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88th Giro d'Italia Stage 16 Live Coverage
 
By Staff
Date: 5/25/2005
88th Giro d'Italia Stage 16 Live Coverage
 

88th Giro d'Italia - Stage Sixteen
(Lissone to Varazze - 210 km.)


Click for larger images. Courtesy Gazzetta dello Sport.

Hello and welcome to the live coverage of Stage 16 of the 88th Giro d'Italia. After a well-earned rest day, the Girini are back in the saddle for a 210km. effort, from the Milan are town of Lissone, where it all ended two days ago, to the seaside resort of Varazze near Genoa. As the Tour of Italy route was unveiled this past January, we wrote a brief preview on this stage too. And here it is ...



Stage 16 (Wednesday - May 25, 2005)

Lissone to Varazze (210 km.)


"So following the rest day the riders have a comparatively easy day to get back into the racing rhythm". That’s what Podfodonny wrote while presenting a stage of the 2003 Tour de France. But such words suit also today’s Giro leg, as the Corsa Rosa resumes with quite an easy ride from the plains around Milan to the Ligurian seaside town of Varazze. Which is not new to the race, as this resort in the Savona province, 25 km. west of Genoa, played host to a Giro stage in 2002, when a successful breakaway made it to the line with Cipollini’s überdomestique Giovanni Lombardi finally getting some personal glory as he took the honors in a small bunch sprint, while Yaroslav Popovych, who was part of the same breakway group, took sixth and German veteran Jens Heppner captured the "Maglia Rosa".


The great Giovanni Lombardi,
latest stage winner at Varazze.
Courtesy Capture-the-peloton

Riders are going to see nothing but flat roads in the first part, while winding through the Lombard provinces of Milan and Pavia, and also as the peloton enters Fausto Coppi’s Alessandria province. But when we get closer to Campionissimo territory, in between Tortona and Novi Ligure, we can finally find some hilly landscapes, with the small hills turning into a real climb as they reach Bric Berton (length: 13 km., average grade: 3%, elevation: 773m ASL according to Gazzetta dello Sport; profile here), situated on the border of Piedmont and Liguria, with some 30k to go.

Many in the pack could know this ascent quite well, as it figured in the Milan-San Remo parcours (bearing resemblances to today’s course) more than once in recent editions, after the more famous Turchino Pass was not used due to the effect of mudslides and torrential rain in 2001. This climb could represent an excellent launch pad for anyone wishing to go for some daily glory, the way Giovanni Lombardi, as well as Giuseppe di Grande (stage winner at Varazze in the 1997 edition, when he still was a very promising youngster) did. This hamlet in the north-west of the country can boast another prestigious winner, Francesco Moser, who took line honors when the Corsa Rosa first came to town back in the days in 1976 (stage 14: Il Ciocco-Varazze, 227 km).

Or for anyone wishing to improve his overall position, because even if all main GC contenders are expected to save their legs for the three tremendous stages to come, we’d better not underestimate the impact this stage may have on the GC, in particular after the 2002 showing: the last time the race got to Varazze (when the route was similar to today's only in the closing kilometres anyway) Paolo Savoldelli attacked the chasing bunch in the last part of the stage, and managed to put more than 40 seconds into Hamilton and the others main rivals, a gap that played its part in the Falcon’s eventual GC win. But it’s not about Discovery Channel’s most recent addition only, as one of the twelve brave guys in the aforementioned winning breakaway, who managed to finish close to five minutes clear of the bunch, was Alessio’s Pietro Caucchioli, whose huge stage gains was of fundamental help the man from Veneto in his bid for his only (thus far) Grand Tour podium finish. Complete live ticker of that stage available here.


