88th Giro d'Italia - Stage Eleven
(Marostica to Zoldo Alto/Dolomiti Stars - 150 km.)
Click for larger images. Courtesy Gazzetta dello Sport.
Hello everyone, and welcome to our live coverage of Stage 11 of the 88th Giro d'Italia, which covers 150 km. and takes (most of) the peloton all the way from "human chess town" Marostica to a place nested in the Dolomites and going under the name of Zoldo Alto. It's the first "real" mountain stage of the 2005 Tour of Italy, and even if there's a lot of uphill riding left before the Giro can make it to Milano, it's a crucial day for us to know who's hot and especially who's not, who may be wearing the Maglia Rosa come Sunday, May 29th, and especially who may be not. It's day for us to know
whether Damiano Cunego and Gilberto Simoni are able to forge a real alliance and work well together to give Ivan Basso - currently the main suspect to win the race after his stunning performance against the clock - and Paolo Savoldelli a very hard time, and whether both the Team CSC and Discovery Channel team leaders can do well when the road tilts upwards, as much as they did in the so-called "race of the truth". And the day for us to know which targets the Liquigas boys (Stefano Garzelli, Dario David Cioni, but also Danilo Di Luca, still with the overall leader's mantle on his shoulders at the startline) can go for in this race. But it may also be the day for us to get more acquainted with the names of José Rujano and Koldo Gil (both continuing their battle for the Green Jersey and the King of the Mountain crown) and/or other tiny mountain goats - usually from Spanish-speaking countries - not in contention for the overall but going for a day of glory on the hills of north-eastern Italy.
More details about the stage and its parcours can be found in the following preview, taken from our Giro d'Italia 2005 Route special report, which we posted as the race course was unveiled in late January.
Stage 11 (Thursday - May 19, 2005)
Marostica to Zoldo Alto/Dolomiti Stars (150 km)
Or the Mountain Man Festival, Part 1. The Reggio Calabria lungomare, the small hills of Parco dell'Abruzzo, the streets of Florence, the plains around Rossano Veneto … all of them are a thing of the past. This is the stage the "real" Giro gets underway, the first of several (on theory) spectacular rides that are going to determine the final outcome of the event. Just like it happened twelve months before, when Yaroslav Popovych hit the Dolomites with the overall leader's mantle on his shoulders, but came down with all of his overall hopes destroyed, those climbs are likely to become a deciding factor in the race. And if uphill riding is what you need, the parcours is not going to disappoint you today, with the last 60 km. peppered with ascents - and descents, and with the first mountain top finish in the race.
Riders line up for the start at Marostica's Piazza degli Scacchi (see pic above), well-known nationwide (and abroad) for the human chess game, dating back to 1454 AD, played every second Friday, Saturday and Sunday of September of the even years (there's a typical all-medieval tale behind the game, and you can find all the details here, here and here). But it's just May now, and the Giro d'Italia
pawns are here to play a different game. Some of them might play the "early breakaway" game (with few or no chances to
succeed though) in the first, relatively flat (in spite of La Rosina climb in the opening kilometres) half. After the downhill into Bassano del Grappa, the Giro steps into the Trentino-Alto Adige region, home to dozens of epic mountain stages throughout the race history, but the route is initially flat or goes steadily but slightly uphill.
. Photo from a human chess match dating back to the days of 1923.
There's a lady, the magnificent Lionora, behind the first human chess match
played at Marostica. Women rule the world, don't they?
Picture courtesy Comune di Marostica.
At least until the peloton reaches the town of Fiera di Primiero, making its appearance for the umpteenth time in the race history, and meets the first real tough ascent of the day, Passo di Cereda, an 8.4-km. difficulty whose average gradient is no less than 7.8%, with the maximum gradient up to about 15%, although for some 100 metres only. From km. 2 to km. 3.5 of the climb, the gradient is constantly above 11% anyway. And even if there's tons of uphill riding to come, that's where we can start to know if any of the favourites is not going to win the Giro.
And that's just the beginning, ‘cause a few kilometres later, after the descent into Gosaldo takes us back to the Belluno province of Veneto, the peloton hits the second ascent of the stage, the relatively easier (3.6 km. of climbing at an average gradient of 5%, 1299m ASL) Forcella Aurine (some pictures available here). But that's half of the effort only: after the following descent into Agordo (detailed profile in the links below), where some riders previously dropped should make contact with the front group again, there's the third and penultimate uphill thingy of the day, the tough (as the name itself suggests:
duro = Italian word for "hard, tough") Passo Duran, a climb of nearly 13 kilometres averaging a gradient of 7.62% according to the Gazzetta website (the difference in altitude is a little less than 1000m), but up to a maximum gradient of about 13.5% in some points, and the highest mountain (1601m ASL) thus far in the race. A climb that really has the potential to break the field (better, what is left of that) apart.
