Good afternoon and welcome to the final stage of the Giro d’Italia 2005.
While we all get our breaths back from yesterday's epic stage, let’s have a look at what Fabio had to say about the final day back in January, before the race started.
Click for larger image.
Stage 20 (Sunday - May 29, 2005)
Albese con Cassano to Milan (121 km.)
Or the closing leg of the 88th Tour of Italy. Usually a ceremonial stage, with the name of the GC winner, and those of the other podium finishers as well as the minor competition champions, well-known since the previous evening. The 2003 leg was the only recent exception to the rule, with the ITT finishing in front of Duomo di Milano, the city’s Cathedral, but the 2005 edition makes no exception and the stage ends in the traditional urban circuit inside Milan.
If the finish town of the stage (and whole race) is known to everyone, the start town is a newcomer to the Tour of Italy. Not a random one though, as the stage commences at Albese con Cassano, a tiny hamlet on the hills between Erba and Como. And also the hometown of Fabio Casartelli, the 1992 Olympic Road Race Champion, and former teammate of Lance Armstrong at Motorola, victim of a fatal accident on the Portet d’Aspet descent of the Pyrenees during the 1995 Tour de France.
As everyone knows, Armstrong paid a very special homage to Fabio as he captured a stage a few days later, and pointed his fingers at the sky with the same goal also after most recent Tour de France wins. Many other riders paid similar tributes to the memory of Fabio Casartelli too, and with the tenth anniversary of the tragedy nearing it’s the turn of the Giro to render homage to the little big champion from Albese; and they couldn’t have found a better way than this. Albese town councilor Pietro Masciadri agrees: "We are grateful to RCS, and happy at a choice that shows how much they believe in the work of a group of persons who have been working hard for two years, with the sole goal of paying the best possible tribute to Fabio Casartelli". Mr. Masciadri added that the stage should get underway near the Casartelli monument, behind the local church.
Then the peloton, who might be back in town the very next day for the first post-Giro criterum, assuming its 2005 edition can actually take place, moves southward into Lombardia’s capital, just to wind through the area of the Fiera (Milan's worldwide famous trade exhibition center) and successively get into downtown Milan, where sprinters able to hold on over all those nasty climbs, from Stelvio and Pordoi to Sestriere and Colle delle Finestre, get a well-deserved prize, the last opportunity to raise their fist in triumph over the line, situated in Corso Venezia for the second time in a row. Italy’s second main city (but home to the Gazzetta dello Sport and RCS HQs, and this factor - someone said along with Rome’s perennial traffic jams, that a final stage there would make even worse - should explain why the race traditionally ends here and not in la capitale) hosts the Giro finishing line for the 79th time, with Mario Cipollini as top winner (5 triumphs) followed by Alfredo Binda.
After all of the above, it will be time for the traditional "thank you so much and see ya in 2006" thingy. Well, at least in the (hopefully) sunny and hot late spring day when the real Tour of Italy comes to end. ‘Cause while we are writing the last words of this virtual journey through the Peninsula, its roads and seas, plains and mountains, poets, monuments and football teams, and bike legends of the past and present times, it’s just a damn cold evening in late January, with some 100 days to go, and huge temperature gains to be made, before the rosa peloton may line up at "Il piů bel chilometro d’Italia" for the prologue …
Giro 2005 – A few comments
Without doubt the 88th edition of this grand race has been an unqualified success. This is no doubt due in part to the arrival of Angelo Zomegnan as the new race director, who has given the race new impetus and direction. He has resolved the problem of international TV coverage for the race and has over seen a parcours that has led to exciting racing and high drama on almost every day.
After years of doping scandals and Police raids, the Giro has at last managed to shake off its sombre image and once again is a blooming pink rose.
How much the arrival of the Pro Tour has aided this transformation is open to debate. Critics point to the lack of highly motivated wild card teams and under strength squads of some Pro Tour participants. Supporters point to more international interest and a bigger depth of field. The only certain fact is that fans world wide have been able to enjoy a tremendously exciting struggle of man and machine over some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. For that fact alone we must applaud the Corsa Rosa.
The Race Situation
Savoldelli now leads the race with a 28-sec race lead over former two-time winner Simoni and a 45-sec lead over Rujano. Yesterday with 20 kilometres to the finish the result was still very much in doubt - “I feel like I’ve aged ten years. I had to start climbing the Finestre on my own,” said Savoldelli after the stage.
“I was lucky to be with riders who weren’t against me. If I’d tried to follow Simoni’s pace I’m sure I would have given up”.