Back to the Italian coast. But for the last time. Photo Courtesy APT Genoa

Varazze 2002 - A Fan’s View: By the way, the stage won by Giovanni Lombardi was also of inspiration to our reader and great cycling fan Francesco Grandi from Italy, who watched it live on the spot on that cloudy (and not due to the weather only, but also because of the Stefano Garzelli affair, that broke out earlier in the morning) Saturday, and wrote a very nice piece about the event, which earned him one of the top prizes in our 2002 Giro Jersey Competition. Please click here to read Francesco’s article ("A day in Varazze").


Live updates from the race

Commentary today by Fabio, Locutus and Andy McDobbin.

The stage got underway at midday, and got off to a fast. Olivier Bonnaire (Fra), Alessandro Vanotti (Ita) and Fassas Volodymyr Gustov (Ukr), staged the first attack, and were reeled in immediately, but soon later it was the turn of 11 riders to have a go at breaking away: Franck Renier (Fra), Matthew White (Aus), Russell Van Hout (Aus), Ruslan Ivanov (Mol), Gorka Verdugo (Spa), Alberto Ongarato (Ita), Matt Wilson (Aus), Jan Hruska (Cze), Daniel Schnider (Swi), Filippo Pozzato (Ita) and André Korff (Ger) succeded and gained up top 01'03" by km. 33, but Petacchi must be well-determined today, as even if Ongarato was there the Fassas quickly moved to the front to start the chase, halved the gap as the race hit the one-hour mark, (with an average speed of 40 kph), then brought it down to 28" by km. 40, 24" by km. 45 and 20" by km. 47. And at km. 51 it was Gruppo Compatto again.

Australians Matthew Wilson and Matthew White, very active in this stage, immediately counter-attacked, along with Ruslan Ivanov and Daniel Schnider. But the bunch nullified also their attempt. Then, around the km. 75 point, eleven men distanced themselves from the pack, and were joined by as many riders so that we had a front group of 22, leading the Fassa-led pack by 31" at km. 64. The attackers were Olivier Bonnaire (Fra), Pariode Grillo (Ita), Matt White (Aus), Raffaele Illiano (Ita), Bjorn Leukemans (Bel), Henk Vogels (Aus), Wladmir Belli (Ita), Ruslan Ivanov (Mol), Haimar Zubeldia (Spa), Volodymyr Gustov (Ukr), Lilien Jegou (Fra), Sascha Urweider (Ger), Davide Bramati (Ita), Mads Christensen (Den), Cristian Moreni (Ita), Theo Eltink (Hol), Grischa Niermann (Ger), Marco Pinotti (Ita), Joaquín Rodriguez (Spa), Andrea Peron (Ita), Giovanni Lombardi (Ita), Bram Schmitz (Ger). But that gap was all the guys could build, as once more the Velos, Sacchis and Tosattos showed that they are not just excellent leadoutmen, but can also put in some great chasing work. And brought them all back by km. 92.

Not that the stage became more quiet in the next kilometres though. First of all it was Petacchi himself who, perhaps having enough of all those attacks, made a move around km. 94, along with Ivan Gutierrez (Spa), Marco Pinotti (Ita), Bram Schmitz (Ger), Thierry Marichal (Bel), Matthew Wilson (Aus), Filippo Pozzato (Ita). But their moved was chased down too. After Stage 7 winner Koldo Gil Pèrez add his name to the DNFs list, another attack came, courtesy of 18 riders, among whom was also Petacchi's teammate Alberto Ongarato. The other ones were: Javier Ramírez Abeja (Spa), Alessandro Vanotti (Ita), Andre Korff (Ger), Lilian Jegou (Fra), Dimitri Fofonov (Kaz), Christophe Le Mevel (Fra), Christophe Brandt (Bel), Yannick Talabardon (Fra), Matthieu Claude (Fra), Bjorn Leukemans (Bel), Iván Gutierrez (Spa), Addy Engels (Hol), Uros Murn (Slo), Dario Andriotto (Ita), Rene Andrle (Cze), Franck Schleck (Lux) and Eric Baumann (Ger).