Zoldo as winter wonderland. Hopefully it won't be that white come May 19.
courtesy Zoldo online
After cresting this climb, the peloton can't afford to contemplate the wonderful landscapes (whereas if you can, all you gotta do is click on this link and this one too), because they have to go downhill and get to the town of Dont (downhill details in the profile below), eight-and-something kilometres later. But … Dont even think it's over: the fireworks are about to light up the Giro sky again on the 8-km. ascent (the average gradient? 7.3%) to the line, situated at an altitude of
1514m ASL, in a place called Zoldo Alto, a small town of some 1,200 inhabitants hosting a Giro stage finish - and possibly also hit by the race - for the first time. The "clash of giants" should start - or have its deciding moments - here.
This short but difficult first crucial stage is likely to see the first all-out battle of mountain men and GC threats, and although it provides no certainty of having a solo winner over the line, and the gaps among the top contenders shouldn't be that wide, the mountain goats are supposed to make some significant gains in the overall, and the leaderboard is supposed to get closer to its eventual version; plus, this stage has the potential to put some presumed big guns out of contention so early in the race. And with
more mountain monsters looming ahead, today's efforts are more than likely to take their tolls on the legs of more than one
Detailed profiles of most of today's ascents (and descents)
Live updates from the race
1300 CEST: The action got underway at 12h50 local time (Central European Summer Time / CEST ). All riders who finished yesterday's flat stage took the start, the Lotto-Davitamons and Saunier Duvals included. As you may know, the Giro d'Italia wouldn't be the same without the NAS (often referred to as Police. But that's on an oversimplification, the Nuclei Anti-Sofisticazione being the anti-drug branch of the Carabinieri, that are both a military and a police corps, bearing some resemblances to France's Gendarmerie and Spain's Guardia Civil) conducting raids on the team hotels, better if before challenging mountain stages.
And that's what actually took place - obviously - in the afternoon yesterday, as the NAS paid their own tribute to McEwen's third stage win by raiding a hotel hosting Davitamon-Lotto at Sandrigo, and seizing a hyperbaric tent reportedly found in the team's rooms. Hyperbaric tents are currently not illegal under International Cycling Union and World Anti-Doping Agency rules (even though there's a discussion ongoing at the UCI, with someone wishing them to be declared illegal) and in many other countries - the same UCI just issued a communiqué expressing their solidarity to the teams involved, and the wish those raids may lead to concrete reults, and are not just a kind of "photo-op" - but the pressurized oxygen chamber could infringe local anti-doping rules, which forbid a wider range of performance-enhancing methods. So that all riders reportedly using them are likely to be investigated. Robbie McEwen himself said he didn't use such hyperbaric tents anyway, but admitted that some of his teammates did. Some medicines were also seized from hotel rooms of the Saunier Duval team, and the medici of both teams, Lotto's Daniel De Neve and Saunier Duval's Maria Sagasti, were questioned by the Carabinieri.
But the Giro didn't stop, and as we are here for the live ticker of a cycling race, for talking of pure action on a bike, and not "police" raids, we're not going to talk of (presumed) doping offences anymore in this article, unless we get very significant updates as the race is in progress.
Marostica's Piazza degli Scacchi minutes before the stage start.
courtesy Marostica Scacchi.
So the race kicked off 50-55 minutes after midday, and it got off to a fast start, mainly courtesy of Luxembourgian Benoit Joachim of Discovery Channel, one of Lance Armstrong's top lieutenants, who launched the first attack of the day after three kilometres, and is currently still away.
1325 CEST - Discovery's Benoit Joachim quickly built a lead of more than a minute over the (Lampre-led) bunch, and extended it to 04'50" by km. 18.
1330 CEST - Three Lampre guys are setting the pace at the front of the bunch, riding along the Brenta river. Their "chasing work" (so to speak) is starting to bear some fruit, as their gap to current leader Joachim went down to 04'18".
1340 CEST - The Lampres chasing machine, driven by their flatlanders Szmyd, Stangelj, Sabaliauskas and Fornaciari, apparently has no intention to let Savoldelli's Luxembourgian teammate (that could well be of help to Il Falco should the Italian make a move late in the stage) take too much of an advantage, and brought the gap down to about three minutes.