For Simoni, who had attacked on the Finestre Climb, he has taken comfort in the fact he had done his best - “At the end I paid for all my efforts,I attacked when I saw that Savoldelli wasn’t going too well. I was hoping for a hand from a rider like (Ivan) Parra but in the end it was Danilo Di Luca who stepped up to the mark. He was superb.”
Meanwhile Danilo di Luca is now looking forward to the NEXT Giro –
«I’m sorry» these are Danilo Di Luca’s first words finishing third in today’s stage (Savigliano-Sestričre, 190 km) and fourth overall. Liquigas-Bianchi captain lost the chance of getting on the podium as we was seized with a sudden cramp while he was riding up the terrible Colle delle Finestre behind Rujano and Simoni. After a heroic performance, Di Luca is also sorry for his team that believed in him in this great adventure. However, the “Killer” from Spoltore has a new confidence in himself and waits for the 2006 pink race.
«I knew I would have to attack today: I was aiming at the podium, so I couldn’t do anything else. I’m very sorry – for me and for Liquigas-Bianchi too – that I had to give up my project because of a banal cramp just when I was close to succeed. I think I relaxed the muscles too much in the descent and when I had to contract them in the effort I was seized with a cramp. However, I’m glad because this Giro has been a wonderful race, won by the man in the best condition. Personally, this Giro was also a special experience. Starting from this very moment I’m sure: I can win a Giro d’Italia. Maybe already in 2006».
Commentary today by podofdonny and Andy McGrath.
14:30 CEST - 153 riders have started this morning and after around 12 kilometres of racing the peloton is still very much together, very relaxed as you may well expect after yesterday's efforts (not to mention the previous three weeks). Today's stage should be a formality for most riders, but while the Giro overall is effectively decided, Danilo di Luca and Alessandro Petacchi can still wrestle the cicliamino jersey of the shoulders of Paolo Bettini - though it's unlikely.
Meanwhile one rider who will always remember this race is Ivan Basso – talking to the CSC website about yesterday's stage he said:
”I actually had quite a good feeling in my legs for a long time, but when the attacks started to get serious on Finestre, I could feel, that today I had to pay the price for the two previous victories. But OK, we tried, and the team made a brilliant effort along the way. It would've been perfect with a hat trick, but today I just didn't have enough strength left,” said Ivan Basso after the stage.
”It developed into a beautiful stage, and it was a shame, we didn't get to play a bigger part. Ivan wasn't 100% today. It would've been great to take four stage wins home with us, but given the circumstances we should be satisfied with the three,” said Bjarne Riis.
Meanwhile, Sven Krauss has won the Vespa motorcycle for coming top of the Trofeo Fuga Piotto competition. The young Gerolsteiner man was one of the chief animators of the first week, and still lies second in the Intergiro competition after his early forays; he's fourteen seconds down on Stefano Zanini.
By the way, this final stage has been dedicated to the memory of Fabio Casartelli, the Olympic champion who crashed and died while descending the Portet Aspet in the 1994 Tour.
1516 CEST - 70 minutes into the action, a Discovery Channel rider is involved in an on-the-bike interview, while a CSC rider is attending to a call of nature. Discovery Channel are leading the peloton, but the pace is rather leisurely in what is rather a processional stage. I think the riders are just glad to get to Milano after three weeks of hard labour, and as we would expect a very relaxed first hour of riding with the peloton ambling along at 27.800 km/h over the first hour. The peloton has passed through Saronno and it is very much gruppo compatto.
Pavel Padrnos and Grand Tour virgin Jason McCartney are conversing on the front, riding two abreast, with their victorious leader just behind with Belli. A lot of riders are happily chatting - nearer the rear end of the bunch, it's Italian veterans Andrea Noe' and Paolo Fornaciari.
Danilo Di Luca hams it up for the camera, smiling and waving; thousands of Italian housewives' hearts skip a beat.
1527 CEST - 79km to go. So as this great race comes to a close, the riders will be considering their next challenge - Savoldelli the Pink Falcon will be swooping on a yellow target next. He has stated he will ride the Tour next for Lance Armstrong as the Discovery Channel team attempt to win two major Tours.
As the camera focuses on Ivan Basso, Samuel Sanchez comes by and licks the camera! The Euskaltel man has had a good race, finishing seventeenth overall.
Ivan Basso will also be thinking about France as his next target - he has clearly improved on his worst discipline, time trialling, and will go into France with renewed confidence.
Gilberto Simoni is grinning while receiving an on-the-bike interview, and Discovery Channel are still soft-pedalling on the front, talking amongst themselves happily.