Their attempt has been the most signifcant one so far, such that the eleven escapees were leading the bunch, now led by Paolo Savoldelli's teammates, by three minutes as the race its the halfway point, and 03'42" at km. 111, with 99k to go.

During Wednesday's rest day, Paolo Savoldelli briefly talked to Gazzetta dello Sport about his rivals and more "We know the names (of my chief rivals): Di Luca, Simoni, Honchar, Caucchioli et al. Rujano? Yes, Rujano too: he's going very fast, and did something sensational on the mountains. It will be tough all the time over the next days, the last stages are always very difficult, you know. I hope the ITT may be good for me anyway. We shall see...."

Are the efforts he's been doing for the two months starting to take their toll on the legs of Danilo Di Luca? If you looked at the results and latest performances by the Liquigas-Bianchi team leader (now we can really call him like that ...), you wouldn't say so. But the man rode for no more than an hour yesterday because, as the same Danilo admitted, he "needed to take a break". He found the time to give a brief interview to Gazzetta, however. And came up with statements that might surprise someone: "I never thought I could be so up on the GC at this point of the race. But in my opinion the man to beat is Gilberto Simoni. I think Savoldelli and I should form a coalition (to match him)" instead. Asked about the forthchoming stages, "The Killer from Spoltore" (as the Italian press nicknamed him) confessed he doesn't know the route well, but thinks riders should watch out for both the Colle delle Finestre and Colletto del Moro ascents.

Gilberto Simoni, Damiano Cunego and the whole Lampre-Caffita trained for three hours in the Monza circuit of Formula One fame. They didn't go as fast as Schcumacher and Montoya (well, if you look at how Ferrai's going these days, it's not unlikely that the Lampres were going even faster...), but still had good legs. And more - "I've three days at my disposal to give it everything," Gibo told Gazzetta. Adding bold statements such as "The Limone Piemonte stage will be a first, significant test. Then's there's the ITT; if anyone thinks I'm gonna falter that day, they are damn wrong.

"And the Colle delle Finestre stage, where we're gonna have some fun. I would be happier with myself ahead on the GC, and if Damiano still was on overall threat, but things are ok anyway. It's not that I have to watch out for my rivals. It's my rivals that have to watch out for me".

1518 CEST - So a group of 18 riders has about a 9'32" lead on the peloton. Zabel (T-Mobile), who must be a favorite for today, has a chat with Pink Jersey Savoldelli (Discovery). They must be chatting about the chase. Half the breakaways are endowed with a handy sprint, though it surely won't be that simple; an attack in the last kilometres or even on the Bric Berton could decide things. Uros Murn has a nice sprint, and his teammate Schnider (Phonak) is with him in the break.

Vanotti (Domina Vacanze) won the Intergiro sprint from the break, by the way.

The men in the break are working well together in a double-paceline right now. This looks like the break of the day.

1527 CEST - The gap is now up to 10' 20". It's getting huge. Still Discovery sets the pace in the group, waiting for someone who gives a rat's bum to come up and help. Schleck and Claude share the pace-making duties in the breakaway. Schleck seems to be making the most of his freedom... he was to be seen over the weekend slowly nursing Basso up the climbs. Now he gets to attack and ride for himself.

Looks like the peloton might just be packing it in until tomorrow. There are some real beasties on the route tomorrow, though not as bad as the climbs over the weekend. Discovery Channel will surely just keep the pace in the bunch respectable, considering the most threatening man in the breakaway is Christophe Brandt of Davitamon-Lotto, 40th at 45'14".

1531 CEST - 57km left. The break rolls through Cassinelle, and are heading into the climb (the only one of the day). This will surely lead to a thinning of the herd in that break.

Le Mevel takes the front - he's got teammate Talabardon up there in the escape with him - before Rene Andrle takes over. Tony Cruz is on point in the peloton for the Disco men. The gap is now 10' 50". It's going to take one hell of an effort to get them back now.

