Older Tour Reports: 2002 Giro D'Italia


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2002 Giro D'Italia

Prologue - 5/11 Goningen - Netherlands

This was a truly odd start to the Giro. Tight, tight course, with 180's over the canals and narrow turns. Some guy whose name I don't recall gets an early lead, and all the heads of state fail to catch him. Finally, Juan Carlos Dominguez, late of and now with Phonak manages to scoot across the line a second faster, taking the day and the first Maglia Rosa. I won't go into the details of the stage, other than to say Pantani was deep, deep in the back, and Simoni looked slow as well. Of course, he's at least recovering from a cracked tibia, so he has an excuse. It happened a couple days ago, and I'm tying from memoryh, so if you need more details on the rankings, check the VeloNews report... Doninguez utterly cannot open the champage, taking minutes to crack the first cork, and finally giving up on the second. Bob Roll calls it the new record for time needed to open a bottle of champage. They should train for that... Oh, and Tyler Hamilton tumbles into a barrier because he follows a wide white stripe around a tight corner that turns out to be the vertical of a large "P" or "R". It continues 30 degrees away from where he wants to go, and Tyler's clearly focused upon it before he locks up and tumbles upside down against the metal barriar. Some other rider gets 10 feet down the start ramp and you can see his handlebar jiggling from a snapped stem bolt. Starts the prologue by changing to his spare bike before the follow car even has a chance to straighten out onto the road. Damn.
Stage Winner: Juan Carlos Dominguez
Maglia Rosa: Juan Carlos Dominguez

Stage 1 - 5/12 Groningen to Munster

Another Day in the North...Germans everywhere Overcast and spring classic skies, without the occurence of rain. Textbook example of a great team leadout, without the wasteful excess of the late, lamented "Red Train" of Saeco - Aqua & Sapone lead out Super Mario to let him hit hyper-drive. All a thing of beauty. No one coming near him, but a big chunk of the pack got chopped off as a crash occurs on the third cirucuit in Munster. Looks like they lost about 2/3rds of the peloton, but there's a healthy 40-45 riders rubbing bar tape. Germans crowd the barriers 20 yards deep in places, and Telekom tries but fails to take control. Coast cannot pull things together, but Phonak makes another strong punch and gets two riders into the top 5.
Stage Winner: Mario Cipollini
Maglia Rosa: Mario-Mario-Mario

Stage 2 - 5/13 Cologne to Liege...

Serious Belgian roads doing some damage to the pretenders. Finish runs into the Liege-Bastogne-Liege finish, and the speed increases as the stage ends. Brutal bursts and a strong accelleration up the climb in town by Francesco Casagrande splits the lead pack, and a mad scramble occurs as Bettini, Garzelli and others claw their way back. Suddenly, Bettini is off the back and out of contention as he flats. This frees Garzelli, who muscles his way up to Casagrande's rear wheel. A minor regrouping becomes a growing gaggle of a dozen riders as the roads level out. Simoni struggling, but looking like he has power, if not the accelleration to match Casagrande's burst. The elastic stretches again as the speed keeps raising to an incredible degree. But, then Garzelli dips out of the slipstream and rides away on the flat, winning the stage. Casagrande second, and a bunch of others duking for third. Cipollini loses the pink jersey, coming in about a minute down. He had tried to keep the pace high in the last 5 km, but the hill of Liege saws him off. However, the pretender to the sprint throne Ivan Quaranta is jettisoned with about 20 km to go, and struggles quickly as the pace quickened in anticipation of the Liege climb.
Stage Winner: Stephano Garzelli
Maglia Rosa: Stephano Garzelli


Stage 3 - Liege to Esch-sur (Luxembourg)

Didn't tune in right away at 6:30 this morning, as I am still hoping to hear my name called on CNET radio for a free computer... When I turned the TV on, it looked like dry roads and a long breakaway, but this is Belgium, so I hope you brought a raincoat... The stage so far: Marc Streel (white over red - Lanboukredit/Colnago, but there's another main sponsor) takes a flyer 30km in, and gets about 8 minutes or so up, but then the rains begin to hit. Everyone gets soggy and begin to break out the rain capes, but the time gap begins dropping as they cover the rain-soaked pavement. 43 km to go: Intergiro sprint coming up at 40km, and the temperature drops as the peloton suffers. Streel cruises into town and takes the max points as the sun breaks through slightly and adds glare to the rain-covered roadways. 2:40 later a small bunch launches from the peloton and snag the other salient points. Massimo Strazzer of Phonak takes the next points, and Phil and Paul politely argue who leads the competition. Rain capes begin to be jettisoned, and the gap is down to 1:33. Peloton shakes the water out of their ears as the sun comes out in earnest. They consider the gap like a cat playing with a caught bird. 35 km to go: Gap dangles to 1:48, but there are two or three circuits once they get into town, so the sprinters will leave him out there for a bit. Bob Roll relates a story from the Tour of Britain, in which he lost a cleat and then a chain while leading over the cobbled finish. Phil, "...we were in Wales, and I don't think they'd ever heard that language before..." 25 km to go: Gap at about a miniute. The last suffering continues... 17 km to go: Onto the finishing circuit. My mistake earlier - only one circuit. Peloton goes through :53 behind Streel. Still very bunched. They could grab him whenever they want to....all are together. 13 km to go: 22 second gap. Falling. 15 km go: Groupo Compatto The peloton begins to frolic a bit, as Quaranta's team begins some agitations - Paolo Salvodelli is a teammate - and the Zebra Brigade of Cipo begin to stake out their turf. Paolo Bettini leads the peloton for a bit on a short moderate climb, while another Phonak rider (Alexandre Moots) jets away and Munoz joins him. Verbrugghe suddenly appears and the group of three scratches out a slight gap. Verbrugghe's presence alerts everyone and it is shut down. The speed cranks up quickly and things begin to stretch as Mapei's Bettini and Robbie Hunter get back in control to keep Garzelli on the front and in the maglia rosa. Cipo has a group of 5 zebras quietly sitting behind ready to strike. 10 km to go: Lotto, Phonak, Aqua & Sapone all jostling 5 km to go: Maximillian Sciandri takes a flyer as they come out of a tight corner and gets about 5 seconds. I miss the regrouping because Tashi needs to go out back and do, um "dog stuff".... 1 km to go: Three zebras lead the peloton as they go under the kite, and peel off in well-drilled precision, while Strazzer and Danilo Hondo from Telekom figure they'll pop around at the end. Broad roadway with a straight finish. Speed is phenomenal as the pretenders squiggle backwards. Last zebra peels off with about 400 m to go and Cipollini throws it into gear - a gear that no one else has. Strazzer goes to his right and Hondo goes left, but both are bouncing in the wake of the flying striped lion. He wins hands up and roaring, accellerating away. Strazzer takes second, and Hondo nabs third. Yes, he has won 36 Giro Stages.
Stage Winner: Mario Cipollini
Maglia Rosa: Stephano Garzelli

Other notes: Phonak lists Jim Ochewicz as their technical director and has been a main animator both in the prologue and early stages. Bob Roll is the star of a series of OLN Giro D'Italia ads that has him riding a bike and relating stories in Italian while wearing a maglia rosa Didn't mention it specifically, but Cipo's win gives him 35 total Giro wins, second to Alfredo Binda. He needs 6 more to equal the record.

Stage 4: Esch-sur Alzette (Luxumbourg) to Strasbourg (France)

(7:15 am) I tune into the stage as the peloton crosses a high river bridge and chaos immediately ensues. The narrow bridge causes a correctioin in the full peloton and many riders go down hard. Several Mercatone Uno riders are down, one down very hard, which is not a surprise because they have been (as usual) dinking around in the back. A couple Aqua & Sapone riders bounce down and up. Juan Julio Perez is back there two, but he manages to keep his new teeth intact. They must have been flying through the beautiful French sunny weather, because we're at 19 km to go Tears begin to fly as the pace stays high and the "silly crash" victims claw their way back. 15 km to go: Many teams are cranking up the pace, and riders are scooting through the car caravan trying to get back in place in the peleton. Pavel Tonkov gets back on, and other pairs are nipping in and out. Lotto is visible at the front. 10 km to go: Lotto stays near the front, with Phonak and Telekom working to keep their sprinters in contention. The pace on these flat French, tree-lined roads remains blistering. 8 km to go: Telekom leading for Danilo Hondo & working hard, while Aqua & Sapone slowly gathers the remaining members and waits quietly. It's shaping up to be a slightly more disorganized sprint with risks & elbows flying. Traffic islands fly past in a blur and Aqua & Sapone start pushing their noses into the wind with 5 km to go: Phonak try to push their man Mario Strazzer (currently leading the Intergiro competition) up a bit, but Telekom still keeps the pace at 34 - 35 mph and they have trouble organizing. 3 km to go: A hard tun on a wide bridge takes them over the river and another zebra pops up into the lead to push out the pace again - I can't get his name, but he was one of the guys involved in the narrow bridge crash. Clearly, he understands what his job is. Suddenly they have three A&S riders on the front and Cipollini is sitting in ideal position on third position into the last kilometer. These guys are phenomenally well-drilled - doing better with probably a little less raw speed than the old red train of Saeco. 1 km to go: Hondo drops 6 or 7 places as they scrunch around a traffic circle. McEwan from Australia sits in the catbird seat and they hit the final straight.The last A&S leadout mand drifts off and Cipollini fires away from the field and everyone growls and explodes towards the line.Cipo guns it down the barriers and then edges out as toward the center of the road as the line grows near. McEwan claws his way up on his left as the background blurs and no one else has the raw speed to be in the mix. McEwan works his way up Cipo's left side and hurls his bike forward towards the line - AND GETS IT BY A TIRE WIDTH! Yep, confirmed by the photo finish! Robbie McEwan (current Australian national champ) of Lotto beats the zebra/lion king...

Stage Winner: Robbie McEwan

Maglia Rosa: Stephano Garzelli
GC 2nd: Guidi
GC 3rd: Verbrugghe Notes: Rest Day Tomorrow.

Garzelli will wear the maglia rosa as they go into Italy on Friday for the first time. Warmer weather awaits - many in the peloton still wearing vests and armwarmers today, despite full sun on the race course. I neglected to mention that Tyler Hamilton has looked strong, particularly in the climb to Liege yesterday. Unfortunately, he was delayed a bit by the crash, though not directly involved. The speed in the last 500 meters was stunning, as expected sprinters fell off the back like hung over club riders.

5/16/02 - Rest Day

Soon the Giro D'Italia will actually begin taking place in Italy, as the entire cast and crew of the 2002 Giro move down to the northwest corner of the country for which the race is named. They are broadcasting a "highlights" show today on OLN, but frankly, there's something a bit self-congratulatory about doing something like that this early. The riders certainly have left some skin upon pavement and quite a bit of sweat misting through the air of western Europe, but it's a three week bike race, and the real demonic chapters remain in the future. Watching cycling is a strange thing, as is sometimes pointed out to me by my dog. It is of course a very complex series of events with a simple outcome - at the end someone crosses the line first. Yet, it is the complex interactions of the unfolding race which captivates--small alliances between uncommonly linked teams, riders finding themselves suddenly out of gas and flailing behind supportive teammates, the amazing logistics of moving nearly 200 cyclists over 100 miles along major roadways. All these things combine each day in unexpected ways. A tour becomes a living organism of itself.

I'm not sure where this report is heading - it was originally intended to point out the difference between process-oriented events and results-oriented events. But, that idea was discarded, as every serious rider is looking for results, and even the most banal grudge match on WWF has a process to it. Listening to Bob Roll, Paul Sherwin and Phil Liggett, with their easy patter behind the race, I find so much of the history and heritage of cycling unfolding. Whether it's Phil telling stories of past racers and the rivalries of older days, Paul relating searing intensity of the day's course, or Bob describe the exquisite pain of hanging onto the speeding peloton, the history of bicycle racing always manages to demonstrate that it is a larger canvas than one rider, one race or one year's tour. We can argue about riders and courses from early this century, the effects of technology upon the dynamics of racing, and find endless nuances to the pressures and demands of a very hard sport - all because of the multi-layered history of events reaching back over the last century.

Despite all the distractions of modern civilization, this anachronism exists - someone has to push the pedals harder, remain a touch more clever and figure out a way to get their front wheel across the line first. ...and we are richer for it.

Stage 5 - Fossano (Italy) to Limone Piemonte - 150k

As Phil & Paul like to say, this stage has a "sting in the tail", with a couple serious climbs on the way up to Limone Piemonte 45 km to go Someone else wins today's computer giveaway on the radio, so I switch headphones and tune into the Giro coverage to find a small break of 9 or so about 1:10 off the front, while Bob Roll points out in logical detail why Marco Pantani makes life so bloody difficult for everyone on his squadra because he lives at the back of the peloton. The break has a pretty good makeup, with Gelosteiner (on their Kleins) represented by David Rebellin and Paolo Bettini from Mapei. There's a few Lanboukredeit and Rabobank riders in there too. The group edges out to a 2:40 gap, before the peloton works things out a little and begin to work together enough to match the speed. There are several "heads of state" positioned near the front of the peloton, eyeing one another. The first part of the climb will begin at about 127 km -- it's a nasty little spike on the course, popping up to 21% in places -- up to 1400 m from 600 m -- and Bob Roll notices that a few riders are running a 25. Lead group paces underneath the 35 km to go mark Peloton not quite loafing along, content to remain within striking distance and ready to put the hammer down...which they sort of begin to do as we go to a commercial. The climb is about 5 or 6 km away, and the peloton has closed it down to about 1:00. Rabobank at the front, while a shave-headed Garzelli is sitting in about 4th position - he has had a special set of Mapei shorts made in pink to match his jersey - nothing like the array of Latexco "jello cubes" on a pink background. A Rabobank rider (Addy Engles) in the break takes a flyer as they hit the climb, while we pass under 25 km to go as the peloton begin to pick up faltering members of the break. Paolo Bettini jumps as Engels legs lock up and he starts to falter. Bettini gets a noticable gap and climbs as only the bird-boned can do. Back in the main group, Garzelli is on the front, with Casagrande right on his shoulder, and Simoni & Tyler Hamilton sitteing right with him. Cadel Evans, riding for Mapei, sits right there as well. The gradiant is brutal, but these guys remain the animators at the head of the peloton - now stretched noticeably with riders faltering and dropping off the pace. Geologically speaking, there's a first climb, followed by a steep, twisty descent and then the continued climb to the finish. A Telekom rider (Hickman?) scratches his way back up to Bettini. Huge crowd on narrow, narrow twisty, hairpin road. They could probably join hands above the riders without working too hard at it. Bettini pops away again as the entire Italian population howls, runs alongside and pours water over his head - he might be in danger of drowning before he reaches the GPM (Grande Premio Mountania) banner. 3,084 ft summit reached by Bettini as the lead group catches on right at the top. Bettini is sitting in the lead, and Garzelli, Hamilton, Casagrande, Simoni and Evans latch on. Mapei now has 3 strong climbers in the lead break. Behind them, the peloton is splintered and the big boys drag themselves painfully over the last of the 2 1/2 mile climb. Pantani loses 2:09 on the climb. He was not helped by starting DFL in the peloton. In fact, his climbing speed was quite high, but the sheer idiocy of being on the end of the line as they hit a steep, narrow climb is glarinigly evident. There's still a 14 km climb to go after a treacherous descent. Unfortunately, OLN has to pay the bills, so we get to watch ads for Michelin tires as the lead group negotiates 270 degree switchbacks next to stone farm buildings on turns that were designed in the mid 1600's. Oh well. Base of the descent. The lead group spins through town, with about 32 seconds away from a second group. As the camera pans the group, it is obvious that Tyler hamilton went down on the descent - the back of his jersey shredded - but has stayed in touch with the leading groups. He looks like he's just off the back of the second group. The second group with a gang of Gerolsteiners is bending the will of all around them to get attached before they hit the final climb. The last bit won't be as steep, but it is a longer bit. Lead group has Garzelli, Simoni, Casagrande among others. Ohhhh, ow! They show the crash of Tyler. S-turn with a bad line into the first part, then a slightly panicked brief lockup. He seems to make it through the second part of the corner when all of a sudden, the bike wiggles and slips out, bad tumbling ensues in a fast, hard crash. Looks like he hits knees and elbows hard before rolling over once. As he gets up, he's already signalling for a spare bike. But, he's pretty bloody as the cameras find him in the second group, pushing the pace with the Gerolsteiners. Tyler pops off the front and rejoins the lead group as the wide, easier climb begins. The pace elevates and all the contenders are positioned. Grouppettos coalesce and join up, and with 10 km to go, the lead pack is now in the 40-45 rider range. There are 4 or 5 Mapei riders sheltering Garzelli. Bettini continues to set the pace. Pantani still chases in a fragment of the group and is sitting in a group now at least 2:20 back. Hamilton grabbed Carlos Sastrere's bike, and the team car is directly behind him with his replacement bike - they decide not to switch bikes as the pace remains high. 6 km to go - Pace remains strong, while Bettini drops away after having set the pace in a heroic fashion. Another of the Mapei riders takes up the charge, and they continue climbing. Pantani is suffering and his gap growing. (Phil, "...the only reason we're seeing the pictures of this group is befcause Pantani is in it.."). Luis Jimenez from Fromaggio Trentini (formerly Mobilvetta) takes a flyer under the 5 km banner - a Columbian rider hitting it hard and jumping away. 4 km to go - Still on a 6 - 7% gradiant wide main roads rolling along in the big ring, although they are saying that the road gets steep in the last 1 1/2 km. A Kelme rider takes off, catches and pops away from Jimenez. Tyler Hamilton leads a counter move and they lift the tempo as the road steepens. Pellizotti from Alessio jumps away and the screws start to get tightened down in the following group. 2 km to go - Pellizotti riding strongly, but there's a lot of road to go - and it's definitely steepening. Cadel Evans on the front of the group, leading a comfortable-looking Garzelli. Pellizotti is stretching his gap and holds a 10 second lead. Lampre rider (Garete) pops away - his team leader Pavel Tonkov is sitting on the back of the lead group and managing to hold on. Garete is crawling up to Pellizotti as they are in the last kilometer. Now the leaders surge and Garzelli leads a charge with the group. Pellizotti is caught immediately and Garete gets swept up at the same time. Garzelli leading and Casagrande is right on his shoulder, with Simoni and a couple Kelme riders in the mix. The course goes through a couple quick switchbacks and climbs - the power of Garzelli is evident as simply rides away from everyone. His form is clearly on. Casagrande falls back a bit, and the group follows him across the line.

