Hello and welcome to our live coverage of the Giro d'Italia 2006 seventeenth
stage, taking the (remainder of the) bunch from Termeno to Plan de Corones/Kronplatz,
in the bilingual (Italian/German) area of South Tyrol, near the Austrian border,
in the magnificent "far north"of Italy. Its' a short journey - covering just 33
kms - but also incredibly tough in the second half, with the third mountain top
finish in the race, the second in a row after yesterday's Monte Bondone. And
it's Day Two in the "Mountain Men Festival". In our first route preview, dating
back to this past winter, we wrote that gaps can be made and more victims can be
claimed by the tough stage 17. True, but not enough: we could also add that
today's drama has the potential to gift us with moments of epic, "vintage"
cycling, notably as the race hits the last (partially) unpaved final piece of
the Plan de Corones mountain monster (with gradients up to 26% in the last
kilometre, that monster name is truly deserved!) leading up to the line.
In truth, the road tilts upwards right from the start, but apart from the
small ascent to Caldaro, followed by a a donwhill piece into South Tyrol's main
City Bolzano/Bozen, it's all about easy uphill riding (and possibly a breakaway
going) until they reach the town of Bressanone (Brixen in German) at the foot of
the first mountain challenge of the day, the Passo delle Erbe (Würzjoch), a darn
long ascent of over 30 km., with 1,622 metres of elevation gain, resulting in
the average gradient of 5.3% but reaching 10% as maximum gradient.
This climb could be unlikely to produce big gaps, at least when it comes to
the overall contenders, but it's more than likely to have a significant impact
on their legs, and those not having good form today are expected to pay for
their Erbe efforts on the next climb, the mighty, awful Plan de Corones/Kronplatz,
covering 17 km. from San Vigilio di Marebbe (that hosts the 100 Gazzetta Trophy
Sprint today, btw) to a small church atop the climb (altitude: 2273m asl), and
featuring 13 switchbacks, each one dedicated to a Great of Italian cycling, from
1920s legend Gaetano Belloni to Marco Pantani. The poor guys in the saddle could
well be forced to push a ... 34x27 up there.
And to add insult to injury, the secrets of this climb aren't known by any
member of the Giro 2006 peloton, with Gilberto Simoni (who tested it once, this
past autumn) as only exception, perhaps. And to add even more insult to injury,
the weather reportedly is not on the rider side today: latest reports were
speaking of strong winds blowing and sleet (that could even turn to snow)
falling over there, and of cold temperatures (as in -1°C in the morning) of
course. In case Plan A should fail (as in "such bad weather got worse, making it
impossible for the race to get to the top of the climb"), we'd presumably go to
Plan B (as in "the stage finishing on the Passo Furcia, coming earlier in the
same ascent, and located at a lower altitude"). Let's just wait until 0125 PM
(start time of the stage) and see ...
Stage plan, altimetry and detailed profiles of both the Erbe Pass and Plan de
Corones climbs below. Click for bigger images.
NOTE: Due to adverse weather conditions on the Passo
delle Erbe, the parcours were modified and the stage shortened by seven
kilometres. See details in the ticker below.
Stage 17 (Termeno to Plan de Corones, 126 km.): Live
Please use the F5 key to refresh the page and get the latest updates from
1335 CEST - We're having a strange and
unexepcted situation at the Giro. The stage in fact got underway under Termano's
damn grey skies at 1333 local time, after 15-minute talks between the peloton
and the race organization. But stopped ... no longer than a couple minutes
afterwards! Needless to say, the discussion topic is rider safety, and natobly
the situation over the Passo delle Erbe climb and its tricky descent, where
temperatures are reportedly around -3°C. It's snowing (lightly) at the
(presumed) finish line instead, where temperatures are reportedly hovering
around -1° C; but some tifosi are currently climbing that ascent, so we think
that making it to the Plan de Corones summit wouldn't be much of a prob in this
sense. The real problem is the Passo delle Erbe descent, or so it seems.
1338 CEST - The stage got underway for
real at last! Apparently the peloton got enough safety guarantees from the race
bosses. Whether this means the race is going over the Passo delle Erbe late
today or not, is something your tickerers not inside the bunch will get to know
- and tell ya - later. Even though the smart money is on a parcours change (from
Bressanone all the way to San Vigilio) and the race skipping that dangerous
1348 CEST - Okay, it's official now, as
it comes from the voices of the same race bosses. Rider safety is the first
stage winner, as the peloton is not going to take any risks on the Passo delle
Erbe descent: the race will just go from Brixen to the foot of the final ascent
via the town of Brunico and the Pusteria and Badia valleys, regaining the
"original" parcours at the town of Longega, shortly before San Vigilio. They're
not going over (and especially come down) the Würzjoch. A wise decision in our
humble opinion. Things are likely to stick to plans when it comes to the race
finish anyway: in spite of the current sleet, there's no sign of snow
accumulation on the road at Plan de Corones.