1345 CEST - While the gap started growing again (it's currently up to some 03'40") Danilo Di Luca is riding comfortably inside the bunch. Talking to RAI TV before the stage start, the GC leader said he's fine and his legs are still good, so that he may have a go at keeping the jersey one more day at least. As a further sign of his motivation, the Liquigas rider tested a special, lighter bike for today's stage. Should the man from Spoltore succeed, he would just add another gem to an already sensational Giro. Should he fail, he might well take solace in his sensational first half of the race. And start his build-up for his Tour of Italy 2006 bid, as Di Luca promised he'll be going for the overall when back to the Giro roads twelve months from now.
1350 CEST - With the gap still hovering around 03'30", four Lampres are leading the chase, five Liquigas riders follow, and Maglia Rosa-ed Danilo Di Luca stays on their wheels. The stage got off to a quick start indeed, the average speed currently being a more than excellent 42.081 kph.
1355 CEST - Di Luca's closest pursuer - on overall terms - is the Team CSC leader, who's trailing Danilo by just nine seconds on GC. Ivan was briefly interviewed before the start, and said that today's stage is a key stage for sure, a short, but definitely tough one. He's serene, and hopes everything goes right today. He promised he'll do his best, but also expects the likes of Gilberto Simoni to have a great ride today and give him a serious challenge.
Just to remind you, the Top 10 places overall after Wednesday's stage are as follows ...
1. Danilo Di Luca (Ita) - 44h51'40"
2. Ivan Basso (Ita) - at 09"
3. Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) - at 35"
4. Damiano Cunego (Ita) - at 01'15"
5. Dario David Cioni (Ita) - at 01'27"
6. Stefano Garzelli (Ita) - at 01'35"
7. Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) - at 01'38"
8. Serhyi Honchar (Ukr) - at 01'39"
9. Marcus Fothen (Ger) - at 02'10"
10. Gilberto Simoni (Ita) - at 02'11"
1405 CEST - About 36 km. into the stage, breakaway man Benoit Joachim (Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team) hit the first ascent of the day, the uncategorized Scale di Primolano. His lead over the Lampre-led pack is "down" to 03'15".
The pace stays high, and the average speed after an hour of racing on the roads of northern Italy excellent: 40.700 kph.
1420 CEST - 50 km. covered already, and twice as many kilometres to go. Things stay the same, with talented TTist Benoit Joachim leading the pack (led by the Lampres, but with also riders from Team CSC and Quick Step seen up front over the last minutes) by about 03'15".
1430 CEST - The status quo has been broken at last: finally someone rode away from the peloton and started his own chase of the leader. And as some of you may have guessed, someone is from the super-attacking team Selle Italia-Colombia. Waiting for the likes of José Rujano to show off their skills on the highest mountains, the most combative squad in the race got Leonardo Scarselli on the attack.
In the meantime, Benoit Joachim won the Intergiro at Fonzaso (km. 59), averaging a speed of 43.190 km/h, with Paolo Bettini taking second 03'51" behind, and third place getter Sven Krauss (Ger - Gerolsteiner) strengthening his grip on the Maglia Azzurra (Sky Blue Jersey) reserved for the leader of this "lesser" classification.
1440 CEST - New time gap update: Benoit Joachim leads the pack by a good 04'40" now, with Selle Italia's Leonardo Scarselli still in between, trailing the Discovery rider by 02'40" at km. 68 (e.g. with 82 km. to go)
1450 CEST - Next time gap udpate: as the halfway point of the stage is getting closer and closer, Leonardo Scarselli cut the gap to Benoit Joachim down to 02'10", while the peloton is a further two minutes adrift.
1500 CEST - Riders met some very alpine landscapes while the race hit the halfaway point, with Scarselli 02'15" down to Joachim. They are on the way to the feeding zone at Fiera di Primiero; the Italian further shrank the gap to 01'35", while the Lampre-led bunch is still 04'00" back. The average speed came down a bit instead, and is currently under 40 kph (more precisely 39.500 kph after two hours of racing).
And the sun is still high over the roads of the Trentino-Alto Adige region, which the Giro entered a few minutes ago.
1507 CEST - Benoit Joachim is struggling on the first slopes of the 8-km. Passo Cereda, the first "real" ascent of the stage. His pace is not exactly that of a pure climber. He's pushing a 39x21, but not going very fast.
