88th Giro d'Italia - Stage Seventeen
(Varazze to Limone Piemonte/Colle di Tenda - 194 km.)
Click for larger images. Courtesy Gazzetta dello Sport.
Hi everyone, and welcome to our live coverage of Stage 18 of the 88th Giro d'Italia. The race enters its deciding phase, with three terrible stages in a row which are going to tell us the name of the overall winner of the competition. The impressive string of Piedmontese climbs we're gonna meet both today and Saturday - two of them in particular: Colletto del Moro and Colle delle Finestre -, as well as the clock, which at its turn is gonna rule tomorrow's ITT into Turin, are meant to be the decisive factor. And with at least five riders (Savoldelli, Di Luca, Simoni and - to a lesser extent - also Garate and Rrrrrrrrujano) still in contention for the Maglia Rosa, or a place on the eventual podium at least, uncertainty rules. What is going to happen over the next three days? We shall start to know very, very soon, as the first of three (supposedly) all-out battles breaks out at Varazze. In the meantime, you can have a look at the preview of today's stage we posted in our Giro route presentation dating back to late January, when the parcours was officially unveiled.
Stage 17 (Thursday - May 26, 2005)
Varazze to Limone Piemonte/Colle di Tenda (194 km.)
Or the Mountain Man Festival, Part 4. With this stage, featuring the second uphill finish of the event at Colle di Tenda on the Italian-French border, which makes its Giro d’Italia debut (although it was well-known to Fausto Coppi, who "trained" there … carrying orders from Limone Piemonte to the top of the ascent and vice versa while doing military service during WWII) and comes after a couple more difficult ascents, we get into the "trilogy" of terrible stages - two legs of pure, hard climbing and a "race of the truth" in the middle -, that are going to decide the whole race. If there is some uncertainty as the stage sets off from the Ligurian Riviera today, things won’t be the same two days and 415 kilometres (many of which uphill) later, at the finish line in Sestriere, when we may finally know the name of the winner (barring a catastrophe) of the 88th Giro d’Italia.
But we’d better take one step at a time. And the first steps - er, pedal strokes – are given on the flat roads of the Riviera, taking the peloton to Savona and Lavagnola for the last dozen kilometres of seaside riding in the whole race. Then the road swings inland and gradually climbs up the first difficulty of the day, the neither too short nor too steep Colle di Cadibona (14 km. of climbing at an average gradient of 3.2%, taking the bunch to 436 m ASL, Gazzetta says. Profile in the links below), which is not expected to have a big impact, although efforts there could take some toll on the legs of overall contenders later, as they hit the next, tougher climbs.
The upper town of Mondovi. The one in Piedmont, not Wisconsin.
Courtesy Comune di Mondoví
A breakaway group might form on that first ascent, and perhaps even stay clear throughout the next 100 km. of riding up and the town the undulating roads of the Ligurian (until they reach Tetti di Montezemolo - elevation 711m ASL) inland first and the Piedmontese province of Cunego later, winding through the Vicoforte Sanctuary area that hosted several stage finishes in recent editions. But not this time, as the stage goes on and, after making its way through the streets, broad and narrow, of Mondoví, Cuneo and (self-appointed) snail-breeding capital Borgo San Dalmazzo, meets the first really tough ascent - not to the delight of any possible breakaway group - at Festiona Sottana (lower Festiona), with about 65 km. to go. That’s where the riders confront the gruelling Madonna del Colletto, and where it all gets tough for real, because of 6.7 km. of uphill riding at an average gradient of 8,25%..
The steep slopes on the way to the summit (1304m ASL), have the potential to cause some serious splits in the "Gruppo Maglia Rosa", but some riders unable to stay with the best ones might regain the group either on the fast downhill into Valdieri or the 17-km. flat section afterwards, where legs are given a (very) small break before the second big difficulty of the day, Colletto del Moro.
This short (about 4 km.) but damn steep (average gradient 8.9%, max. gradient 21%, more details in the relative profile below) climb is back to the race after it was first climbed in a early stage of the 2002 Giro (another comeback from the edition won by Savoldelli, il Falco must be very pleased …) when we used the following words to explain how hard it is: "The Colletto del Moro is something new to the Giro, as it was climbed during the 1979 Tour of Piedmont only. As the street gets narrow at the beginning of the ascent (3-meter wide only!) expect a big fight among riders wishing to start the climb in the front of the peloton. But even if they get it, many of them won't keep in the front for long as, after the first 1000 metres at about 4-5%, the slope goes up to almost 15%, and the remaining 2 kilometres will be the first place for the main riders to tell us whether they are serious candidates for the final podium or not. Former Pro and Italian TV commentator Davide Cassani had to climb on 39x25 over there, and I guess the Giro participants, despite being younger and in a (presumably) better shape, will be forced to use at least a 39x23" (one may grasp the difficulty also looking at the altimetry in the relative link at the bottom of the stage preview of course).