The pace hasn't exactly been Giro-esque today - far from the piano, piano concept of going slow for four hours and racing in the last hour, the average speed has been around the 44km/h mark all day. (My bad, it's settled slightly to 42.7km/h.) This is a stage where multi-Milan-San Remo winner Zabel would be expected to do well, but with two teammates up the road he takes a back seat in the peloton.

Vanotti, who won the Intergiro sprint, sits at the back doing no work. It looks like a few passengers are developing in that break. Well Locutus, it's not a very ideal size - eighteen is just a bit too chunky for consistent through-and-off.

1542 CEST - The pace is up a bit in the break. Jegou is trying to stretch it a bit. Or is he just trying to ward off attacks? The gap is down to 10' 20". Australian sprinters Messr Renshaw and Vogels are toiling at the back of the bunch. Vanotti attacks from the break! On a steep corner, he just went for it. He is getting to the steep part of the climb... the attack was inevitable.

The road is a bunch of switchbacks now, which tells you it's near the top of a climb. Lots of fans near the top... I mean lots... lining the roads waiting for Vanotti to get there. He seems to have a good little gap.

Now there are two men almost on Vanotti's wheel. Engels and Schleck have caught him.

Brandt is up with the leaders of the break now too. And now Le Mevel is bridging up. The breakaway has come back together behind, but there's still quite a gap to the errant quintet which has broken off the front. Brandt, Vanotti, Engels, Le Mevel, and Schleck have about 25" on the rest of the break.

That's a very strong group of five men. They could stay away until the end unless the thirteen men behind get very organized. A couple of the men in this lead group have teammates behind who will not work with the chase.

If they get brought back, Leukemans of Davitamon will be set up perfectly by this attack of Brandt. Leukemans has had some handy results in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Fleche Wallone this year, and seems to do well on the medium difficulty hills.

1556 CEST - Fofonov is now bridging up to the lead group. So that makes six men off the front. The twelve men behind seem to be struggling to organize a chase. Meanwhile, more closeups of the Discovery men as they lead up the climb. Boy, there are a lot of men struggling to keep in the pack on this climb. Bileka and McCartney are bringing the pain for Discovery.

And more closeups of the back markers: Vogels churning away as a Euskaltel dances away in front of his wheel - it's Laiseka, right at the back on a climb. Tut tut, Luz Ardiden winner, that shouldn't be.

Fofonov is now taking his turn on the front. The six leaders are on a descent now. They will have another little hill, then it's all downhill or flat to the finish. They have a big gap on the rest of the break. 36" to be exact.

1600 CEST - Well, it's 10'50" to the peloton too - I reckon the sprinters can forget about it now. Yep, it's just a beautiful ride through Italy for the pack now. As we mentioned in the introduction to the stage today, this looks like 2002 - the one with Lombardi. I remember it well...

I doubt Savoldelli will have a go at attacking the peloton today, though. Not in the Pink Jersey and all. Le Mevel gets out of the saddle and turns on the power on the front of the break: third in the Tour de l'Avenir last year, he's no stranger to climbs, but has shown he can still sprint competently - in Lissone, he was sixteenth.

Ah, so the six-man break is just now reaching the summit of this up and down climb. More of a classics climb than a real Giro mountain, this.

1604 CEST - 40km left. Vanotti takes the climb, and the others don't give damn. Now it's a 10km descent until the next 5km (and uncategorized) climb, then it's all downhill or flat.

Not content with sparking the split, Vannotti is having another go on the descent. Vanotti attacked over the top of the climb, and just kept pushing it on the descent. So really, his attack came right at the summit. Arguably the smallest name in the front group, he has opened up quite a gap in the descent; he's down low on the bars, streamlining as best he can.

1611 CEST - Meanwhile, Savoldelli smells the flowers and stretches his arms in the pack. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him actually lead on the descent himself when the peloton gets there. With a sneer of 'Amateurs' at the bunch, he'd probably shoot away at the speed of light.