The man can still boast an advantage of about 01'30" over Scarselli (not a great clinber either), while the Lampres are keeping a high pace as they hit the Cereda's first slopes too. Their gap stays around four minutes, but is likely to come down exponentially over the next kilometres.
1510 CEST - Five km to the top of the ascent for current leader Benoit Joachim, who has been away for 85 km. so far.
Unpleasant news for the T-Mobile Team, as Daniele Nardello added his name to the list of riders out of the race. Once a more than excellent rider, the Italian has never been a factor in this Giro, and is having a hard time finding back his ancient form.
Plus, Nardello had problems after he hit his back as he was involved in a pile-up during the stage finishing at L'Aquila. Problems he couldn't overcome, and which forced him out of the race 75 km. into today's leg.
1516 CEST - Gap update!!! Joachim is leading Scarselli by 01'22". And the peloton? Well, just wait for the next update, folks!
1519 CEST - Ok, here it is, folks. The Gruppo Maglia Rosa is riding hard now. Or at least harder the the two leaders, as they cut the gap to Joachim down to 02'35", and are just about a minute and a dozen seconds down to Scarselli.
1523 CEST - Joachim, Tuscany's own Scarselli and the Gruppo Maglia Rosa (down to 80 riders or so) are on the Cereda switchbacks. Rujano attacks!
The little big climber from Venezuela fired away from the bunch 2km. from the top of the climb, easily passed Scarselli and is targeting Joachim.
Rujano is a man on a mission: recapturing the Green Jersey, which is Selle Italia's main target in this race.
In the meantime, the pace set by the Lampres thinned down the peloton to 50-60 riders, while sprinters like Baldato and others already lost contact.
1528 CEST - Joachim (first) and Rujano (second, unfortunately for him) already got to the top of the ascent. The Venezuelan and the Luxembourgian regrouped in the first metres of the descent.
Frenchman Patrick Halgand of Credit Agricole led home the bunch at 45", and took the remining point on stake there, while Spain's Koldo Gil didn't get higher than fifth.
But thanks to Benoit Joachim preventing Rujano from taking the first spot at the KOM Prime, the Liberty Seguros boy held onto the KOM classification lead (for the moment at least).
1533 CEST - Benoit Joachim rode away from Rujano on the descent, and just got back into the Veneto region. Back in the peloton, it's still the Lampres that set the pace! 50 km. to go, and some good news for Joseba Beloki, who is still with the best ones. He's seemingly finding back some good legs.
1537 CEST - Rujano (first) and Joachim (later) have been brought back, so it's Gruppo Compatto now!
The Discovery Channel rider has been away for close to 100 km., but now it's the Lampres in control of things, while Julio Alberto Pérez Cuapio is off the back of the peloton, trying to pace Luca Mazzanti (who just had a flat) back into the bunch; the Mexican is not aiming for stage victory today.
Bettini gives Moreni a hand sling, then turns and raises his hand to call up the team car. Bettini had let the gap open up to the rider in front, and didn't want to leave his teammate in the lurch. Bettini is still in the back of the group, looking over his shoulder for his team car. While the last man in the bunch is Liberty Seguros' Czech Rene Andrlé.
1543 CEST - The race hit the Forcella Aurina ascent, with the Lampres riding a high tempo, as usual, and Danilo Di Luca following their wheels. And after having a flat, Luca Mazzanti has some saddle problems now!
The climb is not that steep now, so that some riders could regain the wheels of the strung out peloton: Marius Sabaliauskas continues to drive the bunhch; the Lithuanian is doing a helluva job today.
Rujano attacks again, with Patrice Halgand on his wheels. The two guys are going for the KOM points. Halgand wins the sprint at the top of the (easy) ascent, and José Rujano takes second again.
The Frenchman picked up three points, the Selle Italia got two, and Sabaliausksas drove the bunch to the summit to take the other point.
Rujano's point gains put him at the top of the classification, with the same score (21) as Koldo Gol. Expect this classification to undergo further modifications today, anyway.
1550 CEST - Just like in the previous ascent, José Rujano was pulled back into the bunch right after the KOM Prime (and after having his mission accomplished), while Patrice Halgand is still away, currently leading the peloton by a mere sixteen seconds.
1553 CEST - Four Lampres driving the bunch in the descent into Agordo, with Danilo Di Luca in fifth place, right on their wheels. Meanwhile, Jan Schaffrath (T-Mobile) is back at his team car, stuffing his shirt with food and extra bottles for a teammate. Still a long way to go until the finish, so they'll need the fuel.