All main difficulties are in the Cuneo province today.
Or should we say Cunego province?
Photo Courtesy Lampre-Caffitta
Stefano Garzelli came first across the line that day (live ticker and results here), although he was later stripped of that victory as he tested positive
for a banned diuretic (although it might sound a bit ironic now, the stage success was awarded to…Santiago Pérez); and it was a small breakaway group not containing “Garzo” that crested the Colletto del Moro hill first anyway. With the Colletto proving very selective in such an early stage (it was the first really demanding climb in the event), you can figure out what could happen today, after riders put thousands of kilometers and dozens of climbs on their legs.
And also what’s going to happen in the rest of this stage, because their efforts continue, and after a short descent into Robilante and a small section going slightly uphill on the way to Vernante, riders tackle the final ascent to the line (in fact partially climbed also in 2002, but the line was located 6 km. earlier, not at the top), the Colle di Tenda: a 13.5km, 6.1% difficulty taking, (switchback after switchback) the bunch to an altitude of 1795m., just a very little step inside French territory, at the very end of the Italian province of Cuneo. Which, considering the toughness of the parcours and the amount of uphill riding over there, could turn into province of Cunego for one day. It will be up to Damiano’s rivals, from Ivan to Stefano Garzelli to Il Falco and other GC contenders (Gibo and Popo included?) to prevent such name change…
Detailed profiles of today’s ascents (and some descents):
Live updates from the race
The stage got underway at the seaside town of Varazze, at 11:52 AM local time (Central European Summer Time - CEST). 158 riders took the start under sunny skies. Will the weather stay the same throughout the stage?
Just to remind you, the Top 20 Places on GC after yesterday's leg, and the beginning of the "trilogy", are as follows:
1 Savoldelli, Paolo Ita Dsc 76:07:16
2. Di Luca, Danilo Ita Liq 0:25
3. Simoni, Gilberto Ita Lam 1:48
4. Garate, Juan Manuel Esp Sdv 2:11
5. Rujano, Guillen Jose' Ven Clm 2:18
6. Caucchioli, Pietro Ita C.a 3:25
7. Honchar, Serhiy Ukr Dom 4:05
8. Sella, Emanuele Ita Pan 5:50
9. Cioni, Dario David Ita Liq 6:40
10. Karpets, Vladimir Rus Iba 6:44
11. Fothen, Markus Ger Gst 6:51
12. Bruseghin, Marzio Ita Fas 7:01
13. Cunego, Damiano Ita Lam 8:03
14. Atienza Urendez, Daniel Esp Cof 8:11
15. Caruso, Giampaolo Ita Lst 9:39
16. Sanchez Gonzalez, Samuel Esp Eus 11:14
17. Van Huffel, Wim Bel Dvl 11:26
18. Osa Eizaguirre, Unai Esp Iba 11:48
19. Belli, Wladimir Ita Dom 11:57
20. Celestino, Mirko Ita Dom 13:48
While Paolo Bettini leads the points classification with a score of 142, sitting ahead of than Alessandro Petacchi by 13 points. Danilo Di Luca fills the remaining top three spot, 19 points down on "The Cricket".
José Rujano is the undisputed leader of the Mountains classification with 107 points, almost twice as many as points as those scored by his teammate Ivan Parra who, besides winning two stages in an astonishing way, also acted as a domestique for Rujano in the previous ascents. So that, barring a catastrophe, the little big climber from Santa Cruz de Mora is going to become the first ever Venezuelan to be crowned King of the Mountains in Milan, making a new prestigious addition to an already great season, that features his overall victory at the Vuelta al Táchira (his home country's number one cycling race) and a podium finish at the Tour de Langkawi. And Selle Italia are about to make a new addition to their collection of Maglie Verdi (Green Jerseys).
Last, and perhaps also least, Paolo Bettini currently stays atop the Intergiro classification too, even if the Maglia Azzurra is on the shoulders of Sven Krauss today. The German is just two seconds behind the Italian in this "lesser" classification indeed, and as Il Grillo is apparently more focused on the Cyclamen jersey than this one, the "waterboy" might well end up on the Milan podium as the Intergiro winner. But he'd better watch out for another Quick Step Italian, veteran Stefano Zanini, who's just eighteen seconds back and, unlike Bettini, picked the victory in this classification as his main objective.