Real descenders like to see the road with nobody in front of them, especially when they are in a group... Armstrong does this same thing regularly. It's true that nobody really considers it to be a skill - how fast you go up the mountain matters the most. Savoldelli's attacks downhill are a thing to behold though. He makes the moto-cameramen nearly wet themselves trying to keep up when he has a real go on the descents... and sometimes, only the helicopter can keep up.

The Disco Boys are Cruzing, with Canadian Barry second wheel. It's easy to see with the winding, technical nature of this descent how Savoldelli could take 40" out of the peloton in 2002 when they covered these roads.

1613 CEST - 30km left. Vanotti hits Sassello, and will now have a 5km climb to try to build his lead. He has 23 seconds over the five chasers. He's a 24 year old, Bergamo born and bred, in his second year as a pro after learning the ropes with De Nardi last year - though that team has effectively grown into Domina Vacanze. He was forty-fourth in the Giro last year, which is pretty good for a neo-pro. Still, he's had no results of note so far this season; it could all change here.

But this is not your Cipo, zebra-clad bunch of a few years ago... Vanotti is part of the new breed of Domina riders, who have to wear a much uglier kit.

Brian Vandborg finds himself at the back of the pack, peering round into the camera as if to say, "I could swear I was in a better position than this."

Well Locutus, it's such a cruel blow for cycling that Mario Cipollini has retired - there's a gaping hole in on-the-bike fashion now.

1617 CEST - Brandt leads the chasers after Vanotti. 25km left, and the hard part of the course is behind them.

True... Di Luca does what he can with his all-white kit, but he's crippled by the new ProTour's limitations due to their bland leader's jersey.

The peloton is a full 15km behind Vanotti. Of course, most of that is a descent, but still... that's a lot of road. Savoldelli can make it up, no probs. The dark-skinned Cruz leads the peloton over the Bric Berton, with several Discovery Channel riders in a line behind. Cruz is carrying the banner for us Southern Californians in the race. You go, Tony!

1620 CEST - Vanotti has been brought back, bringing the leading group back up to six. It was a very audacious move, but with the calibre of riders chasing behind, he would really have had to have ridden on the rivet the whole way into Varazze.

1622 CEST - The six leaders are eating and drinking, getting ready for the final push. The gap between the two breaks has now been ground up to 40 seconds. It certainly looks good for the leaders.

So the lead group: Vanotti, Le Mevel, Brandt, Engels, Schleck, and Fofonov. There is a group of about ten men still chasing behind. Whoa, another technical section of descent for the leaders. Fun to watch. (Don't try this at home, kids.)

Addy Engels now takes the front. Once considered a climbing talent with Rabobank, the 27 year old seems happy to take a domestique role with Quick Step - he must be pleased they signed him up, after an anonymous season with Bankgiroloterij last year could have seen him cast into the cycling wilderness.

The moto-camera is really straining to keep up... Whoa! Fofonov almost went into the guard rail... he overshot a corner. They are freakin' BOMBING this descent now. Engels has opened up a bit of a gap.

1626 CEST - 20km left. The Quick Step rider is really taking some risks on this descent. Fofonov is struggling to stay with the rest.

Yes, clearly staying upright is not high on these riders' list of priorities right now; they all want this stage win badly.

1629 CEST - Engels is really flying. No shot of the peloton yet... it would be nice to see how they are taking this descent.

Schleck leads the chase of Engels; the young Luxembourger has looked particularly strong when pulling on the front today.

1631 CEST - 15km left. It looks like that man, Mr. Demon Descender Vanotti, is bridging up to Engels's wheel. Engels hugs the railing... these switchbacks are hairier than Robin Williams. Man, there are some sharp, hard-to-predict turns.

But no, the four others hound them down, and it's all back together. We love you, Robin, if you're reading! Robin is quite the cycling patron here in the States...He always puts on a nice show at the start-finish line at the T-Mobile International in San Francisco.