In short, they're up an running. Adverse weather conditions both on Passo del
Erbe and at the line didn't stop the race from going. And unless the current
sleet turns the road into a winter wonderland, the stage should finish atop the
Plan de Crones mountain monster as planned. The only route change (so far)
involves the Erbe Pass, whose dangerous descent, combined with the cold (and
snow?) there, prompted the decision to shorten the stage (the distance was cut
down to 124 km) and "circumnavigate" the ascent, going from Brixen all the way
to foot of the final climb, thru the Pusteria and Badia valleys of South Tyrol.
The uphill battle on the Würzjoch slopes has been postponed by (at least) one
1405 CEST - A group of 163 riders took to
the line today. Amongst them weren't neither Michele Scarponi, arguably one of
the big disappointments in the 2006 Corsa Rosa, nor Serhyi Honchar: the
Ukrainian was forced out of the race by the consequences of the pile-up he was
victim of the last week. He dropped dramatically on GC terms, held on as long as
possible, but eventually had to give up.
1425 CEST - Nothing worthy of mention
took place in the very early kilometres of this stage. The group was still
together as they reached km. 15.
1455 CEST - Thirty-six kilometres into
the stage, things stayed the same. The bunch (averaging 31.8 km/h in the first
sixty minutes of racing) is still as one. And things reportedly stayed the same
also at the finish line, with sleet steadily falling since the morning,
umbrellas opened all over the place, and lot of fog, fog, fog ... But thankfully
nothing white over the road surface.
1510 CEST - We got two escapees at last! A Frenchman (is it news?) and
an Italian. Better, an Italo-British, as Dario David Cioni (born in Reading, UK,
but living in Tuscany), fourth place overall finisher at the Giro d'Italia 2004,
made the gap together with Benoît Poilvet of Crédit Agricole.
The duo built up a lead of fifty seconds over the bunch, currently driven by
- surprise, surprise -, Saunier Duval-Prodir. Yessss, it looks like Gilberto
Simoni is still very motivated, hungry for victory, eager to stamp his authority
on the race at last. Their Team Manager Pietro Algeri, just interviewed "on the
road", didn't sounded that pleased at the decision to skip the Passo delle Erbe
though. A decision made "a bit too fast" in the man's own words.
1515 CEST - Some rain kept falling over
both the two leaders (Cini, Poilvet) and the chasing, lined-out peloton, still
led by the "Red Bird"guys of Saunier Duval, and riding (almost) on the flats on
the way to the city of Bressanone/Brixen.
1520 CEST - Under 75k from the line. The
rain made his appearance over the race, and did it big style. More than half of
the peloton have their jackets on. And others will soon, we tend to think.
1525 CEST - Benoit Poilvet and Dario
David Cioni extended their advantage to 01'20". Manuele "Chinstrap" Mori sets
the pace for Saunier Duval in the pack, riding alongside the Brennero highway
leading up to thee Austrian border. He has that big bandage on his chin from
that crash he had a few stages back, when attacking on a descent. And the TV
cameras show pictures of dogs getting snowed on the finish line ...
Bettini chats with the cameraman while munching on some energy bar. He's
bundled up like he's getting ready to ride into a blizzard. Oh, wait, he just
might be! His ears are covered, he's got the heavy coat on, his nose is red and
cold. He's got full gloves on, not the kind with the fingers cut off. He'd
better be careful of the snow, or Santa Clause might try to recruit him for the
workshop! (Bettini isn't exactly tall).
So who might be good candidates for the win today? My first picks would be
the men who were champions in Mountain Biking. That means Cioni, Danielson, and
John "Gadfly" Gadret might be good choices. Of course, Cioni is on the attack
already. That means Cioni, Danielson, and John "Gadfly" Gadrey might be good
1544 CEST - Sure today's stage bear some
resemblances with Mountain Bike riding. Like the fact riders might be pushing
even a 34x29 in the last kms today. That would be something new to many a good ones in the peloton. Gadret is of course the Cyclocross Champion of France. He'll need those skills on the final climb today, it looks like.
What would I have to ride to get up that climb if the pros are using a 34x29? Probably a chair lift or helicopter.