1220 CEST - The stage got off a fast start, with a flurry of attacks coming since the first km. and with Paolo Bettini (the Cricket has been more combative than ever in this Giro, and in pre-stage interviews promised he was going to attack today too ...) and Luca Mazzanti (curiously stage winner the same day Paolo Bettini was sanctioned for irregular sprinting) as main protagonists, as they got into all breakaway attempts. None of which prospered though. So that, with still 175 km. to go, when on the first climb of the day - the comparatively easy Colle di Cadibona hill - we have a gruppo compatto.
1240 CEST - On the last slopes of the climb, a six-man breakaway group finally managed to go clear, containing Colombian Felipe Laverde (Ceramiche Panaria-Navigare) France's Patricke Halgand (Crédit Agricole), Spain's Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Michele Scarponi of the Liberty Seguros team (the only Italian the leading sextet) Russian Rabo-boy Alexandr Kolobnev, and Michael Blauduzn (Den - CSC). Quite surprisingly no Selle Italia guy was there. But perhaps that's no surpris at all: it's possible that, after having their "green jersey" mission accomplished, the Gianni Savio boy are now working for the overall too. With so many climbs to come in the next stages, Rujano might well have a legtimate shot at the top three places on the GC.
Blaudzun took third at the top of the Cadibona hill, whose KOM Prime was won by Halgand, with Scarponi in second place. The race got out of the Liguria region and entered the Piedmontese territory.
Those half a dozen escapees were brought back in the descent afterwards, but attacks didn't stop, as more riders (among whom was Telekom's Matthias Kessler, very active in these early kilometres), were trying to start some new breakaway on the way to the town of Millesimo.
Kessler succeeded in making the break, along with some 19 more riders (among whom are also Scarponi, Halgand, Mazzanti, Bettini, Lampre's Petrov, Wladimir Belli) succeeded in making the break, and is leading the peloton, led by Paolo Savoldelli's Discovery Channel teammates obviously, by about at minute after 41 kilometres, e.g. with 153k to go.
The Gruppo Maglia Rosa has no intention to let them go, and cut the gap down to 35".
1305 CEST - This new breakaway group has been reeled in too. But it wasn't only the Discovery chasing machines that brought them back. Also Team CSC played a crucial part in the chase. A sign that Ivan Basso is back into good shape, and wants to stamp his authority on the stage.
1310 CEST - Could the peloton stay together at last? Nooooooo way. More and more attacks came, with Cofidis' Aussie Matthew White and Fassa's Ukrainian Volodymyr Gustov among the most active riders (they were very active yesterday too). The average speed after the first hour of racing was above 41 kph, which is impressive if you consider they had two climb two ascents. The Girini are going veeeeeeeeeeeeery fast today, but all of these efforts could take their tolls on the legs of many as they hit the real mountains later in the stage.
1325 CEST - A new breakaway group formed, containg ten riders (Mattew White and fellow Aussie Rory Sutherland, Belgium's Thierry Marichal, Italy's Intergiro contender Stefano Zanini, Fassa's Gustov and super-combative Patrice Halgand, fellow Frenchman Sandy Casar, Czech Jan Hruska, Spain's Angel Gomez and Dutch Rabo-boy Bram Schmitz) and quickly built a gap of some 50", while Gilberto Simoni had some saddle probs and was assisted by the Lampre team mechanics. He had to stop for while; all of his teammates (but Cunego) waited for him and comfortably paced Gibo back into the bunch. In the meantime three more riders added thair name to the list of DNFs: France's Christophe Kern (Bouygues Telecom), Italy's Moreno Di Biase (Selle Italia) and Catalan Sergi Escobar (-Illes Balears). 155 athletes remain in the bunch, but no less than 42 guys who took the start at Reggio Calabria aren't in the bunch anymore.
After today's damn fast start, the peloton slowed down a little bit and allowed the ten escapees to go, so that the gap increased to 01'15" over the few last kilometres, while Roberto Laiseka of Tour de France 2001 epic stage victory fame (it came at Luz Ardiden, after a great solo ride over the mountains) and young Rabo-talent Thomas Dekker, who attacked the field a while ago, are in between.
1335 CEST - The bunch, still led by the domestiques of Il Falco, averaged a speed of 40.097 kph after 100 minutes of racing. Their gap to the leading group ballooned to more than two minutes; but its a twelve-man front group now, as both Laiseka and 1984-born Thomas Dekker (who got a prestigious win in a Criterium International stage - beating the same Ivan Basso - early this season) got across to join the other ten escapees as the peloton left behind the town of San Michele Mondovi and is on the way to Vicoforte, with about 125 km. to go.