Still no sight of the peloton. The cameras are all with this front group of six men. The leaders have a 55" gap. They aren't likely to be brought back now. One of these six will surely put in an attack as we approach the finish; Schleck and Fofonov (fourth in the GP Zurich last year) or even Le Mevel might all fancy themselves in a sprint finish.

1636 CEST - The chase of about eight men behind doesn't look that organized. Wow! The peloton is 18'10" behind!! That's just how fast and crazily these guys have been descending in front...

The riders in the peloton really, thoroughly do not give a tinker's damn about this race today. Just keep upright and save energy for the climb tomorrow.

10km left. The pulls are inevitably short now, as nobody wants to waste too much energy this near to Varazze. Vanotti definitely looks to be struggling to hold the wheel in front; not surprising considering his attacks in the last hour or so.

1639 CEST - The leaders go through Albisola, reminding me to the excellent weather we've had today. 8km left.

Nervous tension, calm before the attacking storm...The riders are soon going to be rolling along the coast. Just a quick jaunt through town. The gap is down to 46" for the leading six. That will be enough to stay away.

Through a long tunnel... sketchy...and out to the road along the coastline.

1641 CEST - 6km to go. Schleck had some problem with his shoe. He looks to have it sorted out now, though.

The riders go under the 5km to go banner. One or two of them must be planning an attack, I can't believe they'd be content to sit in for a sprint. Everyone is still taking their turns for now, though.

1643 CEST - The beach looks very inviting. Hmmm... the six riders snake through the streets of this beach town. 4km left through Celle Ligure. Last chance for bets. The gap is around 45 seconds.

1645 CEST - 3km to go - Brandt looks to make a move, but Engels marks it immediately.

The riders eye each other a bit now, keeping their heads on a swivel to look for attacks, to seek out signs of weakness, etc. A beautiful run in to the finish along the sea. A slight lull in the pace should be the time to go - if anyone's harbouring any last minute attack ideas, they've left it very late.

1646 CEST - Vanotti looks back on the front, saying "Someone else come through." Brandt is now at the back. sitting in, it appears. The gap is still 46" with only 2km left.

Brandt made a move, slowed, then right from it Le Mevel charged on the far right of the road! Le Mevel has a gap!

Nobody's reacting behind! The others better chase him quick! This could be it, folks. Final kilometer. Le Mevel is solo with a smart gap on the others. 500m to go, and the eight who were cast adrift on the Bric Berton climb are now in the last km. He's going to take the stage for sure now.

Le Mevel takes a very big win! He waves to the crowd as he crosses the line. Brandt comes in solo for 2nd. Brandt slams the handlebars in frustration, eight seconds back.

So at least my pick beat Andy's pick today, and neither of our picks crashed... Vanotti took third, in front of Fofonov I think, eighteen seconds back. For seventh, it looks like a Fassa Bortolo won the sprint, 50" in arrears.

The peloton is still taking a nap somewhere on that descent. But a big win for the French, as Christophe Le Mevel of Crédit Agricole makes a great move to sneak away and steal the day. That was a smart attack from the Le Mevel, and it's bagged him Crédit Agricole's first stage of the Giro, and France's too. And would you believe it, it's 24 year old Le Mevel's first ever pro victory - what a way to win it.

1653 CEST - Lots of folks just chilling at the beach today. They are relaxing, enjoying the sun. Just like the peloton. In fact, the Italian producers find the beachgoers more interesting than the peloton, because that's who they keep showing pictures of.

Also, Le Mevel lies 42nd at 46'25" - if he gains fifteen minutes, he'll be inside the top thirty comfortably. Meanwhile, the peloton may have been abducted by aliens. It's hard to tell; we haven't seen any pictures of them for almost a half hour now. Maybe the aliens wanted to probe Basso and find out the nature of his stomach ailment.

Looking at the replays, Le Mevel didn't look too moved by the victory - a hint of a grin on his face, he clapped his hands in the air twice, pointed backwards at the crowd and pumped his fists.