1555 CEST - Both Halgand and the peloton are flying on the descent, riding at up to 90 kp/h, while Luca Mazzanti is having some problems again! He had a flat to his front wheel this time!
1556 CEST - And the Frenchmen increased his lead to a good 25".
A man with mounting climbing cables teaches his young daughter how to climb up a small face of rock near the finish line. Some of the riders will probably feel like they could use those cables and a partner to help pull them up these last to mountains.
1600 CEST - Gap update: Halgand is leading the bunch by 28" as the man reaches the town of Agordo (30k from the line).
And right at the end of the descent at Agordo... there's the start of the next ascent, the toughest climb of the day, leading up to Passo Duran. Where we may expect either Simoni or Cunego to make a move, after all the work done by the Lampres thus far.
1604 CEST - Here we go. The 13-km. Passo Duran has just begun! Halgand tackles the climb with a lead of 38" over the bunch, but he's going to lose it soon.
The average gradient of this climb is 7.7%, but the maximum gradient is up to 14%. The first 3-4 km. are relatively easy, but things get tougher around the halfway point.
Halgand is pushing a 39x21 already; he keeps a lead of a half a minute anyway, while Ete Zabel is struggling off the back of the bunch.
1607 CEST - 11km. to the top of the climb for Halgand. The peloton (with Ivan Basso and a few Panarias in the top places too) cut down the gap to 19".
Pinotti, Lombardi, CSC's Luttenberger and other guys are starting to lose contact.
Lampre's flatlanders Szmyd and Stangelj also lost contact, after having their job done. But just to leave room for other teammates like Vila and Tonti, who are now forcing the pace. While Paolo Bettini is also among those struggling to stay with the best ones. Moreni looks done at the back too. The peloton is fractured into countless pieces now.
Wow, Tonti is really setting a mean pace for the Lampres at the front. GILBERTO SIMONI ATTACKS!!
4 km. into the ascent, Gibo made the move many were waiting for - Ivan Basso immediately countered his move, and so did the other top contenders - Savoldelli and Di Luca are after him. All but DAMIANO CUNEGO!! Yes, folks. The big news so far is that Cunego lost about 100 metres to the other top riders. Cunego is a small group, with Tonti trying to pace him back into the main bunch, but he's NOT riding well at all.
Even Paolo Tiralongo is climbing better than Cunego at the moment.
1615 CEST - Damiano didn't lose contact to 4-5 riders only, but to another 25-30 riders. And with so much uphill riding to go today, this is not a good sign at all. Also, Garzelli lost contact to the first bunch.
Charlie Wegelius is trying to help Garzelli, but the Liquigas leader is not riding well either. While Gibo, Di Luca, Savoldelli and Scarponi are still firmly in the first bunch.
Di Luca was able to respond to the attack immediately. Seems like he's the strongest on Liquigas after all. The Maglia Rosa holder continues to show great legs, indeed. Basso is with the best ones too, of course.
Also Atienza, Rujano, Caucchioli, Halgand, Ardila Cano, Gontchar, Samuel Sanchez, Karpets, Baranowski, Cioni and T-Mobile's Kessler are part of the front group. But some of them may lose contact soon.
Whoa, a Panaria rider falls! It was Sella, looks like. Nothing serious, just a quick tumble... he was immediately back up and climbing. Never seen somebody fall like that on a climb before.
Simoni doesn't know what to do, after Cunego unexpectedely got into trouble today.
1621 CEST - Basso moves to the front and forces the pace. Di Luca and Il Falco are on his wheels. Cioni and Gontchar are struggling now.
Basso still riding tempo up front, then comes Di Luca, then Savoldelli. Vladimir "Shag" Karpets (Illes Balears), who was the best young rider in last year's Tour de France, is quietly having a very good race. He had a strong time trial, and is now going well with the big boys in the mountains. At least so far.
Basso speeds up the pace again. But Di Luca and Savoldelli are up to the challenge. The top 3 riders on the overall are having a great day!
Simoni's in fourth of fifth place, while Ardila Cano and Halgand lost contact. Oy, Cunego is laboring. He does not look good at all. That pedaling style is not one of a man with good legs. Cunego is 50" down on Basso. Who attacks again!
1624 CEST - Basso, then Simoni, Il Falco, and Di Luca down to fourth place in the leading bunch. Cofidis' Atiezna holds on. Basso is riding smooth as you like... he looks effortless on these climbs. Kind of annoying, actually. I look worse just riding in my driveway. Ivan Basso is riding like a real boss indeed. His last attack claimed victims like Scarponi and Rujano.