Apart from the faaaaast start to the stage, the biggest news so far today is that we had a flurry of attacks ... with close to no Selle-Italia rider inside. As team boss Gianni "The Prince" Savio confirmed, they have opted for different tactics now: protocetibg Rujano, who is an overall contender. Or in Savio's own words "we are a small team, with a limited budget, but now we're acting like a cycling powerhouse".
1347 CEST - The race made it to Mondovi (km. 77, 117k to go). None of the twelve escapees is a serious GC threat, so that the peloton further slowed the pace, and even the sprinters dropped on the Colle di Cadibona could easily regain the wheels of the Gruppo Maglia Rosa, while the gap to the dozen frontrunners has gone up to more than four minutes.
Matthew White won the Intermediate Sprint (only prize-awarding, but neither bonus seconds nor points were at stake there) at Villanova di Mondoví. Another super-active rider (today), T-Mobile's Matthias Kessler, hit the
tarmac but was quickly back in the saddle with no major consequences.
1400 CEST - The gap keeps growing and growing; after 83 km. of racing, with some 110k left, Mattew White, Rory Sutherland, Thierry Marichal, Stefano Zanini, Volodymyr Gustov, Patrice Halgand, Sandy Casar, Jan Hruska, Angel Gómez, Bram Schmitz, Thomas Dekker and Roberto Laiseka brought their advantage up to 05'12". The average speed after two hours is a good 42.200 kph.
1420 CEST - The "dirty" dozen of fugitives built a maximum lead of 05'24", then the peloton finally got back to some serious chasing efforts, and brought the gap down to 04'21" by km. 93 (100 km. from the line). The escapees are on thw way to the town of Peveragno in the Cuneo (Cunego?) province area, getting closer to both the feeding zone and the halfway point of the stage. They're more than 30 km. away from the foot of the first tough climb of the day (Madonna del Colletto).
1425 CEST - The twelve guys in the break (White, Sutherland, Marichal, Zanini, Gustov, Halgand, Casar, Hruska, Gómez, Schmitz, T. Dekker and Laiseka) got to the 100-km. check and entered the feeding zone at San Lorenzo, while their lead is slowly but steadily coming down: 04'15" with 94k to go, and five seconds less two kilometres later.
1435 CEST - White, Sutherland, Marichal, Zanini, Gustov, Halgand, Casar, Hruska, Angel Gómez, Schmitz, Thomas Dekker and Laiseka are widning through the streets of the main city in the area, Cuneo. With about 85k remaining, the gap stays the same: 04'10-04'15", more or less.
Danilo Di Luca is still comfortably inside the bunch. Some picked him as today's possible stage winner. The Abruzzese rider, currently second on the GC, spoke in front of the RAI cameras minutes before the stage start, and said that "Well, it might happen, provided my legs are good enough today, but I know that many riders want to go the attack early in the stage; and if an ealy break should go, it wouldn't be easy for us to control the race. Sure that, if riders like Simoni attacked, I'd try and follow their move, immediately. Savoldelli? I think he can hold on today, as the climbs are tough, but not too tough. In my opinion it's the last ascent that will really make the gap and decide the stage anyway".
1450 CEST - Both the escapees and the peloton (currently led not by Discovery, but by Basso's CSC teammates and Simoni's Lampres) left the city of Cuneo behind and are riding at some 75 from the finish line. The gap came further down in the past minutes, but not that much: it's currently down to a mere four minutes.
1455 CEST - Quick Step's Stefano Zanini is a man on a misison. And he had his mission accomplished: the Italian won the Intergiro Prime at Borgo San Dalmazzo (77k to go) and moved to the lead in this "minor" classifiation, stealing it from teammate Paolo Bettini. Borgo San Dalmazzo also hosted a great stage win by Paolo Savoldelli (courtesy of noNe of his downhill moves he later got us accustomed to) back in the days of the 1999 Tour of Italy.
1458 CEST - The Lampre and CSC guys are very serious about the chase now. With 65k to go, and the Madonna del Colletto firts slopes just a few kilometres away, the gap to White, Sutherland, Marichal, Zanini, Gustov, Halgand, Casar, Hruska, Angel Gómez, Schmitz, Thomas Dekker and Laiseka (perhaps the only climber in the front group) is well under four minutes.
1504 CEST - Gap update. The group is making further gains, the lead is down to 03'24". With 60k to go, and with the Lampres and CSCs driving the bunch at close to 55kph as they get close to the foot of the Madonna del Colletto. But in spite of the speed, the peloton is not strung out.
