The 34th edition of the “Giro d’Italia Dilettanti” stage race, reserved for Under 26 riders and also known as “Baby Giro”, got underway under sunny skies and in very hot (34-35°C) temperatures on Friday. The contest, one of the top events in the international cycling scene for the amateurs, gives the wannabe cycling stars of the (near) future a unique opportunity to show off their skills and made their names known to a broader audience.
And even if the winners list doesn’t feature the likes of Damiano Cunego and Yaroslav Popovych (who, due to their young age, could still take part in the race if they hadn’t turned professional some time ago …), it can always boast names like Francesco Moser (who stormed to overall victory in the year 1971), Francesco Casagrande (1991), Marco Pantani (1992), Gilberto Simoni (1993) and Danilo Di Luca (1998), among others. Although the last edition of the “Baby Giro” was won by a relatively unknown cyclist, Dainus Kairelis of Lithuania, coached by former professional Gianluca Pianegonda. The Baltic rider is attending this year’s contest too, and with no lesser goal than repeating his overall win.
The 2004 edition of the “Baby Giro” features all top Italian teams, but is also very “international”, with squads from Australia, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Morocco, France and the Netherlands. So if it’s the next McEwen or Pérez Cuapio the one you are looking for, there’s some chances that you can find him there. As for the route, it covers a total distance of about 1404.7 km, with five stages that suit the sprinters, but also a 20-km. ITT in Fabriano, and two mountain top finishes: the first one at Lozio, near Brescia, on Tuesday, June 15, and the second at the well-known Terminillo climb of Central Italy, coming in the penultimate, deciding stage of the event, on Saturday, June 20. The U26 Giro d’Italia is set to end the following day with an easy, ceremonial stage into Rieti.
The race opener, taking place over a predominantly flat route, kicked off at the Mirabilandia “Luna Park”, on the outskirts of Ravenna, and finished 120 kms later into the Adriatic seaside resort of Marina di Ravenna, in the Romagna area of North-eastern Italy. It consisted of a first half of about 80 kms., followed by five laps of an 8-km. finishing circuit in the streets of Marina di Ravenna, with the finish line at the Viale delle Nazioni seafront.
First stage winner and overall leader of the 34th "Baby Giro" was Italy’s Marco Bertoletti, riding with the Veneto-based Marchiol Famila Site outfit, and younger brother of professional rider Simone Bertoletti of Lampre. The 24-year-old from Mantua, coached by the same Mr. Pianegonda, won a bunch sprint from a group of 23 riders, that formed early into the stage. Bertoletti came around Austrian hopeful Harald Starzengruber in the very last metres, and denied the UC Trevigiani fastman a success he was about to celebrate. Italy’s Alessio Signego (recent winner of a Piedmontese race) completed the stage podium.
Eight riders (six Italians, one Brazilian and Starzengruber) rode clear of the bunch around the km. 30 mark, and were subsequently joined by fifteen more escapees, belonging to close to all competing teams. The breakaway group, which contained also Trofeo Bazzigaluppi’s champion Maurizio Biondo of the Pagnoncelli team, last year’s Maglia Rosa holder -for a few days- Nicola Del Puppo, two guys of the Holland-based Team Moser AH.NL, super-active Domenico Quagliarello (Futura Team Matricardi) and one of the main overall contenders, Davide Tortella of Zalf Desirée Fior (the same team both Damiano Cunego and Emanuele Sella was racing for in their amateur years), worked well together and opened a gap of more than three minutes, but as they were approaching the finishing line for the first time, they incredibly went for the wrong direction, and all of a sudden turned into … the chasing group.
There was quite a chaotic moment, but then the race jury made the decision to “neutralize” the stage for a while, and get back to the previous situation, giving back the leadership to the 23-strong group, who was never reeled in since and, after averaging the impressive speed of more than 47 kph, finished well clear of the main peloton, led home by Australian Aaron Kemps, while fellow countryman Peter Dawson was in the break, and took ninth in the stage. Which, at its turn, ended in massive sprint of 23 despite attacks from Italians Del Puppo and Diego Caccia (Bottoli Artoni Zoccorinese) first, and fellow countrymen Quagliarello, Garziera (VC Mantovani), Tortella and Andrea Savoini (VC Bassano 1892-Elca Seca) later, all of which were nullified, with Savoini as the last rider to be brought back.
Needless to say, Marco Bertoletti sounded very satisfied in his first post-race talks with the press, and said that his main goal is keeping the “Maglia Rosa” firmly on his shoulders until Sunday’s stage, that will run on the “home roads” of his team sponsors. Whom he wants to thank for believing in him, and celebrate his race leadership with. But Bertoletti will have to defend his jersey (from Austrian sensation Starzengruber in particular) also in Saturday’s Stage 2, going from Ravenna to Porto Tolle over an almost exclusively flat parcours of 180 kms.
Stage 1 (Mirabilandia-Marina di Ravenna, 121.2 km.): Top 10
1. Marco Bertoletti (Ita - Marchiol Famila Site) - 02h32'34” (47.664 kph)
2. Harald Starzengruber (Aut - UC Trevigiani-Dynamon) - s.t.
3. Alessio Signego (Ita - Promo Ciclo) - s.t.
4. Maurizio Biondo (Ita - Ceramiche Pagnoncelli) - s.t.
5. Davide Tortella (Ita - GS Zalf Desirée Fior) - s.t.
6. Domenico Loria (Ita - Bedogni Natalini Mixed Team) - s.t.
7. Simone Friso (Ita - VC Bassano 1892-Elca Seca) - s.t.
8. Nicola Del Puppo (Ita - GS Promosport) - s.t.
9. Peter Dawson (Aus – Australian Nat. Team) - s.t.
10. Wilfried Marget (Fra - UC Trevigiani-Dynamon) - s.t.