1627 CEST - 4 kilometers to the top of the ascent, half of which are very tough, the last two are much easier. Just three guys able to stay with Basso: Di Luca, Simoni and Savoldelli. But also José Rujano regained their wheels!!
Caucchioli is 15" down. Cunego is a minute behind.
Savoldelli is letting a little gap open, but now closes it. Looks like the big four are separating themselves for good. Four men for three podium spots, eh?
Savoldelli is unable to hold the tempo set by the others, and is caught by Rujano, while Basso and Simoni took a dozen meters out of Di Luca. Then, a dozen metres later, you can find Savoldelli and Rujano. Rujano is a freaking menace on the mountains... I love that kid!
Cioni is a minute down. While Cunego's gap ballooned to 01'54". And Garzelli's to 02'09". 3K to the top of the ascent for the two leaders, Di Luca is 14" behind. And is being caught by Rujano and Il Falco.
Savoldelli, of course, is reknowned for his descending, so he'll likely have no problem bridging gaps over the top. But Cunego is a disaster today: his gap went above the two minute mark!
1631 CEST - Savoldelli and Rujano dropped Di Luca! The Maglia Rosa wearer lost a few metres to the Venezuelan and Il Falco.
Di Luca gets some strong support from the fans on the road, some of whom wear pink and act like they are off the meds, but in a good way. Maybe he made a mistake by wishing to stay with Basso and Gibo at any cost, and is paying for that now.
Also Caucchioli and Atienza are getting closer to Danilo. Basso and Simoni in the lead, Savoldelli and Rujano at 15", Di Luca at 20". But Danilo is a true fighter. He's struggling to regin Rujano and Savoldelli's wheels. What a man! What a grinta! DI LUCA RE-JOINS IL FALCO!!
1636 CEST - 1K to the top of the climb for Basso and Simoni. Unfortunately Cunego is not a factor in it, as the 2004 winner is currently trailing by three minutes. Di Luca struggling again off the back of the five-man bunch.
The five guys reached the top of the Duran Pass.
1639 CEST - Then come Caucchioli and Atienza, 57" behind, while Scarponi lost plenty of time in the last part of the climb. Atienza and Caucchioli go through the GPM 57" down. Paolo Bettini is still toiling on this Pass, four minutes adrift.
1640 CEST - The five leaders are flying on the descent, and as expected, it's Paolo Savoldelli that leads now. Cunego still has to get to the top instead. Il Falco and Gibo take a few metres out of the others on the descent. A small group which included Karpets and Garzelli crossed at 2'15". With the peloton, including Cunego being nursed by teammate Andrea Tonti, at 3'17".
Meanwhile, IL FALCO IS FLYYYYYYYYING on the descent, he put time into all the others!
Yep, the Falcon is leading Gibo, Basso, Di Luca by more than 15"!! Quite amazing by Savoldelli; many people forget that it's not all about the climbing ability that counts, though he still has that in abundance. Simoni had a go at following him, but realized he was taking too many risks, and decided to slow down and wait for Basso and Di Luca.
At the other end of the scale, there's Rujano who has lost that trio - not a surprise at all, considering his stature and weight.
1645 CEST - Savoldelli got to the end of the descent at Dont ...and the start of the final ascent to the line! Il Falco is leading the three chasers by 20". He's clearly been taking hints from Armstrong, with those glasses concealing his eyes and the bland facial expression. 9km left.
Zoldo Alto is 8.7km long at an average of 6.9% - it is steepest at the bottom, hitting a nasty 11% gradient as the descent peters out.
Man, Savoldelli hits every curve just perfectly, nails the apex, and doesn't lose his pace. Awesome. Basso leads the chasing trio, with Simoni in second and Di Luca in third. Di Luca gets dropped! You have to feel for the maglia rosa, who is giving it so much to defend his jersey.
And also Gibo has a hard time staying with the CSC leader - Basso drops Gibo too! He's about to pick up Savoldelli.
Il Falco lost half of his lead in the every first slopes of the ascent to Zoldo Alto, while Rujano is currently 35" down. And Cunego still trailing by three minutes or more. Simoni starts to get out of the saddle to bring down his small deficit to Basso.
Simoni's a great fighter, and desperately trying to limit his losses to Ivan. The Team CSC leader is flying.
