The phoney war continues in the race for overall honours at the Giro d'Italia. With the major difficulties of the race shoe-horned into the final few stages, the opening two weeks have had the feel of a lengthy preamble. The main players are in no hurry to cut to the chase, but the suspense is palpable as the race slowly approaches the foot of the Alps.
The game of bluff and counter-bluff was typified by a brief cameo from Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) on the sinuous run-in to Sestri Levante on stage 12. The 2004 Giro winner was quick to respond when Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) attacked on the final climb of Villa Tassani, and for a moment, it seemed as though Cunego would try and steal back some of the time he has lost to date on a finale well-suited to his characteristics as a puncheur.
Instead, Cunego was content simply to follow Tiralongo's wheel and even the arrival of Tom Jelle Slagter (Rabobank) couldn't add purchase to the attack. As the trio crested the summit of the climb, Liquigas-Cannondale squeezed the remaining life out of the move and the status quo was restored. At the finish line, Cunego explained that he had acted with team tactics in mind rather than to serve any personal ambition.
"I was simply following an attack from one of our rivals because it could have ended up being very dangerous," Cunego said. "I think Tiralongo is one of the riders you need to keep an eye on. His intention was to get away on the climb and then push hard down the descent, so I was present and when the race sparked into life, I was there."
Tiralongo's attack had come in the face of Liquigas-Cannondale's pace-setting at the front end of the race, a defining characteristic of a Giro that has seen the race among the overall contenders congested, if not gridlocked.
"Yes, it was a bit of a policing tactic from Liquigas, but that's as it should be," Cunego said. "In the end, it was a more or less a calm day. The break went away and in spite of a couple of jumps at the end, nothing major happened."
One of the main beneficiaries of such restricted activity was of course Ivan Basso. The Liquigas-Cannondale rider has the final troika of stages in the Dolomites circled in red in his Garibaldi [the Giro road book - ed.], where he believes the accumulated fatigue will force a greater selection.
"These stages aren't very hard in terms of altitude gained, but I'm certain that the opening 10 days of the Giro will weigh on the legs in the final week," Basso said at the finish.
In riding on the front in the closing kilometres, Liquigas reduced the gap to the day's break and ultimately ensured that Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) retained the maglia rosa. In his press conference afterwards, the Catalan admitted that he didn't know if Liquigas' tactic was a gift or a trap, but Basso insisted that he was only focused on his own effort.
"We interpreted the race as we had decided this morning, and then we got more instructions from the team car about what to do in the finale," Basso said. "We're very happy all told. We've been in front since Denmark, and we'll continue riding with that attitude."