Stage Winner: Stephano Garzelli - Mapei
Kelme Rider - Fernandez Perez
Saeco - Gilberto Siimoni
Fasso Bortolo - Francesco Casagrande

Tyler Hamilton comes in 9th, about 9 seconds back

Maglia Rosa: Stephano Garzelli
Casagrande - @ :43
Simoni - @ 1:00

Notes: Pantani comes in with two teammates 7:02 minutes down. Garzelli unfortunately cannot open the champagne bottle. This has been a consistent thread. Dario Frigo is suffering, and has dropped out of the top 10 in GC.

Stage 6 - "Rainy Stage and Strange Days" - Cuneo to Varraza (Italy)

Ok, something strange happened last night - our goofy VCR considers "EVERY DAY" to be "EVERY _WEEK_ DAY", so the tape didn't fire up until I awoke a few moments ago (7 am). Unfortunately, that's _NOT_ what is strange this morning: There's a breakaway, but instead of talking about the race sitaution, I'm coming into a discussion about Stephano Garzelli, including the phrases "Probenecid" and "Non-negative Result" It seems to be from a control sample which was taken in Belgium after the Liege stage. There will be a follow up test - as all three (plus Davis Phinney via telephone) noted, Probenecid is an older drug, shows up easily on tests, and has a dirutic effect, so that it would tend to boost hematocrit. Still, as we start the stage, Garzelli remains in the race, and in the maglia rosa. Panaria (the squad of crowd favorite Juan Julio Perez - the guy who last year snapped a chain on a mountain breakaway he could've won, lost his front teeth in a crash two days later, and finally won a mountain stage and found an Italian girlfriend during last year's Giro) might be in trouble. No. Let's correct that statement. Panaria is in deep shit: Nicola Chesini was arrested by Italian authorities - taken away from the race start, Faat Zakirov tested positive for the newest version of EPO and Filippo (something or other) has a warrant out for his arrest, but seems to have disappeared. It could be said that a few small clouds have formed over the 2002 Giro... Meanwhile on a snotty, rainy looking day, the peloton has let a break get over 6 minutes away from them with about 50 - 55 km to go Correcting the spelling from yesterday's posting - the KOM in Italian is GPM = Gran Premio della Montanga The lead group holds 5 - 6 minutes over a climb which has a GPM, but isn't a decisive gradiant, and they are 20 miles from the finish. Mariano Piccoli from Lampre is the most known rider in the breakaway group, and there is a zebra in there as well (Giovanni Lombardi). Others include Eddy Mazzollini - a couple Kelmes and a Phonak rider in the mix as well. The zebra Specialized bikes are the most visible in the rain. The discussion had really focused upon Garzelli, so there was really no discussion of the contents of the break, and then Tashi woke up and needed to eat breakfast, so we've lost a little info as the stage continues to drive through the wet, wet weather - it also looks like Jens Heppner of Telekom is in the break, and he's only 1:33 back on the GC. I wonder how the Italians feel about Germans leading their race...and if a Telekom rider wears pink, can anybody tell? More evidence that the leaders and contenders aren't pushing the pace - Marco Pantani has actually marshalled his forces towards the front and they are leading the peloton toward the peak - a sluggish, stuttering pace as the leaders seem disinterested in catching the break. They go under the banner 5:52 in arrears. A slick twisty descent. Nothing like having an old English Sheepdog appear from nowhere and try to bite your tire. The breakaway riders avoid it somehow. The devil passes quickly through the camera. Strangely, Phil admits that he doesn't know his name. I thought it was "Didi", and I remember reading an article on him - Phil laments that he doesn't seem to get as much camera time as he used to, and has now started showing up with his wife and child dressed as devils... Those hilarious, lighthearted Germans... Yaroslav Popovich (Lanboukredeit) who is in the break is either the current or a past under-23 Champion. Definitely a strong looking rider. Another rise stretches the lead group at 25km to go. Lombardi (not a climber) sets the pace in an aggressive manner to keep things intact. The peloton chases at just over 6 minutes behind, and they do not look like they will catch the break. Others take over the pace, as they all seem to be interested in dropping Lombardi if possible, as his leadout speed has netted him a couple of Giro wins. Cauchiolli is in the break, and he won a couple stages last year, so there are actually some very strong riders involved. Saeco tucks in behind the last Mercatoni Uno pacemakers in the peloton, and the pace quickens a bit, cutting 30 seconds off the break's lead. In the break, Heppner pops off the front as they head down a slight descent. The rain is not strong, but the roads are soaked and the overcast sky seems to be leaking steadily. Paul Sherwin shares some of his descending tips, Bob Roll chimes in a bit, and talks about Sean Yates' ability to "put the fear of God into other riders on the descent" 15 km to go as the descent continues on slick, slippery roads In the breakaway group, Angel Vicioso of Kelme attacks as the road begins to climb, and has another rider in the break. Eddie Mazzolleni jumps and tries to get on his wheel as they climb the last little rise. He hooks up after a strong effort and the rest of the breakaway dink around tryiing to encourage the others to go, losing a quick 10 seconds to the hard-charging climbers. 10 km banner passes overhead as the chasing breakaway riders begin to splinter a bit under the strain of the climb.Mazzolleni tries an accelleration, realizing that Viscioso is a stronger rider and will nip him in a sprint. But Vicioso cranks right back up to him after four quick punches on the pedals while out of the saddle. Phil mentions that Kelme has been having trouble paying riders since April, and may not be able to continue sponsoring the team - they are the longest single title sponsor still involved. That would be sad. They drop down more crazed Italian roads - nice and wide, but hellishly twisty. Great fun in the dry, but nightmare inducing in these slick, wet conditions. The course is musch more twisty and technical than anyone really thought it would be - everyone seemed ready for a nice broad stage to the coast. But, that seems to be consistent in the Giro Race Book - a general ignoring of major geological features and conditions. 5 km to go for the break. Breakaway reforming, but it seems as though the Mazzoleni/Vicioso combo is up the road. Cauchioli has made any moves. Phil is saying that they have caught the pair, but I'm not positive. But, they are no longer showing a separated pair, and Heppner is on the front hammering along the coast road. Lombardi is tucked into second, waiting... waiting... Salvodelli exploded out of the peloton on the descent as only he can, and is stuck between the group and the break. He's put a good gap between him and the peloton - this was Simoni's trick last year on the rainy stages. The break slides under the 1 km banner as the peloton goes under the 5 km Now the tightly bunched group eyes one another, spreading slightly as no one wants to take over the front. Lombardi is midpack, and Heppner is in the back end of the bunch. It coalesces with Mariano Piccoli pushed into the front position They head towards the finish line. Lombardi in the center mid-pack throws it into gear and accellerates away. Now, there's a man with some serious speed. No one is coming around that guy. Lombardi shows his stripes in an emphatic hands-up finish. The slow motion replay shows him continuing to gain distance on every rider as they head to the line. What acclleration! The peloton is now on the road and the clock has passed 3 mnutes, which guarantees Heppner moving into the maglia rosa Salvodelli comes across at around 4 minutes. The peloton crosses 5:05 back This shuffles things around a bit in the GC, with 4 of the top 5 riders having been in the breakaway today.

Stage Winner: Giovanni Lombardi (Aqua & Sapone)
2nd: Ruggero Marzzoli (Fromaggio Trentino)
3rd: Bert Brabsch - (Phonak)

Maglia Rosa - Jens Heppner
2nd GC - Stephano Garzelli @ 3:33
3rd GC - Yaraslav Popovich @ 3:43
4th GC - P. Caucchioli @ 3:45
5th GC - Eddie Mazzoleni @ 3:57

Stage 7 - "Criterium Grande" Circuito della Versilla

This day's course is a large circuit course with the finish line in the center of this seaside resort town, with three circuits of an approximately 53 km course. There is a high cloud cover, giving the appearance of an overcast day, but it's more of a "coastal high fog" than anything particularly threatening, meterologically speaking. There's one notable climb on the circuit, as it heads into the inland foothills in a large, almost rectangular course. We begin with 54 km to go - the riders are just about to get onto the bell lap. I didn't see it, but there seems to be a breakaway that has formed over the climb and stretched out a 50 second lead over the content peloton. Your Italian word for today is "Rifornimento" - Feeding Station on a bike race. Which curiously enough is where the peloton currently finds itself. Race Notes: Yesterday, two more Panaria riders (including Graham Brown) came across more than 10 minutes behind the time cutoff. This may not end up being their greatest Giro. Back to the current situation: Telekom, with Jens Heppner in the maglia rosa, seems content to let the break stretch away. Behind the peloton, there is another group at least a couple minutes back, and they seem to have gotten separated at the climb. They struggle to find the have the speed to catch back on, even with the slowing of the main peloton through the feed zone. From the flock of manic Italian moto drivers and their courageous camera operators, we get a closeup of Garzelli's left elbow shows some missing skin and leaking fluids. He seems to have some trouble on the descent of the climb. Nevetheless, he finds the time to chat easily with other teammates and looks much calmer than one would think he might be. The breakaway is now 1:12 ahead. It's 10 riders strong, and includes Max Sciandri, which makes Phil happy. It has a diverse makeup, with almost every major team represented - Phonak, Lampre, Gerolsteiner, Saeco, Lotto, Coast, Alessio, Fasso Bortolo - all of whom are taking good pulls and rotating nicely. I haven't as Gianni Faresin (Gelolsteiner) Bob Roll mentions that Marco Pantani was whining (my words, not Bob's) to the press this morning, saying that he "can do it no more" and the new riders "are just too fast". Bob does allow that Pantani had spectacular results in past races, but he'd appreciate it if he would restrain his comments about the peloton in general. Break now at 1:35 Rik Verbrugghe (Lotto), Giani Faresin (Gerolsteiner on their Kleiners), Christian Moreni (Alessio) are the only immediately recognizable names of those in the break. I wonder if I could find a list of the bib numbers on the Giro site, so I wouldn't have to rely on the 1/3 second flash of riders' names from Italian television. More "Cloud Over the Giro" expostion - The gang in the studio get Massimo Testa in a telephone interview to give his thoughts on the Garzelli "non-negative" test. Mentions that it was Mapei's decision to announce the first result to "maintain transparency" on the situation, pointing out that in most drug results, the official statement is almost never given until the second test is conducted. Agrees with the strangeness of the situation - specifically, the minute amount in the test sample, and the absolutely "off-the-back" nature of the substance identified in the sample, as we mentioned yesterday. On the course, the moto/camera pans past Tyler Hamilton, who has large bandages on both knees and his left elbow. He pedals a touch stiffly, but is in the main group and seems ok, if not as comfortable as he was a little over 48 hours ago. Here's your historical Giro factoid for the day - Jens Heppner is the first German to wear the maglia rosa since Gregor Braun in 1981 - Heppner is nearly 37 years old, and seems genuinely pleased as punch to be in pink.He's been a devoted team member for many years, and appreciates the glory as only a veteran can, it seems. But, there is an actual race going on, and there is 35 km to go The climb is about 20 km away, making it ideal for a hard solo attack. The break is around 1:40. 30 km to go. Both the breakaway and the peloton have passed under the banner, and the break has slimmed down by 10 seconds as Telekom and a couple odd riders begin increasing pressure upon the front of the pack. The break looks great, continuing a nice rotating paceline. Sciandri (Lampre) seems to have the only more or less conventional wheelset in the bunch. The peloton rolls under 25 km to go banner, and the break has lost a couple more seconds - down to 1:20 Cippollini had trouble on the last climb, but has his full compliment of teammates around him now as they move into the beginnings of the climb. The pace has come up, with Telekom still doing the majority of the work to make sure that things don't suddenly spiral out of control on the GC. We are heading up the Colli de Pedona - about a 6 km climb with an average gradiant of about 5% - the crest of the hill is 18 km from the fiish. The gap is now a minute and they are beginning to pull out the team cars. A group of three crack off the front of the peloton, with Addy Engles from Rabobank and Johannes Kessler of Telekom, as well as someone I can't quite recognize - where the heck is that list? The speed of the breakaway group increases as they turn over monsterous gears and maintain speeds that we would have trouble holding on the flats - Christian Morenei of Alessio manages to pop a gap with a strong attack as they continue upwards. Verbrugghe goes hard to close down the gap, with Dario Cioni (former mtb rider - now of Mapei) on his wheel. Verbrugghe accellerates strongly, pulling up even with and then ahead of Moreni while a gapped Cioni claws and slobbers to get on the tail of the pair. Sciandri tries to maintain contact with a group of 4 other riders as the break splits up on the climb. Verbrugghe increases pressure and moves smartly away from Moreni at the head of the events, passing under the 20 km banner in a powerful, seated position. He has pushed a serious gap from the others, and they've brought his team car up behind him as he continues climbing strongly. The peloton is stretched out as they too are firing up the climb on all cylinders. Verbrugghe is just gunning it in a huge effort as he pulls between a huge crowd near the summit. Climbing on a narrow road that runs between high stone walls, then popping out between screaming fans lined 5 or 6 deep behind barriers. It's a classic Italian countryside summit. He goes under the banner and tries to uncross his eyes, and now holds about 20 seconds over the chase groups, while the peloton is about a minute behind him. You could say he has pretty much committed himself to a breakaway. The motorbike has trouble maintaining contact with Verbrugghe as he gives a master class in descending - nipping up to 50 mph on tortuously twisting roads - If he maintains his time gap on the descent, Verbrugghe will have to time trial for 11 km to maintain his lead to the finish. The peloton, lead by the sprinters teams have swept up a few break members. Verbrugghe showers spectators with gravel and dirt as he uses every millimeter of roadway to maintain his speed. Back in the chasing peloton some poor rider washes out his front tire and goes down on a switchback. Somehow another 10 riders, two motos and a team car do not run over him. Faresin, Sciandri, Perrero (the Phonak rider) try to reorganize and find their way back up to Verbrugghe, who passes under the 10 km to go banner in beautiful time trialing style. He looks low and powerful on the bike, ready to push the big gears through to the finish. He will face a slight headwind, and there are those in the peloton who have a strong interest in making it a bunch sprint. But, these are the conditions which Verbrugghe seems to shine. There is a group of 6 remaining of the break who have reformed. The time split from Verbrugghe to the peloton stretched back out to 1:55 on the descent, 33 seconds between Verbrugghe to Cioni who sits between him and the breakaway remnants. Working well together, Moreni, Faresin, Sciandri and the others roll up to Cioni, who grasps onto the last wheel. Verbrugghe ticks over the big gear and you can see the pain sneak into his upper body just a bit. But, he still holds a 1 minute gap to the chasing breakawy remnants. Another English Dog Story: Today, a Yorkshire terrier attempts to see the underside of Verbrugghe's bike, but a quick flick and all are safe. He's holding a steady 55 km and has been for the last 5 km. The dinking around begins in the chase group, with an attack screwing up the rotation, and letting Verbrugghe continue his lead. Now 3 km to go for Verbrugghe, who holds 48 seconds on the chase, who now seem to have decided that they should be simply working the tactical moves to pick up the second place on today's stage. Verbrugghe's effort is clearly evident. He allows himself the last look over the shoulder as he rolls under the 1 km kite. There's only a long clear road behind him and he powers unmolested to the line with only race official autos and a camera moto behind him.The only thing that would make it a more perfect victory would be a sudden beam of sunlight breaking through the overcast. Victory Solo! Magnifico! The chase group has splintered into single riders, and Raphael Schweda, whose move actuallly caused this break originally, takes second place easily moving away from the chasing members of the break. Moreni, whose failed attack on the climb provided Verbrugghe's springboard to victory takes 3rd ahead of Faresin. Dmitiri Konyshev leads the peloton across the line 1:45 behind the winner.

Stage Winner: Rik Verbrugghe (Lotto)
2nd Raphael Schweda (Coast)
3rd Christian Moreni (Allessio)

Maglia Rosa: Jens Heppner (Telekom)
2nd GC - Stephano Garzelli (Mapei)
3rd GC - Yaraslav Popovych (hmmm, who's he ride for???)

Notes: Verbrugghe gives himself a champagne eyewash when the bottle opens suddenly. Only four teams have won stages in this years Giro - Lotto, Phonak, Aqua & Sapone and Mapei. Cipollini holds the points jersey still. In a rare display of childlike giddiness, Jens Heppner spins a 360 while opening the champage, with a big smile on his face. He gets everyone on the stage.


Stage 8 - "The Sprinters' Day to Stay Away???" Capannori to Orvieto

The longest stage lies before the riders. (And the longest rewrite lies before me - I had this almost finished when the flippin' app crashed... dratted Windows boxes...luckily, it didn't eat my notes.. so I apologize for any brevity of information, but chalk it up to the capricious nature of silicon and wire...)
(well, that and operator error for not saving enough...)

