Giro d'Italia feature, May 20, 2008
Winner of the 2007 Giro d'Italia, Danilo Di Luca, is prepared to march towards victory. The 32 year-old Italian from Pescara, currently fourth in the classification, faces a demanding time trial Tuesday and mountainous two weeks to follow. Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown was in Pesaro to hear what 'The Killer' had to say of the Corsa Rosa thus far and what's to come.
Danilo Di Luca aims to be the first rider in 15 years to score back to back wins in the Giro d'Italia, a feat not equalled since Spain's Miguel Indurain did the double in 1992-93. To do so, Di Luca must limit his losses in Tuesday's time trial, an event in which he freely admits that he is not the strongest rider. Instead, he tipped German Andreas Klöden (Astana) to take the win in the 39.4 kilometre test.
"It is a not just a difficult time trial course – it's extremely difficult," Di Luca said at the rest day press conference in Pesaro. "The first 19 kilometres are fitted to the specialists, whereas the finale will be adapted to the climbers, like me."
Although feeling that the course was challenging, he predicted that this would not translate to big time gaps. "I think it will be Klöden," Di Luca said, predicting the winner, "but I think that the time differences by the day's end will be smaller than what they [Team Astana] are expecting." While the Italian has improved his abilities in this discipline over the past few years, he said, "I aim to lose no more than 90 seconds to Klöden."
"I aim to lose no more than 90 seconds to Klöden." -Di Luca sets his goals for the stage ten time trial.
Di Luca has waded through some murky swamps to arrive at the 91st edition of Italy's Grand Tour. The first southerner to win the Giro was faced with two doping investigations over the winter; he successfully fended off the Italian Olympic Committee's (CONI) allegations of plasma injections following the 2007 stage to Monte Zoncolan all the while serving a three-month suspension for his relations to Doctor Carlo Santuccione (Oil for Drugs). Over the winter, he has changed teams from Liquigas to LPR Brakes, and has Giro backing from the likes of two-time Giro d'Italia champion Paolo Savoldelli, stage winner Gabriele Bosisio, Daniele Pietropolli and close mate Alessandro Spezialetti.
After much doubt over his Giro participation this spring, the 32-year-old Di Luca has now defiantly placed himself on the top of the classification contenders on the race's first rest day. With six seconds on Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott), 29 seconds on Tour de France champion Alberto Contador (Astana), 1'12" on Contador's team-mate, Andreas Klöden and almost two minutes on Gilberto Simoni (Diquigiovanni) and Levi Leipheimer, his prospects for a repeat victory are looking solid, but it didn't begin that way.
While Di Luca lost 28 seconds on the opening day's team time trial in Palermo, he has since made up for the loss. Di Luca picked up a few key seconds on his rivals with an attack on stage seven, where he, Alberto Contador (Astana), Riccardo Riccó and Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval - Scott) put 51 seconds on a group of contenders. He then came back from bad position in stage eight – aggressively moving forward in the final 500 metres to finish sixth.
He now must try to hold off specialists like Klöden to hold his position in the overall classification - currently fourth behind Quick Step's Giovanni Visconti. En route to last year's victory, Di Luca bettered noted Italian time trialist Marco Pinotti and Dario Cioni in the Verona stage, but he doesn't expect that he can repeat that effort in Tuesday's time trial course from Pesaro to Urbino. He previewed the course on Monday's rest day, and found it to be daunting.
"I did the reconnaissance this morning," he said at the press conference in Pesaro. The parcours rises 376 metres in the final 20 kilometres, prompting Di Luca to compare it to a mountain time trial. "Yes, it is more like a mountain time trail considering the rise at the end.
"I rode for about 80 kilometres and towards the end I was getting soaked," he continued. The day, under the eye of Urbino's fortified city, was marked with intermittent rain showers.
One of the noted general classification favourites who has been in the spotlight these last days is Italy's Riccò. The erratic rider has taken two stages so far, but Di Luca warned that 'The Cobra' could suffer in Urbino's time trial.
"If he only loses two minutes then he will have done great," Di Luca continued. "If the time trial would have been a flat one, then he would lose more, around four minutes."
From his former team, Liquigas, he pointed towards the young Sicilian. Vincenzo Nibali. "He will be one to watch from Liquigas tomorrow."
Over the winter, LPR Brakes team manager Fabio Bordonali did well to bring in Italian Paolo Savoldelli. The rider from Bergamo has twice won the Corsa Rosa and is a second card to play for the gray and green team.
"It is exactly like that," Di Luca responded to the suggestion of the team having an extra card to play. He revealed that depending on how the race develops, the team could end up supporting Savoldelli. "Paolo can not only play his hand in the time trial, but also in the Giro."
Astana, having three men within two minutes of the top classification riders, demands attention. In fact, over the past day's Di Luca has been shying away from naming his compatriots as race favourites, instead tipping his hat to Klöden. "For me he is the man to beat in the race," he proclaimed.
Team Astana was given a last-minute invite from RCS Sport and it could end up being the team to knock the Italians off the top podium spot by the time the race hits Milan, on June 1. Between Contador, multiple Tour podium finisher, Klöden, and American Leipheimer, who finished third last year in France, the team is a strong favourite to win on paper.
While Klöden's team-mate and Tour de France champion Alberto Contador should have been a top contender for the overall, a fractured bone in his arm sustained on stage eight may hamper his ability to rest comfortably on his time trial machine.
Di Luca further opined on the Astana team, "Contador is going very strong and he has lots of class. He has been there and we have seen him going really well, so he was definitely not been on vacation," Di Luca emphasized, even though Contador has adamantly stated that he was on a break when the call came for his team to enter the race.
"Klöden is pedaling very well and the only one that has been hidden is Leipheimer." He added of the American rider, "I am also curious to see what his form will be like in tomorrow's time trial."
Taking the pressure off his team – and Astana – he pointed towards his former squad and the winner of last year's Vuelta a España. "We are not the only ones, there is also Liquigas who is going very well with [Franco] Pellizotti and [Vincenzo] Nibali, and the same can be said for [Denis] Menchov, who will go strong."
Before Di Luca headed off towards the dinner that was being prepared in Hotel Atlantic, he noted that he is enjoying racing as defending champion in his home tour. "The Giro up until now has been very beautiful," he observed. "We have come across some many people and have felt the enthusiasm around us – it's a great party.
"The first nine stages have flown by."