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Below are words and opinions from many of the possible stars of the 88th Giro d’Italia, as well as several protagonists of past editions of Italy’s Grand Tour. All of them attending the presentation at Milano’s Mazda Palace this past Saturday, and all of them with something to say on the route of the next “Corsa Rosa”. And all of them apparently agreeing on one thing at least: it will be a tough, tough race.
Jim Morrison’s huge fan Damiano Cunego, also known as winner of the latest edition of this race, confirmed that he’ll bring a photo mural of his idol with him in the next edition of the event too. And when he was asked his opinion about the 2005 route, as well as the “hot” topic of the rivalry between him and Gilberto Simoni (not in Milan, as he’s currently racing the Tour Down Under) and the leadership inside Lampre-Caffitta, showed that besides his climbing talent, he has got some diplomatic abilities too "With all those ascents, it looks like this Giro is one for the climbers. There’s some possibly selective ascents even in early stages, but the real, tough climbs will come from stage 13. Climbs like Colle di Tenda, that the Giro hits for the first time, and Colle delle Finestre, with its partially graveled roads. We are accustomed to riding on asphalted roads, and rightly so as we are in the 2000s after all, but with that graveled section it will be like getting back to the days of Coppi and Bartali. A very good novelty, that will certainly prove extremely selective. And there’s the Stelvio too …
… Yep, at first glance I can say it’s a nice route, and I do like it. But in the end it’s the road that decides. And with so many strong rivals in the race, from Basso to Garzelli and others, it won’t be easy for me to repeat victory. Simoni? We’ll have to ride as good allies, and if we manage to do that, I think we are going to get some good results, ‘cause we too have a strong team beside us. Who’s gonna be team leader? I think that when at the start line, we’ll share the leadership, and later on -again- it’s the road that will decide”.
On to a pleasant comeback to the roads of the nation: the man pundits picked as the most dangerous threat to Cunego’s second straight victory, Ivan Basso. Perhaps a little less aggressive than the reigning champion when in the saddle, Ivan was more outspoken than his (presumed) main rival in front of the microphones: "I’ll be back to the Giro after five seasons, and three Tours. And I think I’m ready for the challenge. I want to win this race, and I’m going to do anything I can do to get it. The fact Cunego and Simoni are teammates is their problem, not mine. I just want to think about myself, and be at the start line in the best possible condition, then the road will talk”. The TdF 2004 podium finisher, who sounded determined and confident in his overall chances, assuming he finds form, thinks that the race will be wide open until the Turin ITT and the two “surrounding” mountain stages. Damiano and Ivan already clashed this past October at Giro di Lombardia, with the former taking the win. Far from “censoring” his defeat, the Team CSC leader mentioned it again when interviewed by RAI TV after the route presentation, but only to express the hope that the outcome may be different at the Tour of Italy.
Despite breaking his collarbone again just a week earlier Paolo Savoldelli did not skip the Giro presentation, and was at Milan’s Mazda Palace Saturday. A proof of the fact that this race, which the man won in 2002 (when a stage was finishing into Varazze, just like this time) as he edged out Tyler Hamiton, remains his number one goal of the season: "Even if I just fell and broke my collarbone, and I can’t ride at the moment, I’m thinking about the Giro already. And I really want to try and get back in good form”. As a proof of his determination, Il Falco told RAI TV and Gazzetta dello Sport journalists that he’ll be back in the saddle very early, with his first training session on the rollers either today (Sunday) or the very next days, and see how things pan out. He can’t get to touch the handlebar at the moment, of course, but nevertheless sounded confident that in a few days he’ll be able to. As for the parcours itself Savoldelli, speaking with his unmistakeable Bergamasco accent, commented that “it’s a Giro for many. There’s two ITTs, but the second has a climb in the middle, and is not one for the specialists”.
If The Falcon might be pleased to find back Varazze, Stefano Garzelli could say the same thing of Sestriere, the mountain resort that saw him grab the Maglia Rosa in the penultimate stage of the Y2K edition, which he won. “And I hope I can repeat that performance” said the bald-headed Varesino, Adding that “This Giro is a hard one. We’ll have to be careful in the first stages, and ride hard in the Florence ITT, and then there’s the closing week, when the going gets really tough with the stages in the Dolomite mountains first and the Piedmontese Alps later. I have a very strong team, whose goal is to bring home the win. I know it won’t be easy, for many different reasons, but also the fact of being there, battling it out for the victory, would mean a lot to me”. And again “The clash between Ivan Basso and Damiano Cunego, as well as the rivalry between the same Cunego and Simoni, might turn to my advantage, as maybe I’ll start with less pressure on me. But we’d better not rule out other contenders, like the Spaniards, that are going to come here in full force. In any event, I hope we may have a spectacular race, with always more and more fans following the event”.
From some of the top Italian contenders to other likely protagonists, such as Fassa Bortolo’s winning machine Alessandro “AleJet” Petacchi , who accomplished something unprecedented in the post-WWII era (and admittedly unexpected) back in the days of May 2004, as his rivals could have just a back view of him in nine sprints of the ten he contested. Some say that with 10 stages where the fastmen may have something to say, the Ligurian might do even better in 2005. But just like in Cunego’s case, Petacchi will not have a easy time repeating his previous exploits. First of all as, according to AleJet’s own words, there’s only “six-seven sprinter stages really. But also as I’m going to meet stiff opposition from several great riders, and Mario Cipollini among them. If he made the decision to stay in the saddle, it must be because he knows he can still be a factor, and I’d better not underestimate him. So it will hard for me”. Of course, Petacchi added, a new record of ten stage wins would be very welcomed.