Today's stage is a southern route heading along a roughly straight main roadway. First, a couple points on the GC - Francesco Casagrande - 4:43 Gilberto Simoni - 4:45 Tyler Hamiton - 4:46 Cadel Evans - 4:47 Marco Pantani is in 54th place, about 12:45 back. Our Maglia Rosa wearing friend Stephano Garzelli's Mapei team was weakened slightly, as Paolo Bettini abandons with a torn calf muscle he has been nursing over the past days. He could not walk unassisted at the end of yesterday's stage. Earlier, the South African sprinter Robbie Hunter abandoned over the weekend. I've been trying to get an actual list of those who have retired already, but other than a few notes I've made, it's difficult to get official withdrawal info. In other topics, nothing has been announced about the second test for Garzelli - but it does seem strange. Probenecid (what they found in minute traces in his sample) was chiefly used as a masking agent for steroids back in the 80's and 90's, but with the specificity of tests used now, masking agents in general are useless. It does have the dubious distinction of being used...oh hell, I'm gonna screw this up.. well, there was a rider who was leading the Tour de France, and Probenecid showed up in his sample. They were all ready to dump him out and strip him of the Yellow Jersey, but they found that the substance wasn't actually outlawed by the UCI (or Tour commitee, or whoever was the overseeing organization at that time) -- it was specifically outlawed by the International Olympic Committee, but scince they didn't have jurisdiction over the cycling event, they reinstated the rider - now, was it Delgado? Hmm, either I'll have to do some research, or someone might recall... Anyway, enough talk of drugs and injuries, on the roads of Italy, it's becoming a clear, sunny day as they head south, riding out from under cloud cover on good roads. A breakaway has gone up the road, but rather than the regular group of opportunists you might expect, this is a group of three sprinters: Fabrizio Guidi (Coast), Massimo Strazzer (Phonak - currently the InterGiro leader) and Allessandro Petacchi (FB) - with Guidi the highest placed man in the break @ 7:37 behind the leader. Rolling along the wide roadway, they hold about a 5 minute lead, with Mercatone Uno actually on the front pushing a fast moving peloton -- moving in excess of a 42 kph average, the teams are ahead of the fastest estimated time, despite having started the stage 10 minutes behind schedule. Fasso Bortolo and of course Telekom are chiming in with organized pull. There were 175 riders who started the day (down from 198 at the start of the Giro D'Italia in, um, the Netherlands) and boom, we're now down to 174, as Santiago Perez of Kelme goes down hard early on the day's stage. They show a stunned rider with a nasty, bloody head injury, feeling gingerly at his jaw and mouth. But, he's able to sit up, and his eyes are opened, if still highly unfocused. He gets a ride to the nearest hospital and will not be rejoining the race today. Phil takes a moment to correct his mistake from yesterday. It seems that one Herman Busse was the first German rider to wear the Maglia Rosa way back in 1932, but there is no record of him finishing the race. He gently chastizes the watching & listening audience for not pointing out his gaffe. If the three sprinters on the front stay away to the finish, they will have executed a nearly 200 km break. All three commentators (and one typist) openly doubt the possibility of the break's success. The time has come down to 4:20, even though the threesome has been trading off well, rolling along with strong efforts over the fairly flat roads. There is some conjecture that the change of the InterGiro sprint point from 47 km to the roughtly 150 km point may not have been relayed to the riders, which is why Petacchi, Strazzer and Guidi popped off the front. When they didn't find the sprint point, they may have just decided to keep rolling. Y' just never know.... How'd you like to hear this in your earpiece, "k, eh, ok, um, say, um Alessandro, nice move there sport, uhh, oh... by the way, we, y'know, might have sort of missed the whole, uh, sprint point thing today. You're looking good there, too, you know, and as long you're out there, I mean, since we have the president of our sponsor here in the car today, remember? Anyway, he was thinking, you know, as long as you're, um, .... out there in front.... if you wouldn't mind, you know, sort of keeping the hammer down for, say, 4 or 5 more hours? Does that work ok for you? Good" Well, whatever instructions they've received, the leading troika have made their way to the InterGiro point. Guidi has forced Strazzer to the front, but no moves come and their pace varies not a speck... instead they seem to feel they can hold their lead to the finish, so they roll over the line Strazzer - Guidi - Petacchi and continue up the roadway without even raising the pace for the line. They remain about 4:00 ahead of the pack with about 50 km to go. They are heading into an undulating section which runs about 20 km, followed by a gradual downhill toward a final short climb to the finish. With a course update that suddenly appears, the leaders are now being shown at 35 km from the finish. The pack has spread across the two lane motorway, and don't really seem to be cranking things. A number of riders are stretching at the back of the pack. Team Telekom has begun soft pedaling a bit, letting other teams finsih off the work that they have been maintaining during this day's stage. A quick check of the totals shows that Massimo Strazzer could be in contention for the points jersey, if he's able to finish ahead of Cipollini. As we muck around with numbers, totals and possibilities, POW.... a flash of black and yellow explodes from the back of the lead group. Guidi has suddenly taken a flyer with 30 odd km's to go. From a careful position hanging on the back of the group, he's shot away on a twisting set of turns which go onto a slight climb and is into the undulating and twisting section of the course. Neither of the two breakaway companions have reacted, and Guidi moves away strongly. Within a minute or two, there's enough room for the team car to pull in behind, as he has a 30 second lead over the original break companions. There's a 3.7 km climb to the finish. ....Oh hell.... I didn't notice this, but everything from here out got chopped off when the program crashed. I just spent a few minutes prowling around this computer to see if it saved an old version first.... ...and now I've kicked around all of the TEMP folders to see if there was some attempt to save the info by the system before it just dumped it into useless random voltages... ....Drat.... Well then, The end result is that Guidi continued away for another 25 km, trying desparately to maintain enough time so as not to get caught on the final climb up to the finish. Alas, it was not to be... The peloton gobbled up his break partners, then honed in on the lanky Coast rider. In the final 4 km, with the panting, slobbering pack humming towards him, Guidi looked up, smiled broadly at the camera and threw up his hands in a mock victory salute - he had taken his shot, but it was not to be... Wild attacks ensue, with Popovych gunning off the front, then Pezzollotti trying to take advantage of disorganization in the peloton upon his ensnarement. But like a hungry amoeba, he is quickly engulfed by the formless peloton. An attack here, there and riders blowing back through the group as it splinters and forms, dissolves and reforms. Then Kelme's Aitor Gonzalez rockets off the front about 800 meters from the finish, and the heads of state took just long enough dawdling between them to let him get away. Of course, the speed of his attack was pretty impressive, and he climbs like a burned monkey, out of the saddle, gaining ground with every pedal stroke as only the bird-boned boys of Kelme can manage. The course crests, then drops the final 200 meters to the finish - he raises his hands and salutes strongly to the appreciative crowd, while the lead pack of the peloton screams toward him 50 meters back. Behind him, Francesco Casagrande goes over the line, with the main part of the peloton about 3 or four seconds back. Gilberto Simoni takes third in a photo finish, less than a bike length behind. Pantani manages to hold on to the back of this lead group, while small bunches roll over the line at odd intervals. Then, the "autobus" rolls over the crest led by Mcewan, Cipollini and the rest of the sprinters. You can hear them singing something together as they pedal to make the time limit, awaiting another day on the flats to come.

Stage Winner: Aitor Gonzalez (Kelme)
2nd - Francesco Casagrande (Fasso Bortolo)
3rd - Gilberto Simoni (Saeco)

Overall Classification - Unchanged
Maglia Rosa - Jens Heppner (Telekom)
2nd GC - Stephano Garzelli (Mapei) @ 3:43
3rd GC - Yaraslav Popovych (Lanboukredeit-Colnago) @ 3:50


"Big Men At the Front"

Stage 9 - Tivoli to Caserta

Under clearing skies, the peloton rolls south on good roads. The conditions are dry and quite warm, and a high cloud cover retreats on what should be a day for the sprinters. Mariano Piccoli (17:46 back from Lampre), Ruber Marin (Colombia-Selle Italia) and Domenico Gualdi (Fromaggi Trentini) are up the road in what looks to be a failing breakaway. 174 riders start today. Mauro Zanetti leaving at the first feed drops the attendance to 173.. At 2:30 today, Garzelli's second sample gets tested. Mariano Piccoli punches it as the speed of the breakaway drops with 39 miles to go. Aqua & Sapone is beginning to drive the peloton, and even with the theatrics, he seems doomed. Nevertheless, he's giving it a shot, and gains 30 odd seconds pretty smartly. Massimo Strazzer (Phonak) today rides in the cyclamina jersey of points leader. His finish yesterday placed Cipollini back into his actual team colors for the first time in several days. German Herman Buss, the maglia rosa holder in the 30's, held the jersey for 5 days, so if Jens Heppner holds it through tomorrow, he will have equalled that record. Telekom is riding in a very relaxed fashion, with no real team leader to ride for. The Germans all seem uncharacteristically giddy and smiley. Took a break to feed Tashi, and fully expected to find a "gruppo compatto" upon a return to the TV, but unless Italian TV is lying, he's still sitting out about a minute on his breakaway ex-companions, while they remain a couple minutes up on the peloton. But, it looks like we in the veld, as a pack of zebras are running the speed up, with assists from Lotto. Off the front, Piccoli looks like he's tiring, and ready to be reabsorbed. He is now the remaining member of the breakaway, with Marin & Gualdi having been caught. The tension is building among the sprinters' teams, and they anticipate more of a technical sprint with a bit of danger today. The cars are cleared out, and the pack rolls up behind Piccoli, ending his breakawy that began at 16 km. What did you do for the last 4 hours? A couple of Aqua & Sapone riders dawdle near the Pantani end of the peloton, signalling the team cars for the last little set of supplies before the seriousness of the sprint begins. Quaranta's team begins to play well with the others, for the first time in the Giro, and he may be thinking well about his chances today. (and in case you are worried, I've been saving after nearly every sentance...) There's around 24 km to go, and a dozen riders are working well in a double paceline at the front of the peloton. Aqua & Sapone, Phonak, Fromaggio Trentino all have a few riders in the mix there, with odd men from Lotto, Telekom. They pass under the 20 km to go banner and the pace increases steadily. Overhead shots show how fast the pace has elevated. Massimo Strazzer gets towed back up to the peloton, and his team members begin the difficult task of picking through the peloton to get in the mix. He had some technical difficulties on his machine and had to drop back to the team cars. Lampre is leading the charge, with Saeco appearring near the front -- neither teams wants to contest the sprint, but Pavel Tonkov and Gilberto Simoni respectively have designs for the GC, and maybe they want to make sure they do not lose contact and drop silly time before the finish. Mapei is evident, but tucked in a bit smarter behind them, protecting Garzelli. Some kid in a pink jersey on a Magna mountain bike is passed by the peloton. He was out on the road course riding as fast as he could go, which nevertheless was a fraction of the speeding peloton. Humorous and very, very dangerous to the riders. They throw bottles at him and cuss in colloquial dialects. With 9 km to go, the speed remains high and the pack intact. The hours of drills and practice are evident on the Aqua & Sapone squad. It looks like all they've worked on for the past few months was how to instantly collect in the front of the group and lead Ciplollini to the line. They may be the BORG. Enrico Degano, the sprinter from Panaria puts it down into a turn - looks like his front wheel was flat or collapsed - and sits in the middle of the road facing the oncoming riders. How these events seldom turn into a mass crash is more evidence of the handling abilities of these riders. Cipollini finds and drops in behind Giovanni Lombardi - his big leadout man.He's kitted up with his helmet and looks ready to fire.Rabobank is now up front and the lead third of the pack is so tight, it looks like they are stuffed into a bike rack at a major university. Marc Streel (Lanboukredeit) punches out with 4 km to go, gets a lead, but Lotto powers up to him as the pace somehow continues to increase. Scirea (Aqua & Sapone) peels off having kept the pace too high for any other team to keep ahead. Elbows and wiggling in the pack, and everyone with designs on the stage wants to be where Cipolleni sits. Quaranta is pretty far back in the mix. Mcewan bumps against Cipo, who sits patiently on the wheel of Lombardi and doesn't even move an inch. They fly under the kite for the last kilometer, and those whose blood runs with triple espresso become even more animated. From Fasso Bortolo, Allessandro Petacchi is on Cipos shoulder, but disappears suddenly into the slipstream. The roadway runs perfectly straight, and the Aqua & Sapone leadout mimics the perfection. Mcewan positions himself as the spoiler directly behind Cipo as the pace goes up again.. Behind Mcewan, two or three riders push together vying for one space and others try to get move up. Violent, controlled, high-velocity madness ensues as the tarmac screams beneath their wheels. Everybody wants to be on Cipos wheel, but Cipollini knows what he wants as he follows his last two teammates. Crunch time: The 2nd to last Aqua & Sapone rider peels back, but maybe its just the acceleration of Giovanni Lombardi -- he's leapt into full sprint mode and cranks it so fast - his speed is incredible and he could easily win stages and sprints himself. Lombardi provides the world's most perfect leadout and Cipollini accellerates strongly from his slipstream in well-drilled perfection. . No messing around with anything other than straight-ahead speed. Mcewan cannot move up on him, nor can any other rider. Quaranta throws himself up the ranks from a poor position, but his efforts are fighting the wind and he cannot move up any further. The gap widens as Cipo shoots straight up the roadway - there will be no complaints about direction on this sprint - it's all about horsepower - and the man with the most is the dynamic Italian from Lucca!. With a hands up salute and open air between him and the 2nd rider, Cipo wins it easily, riding on the crest of the efforts of his exceedingly well drilled team - Giro win number 37! He opens the champage with no problem and showers the mosh pit in front of the stage. Hooligans begin jumping up and he clears quickly while the gendarmes push the enthusiastic boys back into the pit.

Stage Winner - Mario Cipollini
2nd - Robbie Mcewen (Lotto)
3rd - Christian Moreni (Alessio)
4th - Fabrizio Guidi (Coast)
5th - Ivan Quaranta (Index - Alexia)

Heppner displays his 360 patented spin with the champagne as he retains the Maglia Rosa. No changes overall as the peloton follows the sprinters in.

Overall Classification - Unchanged
Maglia Rosa - Jens Heppner (Telekom)
2nd GC - Stephano Garzelli (Mapei) @ 3:43
3rd GC - Yaraslav Popovych (Lanboukredeit-Colnago) @ 3:50

"There is no Joy in Mudville..."

...for Garzelli now is gone."

Stage 10 - Maddaloni to Benevento

The stage is a bit secondary today, as the official announcement confirms that the other shoe has dropped - the "B" sample from Stephano Garzelli has also shown 29 nanograms of Probenecid. He has been removed from the race, it seems likely that he will be stripped of his stage victory in Limone Piamonte. He will face a suspension of 6 months, and at this point is emphatically stating that he had taken nothing. He has not decided if he will remain in the sport, but has a few months to decide. In another drug story, Gilberto Simoni has gone through an odd situation as well. He was visited at the Giro Trentino, which took place before the Giro D'Italia, by officials of the World Anti-Doping Association. His urine sample tested positive for cocaine, of all things. But, it seems that he had been at the dentist that day to have a crown put in and bridge work done - unfortunately, he neglected to note that in his "doctor book" which all pro cyclists are required to keep. Further complicating the issue: the officials were Austrian and Australian, did not speak Italian, and he doesn't speak very good English and no German. He was trying to tell them something during the visit, but could not make himself understood. Even further complicating things: the World Anti-Doping Association does not operate under the jurisdiction of the UCI, so any sanctions against Simoni will come from the Italian Cycling Association, so it is possible that he could be done (and have won) the Giro well before a decision is made about this event. Let's move on to bike racing... With Garzelli's suspension, 172 riders start today. We begin the day watching the Intergiro being won by Massimo Strazzer of Phonak There follows an immediate attack by Frank Hoj of Phonak, and Maximillian Sciandri & another Phonak rider tag on with about 42 miles to go. They are quickly shut down and the peloton stretches out as everyone tries to get the pace up to prevent another move. All riders seem a bit more attentive than they've been today. The stage today is only 118 km on a flattish course. They will finish in the town of Benevento, with three 6 km cirucuits with a hill on the final circuit, so there will be three times on the climb and a fast circuit to the finish line. It is a hot day, approaching 90 degrees with little wind to speak of. A number of riders catch road crap and a rash of flats goes through the peloton - Hamilton, Rebellin, and others are being ferried back up after visiting the side of the road among the team cars. As the peloton roll along Cipollini grabs the door frame of his team car and gets his stem and bars adjusted while they roll along flat roads. His stem and bars. Adjusted. On an aheadset system. His stem and bars. As they roll along at 25-30 mph... 60km to go The accellerations which followed the InterGiro also managed to shell Ivan Quaranta out the back, and he is dragged up by his too-patient teammates. On the other end of the specturm, Cipollini easily comes up to the peloton after getting things adjusted. Hector Mesa Mesa of Fromaggi Trentini, a Colombian rider, scoots off the front and gains about 15 seconds. The pack decides to let him cook up in the heat and don't worry too much about increasing their speed. They ease back up towards him and end his pain. The last time we've finished in Benevento, Beppe Saronni won in 1978. 56 k to go They've been easily riding up an _incline_ - not even a rated climb - and Quaranta pops off the back again. Telekom is rolling along easily at the front into a light headwind. Yauheni Seniushkine (Panaria - from Byelorus) rider sweeeps up and away, and Max Sciandri (Lampre) marks him quickly. A Rabobank rider moves out in concert with a CSC-Tiscali rider and hook up with the pair. Behind, the peloton cracks their knuckles and the long hairy arm, led by Aqua & Sapone and Telekom reaches out to bring the quartet back. Ricardo Forconi of Mercatone Uno has now abandoned. This is third rider that Pantani has lost from his team. 44 km Riders are all finding their helmets and strapping them on, in anticipation of the finishing circuits. Every team is sending domestiques back to the team cars for "tanker duty" to fill up their jersey and bike with water bottles. They sprint back up through the cars to deliver their payload, and most then immediately head back for more bottles. The pace seems to ease a bit with about 37 km to go, which may allow Quaranta and his teammates to catch up. They still dawdle behind. They are mentally focusing upon the struggle and efforts to come. Luckily, they rebroadcast the stage each evening as well, so here's the tape-delayed, time-delayed rundown of the finish - now brought to you live... The next three stages will be very difficult, with a climb to the finish tomorrow, followed by the first real mountainous stages Still, the jovial trio of announcers feel that Heppner will probably not lose the required time, and will become the first German to hold the Maglia Jersey for 6 days. Ruben Marin from Selle Italia jumps and gains a quick 15 seconds as we go up a rise and into the narrower roads in the town of Benevento. They have not yet gotten into the town and the final circuit, and a quick, strong reaction from Team Coast reigns him in. Aqua & Sapone encourages them by following closely. The peloton is massed across the road, but the speed is very high. Uber-Zebra Roberto Conti pulls out to the front and gesticulates for the serious players to get their act together. They follow his lead and direction, and coalesce into a more traditional rotating pattern. We're flying along with about 27 km to go, and Quaranta and company are off the back. The referees won't let the team cars into the gap to give him a slipstream back up. So, the domestiques are nearly ready to go onto side streets to get more bottles. 22 km to go, and the peloton stretches out into the streets of Benevento and roll under the banners and along the barriers.There's a jostling little stretch of cobbles in what will be the last 2 km's before the finish. Another one appears, and there are numerous other nasty little cobbles and and large stones. Coast continues to lead the peloton, with the Phonak boys hanging in pretty tightly as well. They go over the climb with another set of cobbles, which hits in the final stretch before the finish. It's a very interesting circuit they've put together for this stage and the the photo-moto is barely able to keep away from the front of the stretched out peloton as they roll through S-turns and uneven topography. Just over 12 km to go as they roll along near the end of the circuit. Saeco has popped up the to the front, protecting Simoni who sits in second, while Tyler Hamilton has wisely tucked in behind him. Behind him is the looming figure of Mario Cipollini. They roll across the finishing line and there are now two circuits to go. The evening broadcast lops off a lap to keep the time slots correct, so nothing much must've happened then. That puts us on the last lap. Cipollini and his leadout man Lombardi have been dropped down into a deeper position in the pack. They will have trouble coming back up on this twisty and technical circuit. Several single riders scrabble out to a slight breaks, but the high pace pulls them slowly back under control as Phonak & Coast riders try to get things under control Fasso Bortolo edges into the mix to get Petacchi into position. Phonak with Strazzer edges in, while the Coast riders are back at the front with 3 km, Lampre digs into the mix on the technical circuit for Max Sciandri, the continuous turns and accellerations have made it difficult for Cipo to remain in contention. It's a strongly stretched-out peloton . Into the last 2 km, they fire across the firsrt cobbled stretch and into the hard left hairpin bend with pushing evident from the helicopter pictures. They hit the beginning of the climb with 1 km to go - Lampre's Milan Kadlec fires out and may have made the lucky jump as moves away from the group. But, the climb keeps going and he begins to waver as the finish line comes into sight. It's not over yet, as the pack get their wheels back under them and hammer up the incline. Kadlec's bid is heroic but doomed -- he's overwhelmed by the screaming pack and madness ensues as riders swarm and leap to the front. From the confusion pops Australian sprinter Robbie Mcewan, who gaps the other riders as he moves away and crosses the line - Winner from Australia!