The Intergiro is coming up - will Zanini or Krauss go for it or will they be content to just roll along in the bunch? By "coming up," with the speed they're going, it could be hours...
The top five in the Intergiro competition coming into today are as follows:
1 Zanini Stefano Ita Qst 52:59:09
2 Krauss Sven Ger Gst 0:18
3 Bettini Paolo Ita Qst 0:21
4 Schmitz Bram Ned Tmo 1:46
5 Basso Ivan Ita Csc 2:01
Looking at the Intergiro with Zanini, Krauss and Bettini in the top three places, it reminds us of what an eventful race Bettini has had. The Gold Helmet, gold handlebars and shoes have certainly caught the headlines throughout the race, particularly in the opening stages of the race when the parcours surprised many by being more suited to hard classic riders like Bettini and Di Luca, than the pure sprinters.
But if it is hard man sprinting you like to watch, then this Giro had more than its fair share with Bettini and Cooke clashing on the finishing straight in the opening week, which saw Bettini disqualified from the stage and not a happy cricket at all. Cooke didn't seem too happy about it either - the fact he refrained from decking Bettini was, frankly, a miracle.
Bettini has been arguably been the most versatile rider, with top finishes in the sprint stages, attacks in the hills and solid riding in the high mountains; he lies thirty-eighth overall. While Di Luca has been similarly versatile, he hasn't been seen mixing it with the fast men.
Well, that would be a very big argument, Andy - I think a certain "Killer" might be more qualified for the versatility award.
I know he's done superbly, he'd be the obvious choice. But Bettini has been right in the thick of things in several sprints. (On the other hand, he hasn't been there in the high mountains).
Yes indeed, and all credit to Stefano Zanini for taking the Intergiro, which has not been easy this year with some of the Intergiro sprints being a very long way into the stage.
Now, the Points Competition - here are the top five as of the end of Stage 19.
1 Bettini Paolo Ita Qst 151
2 Di Luca Danilo Ita Liq 136
3 Petacchi Alessandro Ita Fas 129
4 Savoldelli Paolo Ita Dsc 124
5 Basso Ivan Ita Csc 114
So the Ciclamino jersey, far from being the domain of Mr. Pettachi, is on the shoulders of Bettini, with Di Luca in second, and Alejet lanquishing in third spot. Bettini and Di Luca in the top two places again shows the quality of the flatter stages, which, far from being processions for fast men, were hard-fought battles which saw Classic riders have the edge on pure speed.
By the way, in a welcome return to form after months of trouble, Andreas Kloden has won the last stage of the Bayern Rundfahrt (2.HC), while Gerolsteiner veteran Michael Rich takes the overall. And, today, the Daily Peloton's famous Italian, Fabio, is a Milano for the finish of the race.
1554 CEST - After giving us so much excitement yesterday, it seems that the riders are trying to establish a balance today. There have been signs of life though - Stefano Zanini took the Intergiro sprint a few minutes ago, ahead of Paolo Bettini and Sven Krauss, incidentally, his closest challengers.
This means that the 36 year old has now wrapped up victory in that competition, in what could well be his last season in cycling, after fifteen years as a pro.
Congratulations to Quickstep Davitamon and old campaigner Stefano.
Turning to the Mountains Competition, here are the top five:
1 Rujano Guillen Jose' Ven Clm 143
2 Parra Ivan Col Clm 57
3 Simoni Gilberto Ita Lam 45
4 Basso Ivan Ita Csc 41
5 Di Luca Danilo Ita Liq 29
Jose Rujano has carved out a quite emphatic lead in that competition. Moreover, once he ensured victory there, he made the transition from mountain-midget attacker to GC contender quite seamlessly.
The race has also quickened - the average is up to 30.5 km/h at the Intergiro. Still, in saying that, they are doing speeds with nonchalant ease that a mere mortal like me could barely sustain.
Still, back to the KOM competition - Wild Card team Colombia Selle Italia not only got their man Rujano into the Green Jersey but also held second spot too, courtesy of Ivan Parra - a remarkable ride by the small team who have impressed every fan with their dynamic attacking racing from all the team.
With Venezuela and Colombia holding onto the top two spots, it is South American domination of the Green jersey competition with Gilberto Simoni the first Italian in third spot.
Congratulations must also go to Liquigas who are on their way to comfortably winning the Team Ranking, courtesy of Di Luca (fourth overall), Cioni (twelfth) and Miholjevic (thirty-first).
We've been through most of the competitions, but what of one "unofficial" contest? The (paradoxical?) winner of the maglia nera for last place this year is a Selle Italia rider: Russell van Hout. While it's an unenviable 'victory', he deserves credit for making it to Milan in what was one of the toughest Giro in years.