Here we go: the twelve frontrunners are on the first slopes of Madonna del Colletto. It's White leading the escapees right now, fellow Aussie Rory Sutherland on his wheel. But we're looking forward to seeing if Roberto Laiseka is (at least partially) back to his past winning form.
1506 CEST - Matt White forcing the pace, Sutherland and Halgand still following his wheel. At about 60km. from the line, the gap is down to three minutes too, as the bunch - now lead by Lampre's Szmyd - also hit the Madonna del Colletto climb. And the first, worst climbers are already struggling off the back of it.
1508 CEST - In the front group, Zanini lost contact with the other escapees. Simoni, Cioni and even young climbing talent Emanuele Sella of Panaria are in the front places of the Maglia Rosa group. It's a sprinter like Giovanni Lombardi of Team CSC riding tempo on the Madonna's first slopes that is starting to split the peloton big style. Up into the forest. That climb looks similar to Figueroa Road where Discovery trains in their early camp in California.
1510 CEST - The two Cofidis guys are leading the front bunch. That is down to less than ten men. And is gonna lose more members over the next minutes. Steve Zampieri of Phonak attacks the field. The Swiss climber was on the attack also in the Pistoia stage. He didn't succeed though, while his breakaway companion Koldo Gil (who is no longer in the race) won the stage.
1515 CEST - 4k to the top of the climb for the frontrunners, while Petacchi is losing contact back in the main group. The road is narrow, big enough for one car. The pressure is on in a big way now.
The first escapees are leading Zampieri by 02'30". The peloton - or what's left of it - is a further fifteen second back. Paolo Savoldelli has no teammates around anymore, but is still in the top places on the bunch. Boy, Matt White is hanging on with everything he's got... surprising to see him still in that lead group on a climb like this.
1517 CEST - There's just five riders left in the lead now: Halgand, Sutherland, Laiseka, White, and Angel Gomez Gomez. Halgand and Sutherland took a few metres out of the three others. While they are riding just three km. from the KOM Prime.
Only sprinters or "lesser" riders are losing contact in the main bunch, that is down to 50 men or so. There's also Padrnos there, but he's off the back of the bunch. So that Savoldelli has no teammates around (not unexpectedly though). The Danish and Italian champs (Blaudzun and Moreni) are off the back of the peloton and in the cars. The Lampres are really thinning the herd now.
1621 CEST - Steve Zampieri continues in his own chase of the leaders (who are Halgand, White, Sutherland, Gomez and Laiseka). Sandy Casar of Francaise des Jeux also regained the front group, so that we have six riders out of 12 escapees - in the front. Rujano is near the front of the peloton. He's a real threat today.
Their lead over the bunch stays above the two-minute mark, while Zampieri caught Zanini, who was the first fugitive to lose contact.
1525 CEST - The likes of Zabel, Bettini and Pozzovivo remain inside the main peloton, that is also full of Lampre, CSC and Liquigas boys. Danilo Di Luca can still count on 4-5 teammates, among whom are Cioni and Wegelius.
About 500m to the top of the climb for the six leaders.
Casar struggling again. But the Frenchman (13th overall at the 2005 Giro, 16th at the past TdF) holds on. His compatriot Patrice Halgand is climbing much better instead. He looks strong at the front of the break.
1526 CEST - The 6 escapees got the top of the ascent, at an elevation of 1304m asl. 56k to go for them. Steve Zampieri is about 500 metres back. The Swiss rider is getting some TV exposure, but his efforts are quite meaningless.
And in between Zampieri and the six leaders, there's still the likes of Gustov and Hruska. While the latest updates from the bunch say José Rujano is climbing very well today. Good to see an Euskaltel rider like Laiseka at the business end of the race. This hasn't been one of their better grand tours. Not surprising, given that his bones are made of carbon fiber and he weighs about as much as his bike frame.
1530 CEST - The peloton's making its way to the Madonna del Colletto summit too; they are 02'30" down on the six leaders. Both leaders and chasers started the descent into Valdieri - a tough descent of about six kilometres. Hard switchbacks on a narrow road. Good thing the riders are spread out all over the course now.
1532 CEST - Halgand, White, Sutherland, Laiseka, Gomez and Casar are leading their closest chasers by 55", while the bunch cut the gap down to 02'09".
1536 CEST - The leading sextet made it to Validieri and completed the (first part of) the descent. Some very hard corners on that descent. Whew. Pavel Padrnos is about to regain the wheels of the Gruppo Maglia Rosa. Good for The Falcon!