Stage Winner - Robbie Mcewan - Lotto
2nd - Fabrizio Guidi - Team Coast
3rd - Giovanni Lombardi - Aqua & Sapone

GC - Maglia Rosa - Jens Heppner
Yaraslav Popovych - Lanboukredeit - @ 3:50
Eddie Mazzoleni - Tacconi Sport 3:57
Francesco Casagrande - Fasso Bortolo 4:08
Angel Vicioso - Kelme - 4:09
Paolo Savoldelli - Index Alexia - 4:27
Gilberto Simoni - Saeco - 4:29
Wladimir Belli - Fasso Bartolo - 4:39
Pietro Caucchioli - Alessio - 4:41
Juan Carlos Dominguez - 4:43
Fernando Escartin - Team Coast - 4:44
Tyler Hamilton - CSC-Tiscali - 4:46
Cadel Evans - Mapei - 4:47

Interestingly enough, that means that Cadel Evans is now the highest placed Mapei rider, which could mean he's now the team leader - he certainly was able to climb with the big dogs when necessary. Tomorrow's Stage - Benevento to Campitello Matese There seem to be a couple moderate peaks, then Campitello Matese goes to 1430 meters elevation at the finish.

"Let's All Gather at the Mountain"

Stage 11 - Benevento to Campitello Matese

There's a sting in the tail, as they like to say - today's really the first testing climb. Today we go over a 140 km route with about a 13 km climb to the finish, gaining just under 3,000 feet, with a number of switchbacks to a deadend at a ski station. Kinda like L' Alp D'huez, but without the quite the right scale or grandeur. It climbs at around 7%, but there are stretches at up to 12% As we pick up the stage today, there's an established breakaway -- Steve Zampieri (a former Swiss national hillclimb champion, riding for Tacconi Sport) and Renzo Mazzoleni (brother of Eddy, rides for Team Colpak - Astro) edge up towards 8 minutes while the pack lags under Telekom's direction and considers the impending climb. Freddy Gonzalez retired before the start of the stage. I cannot quite recall who he rides for, .... aha!... Selle Italia. There are approximately 55 km to go on a another still, overcast, hot day. Last evening, the last (and only, eh?) US winner of the Giro, Andy Hampsted, visited the evening dinner table of CSC-Tiscali, with some of his homemade olive oil. They do not mention whether Tyler Hamilton used it on his copious wounds -- he definitely looks "well-padded" in profile. In other words, the announcers are focusing on the "human stories" since there isn't too much happening on the roadway. The breakawayers are reaching the top of the small climb which precedes the final climb and are about 8:15 ahead. However, the peleton seems to be finding another gear and starting to stretch with increasing speed. Fasso Bortolo and Saeco seem to be behind the increase in pressure. There seems to be a few chinks in the armor of the two leaders, and they labor more noticably as they work their way to the crest. The gap has dropped to 7:30 with only a few kilometers passed, as the Dmitiri Konyshev and the Fasso Bortolo big boys take over the pace on the moderate climb. The breakaway twosome tuck their chins behind their stems and try to make their profiles whisper-thin as they now head down the far side of the hill. There's now about 34 km to go. They've been in the saddle for just under 3 hours so far today. Mazzoleni dabs at his chin with a pad - it seems he's picked up a stone or something which now is bleeding a bit. The time gap is down another minute as they are now within 30 km of the finish, Fasso Bortolo still pushing things to prepare for the launch of Francesco Casagrande, with Saeco and CSC-Tiscali well positioned. Even Rabobank are keeping their noses to the front of the peloton. They show a split-screen as they pass the town of Bojano, and show a variety of desserts and meat dishes - I guess that's the thing which they are known for...but the climb also begins there, so the calories will be earned. The leaders have scooted under the 25 km to go banner, with a lead of 6:00 exactly. The roadway hasn't really kicked up yet, and the peloton spreads across the roadway and begin jostling for position. Pantani brings up the rear with the remnants of his team. Today, the helmets are going from riders to the cars, as the roadway will go only upward soon. (I still crack up every time I see either of the versions of either of the two Bob Roll - Mr Cycling promo spots...I've got to get you the first three tapes so you know what the hell I'm talking about.) 20 km to go - 5:20 gap. Bojano is the last town before the climb begins - an Intergiro point is their little snackie for being such a fine host city - and Mazzoleni goes through first, uncontested by Zampieri. The peloton snakes suddenly through an "S" turn and over a river and must be heading for town now. Another minute has gone out of the break as Strazzer sprints through hard to get the maximum amount of points. He remains the leader of the Intergiro. The increased speed of the peloton continues, and the time gap at the IG sprint point is now only 3:53. Paul and Bob begin reminiscing about the "grupetto", and the theories of managing to stay within the time limit on a climbing stage. These men know the suffering of the damned. The leaders are now under the 15 km to banner, which means the road will only go up now. It does, and the break partners are now partners in suffering, until suddenly Zampieri punches away. He snakes over his bike, and you can see his leg muscles beginning to form into cubes, yet he can still move the bike uphill and he leaves Mazzoleni behind by 5 seconds. Pantani and teammates cannot stay attached to the climber-led peloton. Maybe he's saving himself for a steeper climb. He's forming his own grupetto. Both Bob Roll and Paul Sherwin openly wonder how he can remain enthused to grind himself up day after day. From the other end of the peloton - that's the front - Hector Mesa Mesa pops away with the easy style of the pure climber. Heppner and his Telekom buddies are again setting the pace at the front as they reabsorb the feisty Colombian rider. A little over 2 minutes ahead of that action, Mazzoleni grinds his way back up to Zampieri, they go under the 10 km banner and Mazzoleni moves ahead to return helpful plate of suffering. They both now are beginning to pedal squares and seem to have placed some lead insoles in their shoes. They'll toil more before they are caught, but it seems they won't hold off the serious contenders. In the peloton, Gilberto Simoni rolls upward in a much slower cadence, out of the saddle pounding a big gear and looking well within himself. Casagrande spins along in the saddle. They are in a group of about 40 riders or so who have moved away from the non-climbers. Joaquim Castelblanco from Selle Italia spins away from the group, looks back and seems to find a nice rhythm (which would kill either of us). He seems to have a shoe/cleat problem, and has to come to dead stop to adjust something. They need a new shoe/cleat sponsor now.... The pack envelopes him and continues on hitting the switchbacks of this climb with an increasing fervor. Julio Perez of Panaria roars away from the peloton and immediately has a strong gap. Back off the front of the lanky frame of Marious Sabaliauskus from Saeco rolls off the front as the climbers clear the grunge out of their lungs and legs. Perez flies up to Zampieri, who bleeds through his eyeballs to catch onto his wheel to try to stave off the inevitable catch by the peloton. Casagrande accellerates strongly out of the pack, and picks up Verbrugghe who had seemed to get free with no one noticing. Simoni roars up to him, and Belli, Cadel Evans and a few others match his speed. Back behind the men firing up the pace, Heppner maintains contact with the group and is riding strong cadence to the crest. The leaders coalesce and then Sabaliauskus follows Castelblanco who jumped from the pack. A few seconds later, Rik Verbrugghe jumps again and uses the strength gained from the cold Belgian roads to strongly ride toward the lead pair of Castelblanco and Julio Perez. It's amazing how Verbrugghe climbs with such power. So - quick recap - under 6 km to go Perez & Castelblanco off the front Sabaliauskus & Verbrugghe about 7 seconds back Group of about 30 riders with the potential GC leaders. Sabaliauskus cracks suddenly and drops back. Simoni rolls over his big gear and tests the waters, but Casagrande matches him immediately, bringing the pack with him. The accelleration brings them quickly up to Verbrugghe, who tucks back into the group. The wind is howling as they reach the more exposed parts of the hill. The tiny climbers seem to suddenly go to a standstill, Yaraslav Popovych suddenly drops off the pace as Simoni punches it again. Pietro Caucchioli hits it hard, and the big boys let him go as they eye one another. 4 km to go now, and the crowds line the roadway. Sabaliauskus suddenly revives and leads Simoni again for a while. Perez has hammered off the front again, leaving Castelblanco to the approaching Caucchioli. But, the speed of the Simoni group increases and they roll upwards. First the C&C pair, then Perez are suddenly caught with 3 km to go, with Simoni still on the head of the group. He is in the drops, still in the big ring, rolling over a massive gear and making everyone work hard to stay with him -- still in touch are Casagrande (small ring), Evans (small ring), and others I cannot quite recognize. Simoni's position would look like a sprint if they weren't going up a 7% grade. He hits it again and the lead group begins to fracture. Serious competitors begin to fall off - Hamilton, Evans, The only rider who seems to be able to force themselves after him is Pellizotti of Allessio (he was the guy whose handlebars loosened right at the start of the prologue, and he's shown strong will if ultimately not enough power on the climbs) who has latched onto them. Another sudden powerful attack which causes a further splintering of the group. A Kelme rider - Aitor Gonzalez - comes up and tries to settle in behind Casagrande. Simoni is out of the saddle again and just punishing the everyone. Soon, there is open roadway between the pair of Simoni & Casagrande over another bunch who were hoping to play. A team car has to stop suddenly soas not to run over a group of tifosi/simoni hooligans and the chase group adjusts quickly soas not to become bumper fodder. Dario Frigo is shown suffering at the head of a group, suddenly appearring as Casper the Ghost fashion, but I'm not sure he is near the lead pair. Under 1 km to go, and Simoni looks back to see who is left. The group behind is only about 7 or 8 seconds away. Casagrande takes a quick look back, and sits presumably in the catbird seat as the roadway flattens somewhat. The two riders split across the roadway and Simoni finds another gear and moves away despite having set the tempo for the last 3 kilometers - Simoni wins from the front, punctuating his victory with a fist in the air. He seems to have been fueled by the anger of having had no help from Casagrande. A group of 6 riders hammer across about 5 seconds later. Pantani finishes in a small group about 8 minutes down. The mountaintop winds send the champagne spray almost sideways

Stage 11 - Gilberto Simoni (Saeco)
2nd - Francesco Casagrande (Fasso Bortolo)
3rd - Franco Pellizotti (Alessio)

GC - Maglia Rosa - Jens Heppner - 1st German to hold MR for 6 days
2nd - Francesco Casagrande - 2:58
3rd - Gilberto Simoni - 3:15
4th - Savoldelli - 3:43
5th - Caucchioli 3:43
6th - Escartin - 3:46
7th - Popovych - 3:50
8th - Belli - 3:51
10th - Evans - 4:03
14th - Hamilton - 4:26


Gilberto Simoni has withdrawn from the tour.

Simoni, Simoni, Simoni, how are we going to keep you down on the farm now?

He seems to have been told by the organizers and the other teams in the Giro to leave. There may be more to the story, indeed. There's conjecture & guesses, but no real information yet. All we know is that the sponsors of the other teams came together to push for the removal of Simoni. What the heck is going to happen for the Tour - will they be removed? Replaced by Aqua & Sapone? Coast? Who knows?

But, again, there's a race - Stage 12 - Champobasso to Chieti

The weather suddenly drops from 90's to the 60's and rain, rain rain. A cold, snotty day. Agressive early moves end with a 6 rider breakaway that has stayed away after a big split in the peloton 21 - Alessandro Bertolini (Alessio) 69 - Peter Wrolich (Gerolsteiner) 103 - Lorenzo Bernucci - (Landoubkredeit) 155 - Bert Grabsch - (Phonak) 151 - Matthias Buxhofer - (Phonak) 191 - Deni Lunghi (Colpack-Astro) rattling along 3:30 to 4:00 ahead, depending upon which split you put credence to. The riders roll along with all the layers they can find - arm warmers, rain capes, tights or leg warmers. 44 km to go The finishing town presents two loops - not quite short enough to be considered a "curcuit", and there will be a twisty descent that will have to be addressed each time. The first time it finished in Chieti was in the first running of the Giro D'Italia. The gap is down to 3:14 Phil says urine "you-rine" 35 km Chase group is under three minutes and has dwindled down to about 30-40 riders, with the sprinters and other suffering b's having formed themselves into grupettos another 8 to 11 minutes behind. The finishing circuit is about 10 km's and with the splitting of the groups in the nasty weather, there may be some overlapping of groups when they hit the finish. Rabobank has been grinding away at th front as if they are in a spring classic, trying to reduce the gap. They may be trying to take advantage of strong form of Michael Boogerd. 32 km to go In the breakaway, Denis Lunghi moves smartly off the front, (17:38 behind on the GC), looking pretty smooth as he moves past olive groves and switchbacks. He easily has the speed on the climb that the others seem to lack. The maglia rosa group spreads out a bit as they begin to climb - Rabobank not exactly populated by climbers. As they head upwards, Dario Frigo gets tripped up by some mechanical - a new push from his mechanic gets him moving, and he moves strongly through the carnage falling away from the main group with an assist from two teammates. Lunghi rolls into the streets of Chieti before heading back out for the two circuits across slippery smooth looking streets of the town. Under 26 km to go and the gap is around 3:00 from Lunghi to the group of the maglia rosa. Conditions are worsening and the rain is hellish while Lunghi tries to extend his lead of 30 seconds over the original members of the breakaway. He flies over the roads of the town seeming to rub elbows on the ancient walls and buildings. Now out on the open road, he goes edge to edge on the descent which heads to the finish. You wouldn't want to walk down it in this weather. He's going as fast as you can imagine. And then some. But, will it be enough to keep him out in front? As Denis Lunghi goes over the finish line, he now has two circuits before him, with his original group behind him. Peter Wrolich seems to have been dropped by the remnants of the breakaway group. The remaining four seem to have trouble organizing, each suffering in their own soggy world 48 seconds behind. Wrolich is another 50 seconds back. The maglia rosa group 3:20 behind the lone rider. Lunghi seems to have gambled well today, as the trepidation of the peloton is clearly evident on the descent. Lunghi is climbing well and doesn't seem to be losing much time over the group. As soon as the descent begins, he's got the edge, because they don't want to risk it in these conditions. Now the lead group of the peloton seems to be easing - deciding that they are too cold, too hungry, too tired to mess with a sloppy chase on this damp day. The 30 riders are spread across the road, riding a steady tempo and not torturing anyone. It seems that agreement has been made. Lunghi begins the descent again on the twisty roadway, hearing noises coming off of his tires that would make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Edge to edge on the turns, 180's and chicanes. Tomorrow's high mountain finish must be on the leader's minds, as they have let Lunghi get out to 4:55. As Phil says, "he has made the best decision of his sporting career". The clouds have moved on a bit, and there is no evident rain right now. Lunghi has moved his lead up to 1:30 over his immediate chasers. The peloton just wants to come home with no damage. The gap to the peloton seems to have moved up to 6:25. In the group (as opposed to the original breakaway), everyone is in "shut down" mode. Between them, the immediate chase group has splintered into two groups of two. Lunghi strips down to his racing jersey, and shows his numbers. He is ready for the photographers. The roads look like they are drying a bit more, although it couldn't be described as easy - following the intestine-like route of the road. He solos to victory waving to his director, pulling down his jersey and pointing at the sponsor, and punctuating the victory with both fists in the air. There is enough time to change a wheel before the next rider rolls over the line. You could adjust a pair of finicky cantilever brakes before the first part of the peloton comes across 7:47 behind the winner.