1609 CEST - While it looks like a 'morning-in-the-park' ride right now, I can assure you that once they get onto that finishing circuit in Milan, the pace is going to be murderous.
Meanwhile, the race, which had more twists and turns than the Stelvio, saw more than one pre-race favourite fall by the wayside. Cunego was much fancied, but his effort fell short this year after last year's amazing race. However the young gun responded well to the disappointment; he continued to race for his captain Simoni through out the race and in some ways enhanced his reputation as a cyclist by his good team work in the latter part of the race.
Both Simoni and Cunego have definitely enhanced their reputations as people though - far from the 'bastardo' rivalry claims of last year, they have been token teammates. If anything was bubbling under the surface, they've certainly concealed it well. Indeed, Lampre have been one of the best teams in the race, with domestiques like Tonti, Vila and Petrov working tirelessly in the mountains.
In other racing news, Stefan van Dijk, a former Dutch champion, has won the final stage of the Tour of Belgium in - surprise, surprise - a bunch sprint ahead of Jeremy Hunt. Tom Boonen was content to let someone else have the glory, as he took the overall classification.
1619 CEST - The race has reached Milano now, where there are twelve circuits to ride to the finish. Peloton still all together as Fassa (who else) start to force up the speed slightly as they have finished the first circuit.
A beautiful sunny day shining down on the corsa rosa, the crowds out in many thousands to greet the giants of the road.
In what may seem like an anti-climax after the past few days...most of the race, actually...this is the march of victors and giants - the real race finished at the ski station. This is a chance for the peloton to bask in its reflected glory in front of its tifosi. Not to mention another chance for Petacchi to win a stage...
1630 CEST - So Fassa leading the peloton, the sky blue, Savoldelli in pink, and the pace building - the first circuit was completed in 7'33" - 38.146 km/h, the 2nd circuit in 7'32", 38.230 km/h. And as the finish line and end of the race draws closer, we can expect the pace to build like a steam train.
Of course, one rider missing in action this year was Mario Cipollini, who retired just two weeks before the start - one must say that having seen how hard this race has been and how few opportunities there have been for the fast teams that the Lion King seems to have been very prudent and wise. And his fans everywhere will remember his bowing out at the end of the prologue.
1638 CEST - So it's Bruseghin, who has had a great race all round, and Codol, in their normal place - leading the peloton for Fassa Bortolo - looking for a Petacchi victory.
Circuit 3 - 7'34", the speed 38.062 km/h - still Fassa dominate the front of the peloton, as they sweep through Milan on their colourful course. Frank Hoj (Gerolsteiner), last but one overall, is at the back of the peloton.
1645 CEST - Thierry Marichal attacks for Cofidis, livening things up - probably the first of the day. And his effort has seen the peloton wake up completely as the pace starts to wind up.
Fassa bring back Marichal and every one is back together.
Right at the rear of the pack, Hoj is still there, with Joan Horrach (Iles Balears) in front of him. They're not reacting too well to the sudden accelerations.
Circuit 4 - 7'13" - the speed now 39.633 km/h, and it is still Fassa and the Discovery Channel at the front of the peloton.
Discovery now, keeping their man out of trouble at the front of the peloton. And a couple of riders take the wrong side of the dual carriageway - maybe they want to be alone...
1654 CEST - Circuit 5 - 6'34", speed now 43.858 km/h. Fassa Bortolo have really brought it up. Bruseghin again leading the peloton as Fassa pick up the pace from Discovery Channel.
Fassa, then Discovery and Liquigas, as they speed through the finish line. There are a few nasty kinks in this circuit. A crash would definitely sour the last day for some riders.
1701 CEST - Circuit 6 - 6'51" - average speed 41.538 km/h. Michael Barry in his "Hincapie" specs is leading the bunch, with two Fassa behind him. Andrle has punctured but returns okay, back into the peloton.
Circuit 7 - 6'44" - 42.772 km/h. Discovery still working hard at the front and Jason Mccartney is keeping the beat, taking over from Barry.
And another Cofidis attack - Matt White. Cofidis clearly want to get some headlines this afternoon, but as always the Fassa train seems right on track. Just under 18km to go.
1713 CEST - White doing very well to hold off the Fassa train for so long. Circuit 8 finished in 6'14", average speed 46.203 km/h.
Of course, another sprinter who came into the race with a fanfare was Erik Zabel - who has ridden his first ever Giro. T-Mobile have had a very quiet race, so maybe they will change that here in Milan.