1650 CEST - So it's Savoldelli in the lead, Basso a few metres behind, and Gibo a few more metres back.
1651 CEST - Basso caught Savoldelli. Savoldelli peers back, into the focused stare of Basso. Gibo is unable to catch them though - with just metres to make up to Savoldelli's wheel, Simoni is really having to work to make the junction. The Cunego/Garzelli group is about four minutes down, while Sella, Gontchar and others are just 01'50" behind.
1653 CEST - Gibo caught them!! Di Luca lost more seconds to Basso, Simoni and Savoldelli instead. Interesting... the 2002 and 2003 champs are riding strong, and the 2000 and 2004 champs are out of it today.
1654 CEST - 6k to go, and we a have a trio in the lead: Ivan Basso, Gilberto Simoni and Paolo Savoldelli. Di Luca is 25 seconds down, Rujano a further 30" back.
A very gutsy ride from the tiny Venezuelan - another climbing star from a geographical minority at the Giro, after the success of Perez Cuapio in 2001 and 2002.
1655 CEST - 5k to go for the leading trio. Basso once more riding tempo.
1657 CEST - Simoni and Basso taking turns, Savoldelli in third. Rujano is a minute down, while the group with Sella and Scarponi is trailing the leaders by about two minutes.
I must say, I'm very impressed by Di Luca's ride today. He's shown a lot of heart, and is riding strong at his own pace.
Di Luca looks down at his chainset in search of salvation, but it's not going to get any easier. The cameras just focused on him wiping away something from his eye - probably stinging sweat rather than tears, as he looked quite together (well, as together as anyone can be in climbing a big mountain on a bicycle).
1658 CEST - 4k to go, Basso forcing the pace again, Il Falco follows him. Gibo loses a few metres.
Di Luca's gap up to 37". Basso and Savoldelli have built a significant gap on Simoni.
Is Gibo waving white flag? Arguably so. This stage is a two-man affair now. At any rate, Simoni has faded badly behind Basso and Savoldelli, and will need to find some rhythm in his cadence to limit the damage.
1703 CEST - 3k to go. Riders on a flatter section now, but still it will be hard for Gibo to regain Basso's and Savoldelli's wheels. Also because the two leaders are working well together. Savoldelli is taking his turns setting the pace with Basso. Impressive.
The Lampre-Caffita leader is already 10 seconds down, with Di Luca, riding on reserves of spirit and passion, is 37 seconds behind the two in front.
Simoni's gap to Basso and Savoldelli up to 13". Di Luca is 45" down. Like last year's Tour... Basso vs. one of the boys in blue...
1705 CEST - Basso and Savoldelli are about 2k away from the finishing line. Basso leads past the sign. Barring a total collapse, it looks like Basso will take his first ever maglia rosa no matter who wins the stage; he leads Savoldelli by 26 seconds overall.
Rounding a snaky hairpin, Simoni is 13" down while Di Luca looks to be capitulating somewhat, 53" behind - who can blame him though?
Atienza caught Rujano; both guys are 01'40" behind the leaders, and a dozen seconds ahead of Scarponi, Caucchioli, Gontchar and surprisingly, Van Huffel. Interesting... two Italian leaders of non-Italian teams leading... it this a good or bad day for Italian cycling? Basso and Savoldelli pass under the flamme rouge, 1km to go.
Also Gibo and Di Luca entered the last km. The young CSC man is still leading.
Basso and Il Falco get closer to the line...
They're both upping the tempo, out of the saddle.... Watch out for the two-man sprint. Who's gonna win? The last 350m are flat. Here comes the sprint - IL FALCO WINS!! Paolo Savoldelli won the stage from Basso in a close sprint! Gibo comes in third at 21". Then comes Di Luca at about a minute. Daniel Atienza takes fifth at 01'50" .
Di Luca's the man for Liquigas now, Di Luca. Garzelli and Cioni will have to ride for him.
Great ride by Atienza.More riders (among them Gontchar and Cuacchioli) coming at two minutes. Ardila, Sella and others cross the line. And so do Bruseghin and young neopro Pozzovivo. Tour de l'Avenir podium finisher Christophe le Mevel was up there too, 2'45" down finishing in front of Sella; nice ride as well.
1711 CEST - It was a REAL sprint anyway, Basso didn't concede anything to Savoldelli. Both riders went for the honors, and Paolo took a well-earned stage victory, while Ivan took the Maglia Rosa. His first Maglia Rosa.
Here comes the Cunego Group, six minutes behind the winner. Yes, looks like the dutiful worker Tonti was leading it in, Cunego looked crestfallen. Bettini came in about half a minute after Damiano. This won't be much of a problem for Il Grillo, but today's stage was a total disaster for the 2004 winner.