1657 CEST - Ah, at last! The peloton has now been returned, none the worse for wear after their visit with ET.

1700 CEST - The Discovery Channel men are noodling along with Savoldelli in tow. No big woop or anything. Michael "Take Off" Barry, Disco's über-Canadian, leads the way. In Varazze, two more riders cross the line, having lost the break on the Bric Berton - definitely a T-Mobile second wheel (Korff?) with maybe a Liberty Seguros in front (Andrle?); whoever it was, they finished 9'18" behind.

Clearly, most riders are now turning their minds to tomorrow's tricky time-trial. No, tomorrow is gruesome climbing. Friday is a tricky time trial.

In the peloton, Cunego chats with Bramati. Bettini looks bored in his gold helmet. The French riders have not looked good so far in this Giro, and this victory is a saving grace, putting a much more respectable spin on their performance here. In case any of you folks have dozed off and are now waking up, the peloton is still out there. Somewhere.

1704 CEST - I think the peloton passed under a banner. Oh, here we go... they have 5km left. A five-year-old on a trike zips by the slumbering pack...(just kidding.) (It's that kid from the Armstrong commercial last year, I think... that motor-pacing behind Armstrong finally paid off.)

1707 CEST - 17' have passed for the peloton. They are riding along the coast now. But the Italian producers switch back to the helicopter shot to see if any more cute ladies have shown up at the beach.

Le Mevel is going to move up to twenty-eighth overall, leapfrogging Laurent Lefevre to become the second highest placed Frenchman in the race, behind his teammate Halgand, who lies twentieth. It's hard for the French to do worse than the 2001 Bonjour team, which lost all of it's riders save one and had all of their bikes stolen. Only Tommy Voeckler, riding a borrowed bike, finished for Bonjour that Giro... and he came in next-to-last place. So yes, Le Mevel has raised the bar for the French in the Giro for sure.

1709 CEST - And the clock ticks past 20 minutes - god, they will have to be careful of the time cut at this rate. Coming soon to the Cannes Film Festival: "Discos Under Le Flamme Rouge."

Will anybody sprint for points here? Bettini? Alessandro? Anybody? Nope.

1712 CEST - Mercifully, the peloton finishes. Now we can have the podium champagne-wrestling competition and go home!

So a happy Mr. Le Mevel is on the podium taking well-deserved kisses from the misses. Now the champagne.

And he gets the champagne to open! Of course, he's French. Ah, champagne travails - a dead bottle! He gets another and sprays everyone in sight.

By the by, (who else but) Tom Boonen took the first stage of the Tour of Belgium in a bunch sprint. Boonen is such a mean person. He keeps on winning those races in Belgium. What is his problem? Didn't his mother teach him to play nice?

A very composed but smiling Paolo Savoldelli takes the stage for his next maglia rosa to big cheers from the crowd. Di Luca still trails him by 25", Simoni in third at 1'48".

And now more huge cheers for Paolo Bettini in the maglia ciclamino. No change at the top of the leaderboard for those competitions today. Now Rujano takes the stage, making the Lollipop Kids very happy for his mountains jersey. The little Venezuelan has actually increased his lead in the Green Jersey today, as his nearest competition from outside his team (Koldo Gil) abandoned today.

Hopefully success won't ruin Rujano - Perez Cuapio got himself a nice Italian bella donna and upgraded his second-hand car, but now he's seemingly lost the spark.

And The Cricket Bettini takes the stage again, for the maglia azzurra, the Intergiro jersey. Bettini still has a 2" lead over Krauss in the Blue Jersey (Intergiro) competition.

Fassa Bortolo takes the stage twice, once for each team classification. And that concludes our coverage of Stage 16. Thanks for joining us today, and for bearing with any silliness that might have occurred. Results to come, and be sure to tune in tomorrow for another epic stage!

Results and classifications here.

 
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