Italy, Saturday, May 27, 2006
Stage 17 - Wednesday, May 24: Termeno/Tramin - Furkel Pass, 121 km
That was going to be one of the biggest days of the whole Giro, but in fact, the weather changed the plans. The mountain pass in the middle was cancelled, and we went around through the valley. Then the last five kilometres of Kronplatz were cancelled too. The cold temperatures made it a survival day more than anything else, without changes to the GC. From our point of view, well, Piepoli won the stage, that was OK. Ivan was second, and picked up a bit of extra time on Gutierrez and the others on the GC, so that was good too.
Stage 18 - Thursday, May 25: Sillian - Gemona Del Friuli, 210 km
This was a long day for our team. They constantly had to ride tempo - not do too much, but do enough to keep the break at a reasonable limit, and keep some of the other teams interested in chasing it down. Just more or less controlling it. On such a day, with steep climbs, it zapped the legs, probably one of the toughest days on our boys. Nicki Sorensen was sick, and couldn't do much because of a chest infection. He had been on antibiotics for three days, and suffered in silence, gritting his teeth to come through. But he was able to bite the bullet, after that he was able to do a lot of work for the team again, like today. I don't know too many people who can get sick in the third week and come through like that. I think the Viking came out in him. Both him and Michael Blaudzun have done an enormous amount of work here from day one. They were really the foot soldiers of the team.
Stage 19 - Friday, May 26: Pordenone - Passo Di San Pellegrino (Dolomiti Stars), 224 km; 240 km in total on the bike if you include the neutral zone
It was a long day, over seven hours. The tactics were to get two guys in the break if there were more than ten riders up there: either Jens, Nicki or Bobby. We ended up with Jens and Bobby in the front. The tactics went well, and we didn't have to do much chasing behind. We could just ride our own tempo, no-one else's. Panaria and Bettini put the hammer down in front, then Saunier started to ride to get it back before the finish, but they left their run a bit too late.
Jens had a super day. Again. The German tank was back at it, getting stronger and stronger. If needed Jens could wait for Basso to come across and act as a springplank But it was quite calm and there was no need for Jens nor Bobby to drop back. Jens was given the OK to go for the victory. But he made his own decision, which was totally backed by the team. What Jens did was great! It was a big sign of sportsmanship you don't see too often any more. This is just Jens Voigt. He's a hell of a nice guy, and has certain morals and rules that he lives by.
Stage 20 - Saturday, May 27: Trento - Aprica, 211 km
Today was the last of the big mountain days. Probably for a lot of people, it was one too many. Even yesterday was one too many for some. Today was very, very heavy, and it was such a long day. The boys were out there for 7 hours; some of them finished at 6:15pm having started at 10:45.
There's going to be quite a few tired riders tomorrow, don't know if those will actually be enjoying the ride into Milan for the finish.
For us today couldn't have finished better. For Ivan, it would have been great to take the victory yesterday already, with the birth of his son Santiago. His mind was a bit preoccupied. Today Ivan was more focused. He came down to breakfast ready for battle. Basso showed who was the best today; he is in the form of his life.
The rest of the team has done excellent work. To have two days like this at the end of a three week race is tough. But our team held it together, kept focus and kept on going.
Everybody, from the soigneurs, the mechanics, all the staff are struggling to get 5-6 hours sleep at night for the last week. Putting compact cranks on, taking them off, late arrivals to the hotels, late massages, late dinners. It's been a huge effort form everybody. They'll be very happy to be in Milan tomorrow for the victory, and happy to get a couple of days rest as well!