Pavel "The Gavel" is riding an inspired race to catch back on after that climb.
News from Belgium: Tom Boonen scored his second win in as many days in the local tour. And news from Germany, as France's Jean Patrick Nazon took the stage at the Bayern-Rundfahrt.
1539 CEST - Peron helping set the pace in the peloton.
1542 CEST - The race is on a flat section between Madonna del Colletto and Colletto del Moro. Steve Zampieri has been pulled back into the bunch. Will Pavel "The Gavel" be able to get Savoldelli some food and drink? Savoldelli is sitting 5th wheel behind Basso, with Rujano on his wheel. The gap is down to 01'39".
1544 CEST - The peloton is not riding hard, so that about 20-30 more riders (among whom is Italy's National Road Champion Cristian Moreni) could regain their wheels. Blaudzun, and Brandt have rejoined the peloton. Di Luca is sitting in 7th-8th place. Parra gives Rujano a bottle. Savoldelli still looks lonely.
1547 CEST - 40k to go for the six escapees as the race is back to Borgo San Dalmazzo. 7k or so to the foot of the next climb. While the CSC Chasing machine continues to make time gains on Halgand, White, Gomez, Casar, Laiseka and Sutherland gained about a minute over the last 10 km.
Borgo San Dalmazzo? Borgo? Well, nice to see my people have assimilated at least part of Italy. (Commentary today by Fabio and Locutus, of course.)
1549 CEST - Thomas Dekker, Gustov and Hruska were pulled back by the bunch, that has up to 80 members inside. So that nobody is in between the leaders and the group now. The gap is 01'20". The peloton is looking fat and well-fed again. Padrnos is with Savoldelli now.
1553 CEST - The frontrunners are still working well together, and maybe will hit the firt slopes of the Colletto del Moro in the lead. But they have no chances to the make it to the top of the ascent that way, of course.
The race reached the town of Boves, with 35k to go, and much less to the Colletto. And there's the first "sprints" to start the ascent in the first places, back in the peloton. The Italian producers show the map of the course left. Somewhere, Phil Liggett is swearing under his breath.
1556 CEST - 30k from the line. The escapees are about to hit the first slopes of the climb, but the CSC and Lampre chasing machines are flying. The gap is down to half a minute or so. While the Di Luca is sitting 7th wheel again, right on Simoni's wheel.
The pictures coming out of Italy have been, as usual, magnificent today. But I just realized how inauspicious it is to have a town called "Borgo" on a climbing stage. Borg can't climb, dude.
1558 CEST - The front group split as they reached the first (easy) slopes of the Colletto. Laiseka attacks while the bunch is on the heels of Halgand and Gomez. The two boys are quickly swallowed. And the peloton is on the climb too. The road on this climb is even narrower than the last.
The other former escapees were reeled in. Only Laiseka stays up front. But the gap is no more than 20".
1602 CEST - It's Cunego that forces the pace on the first slopes of the Colletto. Then Simoni, Di Luca, Savoldelli, Rujano, Sella, Garate etc. Ivan Basso too. Not Bettini, who just got dropped. Garate is positioned well with a teammate near the front. Basso and Di Luca are climbing well.
Laiseka caught, while Cofidis' Vasseur attacked and gained a dozen seconds. Cunego is on point, turning the screws. Vasseur caught. The main group, down to some 25 riders, is together again. Whoa, the road just got very steep. They are on the steepest section.
And Cunego keeps forcing the pace. Simoni and Di Luca follow at just 1km from the top of the climb. Rujano is also there. Il Falco only sightly behind. But didn't lose contact.
1604 CEST - Looks like they are climbing a paved goat trail...Bruseghin struggling off the back of the peloton. And so is Paolo Tiralongo of Panaria. Cunego keeps setting the pace, but none of the main GC contenders is losing time at 300m from the top of the Colletto. Cunego has been a great teammate to Simoni in this race.
1607 CEST - Honchar is in the Gruppo Maglia Rosa too. Cunego kept quite a high pace, but none dared to attack there. The fireworks will start on the last mountain. Now its Gibo forcing the pace. Rujano on his wheel, then Basso. They all nearing the summit. Savoldelli is also there with the best ones. Simoni first over the top, then Basso, Rujano and Garate.
1610 CEST - If some expected to see the battle to break out on the steep Colletto, they must be disappinted. None attacked, no GC contenders got dropped apart from Caucchioli and Sella, but they lost a few seconds only, and were soon back in the peloton in the early part of the descent. Basso leading on the descent.
1611 CEST - Rujano, Simoni, Basso and Di Luca were climbing very well on the Colletto, but Savoldelli didn't lose any seconds to them.