Stage 12 - 1st - Denis Lunghi - Colpack-Astro
2nd - Bert Grabsch - Phonak
3rd - Lorenzo Bernucci - Lanboukredeit

GC Maglia Rosa - Jens Heppner
2nd - Francesco Casagrande 2:58
3rd - Paolo Savoldelli 3:43

Stage 13 - Chieti to Giacomo A difficult mountain top finish (followed by the first time trial on Sunday)

(This report filed at the end of a looong day.... je3)

"The Roads Edge Upwards"

Stage 13 - Chieti to Giacomo

Too long of a day yesterday, so I slept through the first hour of coverage. So, with a quick dog feeding to start the day, we pick up today's stage after climb of the Ceppo at about 1330 meters. This is the second of three climbs, though the first one wasn't significant in its effect upon the riders. They are now descending on less than optimum pavement. Yesterday's rains put a lot of gravel onto the roadways, and it proves unlucky for Massimo Codol of Lampre - down hard on a turn and wrapped himself around a safety barrier (guard rail). After a few minutes of poking and prodding by the race doctor, he is back using gravity again, but the size of his bruises tomorrow morning will be significant. There are 30 km to go in the stage today. About 4 hours and 15 minutes have been spent in the saddle today so far, over the roads of the eastern side of the leg of Italy. Matthias Kessler of Telekom & Michael Rasmussen from CSC-Tiscali stretch off the front of the peloton as they scream down from the first climb. Off the front, Marc Lotz of Rabobank has about 2:30 lead on Kessler & Rasmussen and another 30 seconds on the peloton. His lead was as great as 8:40 or so, after a move with only 40 km gone. He's now bending through corners on some relatively sketchy pavement - it looks a bit like the descent to the Alpine Dam from Bolinas Ridge - or for those of you in the east bay, like that descent where you can smell the tree. A number of riders - including Dario Frigo - have been dropped on the climb of the Ceppo. It was a fairly long climb, and accellerations & high climbing pace have dolled out suffering with a ladel. The trailing riders who feel they can still compete now are taking incredible risks to catch back on before the final climb of the day. The leader is 20 km from the finish, and the climb runs about 11 km. It's a little strange to see Rassmussen and Kessler holding a gap on the peloton, as neither of them are renowned climbers. It also left Tyler Hamilton a little weak back in the peloton, as his teammates are only now getting back onto the group as they descend. With a 3:25 gap between the leader and the peloton, as Marc Lotz rolls on before the climb hits. It will hit pretty hard, first because of its placement as a finishing climb, with an average gradiant 6%, and second because of the steeper sections of 15% Of course, that chasing Kessler is a strong feller, having finished 6th in Leige-Bastogne-Leige. The pack eases a bit, jettisoning helmets to the team cars and water bottles to the side of the road, and then seem to stretch out again and snake quickly through the roads in what is one of Italy's largest national parks. Riders reattach and the peloton swells up to 60 or 70 riders. Ahead of the field, Oscar Periera of Phonak (currently leading the team competition) & Mariano Piccoli (Lampre) pop off the front. Marc Lotz is beginning to suffer openly as he begins climbing in earnest. The now open roadway switches back over itself repeatedly, and climbers can see one another as they begin heading upwards. Periera drops Piccoli as they roll under 10 km. Michael Rasmussen suddenly pulls up with what seems to be a mechanical. But the neutral service vehicle pulls past him. He's off his bike with his right thigh visibly cramped up. The former mountain bike world champion works his muscle a bit, while Periera scoots past and Kessler fires up the road with renewed vigor. The peloton increases their pace as they climb, and roll over Rasmussen like a tank - he's spat out the back with little fanfare. He will have a bunch of partners as the recently swelled peloton is jettisoning riders without any serious attacks having yet occurred. Periera & Piccoli seem to have been reabsorbed as well. A quick pan throgh the peloton shows Tyler Hamilton with a teammate leading him, Wladimir Belli & Francesco Casagrande, Julio Perez and Cadel Evans all alert and ready for the gunfight. Tyler looks very relaxed and is ticking over a moderate gear with a high, easy cadence. At the head of events, Marc Lotz finds new levels of pain and begins pedalling in a chunkier manner. Behind Kessler climbs strongly and easily, seemingly levitating up the mountain. However, the peloton has begun chewing up the gap and roars along just a few bends in the road behind. They have gotten close enough that Dario Cioni feels confident enough to fire out and mark Kessler. They still have not hit the steeper bits, and the real climbers rev their engines in anticipation. The stage is set and the serious competitors pop their clutch, squealing rubber as they accellerate. Cioni fires past Lotz and Kessler, and with 4 km to go Pavel Tonkov has moved strongly out and moves up to Cioni. Back in the pack, Casagrande begins to accelerate, Cadel Evans marking him, along with Perez, Pellizotti and climbers tagging along. Heppner has locked himself into a pace which should keep him in pink. Cadel blows the snot out of his nose and rolls off the front, away from the leaders with Julio Perez. He remains seated while Perez uses his easy out-of-the-saddle style. They establish a gap with a strong accelleration. Sensing the seriousness of the move, Ivan Gotti comes to life for the first time in the Giro and climbs away from everyone in the group. This is finally too much for Casagrande, who raises the pace firmly, shadowed by Pellizotti. He is not shaking anyone, however and doesn't have the superior strength to dominate on this stage. Others realize this and renew their efforts. Up ahead, Cadel and Perez have a smart gap, now about 12 seconds. Kelme's Aitor Gonzalez remembers he can climb, and moves away with 2 km to go He halves the gap and moves with good speed, while up front, Cadel rapidly ticks over a smallish gear and loooks good. But, looking good does not a lead guarantee - Perez moves up out of the saddle and suddenly attacks. Cadel increases his cadence but has already tapped his tanks - and is smart enough to know how not to blow. Gotti makes another push which is marked by Casagrande. They are not afraid to attack the supposed strongest man left. It's clear that Cadel cannot answer the climbing explosion of the Mexican rider, and Perez flies up the road as the air thins and crowds increase. In the lead group Pellizotti goes up the road and suddenly Dario Frigo materializes out of nowhere to take a shot at catching him. The leaders group raises the pace slightly and stay with him. Perez goes under 1 km with open roadway. Ivan Gotti has moved moved out again and no one in the main group can immediately answer him as the road heads upward. They mark one another and consider where to make their moves. Perez will not be caught as he rolls past a Basque flag and a huge crowd pressed against the barriers on the smooth, cleanly paved roadway. He rolls across in climber's glory, again winning the 13th stage of the Giro. Cadel continues to knock out the gear, maintains his lead and follows him across the line. I still don't know where Frigo came from - it's almost as if he was hiding on the side of the roadway like they do in the Boston Marathon. Nevertheless, he's across in third place. Tyler cannot come up with the big stage today, and finishes in touch with the lead group, forty seconds back.. Heppners pink jersy comes across in 1:30 back. He will remain in the maglia rosa tomorrow. No sign of Pantani as they begin to take down the finishing barriers.

Stage 13 - Winner Julio Perez - Panaria
2nd - Cadel Evans - Mapei - 14 seconds back
3rd - Dario Frigo - Tacconi Sport - 17 seconds
Francesco Casagrande - Fasso Bortolo - 19 seconds

The balance of leaders group within 40 seconds.

GC Jens Heppner - Day 8 in the Maglia Rosa
Francesco Casagrande - 1:48
Fernando Escartin - 2:36
Piettro Caucchioli - 2:37
Cadel Evans - 2:39
Dario Frigo - 2:44
Paolo Savoldelli - 2:45

Stage 14 - Numana 30 km time triall Look for a serious effort by Tyler Hamilton, and Casagrande to sweat a bit as he is not quite in his element, nor has he stamped his authority upon this race.

"The Race of Truth"

Stage 14 - Numana Time Trial

On the eastern coast of Italy - a hilly course with a twisty beginning, a climb midway, finishing with a long, straight finish. The surface and course look absolutely beautiful, with a balance for all types of riders. On one of the descents, they will touch nearly 70 mph. It looks like there are time checks at 9.2 km and at around 20 km. 154 riders remain in the race today, as Massimo Codol who crashed nastily yesterday did not line up at the start today. That leaves only four teams with a full complement of a riders: Aqua & Sapone, Rabobank, Coast, and CSC-Tiscali. Time Trials are a statistician's dream, and during the tour, I've been known to set up spreadsheets to run rider's split times through during the course. I'll spare you that, as this is only a 30 km time trial. But, there is not much I can do to releive the "linearity" of today's story. And I'm sure you've noticed that this stage is being posted a day late, as between mother-in-law's birthdays and other obligations over the weekend, I'm only now catching up... Trivia Tidbit: The first Giro D'italia time trial was in 1933. It was won by Alfredo Binda. Before we dive into the day's results and efforts, Phil takes a moment to mention that Lance Armstrong has taken the lead in the Midi Libre, after an excellent time trial and a mountaintop stage victory. His training seems to be good. Andrea Peron of CSC-Tisacali sets the early time at 43:00. He seems to be doing what for Tyler Hamilton that which Tyler Hamilton used to do for Lance Armstrong - burning up the course and giving a report back to the team leader. Dario Cioni, the former mountain biker from Mapei, fires out onto the course with a new lowest time at the first checkpoint. 9.2 km - 14:54. Vladimir Duma of Panaria rolls across the finish at 42:55 to drop the lead down by about 7 seconds. Ivan Gotti, sitting in 25th overall, at 7:10, rolls away. He certainly seems to be quietly riding himself into form over the last few climbs, and remains a dark horse in this Giro. So far, non of the riders have been seen wearing anything that might be confused as being an aerodynamic helmet. Sergei Honchar (formal world TT champion) hits the first checkpoint at 14:22 - this is a new low time. Cioni comes through at 30:50 at the second checkpoint, about 13 seconds ahead of Duma. Michele Scarponi is one zebra lookin' SOB, sitting in the starthouse. His time will be insignificant, but, man, the Italians are probably the only ones who could pull off that outfit... Honchar is currently turning over a 54 x 11 on the flat, with a slight headwind. Ow. Pavel Tonkov rolls off - another rider coming into form as the race continues. Gotti rolls through the first time check at 15:04, 5th best time on the road currently. Dario Cioni rolls through at 42:23, 32 seconds less than Duma's time, so he now sits in provisional 1st place. He was wearing an aero helmet. Those clever Mapei boys don't miss a trick. Honchar runs up on and passes Castelblanco the climber, who started two minutes ahead of him. He caught him on a slight rise, pounding out a massive gear. Honchar is not a pretty, smooth rider - he hammers and grinds and moves around almost as bad as a triathlete - but man, he moves a bike fast. Honchar rolls through the second checkpoint at 30:11 - 40 seconds ahead of the previous best time. . Tyler Hamilton fires away from the start house as Sergei Honchar screams in toward the finish - he's covering the corners of the final chicane and comes through at 41:52 - avg 43.4 kph - he finishes 31 seconds ahead of Dario Cioni, so he actually dropped a few seconds over the last third of the race, if we want to be picky.... Rik Verbrugghe eloquently covers the early miles on the course. He looks so easy on the bike - a Litespeed actually stickered "Litespeed" - and yet he manages to go so very fast. He hits the first check at 14:48 - fourth fastest at that checkpoint. Frigo prefers the aero helmet, as does Cadel Evans. Evans definitely has the wind profile of a sideways zipper. Frigo likes the look of these time trials, and has publicly stated that these suit him well. His time trial form always seems choppy, but it seems a bit worse than usual today. Hamilton hammers through the first time check at 14:09, 13 seconds better than Honchar Gotti finishes well, notching into 6th place, about one and half minutes behind Honchar's leading time. He's quickly knocked down a slot by the finish of Oscar Pereira, who comes in about a minute behind Honchar's time. Hamilton is on a flat stretch right now, and just spinning over a big gear with a really relaxed upper body - he looks powerful as he plows along next to some grocery warehouse/fufillment center. He looks like he's running about a 55 or 56 front chainring. I am dead serious. He's jettisoned the Michelin Man bandages, and rolls along clean-skinned for the first time in a few days...well, actually for the first time since the prologue. Paolo Savoldelli rolls through the first time check, about 53 seconds behind him - that gap will jump Tyler up a spot in the GC. Frigo rolls through the first check 28 seconds behind Tyler. Cadel follows through with almost the identical time. Cauchioli rolls through ahead of both of them by a few seconds. Heading toward the finish line, Yaraslav Popovych, the first year pro who was duking it with the big dogs for a few days, locks it up into the 3rd to last corner, graphics on his rear disc wheel suddenly, sickeningly readable. They suddenly begin turning again and somehow he doesn't plaster himself along the barriers. He was hammering a huge gear and suddenly realized that he had to make a 90 degree left hand turn. Good morning Yaraslav! Ok - quick note to retailers - you might want to order up a few more Look frames, blue Castelli shorts, and some CSC-Tiscali team togs... Tyler's lighting up the roadway and everyone's gonna want his kit... Tyler buzzes throught the second time check with a 16 second lead over Honchar's time. Tyler is the only rider who has gone under 30 minutes at the second time check. He didn't look quite as good over the second section of the course, but still has managed to grab another 3 seconds. Another fascinatiing tidbit of trivia: Francesco Moser holds the Giro record with 12 career time trial victories. Good ol' Francesco Casagrande is not in the mix for breaking that record, as he hits the first time check at 14:59 - 49 seconds behind Tyler -- and he only holds a 1:50 GC lead over Tyler. Up ahead on the roadway, the camera moto follows closely as Tyler screams through a twisty descent, and then hammers out of the saddle as the road edges up again. It's a thing of beauty. Verbrugghe flies around the last long right turn, and may manage to notch into the top three. He doesn't lock up his wheels on that last 90 degree left, but his tire is absolutely into the last centimeter of usable roadway. His time of 42:14 puts him into 2nd right now, 22 seconds behind Honchar's time. Maglia Rosa wearin' Jens Heppner's time at the first check is ugly, and he's conceded 1:21 Hamilton.. Tyler is 3:38 behind him on the GC. Remember, the first part of the time trial course is mostly uphill - in fact Julio Perez was in front of Heppner at the first check. Tyler is about 400 meters away from the finish. He has a hard left turn which he handles, put right his foot pulls out of the pedal as he punches the final sprint. He comes close to doing the squggle-crash from a few days ago. But, he pops it back in, and crosses the 41:21 - 31 seconds ahead of Honchar. More Tidbits for your reading pleasure: Andy Hampsted and Ron Kiefel are the only two US riders to have won a stage in Giro D'italia. They may just have a new partner in their group. Cadel Evans and Dario Frigo are matching each other almost second to second at the splits. Wladimir Belli is coming in over two minutes behind Tyler's time. That will be a nice buffer when the roadway turns upward. Aitor Gonzalez from Kelme gives up over 50 seconds to Tyler. Mr. Hamilton has clearly taken a page from Lance Armstrong's playbook - ripping some big chunks out of his rivals on the time trial. With the momentum he gains from this, it could turn out to be a very interesting Giro. Molasses-peddlin' Casagrande hits the second check at 1:26 behind Tyler. Paolo Savoldelli rolls around the last few turns to the finish, but dribbles down the standings quickly, 1:36 down on Tyler. Frigo goes under the last kilometer banner, but somehow it seems he's got a long way to go. He crosses the line at 42:20, giving up 59 seconds to our boy from CSC-Tiscali. Cadel is actually in the camera for the first time since the start house. I guess the live cameras will always favor the Italian riders. He screams through the last corners and finishes at 42:02, nailing a great ride on the course. He slots into third place provisional. He's managed to hold onto a 10 second lead on Hamilton in the GC. Heppner suffers his way along, but Casagrande actually looks like a club rider as they pass along fields of some sort of vegetables. He's limping along only about 40 seconds ahead of Heppner. He rolls under the 1 km to go banner, and is already in 3rd place with a bit to go. His lead over Cadel Evans is slipping through his fingers as he sweeps through the last right and sets himself for the hard left and the punch to the finish. In large yellow letters on a black background reads the bad news: 43:12 on the line. He's lost 1:51 to Tyler Hamilton. That's what you get for wearing a bandana in a time trial when you are Italian. Heppner needs to finish in 44:41 to maintain the pink jersey. He's hit the long right hand sweeper, and just about to roll through the left hand sharpie... He's across the line at 43:53! The maglia rosa remains his by about 50 seconds! Wave them flags cowboys! Tyler Hamilton is only the third US rider to win a stage in the Giro D'Italia! He waves easily to crowd and basks in the glory on the podium - his 21st win as a professional, and probably the one that means to the most to him so far.

Stage 14 - Time Trial Tyler Hamilton - 41:21
Sergei Honchar - @:31
Cadel Evans - @ :41
Rik Verbrugghe - @ :52
Aitor Gonzalez - @ :56
Dario Frigo - @ :59
Dario Cioni - @ 1:02 Yes, that's two former mountain bikers in the top ten!

GC - ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-changes! Jens Heppner - maglia rosa - that is 10 days in pink! ....but, they don't bother to show the GC.... As near as I can tell, it's Cadel Evans Tyler Hamilton Francesco Casagrande....but, I'll actually have to hit a website or wake up for the earlier than usual (6 am) start of tomorrow's stage.

Stage 15 - Terme Euganee to Conegliano - after a rest day (well it was Monday) we'll cover a fairly flat stage to the north of Italy, before the days in the Dolomites take place.
Stage 16 Conegliano - Corvara in Badia - will be a nasty little stage.

"And with the north came the rains..."

