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Giro Teams: Liquigas-Bianchi
By Fabio
Date: 5/6/2005
Giro Teams: Liquigas-Bianchi

Mario Cipollini's retirement announcement was - along with Lance Armstrong's press conference - the biggest news in the pro cycing world over the past few weeks. Those waiting to see Super Mario in action since Saturday, May 07, going for a last win, or even a last Maglia Rosa in the Giro's first stages, will have to settle with watching the man as a kind of "average fan" at Reggio Calabria. But even without their Lion King, Liquigas-Bianchi have got the men, and the legs, to roar over the next three weeks. And with guys like Stefano Garzelli, Danilo Di Luca and Dario David Cioni, plus an accomplished veteran such as Andrea Noé, in their Tour of Italy roster, they are well-entitled to go for big targets.

"Garzo" at the past Giro. He wants to do better this time!
Photo courtesy capture-the-peloton

The team's leader is - on paper at least - Stefano Garzelli. The man from Varese went from being Marco Pantani's #1 domestique in the late 1990s to flying with his own wings in the 2000s. Starting from his overall victory in the Y2K edition of the race. A victory he has never been able to repeat thus far, because of different reasons, among which were a non-negative test during the 2002 Giro and quite a poor form twelve months ago. "Garzo" couldn't place higher than sixth in 2004, even if his stage success in the queen stage of the race, encompassing the legendary Mortirolo, partially made up for his disappointing GC. But if wants to make up compeletely for his 2004 poor showing - on GC terms - the Italian should do one thing only: have a great Giro this time! And it might well happen, although his recent peformances sent mixed signals. Garzelli was a protagonist at the Tour de Romandie this past week, as he often stayed with the best ones on the hills of Switzerland, against the clock and even in some sprints. But when it comes to the overall, the man didn't figure in the top places, because of the poor performance (he finished 32nd, close to five minutes behind the winner) he had in the first hilly stage, won by his rival Damiano Cunego. Garzelli was back with the best ones the very next day, as he snatched fourth at Les Paccots, but showed that he needs be more regular if he wants to be a factor in the Giro d'Italia overall, and a threat to Cunego, Simoni and his fellow Varesino Ivan Basso.

Dario David Cioni in his Fassa days.
Photo by Fabio. Click for larger image

A rider that certainly doesn't lack regularity is Dario David Cioni. The UK-born Tuscan, often speaking Italian with a funny Tusco-British accent, and recently graduated in International Business from the Capezzano Pianore's European School of Economics, an Italian "branch" of the Nottingham Trent University, showed plenty of it over the past season, which saw him made the top five in the Giro, hit the podium at the Tour of Switzerland, and claim the Italian national title against the clock - plus other excellent results. Such accomplishments arguably played their part in the man's decision to switch from Fassa (a team with one undisputed leader, Alessandro Petacchi) to Liquigas, where he can be free to play the role of overall contender in races like this. And even if uncertainty about the man's current form reigns - his only top 10 result thus far in the 2005 season being an eighth place finish in last Sunday's Tour de Romandie final ITT of 20.4k - Dario David Cioni might well become Liquigas' man for the GC, especially if Stefano Garzelli should falter.

Danilo di Luca at the TdF 2003.
Photo courtesy capture-the-peloton

The Liquigas rider whose Giro participation raised more expectations and curiosity is neither Garzelli nor Cioni though, but Danilo di Luca. The blond knight (riding a bike) from Abruzzo staged one of the biggest comebacks in recent months as, after a couple seasons featured by small or no wins, he took three UCI Pro Tour events in less than a month: Tour of the Basque Country (winning one stage and the overall), Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne. Results that - regardless of his LBL no-show - earned the Italian the UCI Pro Tour leader's white jersey, which he'll be wearing at the Giro startline. And which he'll try and honor the best possible way, better if with a stage victory or two in the first half of the race. In pre-Giro interviews Danilo said Sunday's first road stage finishing at Tropea, whose route apparently suits his kills, is one of his main targets, but the man from Spoltore might well be given many a good chances throughout the first week, or the first two weeks. He ruled out any possibilities of being a factor over the mountains of the second half of the race, and in the overall standings in general. Well, this time at least, but maybe in the 2006 edition ...

"Brontolo" Noé with the Alessio jersey at the 2003 Giro.
Will he be able to repeat the great result he had that season?
Photo by Fabio. Click for larger image

Andrea "Brontolo" Noé ("Brontolo" as shortened version of brontolone, Italian for moaner, a nickname he gained courtesy of his frequently moaning attitude - even if sometimes he's only jokingly moaning) is another well-known rider of the Italian team. A rider with a more than decent career, first as super-domestique at Mapei and other teams, and later as well-deserved top finisher in the 2003 Giro, as he took fourth in the Corsa Rosa at the age of 34. Few think that 1969-born "Brontolo" may put in a similar great performance in the upcoming contest, even if he had some good results lately, a top six finish in a Tour of Trentino leg included, but many think the man from the Milanese city of Magenta could well use his epxerience to help his team leaders.

Charly Wegelius busy chatting before the start of the Paris-Nice closing stage.
Photo by Fabio. Click for larger image

Besides Tusco-British Cioni, Liquigas's Giro roster includes "Finno-British" Charles Wegelius, who showed good legs at Tour of Aragon (ended up on the eventual podium) and Giro del Trentino (was top ten finisher in the opening leg) in recent weeks, so why not thinking of Wegelius stamping his authority on at least one Giro d'Italia stage, and/or doing well on the mountains? That's something his teammate Vladimir Miholjevic could be vying for too: the Croat showed off his attacking skills twelve months ago, especially as he launched a solo breakaway that earned him the first place over the top of the "Cima Coppi" (highest mountain in the event), which in that case was the legendary Gavia. And recently showed that his condition is getting better as he got into the final top 15 spots at Tour de Romandie; so that we wouldn't be that surprised at seeing the man from Zagreb rock again, perhaps in this Giro's legendary "mountain monster", the Stelvio.

Patrick Calcagni talks to a Phonak rider in Nice.
Photo by Fabio. Click for larger image

Liquigas' line-up for the Giro is completed by Italians Dario Andriotto (another Varesino in the Corsa Rosa field, and one of the few real gregari remaining. With a ninth place finish in late winter's Clásic de Almería as only top result so far this season, his task will be riding hard in order to help Garzelli and/or Cioni, when on the flats in particular) and Marco Milesi (a tough and experienced Bergamasco, he'll be the team's other über-domestique) as well as Switzerland's Patrick Calcagni.

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