Or such as 2002 podium finisher Pietro Caucchioli ”The route is nice. And, in my opinion, a very tough one. Of the kind we used to have 4-5 years ago, with large stages peppered with climbs. Handling the situation will be difficult too, as with few flat stages the sprinter teams are going to take things into their hands a few times only”. Caucchioli, who will be the leader of France’s Crédit Agricole team, also thinks that top overall contenders shouldn’t make the mistake of being in top form too early, but just from the Florence ITT to the Sestriere stage. And he is one of the top contenders, as even if the man is certainly not the main suspect to take the title, Caucchioli has a place on the Milan podium as goal.
If Caucchioli packed his bags and made it to France, Tuscany’s own Michele Scarponi, one of the most promising youngsters in the Italian scene, opted for Spain and the mighty Liberty Seguros, and could lead the Manolo Saiz crew charge come May 7th. Interviewed by Gazzetta dello Sport, Cipollini’s former teammate added his voice to the chorus of riders, former riders, fans and journalists telling how difficult this race is, with all those climbs. And focused on one of them, the previously unknown Colle delle Finestre, and its partially graveled roads “It impressed me even when I saw it first on TV. It will be tough, really tough over there. For everyone. For those at the front, and those back in the bunch”. At least he may take some solace in having a very strong squad “I always liked the way they use to ride, in stage races in particular. And with such a team I have to do anything to try and get the best possible result”.
It will be quite an unusual Giro for Andrea Tafi, back to the Corsa Rosa in an edition whose largest “race of truth” (Stage 8, May 15) gets underway in his hometown Lamporecchio: "A choice that makes me proud” the 1969-born Tuscan said “And I’ll do the best I can in order to have a good race; although, you know, my real target of the season are the Spring Classics”.
After the current stars of the Italian peloton, it’s time to hear something from the past stars. From people like Gianni Bugno, dual world champion (1992 and 1993) and Tour of Italy winner in 1990, when he held the Maglia Rosa from beginning to end: "The parcours is very nice, and very demanding at the same time, in the last stages in particular. It’s definitely a race for the climbers. And we have got many here in Italy”.
His colleague and fellow past World Champion (1988) Maurizio Fondriest: "I think people are looking forward to the clash between Damiano Cunego and Ivan Basso, two young riders representing the future, but also the present times, of Italian cycling. But watch out for Simoni and Garzelli too. They are well over 30, but still able to compete successfully with them”.
A World Champion on the track, and winner of several sprints on the road, Veneto’s own Silvio Martinello said the Dolomites will play host to the major clashes of the race, but also the closing week rides on Piedmontese soil will be decisive. Not just because of the mountains, but also as, in his opinion, the Turin ITT will make significant gaps.
Former pro rider now successful RAI TV commentator Davide Cassani: "The early part of the race is less difficult than in 2004, when we had two uphill finishes in the first half. But riders should be careful since the very first stages, and I think Cunego will go for some early time bonuses, and Basso will have to be careful and stay at the front of the bunch. The final week, with the two very, very difficult Piedmontese mountain stages, the Sestriere stage in particular, will be the real decider of the race. Gotta point out that there’s more kilometres against the clock than in 2004 too”.
Another rider now working for RAI TV is Luigi Sgarbozza (but everyone in Italy knows him just as “Gigi”), a good sprinter of the 1960s. And the man who said “This parcours suits the Italians, and especially those who can climb well. And we have Cunego, Basso, Simoni and Garzelli. But we are going to have many strong foreign riders too. Maybe not Armstrong and Ullrich, but we’ll have Beloki and Vinokourov, that are going to make things harder for our riders. I’m sure it will be a spectacular race”.
After he hung up his wheels Franco Ballerini, whose palmares features also multiple wins at Paris-Roubaix, found a job as coach of the Italian National Team (the well-known Squadra Azzurra). And with such a status, he couldn’t skip the presentation of a race that, as the man admitted, might also be of help to him in his job of finding the right men for the World Champs (even if the Madrid race is set to take place in late September only). These were his comments: "I hope the maglia rosa is going to stay on Italian shoulders. After looking at the route, I pick Cunego as main favorite to take the title. And straight behind him, there’s Garzelli, Simoni and Basso"
As we said before, the Giro finds back the legendary Stelvio, the climb where many great page in the history of Italy’s number one cycling race have been written. Often by great authors like Felice Gimondi. Commenting the 2005 parcours in general, the man that sometimes managed to beat Eddy Merckx (the opposite occurred more frequently) said “The early stages are not as easy as one might think. The course favors the climbers, as also the penultimate ITT has a climb, the Colle di Superga. Also worthy of mention is that we’re going to have the top 19 teams in the world at the start line”.
We end this interviews roundup with another past winner (1984) of the race, Francesco Moser, who also happened to be World Road Champion and world hour record holder. But never a pure sprinter, although regardless of this he started with a comment on the number of sprinter stages which, in his opinion, are “less than ten, ‘cause in some stages the route will break the field apart in the closing kilometres. I think there’s certainly six stages for the fastest wheels, while as for the other stages, much would depend on factors like the condition of the same sprinters, and what happened during the stage. Take the Rovereto leg: that should be one for the sprinters, but has a tough ascent in the first part. And if any team were well-determined to make things harder right from the start, and a breakaway should go away that early, you’d better not take a bunch sprint for granted”. While many were speaking of Stelvio, Sestriere and Colle delle Finestre gravel, Moser said that we shouldn’t underestimate the first hilly stage (stage 11), with the first mountain top finish coming after three more climbs in row, that could prove much selective than expected.