Stage 15 - Terme Euganee to Conegliano

The zebra kits of Aqua & Sapone are getting a new stripe added today, as the road grit flung from their tires give them a single stripe. The planes, trains and automobiles which have brought the riders to the north have awakened to rain and soggy roads. Who would you expect to see off the front in these conditions other than a Belgian? Theirry Mariachal from Lotto cranks along about a minute in front of the rain-caped peloton. He must've spilled the olive oil on the director sportif at last night's dinner. "Eh, Thierry? Why don't you head up the roadway for us today..." He shakes his head and mugs a bit for the drenched cameraman on the lead moto. In the Intergiro - Strazzer ignores the ice-rink roads and flies away from the chasing pack. Alessandro Petacchi cranks up the dynamo and rolls along behind him for the third place. More InterGiro info: the _time_ stops with the first rider to hit the InterGiro spot (of which there is one per stage). Then the following riders get a declining number of bonus points. The tides finally push Thierry Mariachal back into the pack with 43 km to go. He seems a bit happier now. Telekom and the soggy zebras are pushing the pace through the damp conditions. Because of the danger of the conditions, today's GC time will be taken on the first pass of the finish line, and then the insane sprinter-folk can duke it out for palmares, but not time. This is not an unheard of decision by the race referees, and it is openly lauded by Phil, Paul and Bob. Speaking of the GC - Some times flash by and I actually get some data: Jens Heppner Cadel Evans :48 Tyler Hamilton 1:06 Francesco Casagrande 1:07 Dario Frigo (oops) Caucchioli 1:20 Escartin 1:40 Savoldelli 1:49 Verbrugge (oops again) Domenico Gualdi of Fromaggia Trentini, Fabiano Fontenelli of Mercatone Uno and stalwart Max Sciandri from Lampre bust off the front and try for a gap. All three are serious stage win threats, and Telekom's hard men move quickly to shut it down. Mathew Hayman, the Australian from Rabobank, spins away, checks quickly over his shoulder and guns it up the road. He has a tenuous gapon the slick road, which lessens with each pedal stroke. He is nabbed as the cars turn on their headlights. The frog-like body of Pantani continues to surf through the spray at the back of the peloton. How can he make his team work so hard, so often? Selle Italia's Freddy Garcia is out of the race. It seems there was a crash today on the minor first climb that was being used in the GPM (KOM) competition. Garcia was leading his temmate Castelblanco and there was (as Paul likes to say) "a bit of argy-bargy" between Garcia and Francesco Casagrande. They flash back to Garcia on the side of the road, with head and facial injuries, gesticulating and accusing Casagrande. 25 km left in the stage. The zebra-men and German Pinkos hold steady pace over the roadways, pace high enough to hurt and dissuade attacks. They will enter the finishing circuit in about 7 km and have three "giros" before the sprint to the finish. Garcia is now being quoted as saying that Casagrande actually punched him on the push to the finish. The peloton moves into town, a combination of narrow twisty city roads and wide avenues. Painted directional stripes abound, adding nastiness to the roadway. Fabiano Fontenelli screams away at an opportune moment and instantly gets a good gap. He's from the region and hoping for a little press perhaps. But, some stern advice from the peloton (and probably his race director in his ear) causes him to shut it down so there is a gruppo compatto and everyone gets the same time. They roll over the finish, so there's three circuits left - totalling just under 13 km. The conditions are pretty treacherous, and the race directors should be lauded for the sensible decision they have made. The clock stops and only the crazies who choose to do so will leave skin upon the roadway of Conegliano. As soon as they begin the final circuits, a few antsy caffeinated types pound away, are caught, and the zebras begin flocking at the head of the peloton. Paul Sherwin points out the differences in the kit of the teammates could be related to different zebra species. They talk about Tyler's injuries he's suffered so far. It's an amazing array of damage, including stitches to his back and a possible torn rotater cuff. It's about a season's worth, and yet he has hung on and begun to flourish. Max Sciandri uses his cagey abilities to ease off the front with a murky Saeco rider, but the pack of zebras thunders down upon him as we cut to a break. 4.3 km's to go as the hammering groupo compatto rolls along. They are now on the giro ultiimo. Hungry zebras chase a Landboukredeit captian Rolf Sorenson who fears not of the wet roads and potential dermal abrasions. There seems to be video evidence of the Casagrande/Garcia "Celebrity Boxing Match", but so far it is being deemed as "inconclusive". I guess that means unlike Wladimir Belli in last year's Giro, he did not punch the race leader's brother-in-law. The pace increases with 3 km to go, Phonak punches a train out across the road from the zebras, and edge into the lead. With the technical turns, they must fancy their chance for Massimo Strazzer. However the leading Phonak (Buxhofer) misjudges a turn and almost punches through the barriars, fishtailing to a staggering stop which the others avoid. Confusion. Corrections. Pace runs phenomenally high. The photomoto runs in the paceline among the zebras and everyone learns some special italian phrases from Aqua&Sapone's Lombardi. Inside 1 km. Allessandro Petacchi and Isaac Lopez (the sprinter from....Kelme? who'd've thunk?) hammer up the pack, but choose the wrong side of Lombardi on the hard, soggy, left hand turn. As he peels off to the outside of the turn, they have to take the long way round and it doesn't help under these conditions. Mario Cipolleni had been biding his time on the 2nd wheel and knew that he needed to be the first rider into the last turn before the line. As they squeal through the bend and see the screaming tifosi at the line only 50 meters away, Mario opens the throttle. Giro win number 38 is in the soggy bag. Again, a well-drilled squad, with a beautiful leadout from Lombardi -- and he knows it, fading back to the peloton with upraised hands. I would say leadout perfection has been achieved when your winning rider doesn't go into the drops until the last 100 meters. An excellent team effort for a classy rider. They must dip him in wax to keep the road grit off of him. The soggy crowd roars in appreciation of the great rider as he takes the podium

Stage 15 - 1 - Mario Cipollini
2 - Isaac Lopez
3 - Allessandro Petacchi

No change in GC as shown above. Jens Heppner sprays the champagne for what will probably be the last time.

Stage 16 - Big Mountains - Conegliano to Corvara in Badia 5 peaks with a downhill finish.

"Climbing, Climbing, Climbing"

Break out the throwaway climbing frames. Today, the serious contenders must make their pact with gravity - the Dolomites plan to take their pound of flesh.

Stage 16 - Conegliano to Corvara in Badia - 163 km - 4 major climbs

Personality Updates: Francesco Casagrande has been kicked out of the race - it seems that there was a fair degree of validity to the claims of fighting from yesterday. His teammate Wladimir Belli has declined to start the race stage today, claiming bronchitis.. Marco Pantani wobbled up to the sign-in table with bronchitis, but has started the stage. Dario Andriato and Denis Zinetti of Index-Alexia, Juan Ramirez of Selle Italia have decided to watch the last few stages of this year's Giro from home. The cast of characters grows smaller as the grinding pain of serious climbing looms larger. That makes 150 riders begining the stage today. After an early break which included Maglia Rosa wearin' Jens Heppner causes some fragmentation in the peloton. They are coming back together as the serious climbing begins. Marco Pantani has withdrawn before the climb of the Podia. (This climb used to be called the "Marmalada") Domenico Gualdi of Fromaggi-Trentini has crashed out and being taken to the hospital. They have some footage of him lying flat on his back near a guardrail. Looks like it hurt a lot. Julio Perez has quietly materialized at the front of the chase group, and seems ready to fire on all cylinders today. All the big names continue to mark one another as the strength-sapping, heart-breaking straight-ahead climb of the Podia looms immediatlely before them. They roll uphill through the sheer-sided canyons, past waterfalls and ancient, jagged rocks just off the roadway. Further up the climb, Perez leads the dwindling group up the climb. At the back of the group, the maglia rosa of Heppner claws to stay attached. Perez easily hovers out of this saddle, leading the chase back to the splintered early breakaway. Off the front Daniele de Paoli has moved into a solo lead Julio Perez fires away, and Cadel Evan marks him. They've gained about 10 meters on the group, which includes a suffering and slightly slowing Tyler Hamilton. Hamilton seems to climb well steadily, and has trouble when the violent climbers' attacks take place. There are 48 km's to go, and it's all about climbing. This is the land of the bird-boned...Perez parks himself in the saddle and ticks off a slightly slower gear. He looks like he's moving eaily, and the pain on those behind is evident. Evans has slipped back to another group of three. Daniele Nardelo of Mapei has cracked from the pace and is dropping back. Julio Perez threads through stalled and stalling team cars and sits about 1:20 behind de Paoli. Dario Frigo has found his climbing legs once more, and leads a chase group, indeed he's causing some suffering among those trying to hold his wheel. Evans, Aitor Gonzalez of Kelme and about 6 others trial in his immediate wake. At the GPM point, de Paoli has had his lead chopped to about 30 seconds. Christian Moreni of Alessio comes across at 45 seconds, and the Frigo group crests at 1:07. Addy Engels of Rabobank is the suprise member of the Frigo group. Snow covers the peaks and there seems to be ice on the alpine lake they now ride beside. The Hamilton group of 7 or 8 riders roll through about another minute behind. CSC-Tiscali has an advantage, with Carlos Sastre and another teammate in there along with Tyler. The Heppner group wills themselves over the peak another minute back. The long descent stretches before them, reshuffling and recovering and those dropped trying to reattach. Relatively good pavement and twisting turns will be to the advantage of the iron-willed. They've covered the Podia of about 6700 feet (with bits at 18%) and scattered the riders with more standard bone density well behind. Hamilton's group reattaches, but no one is making much time on the leaders. About 30 km to go - Julio Perez of Panaria and Daniele de Paoli from Alessio riders hums up the roadway The race leaders group has coalesced, with a chunk of CSC Riders ferrying Tyler Hamilton on the climb. Cadel Evans is present with at least one teammate. The Cima Coppi lies before them - the highest point in this year's Giro. As he begins his way up the Passo Pordoi, Julio Perez flies awy from his breakaway companion, and he easily attacks the last large climb and holds a 2:10 lead over the gruppo maglia rosa. De Paoli is about 15 seconds in arrears and losing ground fast. After a ferocious descent, Jens Heppner is in the same lead group of Tyler Hamilton. He has regained contact, but seems to lack any teammates in the group. The Passo Pordoi is a bit more of a power climb, and may be better suited to those who can maintain steady power. Just to prove me wrong, Pietro Caucchioli of Alessio accellerates away to find his teammate. He has a bit of a way to go, but has a home crowd advantage as he slides up the corridor of fans who have parked themselves on the climb - in the distance snow still covers the jagged peaks and even the most adventurous spectator is heavily dressed. He's only 1:23 down at the top of the Passo Pordoi. Behind him by just over a minute, Frigo and Savoldelli ride Evans slightly off his wheel - who finds himself slightly under pressure at 2:18 behind Perez. Tyler Hamiton fares better this climb, in a group of three at 2:32, trailed by a group with Fernando Escartin group who pass over at 2:50 Hamilton seems confident as he targets the leaders and stretches away from his climbing partners on the descent. It is a much more slippery, twisty roadway than the descent off the Podia, with narrower roads near the top and never-ending switchbacks. Back at the GPM banner, Rassmussen, Pelizotti & Contrini go through surrendering more time. Paolo Savoldelli who had been quietly biding his time on the climb, begins a masterclass in descending. He had been in the Frigo group, hiding among the tall grasses. Although Frigo tries to stay in touch, and is himself an excellent descender, the difference in styles is clearly evident. Savoldelli has his stomach on his saddle and creates a fairing on his rear tire with his shorts. As Bob Roll points out, this is a "sketchy" way to descend. Heppner is 5:53 in arrears as he crests the mountain. Barring extreme measures or a mass disqualification, he will trade his maglia rosa for pink jersey. Chasing the screaming tires and flaming turns of Savoldelli, Cadel Evans leads Frigo and a Lampre rider, definitely cashing in on his mountain bike years of technique. They are not gaining ground. Julio Perez rolls under the 10 km to go banner. He recognizes someone on the side of the road and breaks into a big smile. This is another indicator of a true climber. Smiling on a climb. That's a concept as foreign to me as anything I could consider. Behind him, Caucchioli is not smiling, as his team director tries to find some Italian phrases which will cause him to bridge the gap up to Perez. Caucchioli probably is hearing the suggestions through a tiny tin tube that stretches for a couple hundred yards. It seems that de Paoli has cracked and is now somewher in arrears. As we roll onto the incline, Tyler reattaches to the Evans/Frigo group. There's only a 3.9 km climb before the descent to the finish, and although it's not too steep, there are some noticable pitches. Along with Hamilton, Evans and Frigo Aitor Gonzalez from Kelme and Juan Garate of Lampre. Tyler spins over a lower gear than Dario Frigo in the group of 5. Up ahead, Caucchioli is having trouble holding the gap to Perez. Savoldelli is maintaining his gains of the descent with respect to Caucchioli, but the gang of five is cutting into his lead over them. Perez rolls through the GPM spot. Caucchioli's face is a mask of pain as he tries to hold the gap. He's under the banner at 1:26, and Savoldelli comes through 10 seconds back. The Evans/Hamilton/Frigo group is another 10 second gap. If he can close the gap to Cauchioli, Evans will be the first Australian ever to wear the maglia rosa. Caucchioli needs to finish in second place, gaining the time bonus, and keep a 24 second lead over Evans to be the Italian in pink. There's not enough corners on this descent for Savoldelli to gap the trailing group, and they absolutely claw their way down the descent towards him. Julio Perez rolls past the 2 km to go. A sweeping pair of turns puts Savoldelli onto Caucchili, and he passes him on the outside of the next turn and begins to roar away. Do not try this one on your next club ride... In town, Julio Perez negotiates the twisting circuit in the town and with a workday lasting 4:54:54, takes another stage of the 85th Giro D'Italia. He also gains the green GPM jersey and the award for being the first rider over the highest point in the Giro. Savoldelli is out of the saddle, sprinting through the turns and desparately trying to hold onto 2nd place just under a minute behind.. Frigo slightly gaps the group, and may win a few odd seconds. A couple minutes later, the toasted wreckage begins to cross the finish, including Ivan Gotti. With over 3 minutes on the clock, Heppner rides in a group still negotiating the twisting descents. He has ridden well above what anyone expected, but the 38 year old rider will give up the maglia rosa after wearing it for 12 days, losing nearly 7 minutes over the last 35 km. Cadel Evans, who may be part elf, pulls on the maglia rosa and handles the champagne with not a single problem... As opposed to the mountains blowing the race apart, the race seems to have closed back down. The time gaps for today seem to be more appropriate during the sprinters' stages. In the overall scheme of things, Hamilton seems to be well-poised to take the final Giro D'Italia. He didn't panic on the steep first climb, paced himself back up to the leaders and remained well in touch by the finish. There's a 40 km time trial lying in wait, and given his results in the shorter one of the other day, he should be able to cut the legs out of any close competitors during that. It is strange to see such tiny time gaps as we roll toward the last days of the Giro.Tomorrow's climbing will torture the legs and attempt to break the minds of the riders in contention.

Stage 16 - Julio Perez
Paolo Savoldelli - :53
Dario Frigo - :55
Juan Garate Cepa - :55
Aitor Gonzalez - :55

GC - after 16 stages Cadel Evans - Mapei - Maglia Rosa
Dario Frigo - @ :16
Tyler Hamilton - @ :18
Aitor Gonzalez - @ :24
Alessandro Caucchioli - @ :32

Stage 17 - Corvara in Badia to Folgaria - Another day in the Dolomites From the start, there's a quick double hit of the Passo de Gardena and the Passo di Sella, then a long descent nearly back to sea level before the leg crunching climbs of the Santa Barbara and Passo Bordata, with another screaming descent to the tidal zone before the mountaintop finish of the Passo Coe at Folgaria.


"Will Seconds Become Minutes?"

