stage 2 - 13th May: Köln (Ger) - Ličge / Ans (Bel) = 209 km
Stefano Garzelli of Mapei was well aware of the final run-in of todays stage, which over the last 10 kilometres was a re-run of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege course. It is scarcely three weeks since Garzelli did the Spring Classic ride of the season to firstly out-fox the peloton with an early surprise attack, and then ride everyone but team mate Paolo Bettini off his wheel in a scintilating display worthy of a maestro.
Following his victory that day, Bettini was full of praise for his super-gregario and promised to help his friend out in the coming Giro. Indeed, this morning before the start of the stage Bettini said, "Today Stefano and I will try to repeat our race in la Doyenne. With one big difference, the finishing order will be reversed." However, as is so often the case in cycle racing, when Garzelli outsprinted Casagrande for victory and the famous pink jersey today, it was not following the tactics that Mapei must have planned this morning.
The race rolled out of Cologne this morning with the blessing of City's Archbishop, who wished the riders "a safe passage and God's blessing." Sadly for a number of riders today there was no safe passage. The first real action of the day came from Ief Verbrugghe, brother of last year's prologue winner Rik, who along with Colombian Hector Meza set off down the road after 101 kilometres. They soon built a lead which peaked at five minutes, but by 153 kilometres the peloton had pulled back any escapees and everyone was in the bunch on wide, and you would have thought safe roads.
Ivan Gotti, giro winner of 1997 and 1999, Julio "Lucky" Perez Cuapio and the Dane Bo Hamburger came tumbling down and ended up in the roadside ditch. Gotti was clearly shaken and suffered very visible injuries to his left elbow. All three struggled to get back on to the now speeding peloton which was reacting to the inter-giro sprint. It was the Coast and Phonak teams forcing the pace and Fabrizio Guidi (Team Coast) beat Strazzer (Phonak) and Sciandri (Lampre) for the vital bonus seconds. Almost immediately after the sprint, Popovych and Vierhouten launched an attack hoping to gain an advantage on the peloton which was reorganising itself following the sprint. So with thirty kilometres to go the U23 world Champion was out on the front hoping for glory. The duo never gained more than than 30 seconds on the peloton and finally pulled back with just 20 kilometres to go.
With the Gerolsteiner, Mapei, Saeco and Fassa Bortolo all forcing the speed along the peloton was rapidly diminishing in numbers, be it through misfortune, Nardello had a flat tyre; injury, Gotti's elbow; or just simply not having the legs to hold on. As the strung out peloton hit the foot of the infamous Cote de St Nicolas it was Casagrande who surprised everyone. Often criticised for riding too cautiously, Casagrande risked all with a bold attack with ten kilometres to go. The move destroyed any remaining resemblance of order within the peloton. Garzelli was the first to react, with Heppner, Rebellin, Hamilton, Boogerd, Evans and Perez (Kelme) chasing hard after the Italian rivals.
Meanwhile, Bettini had suffered mechanical touble and fallen, hurting his knee in the process: he limped in nearly four minutes back, but should start tomorrow. Santiago Perez Fernandez, with memories of Romandie, surged to the front again and forced the pace, but as they reached the top of the climb before the right hand turn to the finish line he was overtaken as Casagrande once again upped the odds. Garzelli, beaten by teammate Bettini last time here kept cool and kept Casagrande's wheel within striking distance. With 500 metres to the line, he launched his own sprint to steal a memorable victory.
So a memorable victory for Garzelli, who said after the race: "It is really only important to wear the Pink jersey in Milan, However it is beautiful to win a stage such as this and lead the race weven if it is only by a few seconds. It's good for morale. This is not like 2000 when I was not too well known. It will be a harder race."
Fans of Tyler Hamilton will be pleased at his good form on the final climb, while Coast supporters will be thinking Pink. Fabrizio Guidi, who won the bonus time today had a good ride and is now just 13 seconds off the overall. With time bonuses tomorrow and a likely sprint finish, Coast will be hoping their man can capture both the stage and the jersey tomorrow, which may well help out Garzelli too!
1 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step 5.25.12 (38.560 km/h)
2 Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Fassa Bortolo
3 Jens Heppner (Ger) Team Telekom
4 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner
5 Tyler Hamilton (USA) Team CSC Tiscali
6 Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank
7 Rik Verbrugghe (Bel) Lotto-Adecco
8 Cadel Evans (Aus) Mapei-Quick Step 0.03
9 Mykhaylo Khalilov (Ukr) Colombia-Selle Italia
10 J. Carlos Dominguez (Spa) Phonak Hearing Systems
11 Fabrizio Guidi (Ita) Team Coast
12 Dario Frigo (Ita) Tacconi Sport-Emmegi
13 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Acqua & Sapone-Cantina Tollo
14 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Alessio
15 Andrea Noe' (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step
16 Daniele De Paoli (Ita) Alessio
17 Serhiy Honchar (Ukr) Fassa Bortolo
18 Uros Murn (Slo) Formaggi-Trentini
19 Matthias Kessler (Ger) Team Telekom
20 Fernando Escartin (Spa) Team Coast
21 Santiago Perez Fernandez (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca
22 Grischa Niermann (Ger) Rabobank
General classification after stage 2
1 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step 11.10.45
2 Fabrizio Guidi (Ita) Team Coast 0.13
3 Rik Verbrugghe (Bel) Lotto-Adecco 0.19
4 J. Carlos Dominguez (Spa) Phonak Hearing Systems 0.21
5 Matthias Kessler (Ger) Team Telekom 0.27
6 Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 0.31
7 Mykhaylo Khalilov (Ukr) Colombia-Selle Italia 0.33
8 Matthias Buxhofer (Aut) Phonak Hearing Systems 0.34
9 Cadel Evans (Aus) Mapei-Quick Step 0.37
10 Dario Frigo (Ita) Tacconi Sport-Emmegi 0.41
11 Andrea Noe' (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step 0.43
12 Grischa Niermann (Ger) Rabobank 0.44
13 Daniele De Paoli (Ita) Alessio 0.45
14 Serhiy Honchar (Ukr) Fassa Bortolo 0.47
15 Wladimir Belli (Ita) Fassa Bortolo
16 Isaac Galvez Lopez (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca 0.48
17 Cristian Moreni (Ita) Alessio
18 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 0.50
19 Tyler Hamilton (USA) Team CSC Tiscali 0.52
20 Fernando Escartin (Spa) Team Coast
21 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saeco-Longoni Sport
22 Danilo Hondo (Ger) Team Telekom 0.53
23 Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank
24 Santiago Perez Fernandez (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca 0.59
25 Oscar Cavagnis (Ita) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago 1.00