He bonked in a way nobody expected him too. Indeed, though 2000 winner Garzelli also lost in excess of six minutes. Good thing Cunego has so many years of butt kicking still ahead of him. He'll learn from this.
Oy, Savoldelli asks the model for help with the champagne. They all shrug... he can't get it open! Too tired from the pulling on the handlebars, maybe. And Basso looks good in pink. But he can't get the champagne to pop either. Maybe it's the cold at the top of the mountain? Maybe that could be Cipo's new role in the sport: coaching climbers on how to open champagne bottles. Or maybe he could step in to pop the corks himself when the climbers struggle.
And José Rujano gets proper reward for all of today's efforst: the MAGLIA VERDE! He's leading Koldo Gil by 10 points (31 to 21) in the mountains classification. Well earned, that. Looks like the kid lost in the Amazon jungle up there with those models, though.
A good day for Discovery Channel, by the way - while veteran Piepoli took Stage 4 in Catalunya, Popovych was second. Michael Rogers was fourth. Brief results coming up.
Some climbers roll across the finish line, thinking "where was this flat road the rest of the stage?" A few of them have that blitzed, WTF? look on their faces.
Interesting how the ProTour might lead to the Giro getting the level of respect it actually finally - this is one helluva race. On that note, Di Luca will at least be partly comforted by replacing pink for white tomorrow. JML won't like it, but oh well. Only a stylish Italian can make that White Jersey look good. Imagine how bad someone like Dierckxsens would look in that thing.
Wow, over 28 minutes since the finish and we are still waiting for riders to come in. This was a brutal stage...
Okay, here comes the gruppetto now - at 32'03". McEwen and Krauss have finished the stage at last. Robbie, looking like he'd rather be sitting at home waiting for the Tour de France, pulls on the Points Jersey. Di Luca must be close to him in that competition... yea, only 10 points behind, with Bettini only 4 points behind that.
Top 20 Stage Results
1 Savoldelli Paolo Ita Dsc 4:13:43
2 Basso Ivan Ita Csc 0:00
3 Simoni Gilberto Ita Lam 0:21
4 Di Luca Danilo Ita Liq 1:01
5 Atienza Urendez Daniel Esp Cof 1:50
6 Van Huffel Wim Bel Dvl 2:03
7 Caucchioli Pietro Ita C.a 2:03
8 Honchar Serhiy Ukr Dom 2:03
9 Scarponi Michele Ita Lst 2:17
10 Rujano Guillen Jose' Ven Clm 2:19
11 Ardila Cano Mauricio Alberto Col Dvl 2:24
12 Halgand Patrice Fra C.a 2:44
13 Sella Emanuele Ita Pan 2:46
14 Bruseghin Marzio Ita Fas 2:53
15 Pozzovivo Domenico Ita Pan 2:53
16 Garate Juan Manuel Esp Sdv 3:27
17 Cioni Dario David Ita Liq 3:55
18 Osa Eizaguirre Unai Esp Iba 3:57
19 Karpets Vladimir Rus Iba 3:57
20 Kessler Matthias Ger Tmo 3:57
1 Basso Ivan Ita Csc 49:05:20
2 Savoldelli Paolo Ita Dsc 0:18
3 Di Luca Danilo Ita Liq 1:04
4 Simoni Gilberto Ita Lam 2:27
5 Honchar Serhiy Ukr Dom 3:45
6 Bruseghin Marzio Ita Fas 4:34
7 Scarponi Michele Ita Lst 4:48
8 Cioni Dario David Ita Liq 5:25
9 Sella Emanuele Ita Pan 5:58
10 Fothen Markus Ger Gst 6:10
11 Karpets Vladimir Rus Iba 6:24
12 Garate Juan Manuel Esp Sdv 6:48
13 Ardila Cano Mauricio Alberto Col Dvl 6:57
14 Atienza Urendez Daniel Esp Cof 7:08
15 Caucchioli Pietro Ita C.a 7:16
16 Cunego Damiano Ita Lam 7:20
17 Garzelli Stefano Ita Liq 7:40
18 Rujano Guillen Jose' Ven Clm 8:26
19 Halgand Patrice Fra C.a 8:42
20 Bettini Paolo Ita Qst 8:53
Full results to come in a separate article. Compliments to our commentators today: Fabio, Locutus, Andy McDobbin and Vaughn Trevi.
Thanks so much for joining us, and the adventure continues tomorrow - not so difficult as today, but by no means an easy ride. See you then!
Complete results and classifications