Pozzovivo fell on the descent, but was immediately back in the saddle. Frank Schleck of CSC moved to the front of the 20-strong bunch to ride tempo as the peloton reaches the town of Robilante. Schleck has been an ironman in this Giro.
1615 CEST - 25k to go as riders are back on the flats. And Bettini is back into the Gruppo Maglia Rosa. That contains also Caruso, Tiralongo, Parra and Markus Fothen. Here we go again: Bettini attacks! Kessler and an orange warrior counter his move. Then Bettini sits up and waits for the bunch to recapture him.
1617 CEST - Schleck leads the bunch, that is gaining new additions in this flat section. Then come Simoni, Savoldelli and Basso. Some skirmishes in the pack, as they are on the way to the town of Vernante.
Lobato is likely trying to set up Garate. A group of six took a small advantage over the rest, among them there's Schleck and ... Ivan Basso! Lobato is there in the group.
1621 CEST - No more a GC threat, the man was allowed to ride away, along with teammate Schleck, Saunier Duval's Lobato Elvira and three others - Cioni, Caruso and Tiralongo. Very interesting move this. None of the GC contenders can afford to chase Basso now. They have to mark each other.
Curiously, both Tiralongo (Panaria) and Caruso (Liberty Seguros) are from the same Sicilian town: Avola, near Siracusa. Savoldelli raises his hand. He drops back to the team car.
1623 CEST - Caruso, Basso, Schleck, Tiralongo, Lobato Elvira, and Basso put 26" into the bunch.
1625 CEST - And the gap goes up: 40 seconds, with less than 20k to go. So Savoldelli without teammates reloads with water for the final climb. Three Lampres drive the chase back in the bunch, with José Rujano in fourth place.
Savoldelli is picking his way back up to the wheel of Simoni.
1628 CEST - We're 17k from the line. Lobato Elvira continues to ride hard up front. The gap is not increasing anymore though: 43". Basso definitely has the stage win in his crosshairs today.
1629 CEST - Now the lead gets more significant: 01'01".
Patxi Vila is doing all of the work at the front of the bunch, but he's not exactly the best flatlander around. 15k to go.
The race is nearing the last ascent. And the gap is growing again: 01'13".
1631 CEST - Two riders (Lobato and Schleck) are setting the pace in the leading sextet. Only one guy (Patxi Vila) is doing some serious - sort of - chasing work in the peloton. The tactics are once again playing out in Savoldelli's favor. Lampre is doing the work while he sits on, waiting for the final climb.
1632 CEST - The race is in town. The town is Limone Piemonte. That means the final climb to the top of Colle di Tenda is starting soon, in just one kilometre. And we suspect the real fireworks are about to start too.
1634 CEST - Basso and the other five escapees got to the Col di Tenda first slopes. The peloton is going to start their last effort soon.
1635 CEST - The Gruppo Maglia Rosa hits the final ascent. Three Lampres leading, then come Parra, Rujano, Savoldelli and Di Luca. A Cofidis rider moves up front too, while Gibo took off his glasses.
1637 CEST - Gap update: the Basso sextet extended their lead over the Maglia Rosa group to 01'30". Hmmm. I wonder if Simoni might possibly be considering an attack on this final climb. That would be so unlike him.
The Maglia Rosa group contains some 20 riders at the moment. Among them also Bettini and one Lotto rider (perhaps van Huffel).
1640 CEST - 10km to go.. We're still in the first, comparatively easier part of the final climb. Basso, Schleck, Lobato Elvira, Caruso, Tiralongo made some more gains, bringing their lead up to about 01'40".
1642 CEST - Ivan Parra moved to the front of the Maglia Rosa group. Is an attack from Jose Rujano coming? Simoni, Savoldelli and Di Luca come next, staying on Rujano's wheel. Gibo and Il Falco have quite different climbing styles. Weird, Rujano actually makes Gibo look kinda big when riding near him.
1645 CEST - Cunego back to the front, riding tempo as a top domestique. Colombian Ardila Cano (racing for Davitamon-Lotto, not Selle Italia) on his wheels. The gap stopped increasing: 01'38" with 8k to go.
Cunego turning the screws once again. Honchar up in the mix now, next to Savoldelli. Theo Eltink and Cedric Vassuer couldn't follow the tempo set by Cunego and lost contact with the Gruppo Maglia Rosa, that gained some 20" on the escapees over the past km. Schleck is about to run out of gas. He's doing his last efforts before Basso launches his expected attack - the attack we're waiting for. But here comes a surprise. the first attack comes from Caruso.