White is still dangling out there, like a carrot on a stick for the Fassa Bortolo train to chase. He's got a good turn of speed, as a chief lead-out man for compatriot and teammate Stuart O'Grady. Mattie is 147th on GC, by the way.
1717 CEST - 3 circuits to the finish, as the peloton speeds around Milano like a multi-coloured Ferrari.
1719 CEST - 12.5km to go; White is giving a demonstration of keeping the peloton at bay - truly a great effort by the Australian in Milan. Look who's gotten Friskie... Zabriskie attacks and blows right past White, as the peloton is about to swallow the Australian. Can the USA TT champ hold off the peloton?
The answer seems to be no - the peloton is strung out as the Fassa train moves relentlessly on. They are clawing them back yard by yard. 2 circuits to go.
1723 CEST - The race back together, the pace very high. As the cameras pan to the back of the race, it's pretty grim, sprinting out of the saddle out of every corner to stay in contact. Despite the Silver Train's efforts, the average speed for the stage is nonetheless just over 33km/h.
Great bike handling skills by all the riders as they speed round the corners. An attack by Wilson? Yes - the Italian-Aussie war continues, even at this late stage in the race. He's not getting anywhere, though.
1728 CEST - The bell rings for the last lap in the last stage of a fantastic Giro. Fassa back in control - as this magnificent race draws to its finish. A race of excitment and beauty is on its last circuit around Milan!
Several riders hurl their bottles into the crowd - watch out Fabio! (Or, catch it, Fabio!) 4.6 kilometres before the race is over for another year. Savoldelli will be the Pink Prince - but who will win the last stage? Will Alessandro Petacchi have the last laugh - again? He won on this circuit last year.
Fassa doing all the work but Zanini moves up too. Behind the Silver Train, Zabel and Cadamuro are up there.
Fassa still leading, Grillo and Vogels are also there, or thereabouts. But FdJ are mixing it up.
1732 CEST - Mark Renshaw has infiltrated the Fassa train; he's third wheel. The peloton is hurtling towards this finish... Under the flamme rouge, it's still Fassa Bortolo - Forster is lurking.
The last kilometre of the 88th Giro...Fassa, Fassa...No question about it! Alessandro Petacchi wins! Petacchi pays back the work from his teammates with a perfect sprint.
He had Zabel on his wheel, it was clear he couldn't come round - in the distance, a Fassa Bortolo lead-out man celebrated a full 100m from the line! He also had a lead-out man sprinting alongside him - I believe a Fassa Bortolo came through in fifth; quite a surprise. It may well be someone like Marco Velo. No - it was Mirko Lorenzetto in fourth! There was quite a gap between the sprinters and the rest of the field.
1. Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo)
2. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile Team)
3. Robert Forster (Gerolsteiner)
4. Mirco Lorenzetto (Domina Vacanze)
5. Marco Velo (Fassa Bortolo)
6. Paride Grillo (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare)
7. Isaac Galvez (Iles Balears)
8. Mark Renshaw (Francaise des Jeux)
Un gran belle Giro! Paolo Savoldelli of Discovery Channel wins his second Giro d'Italia! The helicopter pans around Milan, showing the magnificent duomo.
I just wonder if Petacchi has snatched the Ciclamino Jersey off the shoulders of Paolo Bettini... But no wonder Zabel couldn't come past - Petacchi was clocked at 71.4km/h in that final charge to the line! I think Bettini has kept the Maglia Ciclamino though...
Petacchi shows great experience in his bottle-opening technique, making it look easy. The crowd are getting pretty wet now, as he sprays the spumante playfully. (Note to Zomegnan for next year - include bottle opening lessons.)
Paolo Savoldelli now takes his final maglia rosa. As the crowd cheers, he beams happily. After several years plagued with injury and illness, it's a fairytale comeback for "Il Falco". He is the winner of the 88th Giro d'Italia!
As the crowd chants "Paooolo!", he looks cockily at the champagne bottle - "I've had enough practise now" - and pops it open. Let the good times flow! Savoldelli kisses the spiral trophy and continues to grin.
There's a dense crowd of smiling Italians, waving at the television cameras. And Paolo Bettini indeed wins the ciclamino points jersey.
Incidentally, this is one of the closest Grand Tours of all time, considering the time gaps on the final podium - Savoldelli at 29 seconds over Gilberto Simoni, 45" over third-placed Jose Rujano and 2'42" over fourth-placed Danilo Di Luca.
Well, what a Giro it's been! It will be one long remembered, and we certainly hope that you have enjoyed it as much as we have. Thank you very much for being with us the past three weeks. Ciao!