Stage 17 - Mountains loomed before them - Covara in Badia to Fogaria

The last day in the Dolomites. 222 km with four peaks, finishing on the moutaintop at 5,300'. There are two early climbs, followed by a long descent to Santa Barbara (3,800') and the Passo Bordala, then a drop back down before the last difficult incline. Lots of climbing in the last 30 km. Potentially a day of pure opera... 146 riders began the day, but Daniele Contrini climbed off of his Klein and abandoned today to drop it by one. It's a cooler, hazy day as the riders roll ever downward in a gruppo compatto. Cipollini managed to acclerate along with Strazzer into the Intergiro, and has managed to nab second. That keeps him in a strong position to take back the jersey before the end of the day. The Santa Barbara climb is the one last year where Wladimir Belli popped Simoni's cousin and was ejected. The climb also starts in the town where Gilberto Simoni (and his dentist) lives. There are just under 60 km to go, and the pace has been elevating continuously for the past few moments, with CSC-Tiscali and Tacconi Sport trading the pacemaking, with Lotto chipping in as well. Tyler sits in the hip pocket of Cadel Evans, who sits "pretty in pink" today, about 6 riders from the back. Julio Perez looks resplendant in the green GPM (KOM) jersey. It is a narrow climb that they now begin, and Perez elevates his pace slightly and eases off the front. He's has a partner in climbing with the addition of Hector Mesa Mesa of Fromagia Trentino, whose sponsor is from this region. Hernan Munoz of Selle Italia accellerates up to the pair, but him momentum infects the peloton, who decide it's too early to let the climbers wander away and they bring it all together. Tacconni Sport raise the pace for Dario Frigo, but Mesa Mesa moves off the front again. 52 km to go, as Perez easily sets the pace and the race leaders mark one another. They flash back to the rear of the peloton, and show the suffering that Perez' "tempo riding" causes. Open jerseys and sweat pouring off of the bigger riders, who aren't yet wobbling, but are in some kinds of pain. Hernan Munoz has become Mesa Mesa during the break, dangling off the front. The wreckage continues - Christian Moreni and his Alessio teammate Pellizotti, plus CSC-Tiscali rider Michael Rasmussen are being left behind as the Santa Barbara climb causes steady selection among the peleton. Ivan Gotti of Alessio moves away from the group, Julio Perez jumps on him and Pavel Tonkov from Lampre unlimbers himself as well. Perez seems releived that someone of note has begun the game and eagerly sets a stronger pace and the threesome begin to distance themselves. Pietro Caucchioli of Alessio, who climbed so strongly yesterday, sits quietly among the leaders, as Evans sits with Andrea Noe and Dario Cioni and lets them set the pace. Verbrugghe rolls strongly up to the group of three, making a strongly moving gang of four. Tyler sits easily near the front of the lead group, with Cioni setting pace at the head, leading Evans. The high pace is keeping the other riders in check, while playing a bit into the hands of Tyler, who likes the steady tempo climbing. Gotti decides that Verbrugghe cannot hold the pace, and tries to rejoin Tonkov and Perez, who had gapped them. Tonkov begins setting the pace, which keeps the pair away. They've gained a few seconds on Gotti, while Verbrugghe is falling back towards the group which sits 25 seconds in arrears. Pellizotti regains the group. He seems to have recovered from his earlier malady. There's about 3 km left to climb on this peak, and a treacherous 2 km descent looms ahead off of the Santa Barbara. The climbing pair have now gained about 1:00 on the chasing group. They both now climb easily out of the saddle and move strongly uphill as they have about 1 km to go to the summit. The crowd thickens as if by magic, and Perez moves to the front to take maximum points for the GPM competition. The group rolls over the crest at 1:22 - Dario Cioni leads them through - Oh drat, I seem to have video edited out the last bit of climbing along with the ads... oh well. The next GPM point looms on the Passo Bordala about 3 km away. The peak hits 4111', an average grade of 7.5% with peaks to 12%, in about 4km of climbing. The lead group seems to have been winnowed down to less than 20 riders. Frigo works near the front of the climb. There's about 42 km to go in the race. Aitor Gonzalez of Kelme begins to feel rocks in his legs, and is being left behind as the climb continues. My good buddy Yaraslav Popovych from Lanboukredeit, the reigning U-23 champion who sits in 20th place, hangs onto the tail of the group, dropping back to the team car, taking on some bottles and getting the subtle 6-Day fling back up to the group. I wonder if they reinforce the bottles to make that work so well. The little descent has caused a crash, but it doesn't seem to have caught any of the favorites. Up ahead, Perez marks a quick cadence through the GPM point, pretty much clinching the jersey it if he can finish in Milan. As the leaders crest the GPM point at 1:55, a slight split seems to have formed - but that may be from some members stretching and grabbing vests and copies of the Gazetto Della Sport for the impending refrigeration of the descent. There's also an unnamed Saeco rider hanging in among the leaders. 38 km to go. Savoldelli moves back up from the team car and gets ready to scream down the hill. Others drop back as well to grab some refreshments. Tonkov and Perez negotiate a series of switchbacks, holding their gap on the newly paved roads. In the group, Andrea Noe leads Cadel Evans, while off the back, Oscar Periera of Phonak and Kelme's Aitor Gonzalez share risks to regain the group after lagging on the climb. They've been riding for over 6 hours and the difficult 12 mile climb looms 5,300 feet above them. As the group hits the beginning of the climb, Evans must know that his chances of victory depends upon gaining a gap on Tyler Hamilton before he can grind them in the time trial. Cioni continues to punch out the pace, as he's done on all the climbs so far. The phenomenal efforts of the former mountain biker are noticeable. Up front, Perez spins easily, marking Tonkov before they hit the serious pitches on this climb. Matthias Kessler brings the Telekom colors up to the back of the gruppo maglia rosa, now 2:07 behind the leading pair. There's been a minor regrouping and the group numbers about 25 riders. Cioni finally pops and throws out the anchor, turning over duties to Andrea Noe. Tyler ticks over the gears directly behind Evans and they continue their upward progress. But, the pace is deceiving! Dario Frigo suddenly finds himself cracked off the back and is pedaling chunky monkey style. The sufferin' B has his teammate Eddie Mazoleni back with him for assistance, but he hangs his head and furrows his brow in the manner of the damned. This is not being done for the camera - he seems to have seriously popped. Cadel spins over his lowest gear, but spins easily. Hamilton sits right behind him on that mean-looking flat black Look frame, with a set of all carbon LEW wheels, strangely missing their stickers. On the back, Aitor Gonzalez again finds the cadence of the kneeless as the pressure increases and he drifts back into the team cars. Fernando Escartin, Pietro Cauchioli and Paolo Savoldelli all hang on to the Mapei-led pace, while Frigo wishes there were a few less photo-motos, occassionally managing to slide behind his teammates to avoid the paparazzi-like swooping of the cameras. Tonkov kicks it a bit up front and finds that his increased pressure is enough to gap Perez. So far, the climb has remained gradual and consistent, which does not favor Perez. Tonkov shifts back in the saddle and locks into a powerful cadence. Tonkov has moved out 15 or so seconds ahead of Perez. A ways behind Frigo painfully tries to hold Mazzoleni's wheel. 11 km to go - about 6 miles of climbing left. Frigo has dropped about 4:15 behind the currently leading Tonkov. If he drops below about 6 minutes, Tonkov will leapfrog him in the standings. Bob Roll on Frigo, "No fuel left for the Pilgrims" Perez sits a long minute back behind Tonkov. Tonkov waves off a running spectator and returns to the private, yet glorious hell he's created. Attack! Tyler Hamilton raises the pace and suddenly swings out to his right around Evans who cannot respond and drops several places down as other riders swarm over him. Savoldelli responds quickly to follow Hamilton, but even more quickly puts a gap on Tyler. Hamilton looks around and sees Evans is truly in trouble, accellerates again and gains a gap over the group. But, Tyler can't quite follow Savoldelli's pace.. A quick replay of the attack shows that Evans had faltered in his climbing efforts for a pedal stroke or two, and Tyler instinctively fired away from him. Cadel is now back among the team cars, finding molasses and overcooked meat in his legs. All the riders suddenly spread along the roadway, while Savoldelli notches over a nice rhythm after a classic counterattck. He has Perez in his sights and just blows past him, while a group of 7 riders have gathered with Hamilton. Evans has dropped way away. Savoldelli looks great. Perez manages to hold the Hamilton group, which includes Cauchiolli, Juan Garate of Lampre, Fernando Escartin of Coast, Georg Totschnig of Gerolsteiner (on his Kleiner), Hernan Munoz of Selle Italia and a very suprising Denis Lunghi from Team Colpak-Astro. Tonkov throws it over into the big ring as the incline lessens. He's got a wonderful, powerful cadence ticking over and dreams only of the finish the way a rider near the end of his career can. Behind him, Savoldelli continues to crank over the gears and put distance on his chasers. There's 5 km to go for Tonkov, and Savoldelli is shortening the 1 kilometer lead. Savoldelli punches out of the saddle. There's about a 2 minute gap. The Hamilton group rolls along, with Tyler in about 4th. They seem to be maintaining more than a minute over Cadel Evans. Popovych has taken up the reigns of the group and seems to squeeze just a bit more speed out of the gang. Munoz tries an attack, then Totschnig. Tyler dinks around a bit trying to match the climbers' accellerations. Not his strength - he'd be better off notching into a time-trial cadence and ignoring the mosquito-like attacks of the pure climbers.. Big gaps continue to form - Evans' trialing margin approaches 6 minutes from the leader, and Savoldelli trails by 1:44. Tyler had beaten Savoldelli by 1:30 in the 30 km time trial, while there is a 40 km time trial on Saturday. I should've set up a spreadsheet to keep this stuff straight. Tyler keeps ticking over his gear, wishing for the end of the day while trying to limit his losses to Savoldelli. Garete of Lampre moves away strongly, and Tyler keeps scratches his way back up. Lunghi is again having a marvelous day, and is the lowest placed rider in the group at 38th. He will move up the standings with today's effort. At the start of the day, Savoldelli was only 30 seconds behind Hamilton. Now Tyler dangles about 4 or 5 seconds behind his ever-accellerating groupmates. Can he limit his losses over these last kilometers? The riders have been cranking for over 7 hours and 23 minutes, and the finish won't come quickly enough. Totschnig sets the pace of the chasers. All of Italy seems to have turned out for the last mountain stage, as Tonkov raises from the saddle and ticks over the last meters. The line is in sight, and Tonkov's experience cause him to bring up the zipper on his jersey before he crosses himself, emphatically salutes the crowd and crosses to the extreme exhaltations of the Italian announcer. Savoldelli rolls his hips and bobs his way up to the finish, with his gap from the winner not as important as the time to those he's left. Hamilton visits new plateaus of pain while Savoldelli chunks over the last bits. he crosses 2:10. Riders scatter upwards, with Garete flying away from the chasers. He gaps them strongly now that his teammate has won the stage. Savoldelli officially will wear maglia rosa as the clock gains 30 seconds over the now-invisible maglia rosa. Garete flies over the line at 3:07, with Totschnig leading the merry band of climbers at 3:14. Hamilton plunks down and punches his gears, bleeding from his eyeballs as he and Escartin cross the line at exactly 4:00. This means that he will need to take back 1:50 seconds or so on Savoldelli in the time trial. Did I mention that this is truly opera? Tonkov seems almost suprised that he's on the podium for the stage victory. But, he recovers as the girls show up. Savoldelli finally nails the girls with the champagne while he wears his new maglia rosa - remember, he was the rider who refused to put it on the day after Marco Pantani was ejected while leading a couple years ago. Down the mountain, Cadel has thouroughly blown and climbs in agony, wobbling and bumping uphill as the clock passes over 10 minutes. It is very paiinful to watch. Spectators push him and he can't even tell tehm to stop. Utter exhaustion. Rolling wreckage. Still, not bad for someone who had never seen the Dolomites before, let alone raced them.

Stage 17 Pavel Tonkov - Lampre
2nd Paolo Savoldelli - Index-Allexia
3rd - Juan Garete - Lampre
4th - Georg Totschnig - Gerolsteiner

GC - Maglia Rosa - Paolo Savoldelli (The live broadcast ended without final standings on the GC)

Stage 18 - Rovereto to Brescia - Blessedly flat. .


The title of this day's report stems from one of Bob Roll's stories of life in the Italian peloton. He would describe how, after a particularly difficult stage, or on one of Italy's tremendously hot weather moments, the baritone call of "Piiiiiiiii---aaaaaaaaaaa---noooooo!" would begin to echo up from the patrons of the group - the Italian phrase for an easy day (I assume from "pianissimo" in music, meaning "lightly, quietly").

But, before we roll along with the group, let's have a bit of a wrap up on the situation....

1. Paolo SAVOLDELLI (I), Index Alexia, at 80:37:11
2. Pietro CAUCCHIOLI (I), Alessio, at 0:55
3. Tyler HAMILTON (USA), CSC-Tiscali, at 1:28
4. Juan Manuel GARATE (Sp), Lampre, at 1:39
5. Pavel TONKOV (Rus), Lampre, at 3:08
6. Fernando ESCARTIN (Sp), Coast, at 3:19
7. Georg TOTSCHNIG (A), Gerolsteiner, at 5:32
8. Rik VERBRUGGHE (B), Lotto, at 7:54
9. Aitor GONZALEZ JIMENEZ (Sp), Kelme, at 8:12
10. Dario FRIGO (I), Taconi Sport, at 9:41
11. Oscar PEREIRO SIO (Sp), Phonak, at 10:41
12. Yaroslav POPOVYCH (Ukr), Landbouwkrediet, at 11:34
13. Ivan GOTTI (I), Alessio, at 12:05
14. Franco PELLIZOTTI (I), Alessio, at 14:13
15. Cadel EVANS (Aus), Mapei, at 14:20
16. Eddy MAZZOLENI (I), Taconi Sport, at 14:45
17. Michael BOOGERD (Nl), Rabobank, at 15:50
18. Julio PEREZ CUAPIO (Mex), Panaria, at 16:36
19. Michele SCARPONI (I), Acqua e Sapone, at 17:55
20. Andrea NOE' (I), Mapei, at 19:24

What changes have occurred. The mountaintop finish took its toll. Obviously, the 14:00 minutes or so which Cadel Evans lost must hurt the most. Team Coast finally lose a rider, as Fabrizio Guidi retires before the stage. Sadly, the former maglia rosa, Jens Heppner has also called it quits. The extreme efforts of the past few days have taken their pound of flesh.. Which means that Aqua & Saponi is one of the teams who is on track to take a full team into Milan. Not bad for a bunch of zebras on the wrong continent. The riders are well behind the estimated times, as they roll along through the beautiful countryside on a sunny Italian afternoon. The battered riders spin along with hundred yard stares, though the green-wearing Julio Perez manages a smile and wave to the camera. Christian Moreni of Alessio fires off the front and with the aim of livening things up. He finds himself quickly 13 seconds away and extending the gap, he reaches a minute as the kilometers roll past. All eyes and thoughts are on the 40 km time trial on Saturday. Paolo Savoldelli had only lost 3 seconds in the prologue, but did lose a minute and a half in the first time trial. No pressure there. Theres better than 80 km's to go, and the zebras shuffle out to the front to begin limiting the losses. There have been 7 different leaders in this year's event. Ciplollini is eyeing the Cyclamina jersey - the Points Competition - only stands behind Massimo Strazzer by 6 points (134 to 140) Moreni edges out to 1:35. With 64 km's to go, and the InterGiro sprint looming up in the next town, Index-Alexia riders animate themselves - they seem a touch shocked that they need to work today, since Ivan Quaranta had quit back on stage 11 and they probably thought they'd be able to joke along on the back of the peloton. Strazzer takes the Intergiro points and takes an inassailable lead in that competition, especially with the retirement of Guidi today. I believe I'd indicated yesterday that Cipollini was eyeing the "Maglia Azure" (blue) Intergiro jersey, but that was incorrect. Cipollini can win the "Maglia Cyclamina" (reddish magenta) Points jersey. The increased speed of the peloton cuts down Moreni's lead to 1:22. The zebras gain a touch of momentum as they head down a beautiful valley. Today, gravity is their ally... Moreni's lead continues to stretch, and he finds hiimself 2:55 away from the peloton, with about 45 km to go. The road cants upwward and a number of the lighter-boned riders dribble off the front. It coalesces into a group of four riders, a Taconni, Rabobank, a Fromaggio Trentini and another rider. The zebras consider this a serious threat to their alpha male, and begin chasing in earnest. The gap quickly drops down to 1:20. The road pitches down again and pressure increases at the front of the main field. Moreni swings around one of the ubiquitous Italian hairpin turns and the peloton sweeps up the four chasers with little fanfare. His gap continues to close down to 43 seconds with 35 km to go. In 15 km's, they will come onto the 6 km circuit in the town of Brescia, which they will cover three times. The Zebra's efforts continue, and they form a split in the peloton which leaves Massimo Strazzer a bit in arrears. The finishing circuit is not a simple downtown criterium course, with the Via del Castello climb to be negotiated twice. Strazzer's Phonak teammates begin to sweat again to bring their team leader back in touch. The Zebras have teamed with CSC-Tiscali, and now pant loudly in the ear of Christian Moreni, who sits only meters ahead of them. They all seem to join together at about the same time, so it is again "gruppo compatto". Tyler sits carefully poised out of the wind, well surrounded by his teammates. Moreni now sits near the tail of the group, chatting with another rider. The full pink outfit of Savoldelli shows itself near the front as well. Index-Alexia riders, who actually seem to know how to lead out a rider, poke their noses into the wind a few times. Lotto joins in, probably thinking about launching Verbrugghe if he has the gumption. Factoids for the day: They had finished on this circuit in Brescia in 2000, and the climb is actually pretty nasty and sharp, more Belgian-Spring-Classic like both in pitch and road surface. Mario Cippollini has 179 career wins, 50 in grand tours. with 38 in the Giro and 12 in the Tour. Won more than any other rider currently riding at the proffessional ranks. They roll through the outskirts of Brescia on roadways that allow them to be almost as wide as they are long. You don't often see a square peloton. But as CSC-Tiscali and Index-Alexia teams begin to stretch the group a bit, and the speed climbs quickly as sweat begins to fly throughout the riders. They are on the circuit, crossing the eventual finish line, screaming past a huge crowd out enjoying the spectacle of the grand race and warm, sunny day. Uber-Zebra Roberto Conti eases his way to the back of the peloton, after driving the pace for as long as I can remember. Teammate Martin Deganc, who actually wears a Slovenian National jersey (which luckily is striped). They roll onto the climb and Matteo Tasatto hammers away. Peron from CSC joins him on the accelleration. The unlikely character of Dario Frigo - yes, that Dario Frigo - punches away from the peloton and joins them. He had actually recovered enough, or more appropriately didn't fail catastrophically enough, and finished ahead of Cadel Evans. Cadel is with two teammates, pedaling chunky squares near the back of the pack. The trio hangs onto an 8 second lead as they roll along on the flat part of the circuit. But, they are not able to hold the gap under the withering pace of the zebras. Cipollini sits near the end of the 8 or nine pacesetting riders, Derganc and his teammates roaring along have closed down the break on the flat road. Denis Lunghi flies onto the Lombard-street like curves and heads upward, but POW! he's skidded suddenly on the third switchback, and pops up with a disabled machine. As your physics teacher would say, the speed was in excess of the friction coefficient.... The zebras bring the group past the fallen rider, hardly believing their luck. They are holding the speed so high, no one can nose out and get past them once the climb is behind them. Cipo looms near the front, directing the pursuit and looking very fast and ready. Four Zebras sit near the front in addition to Cipo, and there is no question of their intent. But, can they resist a strong attack on the climb? The third time onto the climb, Steven de Jongh of Rabobank, more of a sprinter, flies away in an all-or-nothing attack. He has a visible gap onto the cobbles of the climb, but the serious contenders are hammering up the hill behind him. Savoldelli is only three or four riders back in the chase with 4 km to go. De Jongh is caught, which prompts teammate Michael Boogerd to attack, Eddie Mazzoleni and another rider tacking onto his wake. They are now over the crest of the hill and sweep down under the trees toward the finish. The peloton tries to break their cranks as they roll up behind them in a desparate chase. Cipo sits behind Petacchi who has inserted himself into his leadout group. Hips hit as a Gerolsteiner rider tries to edge in, and down the gutter, Angel Vitioso suddenly rolls toward the front behind his Kelme squad. But, they have timed it wrong as they run under the 1 km banner, and fall away as the speed continues to increase. They fly along the roadway and the riders peel off in well orchestrated perfection. But, Lombardi is leading the wrong man! Petacchi is notched behind Lombardi - Cipo has not got the wheel of his regular leadout man! NO! Lombardi suddenly rolls away much earlier than normal! Petacchi is forced to lead very early and throws all the coal onto his fires in a desparate sprint for the line! Driving, hammering, flying, Cipo begins to kick it up another notch and moves up on the left hand side of Petacchi. Others cannot continue to accellerate with these two, and Cipo begins to nose ahead, throwing his bike as the line suddenly appears. CIPO HAS WON! No hands up victory salute today, but Cipollini carries half a bike lead over the line. Lombardi has earned all the bonuses of the year by peeling off early to force Petacchi's hand. You can't teach that behavior. What a teammate!

