg (Ger) Phonak
6 Robert Hunter (RSA) Mapei-Quick Step
7 Miguel Angel Meza (Mex) Colpack
8 Michailov Kalilov (Ukr) Colombia-Selle Italia
9 Steven De Jongh (Ned) Rabobank
10 Matteo Carrara (Ita) Colpack
11 Giovanni Lombardi (Ita) Acqua e Sapone
12 Isaac Galvez (Spa) Kelme
General classification after stage 1
1 Mario Cipollini (Ita) Acqua e Sapone
2 Matthias Buxhofer (Aut) Phonak 0.11
3 Frank Hoj (Den) Team Coast 0.12
4 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Lotto-Adecco 0.13
5 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step 0.20
6 Massimo Strazzer (Ita) Phonak
7 Robert Hunter (RSA) Mapei-Quick Step 0.21
8 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Fassa Bortolo
9 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step
25 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saeco