But Basso counters, catches the Sicilian, and speeds off on his own as he hits the toughest part of the ascent!! Ivan Basso is the man in the lead!
Basso suffered through hell to have a shot at this stage... he's not letting anybody take this away from him.
1649 CEST - His advantage over the main peloton: 01'16"
with less than 6k to go. While Cunego continues to drive the bunch. Gibo on his wheel. Then comes Savoldelli, and Garate.
Not sure why the two Davitamon riders have come to the front of the pack... McEwen's not here, fellas.
1652 CEST - Basso is flying on the Col di Tenda switch backs. Flying towards his first ever victory at the Giro. He leads Cioni and Lobato by 20". Tiralongo by 25". And Caruso by 30". And the pack by 01'40".
Van Huffel attacks the peloton. Then Simoni makes his move. 5K to go for Basso. Savoldelli followed Simoni's move, but Di Luca didn't! Simoni drops Il Falco too. Catches Van Huffel and drops him too! Rujano and Garate try to regain Simoni's wheel. Savoldelli continues at his own pace. 15" behind is Gibo and Valjavec with him.
1654 CEST - Rujano caught Gibo, and so did Garate. Savoldelli will need all of his GC cushion to keep Simoni at bay in this race.
1655 CEST - 4k to go for Basso. Savoldelli is with 6-7 more riders now. Only Rujano is with Gibo. The two working together.
1657 CEST - Savoldelli remains 13-15 seconds back. Karpets is driving the chase in the Savoldelli group. Di Luca is further behind. Rujano is trying to fight his way onto the final podium. But the man right in front of him on GC is Simoni. Basso continues his ride towards the stage victory. Simoni and Rujano caught Caruso.
Basso is very motivated. He's not going to give up. I seriously doubt they'll catch him. I agree. That's not their target anyway. Savoldelli holds on. His gap to Gibo still around 15".
Basso keeps a lead of more than a minute over Gibo and sensational José. 2k to go for Ivan. Grimaces all around on this climb. Everybody is at their limit.
1700 CEST - Simoni and Rujano slightly extended their lead over Savoldelli to 18".
1701 CEST - Cioni remains in between Basso and the Gibo-Rujano duo. Di Luca losing about a minute to Simoni.
1702 CEST - Gap update: Basso leads Gibo and Rujano by 01'22". Savoldelli lost some more seconds to the aforementioned duo. He's gonna keep the jersey anyway. 700m to go for Basso.
And Savoldelli's going to extend his lead over Di Luca. 400m for Ivan, 300m...While Savoldelli's gap to Gibo is up to 32".
Still 200m for Ivan to finish his winning ride.
100 metres. The crowd salutes him Huge applause for the man. And here we go, IVAN BASSO WINS!!! His first victory in the Giro. Then come Rujano and Simoni. They are 100m from the line. And they cros the line! Rujano outsprints Simohni for second place!
They are more than a minute behind Basso. Van Huffel takes fourth at 01'30". And the Savoldelli group comes in at 01'49". Five or six riders with Il Falco. He lost some 50" to Gibo (bonus seconds included). Di Luca comes in at 02'50". He lost 01'40" to Gibo and Rujano, and the third place overall to Rujano.
Parra, Garate, Savoldelli and Honchar took 5th to 8th places in the stage ranking.
And when it comes to the Geenral Classification, Savoldelli holds onto his lead, even if Simoni is only 58" down. Rujano moved up into third (at 01'24"). Then comes Di Luca, who dropped to fourth (01'26"), and Garate is sitting in fifth place at 02'11". Honchar is at 4'05" and Caucchioli sits at 4'26".
So Bettini looks like he has an even better shot at keeping that Ciclamino Jersey now. And Rujano extends his dominance in the Green Jersey. It's his for keeps now... there aren't enough climbs in the race for anybody to take it from him.
Riders are still coming across the line in little groups, more than 22' after Basso. The grupetto is coming across at over 24' back. They have the team presentations on the podium with limited numbers, because most of the Credit Agricole team is still to finish. The grupetto is still coming... now over 25' back. Finally, they cross the line.
Petacchi was in that group. He's got that "where's my dinner and massage" look about him.
Unfortunately, there was an injury today - Pozzovivo was taken away on a stretcher at the line - he had a fall today on the Colletto, and may have broken his collarbone. But we think he finished the stage. We wish him the very best.
So that concludes our live coverage for the day. Thanks very much for joining us, and please be right here tomorrow - as we watch the final three stages of this 88th Giro. See you then!
for the day's results and classifications.