1546 CEST - TV cameras keep showing picture of Danilo Di Luca in the bunch. His Liquigas DS Amadio added his voice
to the chorus of those unhappy at the decision not to climb the Passo delle Erbe. But Sauniers and Liquigas cause is a lost one now. Cioni is pulling
hard in the leading duo, whereas Saunier ostensibly slowed the pace at the front of the bunch. The gap is gonna get bigger in the next few minutes, we think.
Di Luca, like Bettini, is putting on the full gloves, along with a warm-looking vest. A shot of the people freezing their butts off in the snow at
the finish shows you why the riders are putting on the heavy clothes. Images from the line show how things are taking a turn for the worse there. it will be
hard for the race to make it there. Organizers are reportedly about to make a decision very soon.
Somewhere, Andy Hampsten is sitting in front of his TV grumbling, "wussy little nancy boys. Back in my day, we rode through blizzards without our helmets
on!" and so would many other protagonists of that legendary stage over the Gavia in the 1988 Giro. But still, with the rain over the parcours, the snow at the line and the wind everywhere getting stronger and more and more dangerous, we're likely to have a day of epic cycling messed up by the weather, and thousands tifosi
over the line disappointed.
1555 CEST -
It's OFFICIAL NOW: NO STAGE FINISH AT PLAN DE CORONES!
The line has been moved down to the Furcia Pass, 5.5 kms earlier in the ascent. That's where
today's stage is gonna end because of the snow.
In 1996, Bjarne Riis won a snow-shortened stage in the Tour de France to unseat Miguel Indurain. It was the stage into Sestriere, they skipped the
Galibier; in that case it was the start place that was modified, BUT not the finish; they finished into Sestriere as planned, And it was the day Bjarne took
the Yellow Jersey off Berzin's shoulders just to keep it all the way to Champs at Paris. 'Twas damn snowy on the Galibier that day.
1600 CEST - Race organizers, (many) riders and the fans (notably those who climbed their way up to the Plan de
Corones summit, over those unpaved and steepy roads) must be extremely disappointed with that. But in such adverse weather conditions, organizers basically had no other choice. They will stop at
the bottom of the ski slope. The final ascent is down to 5.5-6 km. only, with
gradients up to 14%. So we're gonna have some climbing battle at the end of the
1603 CEST - So, we STILL have a race. To
the delight of Cioni and Poilvet, that were allowed to increase the gap to
02'33" Gutierrez (Phonak) is off the back with some teammates... he had a
mechanical. While the Phonak army is about to pace the overall runner-up back into the bunch.
And while they're
having a kind of windstorm (and snowstorm) at Plan de Corones. No way they could
make it to the top of the ascent in such conditions, sorry.
Basso sits on Simoni's wheel near the front of the peloton, looking snug and
warm in his rain gear.
1607 CEST - Speaking of the Plan de Corones finish again, race director Angelo Zomegnan expressed all of his
disappointment at not being able to get there, but promised he''ll have a go again in the next years. Yiu can be sure that the Plan de Corones mountain monster will figure in the route of some of the next Giros!
A CSC rider with a flat! It's hard to tell who it is, but it's not Basso. Nobody stopped and waited for him, so the guy wasn't Ivan for sure. When the rain capes go on, the numbers get hidden... and it gets hard to tell who is who sometimes.
Oh, a Discovery rider got off his bike. Someone soon joining the list of DNFers? Well it must be Savoldelli who has stopped to put on his heavy weather gear. And another CSC guy with a flat! Once more it was not Basso anyway.
Perhaps the reason behind all those riders stopping for a while was not a
string of flats and mechanicals, but some changes to their bikes, as they do not
need 34x29s and such any longer... now Basso is off the back of the peloton.
He's got a few riders with him. The race isn't "on" yet, so it won't matter.
The TV feed shows 34km left, but it is unclear if that is a reliable figure
now. Yes, the big guns will not have to go up that crazy 26% grade... they will
"only" have a 14% grade now on the final climb, so they won't need the crazy
34x29 climbing gears on their bikes... they can go with the more normal 39x23
and 39x25 gears. It makes a big difference to have the right gears for the
Saunier Duval has narrowed the gap to 01'51" for Cioni and Poilvet. Damiano Cunego was the latest addition to the riders having bike changes. In his case he didn't change his rear wheel only, but his bike as a whole. Small
detail: Damiano's new bike doesn't have any number on. So the guys at the photofinish might have some probs with his final placing at the end of the
stage. He'd better fix that as soon as possible!
Continues in the main article position of the Daily Peloton here.