Mario Cipollini - WIN NUMBER 39!
Allessandro Petacchi - 2nd
Rene Haselbacher - 3rd
Lars Michaelsen - Coast 4th
Massimo Strazzer - 5th

GC - No changes

Stage 19 - Individual Time Trial - Cambiago to Monticello Brianza

"The Clock Ticks for Thee..."

Stage 19 - The Individual Time Trial In a marketing coup, riders leave from the virutal (like "near", not some daffy website) doorstep of the Colnago factory, so the large "COLNAGO" logo is visible behind every starter. Plus their name runs along the barriar banners for at least the first km or so. It is a dry day, with little apparent wind, slightly hazy with sunlight breaking through in places. A perfect summery day for a time trial. They have extended the course slightly, so the riders will cover 44.3 km's on this day's stage. All by themselves. It seems to be a relatively flat power rider's course - Ulrich would love it - though the last 5 km's are uphill. Of course, to say there is a lot on the line of this stage would be a dreadful understatement. Tyler Hamilton could not hold onto Savoldelli's wheel as the road went upward two days ago, but he was able to nick serious time away from him on the 30 km TT. But "Il Falco" rides more strongly now than he's seemed for a couple years, and stood on the podium last night without the vaguest hint of expression on his boyish face - an absolute rarity for him. He stared down the crowd and the cameras like a petulant teenager - clearly his mind already here, on this stage, on this course, on what he has to do to hold the maglia rosa. As an Italian rider, could there be any greater goal? Pietro Caucchioli sits between them, but he's never been known as a strong time trialist. Savoldelli has nailed some good efforts against the clock before, but seems to be inconsistent in that respect. Tyler has always raced well against the clock, but really has had the snot beaten out of him in crashes. The fact that he's still in the race at all, let alone poised to take the maglia rosa underscores the toughness of that rider. So, let's face it, the pertinent gaps are between Hamilton and Savoldelli. Total bike-geek-meets-computer-nerd notes: I stayed up late and redid my Time Trial Spreadsheet, so now it estimates the finishing time from each checkpoint (on a linear extrapolated basis - if you rode 20 km in 30 minutes, it'll estimate you'll do 40 km in an hour), and automatically updates it when you enter each checkpoint time. It gives split times between checkpoints, finds the best actual time when you enter it, and compares all other riders times to the best time on the course. You still have to manually rank the finishers, although I could resort it pretty easily to by "TIME BEHIND BEST"... However, the dratted Italian television is entirely geared towards any Italian rider out on the course, and so doesn't share very many spit times from other riders - As the riders suddenly finish with no split times, my spreadsheet ends up with a lot of holes in it. At least the Tour De France is pretty consistent in showing all the riders, so I can reuse it then as well... As before, the crunchy-munchy prolateriate style of Fasso Bortolo's Sergei Honchar pushes him into the leading position as he rolls through the first checkpoint at either 8.9 km or 9.2 km, depending upon who is making up the graphics, with a time of 10:51. They follow him with the helicopter, saving the photo-motos for the local heros. Even from that distance, the grinding power if Honchar is evident. Aitor Gonzelez of Kelme, who posseses some serious TT chops, runs though the first check nearly 10 seconds ahead of Honchar. Someone should hire that rider for USPS - he can climb strongly, time-trials well and doesn't seem to get his nose caught in accidents. I believe I shared earlier the rumor that Kelme may leave the sport for financial reasons. Rumor, rumor and innuendo... Dario Frigo, no slouch against the clock himself, sits nervously in the start house before he leaves the manufacturing heaven of the Colnago mothership. He is fully kitted with aero helmet, spectacles, and bike. Unfortunately, the riders do not all get new Colnagos, so he rides off on Someotherbrando. Verbrugghe, Escartin, Tonkov and Garate all slide down the ramp and onto the roadway. The big guns are on the course, but unless something really odd occurs today, no one expects them to move up more than a slot, if that. Tyler Hamilton sits in the start house. It is simply all down to his efforts today. He rolls away from the hallowed ground of the Colnago homeland to widespread cheers from the crowd On the road and up to attack speed, he runs a disk in the rear, with a trispoke of some kind or another up front. The flat black LOOK TT machine is howling along. Three minutes later, they begin a splitscreen between Hamilton and Savoldelli who has now roared out onto the course - Tyler is ticking over a slightly smaller gear a touch faster, and Savoldelli looks a bit higher on the machine, and further back in the saddle, but is moving smoothly. Earlier in this year's Giro, Savoldelli lost 1:36 to Hamilton in the 30 km time trial - three seconds per kilometer. Pietro Caucchioli lost 1:16. Which might indicate that Savoldelli had not found his time trialing form. Tyler rolls through the first time check with a decent time of 10:58. Not the fastest kid on the block, with Gonzalez and Honchar ahead of that time. After a couple minutes, the helicopter finds Caucchioli and the graphics indicate that he has lost 9 seconds to Tyler at the first check. That would be a minimum of 36 seconds if they retain the same speeds relative to one another, which would put Hamilton into second place on the GC. The maglia rosa flashes through the first check -- Saovoldelli cuts 12 seconds off of Tyler Hamilton's first split time! He does tend to start fast, though... At the second time check, Gonzalez runs through at 39:20, faster than Honchar's earlier time of 39:37. Cadel Evans rolls up to the finish with a good time, finishing under an hour at 59:19. Clearly, he has recovered a bit. That boy will be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years. Word of the first time check has spread throughout Italy. The tifosi jump around crazily as Savoldelli climbs out of the saddle on a slight rise. He must be getting updated time checks from everyone on the side of the roadway. He rides in an inspired fashion - how often do you get to ride through your home area of Italy wearing the maglia rosa?. Hamilton needs about 40 seconds by the second time check. An unofficial split time reports he's gained only 3 seconds back at the not-actually-a-spit-time 20 km mark. He rides smoothly and continues to whittle down the deficit. Gonzalez flies along the roadways and seeking his second stage victory in this year's race. One on the road, one against the clock if he can keep his pace steady to the line! Hamilton seems to be increasing his speed, but Savoldelli continues to tick along in a massive gear. Something jostles the camera heavily as they roar along. A quick replay shows that they had to go over a "sleeping policeman", as Phil calls them. Nothing like hitting a traffic bump on a TT... They show Savoldelli getting rad air as he turns over a 55 x 12! He does not, however, attempt a fakie... Gonzalez flies through the final chicanes, and finishes with the new best time of 55:56! They come back from a garish advertisement into the race stage. Tyler has hit the second time check while off camera during the break, He went through at 40:13. About three minutes behind, Savoldelli begins rocking a bit at the hips on the straight bits, as the tendrils of pain begin to spread out through his legs. Savoldelli cuts around the bend at the second check at just over 40:00! - His time of 40:03 means that he still holds a 10 second lead at the 32.1 km time check. The titans are battling on the roadways. and it seems that Savoldelli may sense an impending victory. He is, as they tend to say at times like this, Having The Ride Of His Life.... Shown for the first time today, Garate hammers home in 58:49, which may just jump him up onto the leaders podium. Well, Tyler has rolled across the line at 57:27, and me and my fancy video editing techniques have managed to miss it, instead pressing pause just in time to give you the advertisment for "Mr. Chipper" wood chpper.. Shee-oot! Savoldelli rubs up against the barrieras through the chicanes, with crowds just willing him home. He makes it look like he's going downhill even when the roadway is flat. Caucchioli comes home in 58:31, which drops him definitely below Hamilton on the podium, and may have lost third. No, he still holds just over a minute on Juan Garate of Lampre. Savoldelli continues to tap out a huge gear, head home. Barring a catastrophic mechanical, will not lose the maglia rosa. He may beat Hamilton on the tline - and does it - trailed by every moto and car in the race! Crossing the line as if he was Alexander the Great with his phalanx - Hannibal with his elephants - Mickey and his mousekateers! Evey car behind honks while the crowd explodes in roaring approval. Photographers, journalists and anyone with a forged badge pushes around the maglia rosa wearin' BIG DUDE in a massive rugby scrum. All of Italy stomps their feet in unison. Migrating birds veer from the continent. He has sewn it up, big time...

Stage 19 - Time Trial 1st - Aitor Gonzalez - 55:56 -
2nd - Sergei Honchar - 56:41 - :45
3rd - Paolo Savoldelli - 57:14 - 1:18
4th - Tyler Hamilton - 57:27 - 1:31

GC - after Paolo Savoldelli - Index-Alexia - Maglia Rosa
2nd - Tyler Hamilton - CSC-Tisali - 1:41
3rd - Pietro Caucchioli - Alessio - 2:12
4th - Juan Garate - Lampre - 3:14
5th - Pavel Tonkov - Lampre - 5:34
6th - Aitor Gonzalez - Kelme - 6:54
7th - Georg Totschnig - Gerlosteiner - 7:02
8th - Fernando Escartin - Coast - 7:07
9th - Rik Verbrugghe - Lotto - 9:24
10th - Dario Frigo - Tacconi Sport - 11:50
11th - Oscar Pereiro - Phonak = 12:49
12th - Yaraslav Popovych - Landbouwkrediet-Colnago - 14:50
13th - Ivan Gotti - Alessio - 15:17
14th - Cadel Evans - Mapei - 16:25
15th - Eddy Mazzoleni - Tacconi Sport - 17:03

Cyclamina Points Jersey by a single point - Mario Cipollini - still up for grabs tomorrow!
Blue Jersey of the InterGiro - Massimo Strazzer - he just needs to finish!
Green Jersey of the GPM - Julio Perez - ditto!

As I alluded to above, because I was dinking around trying to edit out commercials - although I must admit a strange attraction to the Michelin commercials - you should watch one just to infect yourself - I actually managed to NOT tape Tyler Hamilton's finish. Luckily, in these days of oft-repeated programming, I believe I have tape (with commercials) one of the re-airs of the this stage. I'll double-check it and if I've missed the finish again, will nab it off of tonight's rebroadcast. Tomorrow - the final stage of the 2002 Giro

Stage 20 - Cantu to Milano - the triumphant entry into the glorious city.

"The Men Roll Home..."

Stage 20 - It wraps up with today with the parade into Milano - Tappa Ultima! It's all over but the sweat, cussing, maybe a tire change or two and the sprint for the line. They have rolled into Milano and are repeating 12 laps around the city. Right now, they have completed one lap, and have 11 laps totalling around 68 km to go. The team of the leader, Index-Alexia rolls around the beautiful city leading the peloton, spinning big gears on flat roads. Wacky and impertinent Italian television begins showing a series of highlights from earlier stages, but decide that it was enough reminiscense and return to the moderately exerting peloton. They do, however seem to have some footage from the "Casagrande Incident" which I just catch the end of as I finish feeding the dog. Hazy images show two riders intertwining as they head to a line, but little else. The last factoid - Every time Casagrande finished second this year, the leader was thrown out of the tour. The highlight reels continue, with some added footage of Pantani's withdrawal and other selected moments which didn't make it onto the daily Bob Roll, "...they fixed his teeth from last year. I think I'd rather have Perez' dentist than Simoni's" The trip down memory lane wraps up and we find the riders on the main circuit, rolling over the finish line once more, leaving 49 km to go, 8 laps left. The average speed is just a nick above 45 km/hr. CSC-Tiscali, Index-Alexia, Aqua & Sapone and for some reason Saeco are trading the pacemaking. Cipollini dropped 7 points to Strazzer on the Intergiro spot today, and has dropped to 2nd in the points competition. But, if Cipo wins the stage today, Strazzer needs to take 2nd in order to hold the Cyclamina Jersey which he now possesses (but doesn't wear). If indeed Simoni is a coke head, that would explain the popping off in Cycle Sport (and VeloNews) that he can beat Lance... Marc Lotz & Thorwald Veneberg from Rabobank have gapped the peloton and gained 15 seconds. They smoothly share the pacemaking in front of steady crowds on the back side of the course. Beppe Saronni has the most Giro wins in one edition with 7 victories. Alfredo Binda won 12, but that was in the pre-war era. (Paul says that Freddy Maertens had won 7 as well, but that doesn't show up on the graphics...) The peloton's efforts chop down the deficit to 7 seconds. 6.... Cadel Evans had admitted that he had no (flippin') idea how he finished the stage to Folgaria. He actually lost 17 minutes on the stage. The pain he felt oozes easily through the on-screen images. 4 seconds.... Alessio has gained an automatic preselection to next year's Tour de France, on the basis of winning the Giro's team competition. (Virtual) leader/winner Savoldelli's Index-Alexia has also gained an auto selection. Caught... There is conjecture that Saeco will be dropped by the Societe de Tour de France (which is called something else now, but Phil will have none of it...) for this year's race. There will be a closed meeting tomorrow to evaluate the situation. LeBlanc has in the past maintained that if a team is doing all they can to prevent doping, they shouldn't be penalized. But, the honest reason that they included Saeco was directly due to Simoni's ability to animate the race. Danilo Diluca is still on the squad, and is still my pick as one of the strongest and most dynamic young riders in the pro peloton. (Others include Ivan Basso, Yaraslav Popovych and of course, the amazing Tom Boonen of USPS.) 4 laps to go, 24.8 km. Tyler will be going to to his doctor tomorrow to evaluate his condition, particularly the rotator cuff. One of the fears is that ther may be some loose bone chips floating around in there. He said that he had more road rash on his back than skin. But, he will finish the race today, - challenging the leaders while riding with injuries which would cause us to whimper on the couch and watch reruns. He had three hard crashes, two of which were clearly caught by the cameras. It's staggering to consider the pain he must have been riding through. Kelme is the longest-running sponsor in the sport - 25 years. They are rumored to be in trouble, and in fact, Aitor Gonzalez may or may not have been speaking with Aqua & Sapone about moving to them either next year,or if Kelme suddenly folds. He is one of the few riders who could actually pull on a Aqua & Sapone jersey and feel as though it was a less garish set of togs... 3 laps to go, 18 km. The speed has edged up toward 49 km/hr. Saeco continue driving the pace, with a pair of zebras chipping in. 2 laps to go, 12 km. They fly under the arch-mounted finish line camera. Simply astounding velocity. Roberto Conti hammers along with Cristian Gasperoni - they have been the early leadout men throughout the race, and blow themselves out from 50 or 40 km's out until the last 10 or so, when the short men take the bit in their teeth and muscle themselves to the line. Ultimato Giro! - 6 km to go . The pace has steadily eased upwards so that the motorcycles have trouble keeping up with things. 3 km to go - Zebras in evidence at the front. Fasso Bortolo's Alessandro Petacchi is now in the mix with a leadoiut man. He certainly wants to make up for his loss in stage 18. The leadout men guide Cipo in 5th position. Petacchi again has latched onto Lombardi's wheel - did he learn something - a chink in the armor? Now into the Ultimo Chilometro of the Tappa Ultima! Another leadout man peels back and the speed remains high - Cipo calmly holding 4th position now. Strazzer sits a few riders behind Cipollini, in the "elbow room" where everyone wants to be - hips bumping and choice phrases being traded with the sharpened elbows of the hopefuls. The second to last zebra peels away and others swarm past him. They fly around the last corner - a hard left hand 180 degree bend. Lombardi hammers the pace at the head of the race and they all draw a bead on the finish line. Lombardi leads Petacchi who leads Cipollini. The finish draws near and Lombardi moves away to the left - again forcing Petacchi out a bit earlier than he would like.. What's this? Lars Michaelsen from Coast has been sitting on Cipo's wheel and pops suddenly around his right shoulder with a strong move, He may box in Cipollini as Petacchi flies up the roadway. But, there will be none of that! The speed of Lombardi was so high that Michaelsen cannot continue to accellerate. Cipo throws it into that gear that only he seems to possess and works his way up Petacchi's bike - now halfway - the line drawing closer - now even! Then with a final burst of speed he snaps in front and has time to give a six finger (well - ok - I'm typing fast - four finger & two thumbs...) two hands in the air salute - and wins his 6th Stage in the Giro D'Italia! 40 career Giro stage wins. Strazzer is nowhere to be seen, and the Cyclamina jersey moves from his shoulders to Mario's (or as Bob Roll called him sometime in the last few minutes - "Mar - Ee - Oh Speedwagon") He joins the ranks of Eddy Merckx and Rogr De Vlaminck (yeah, I know I misspelled it...) winning 6 stages in the Giro. What a year he is having - 35 years old - 40 Giro stages.

Stage 20 Mario Cipollini - 1st
Alessandro Petacchi - 2nd
Haselbacher - 3rd

The last cork wreaks havoc on the leaders, and neither Savoldelli, nor Savoldellil and Caucchioli, nor Savoldelli, Caucchioli and Hamilton can remove it. They bring out another bottle from behind the podium screen - probably prepped by the hands of Cipollini backstage. Which pops open and sprays on the crowd. Y'know, that's curious ritual with which psychologists would probably have a field day. But, let them grind themselves to dust over 2,000 miles of racing in 21 days and then they can chime in! Viva Giro! Viva Savoldelli! Viva Champagne!

Paolo Savoldelli - Index-Alexia - 89h 22:42
Tyler Hamilton - CSC-Tiscali @ 1:41
Pietro Caucchioli - Alessio - @ 2:12
| Juan Garate - Lampre - @ 3:14
Pavel Tonkov - Lampre - @ 5:34
Aitor Gonzalez - Kelme - @ 6:54
Georg Totschnig - Gerolsteiner - @ 7:02
Fernando Escartin - Coast - @ 7:08

PS - Thanks for reading! -- Jim

2002 Tour de France

2002 Prologue through Stage 9.

Stage 10 to the finish is in the archive.



updated: July 15, 2005


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