By Gregor Brown in Pesaro, Italy
The Giro d'Italia enters its second of three weeks with a demanding time trial today, following on from the race's first rest day in Pesaro. The overall classification has yet to take any significant shape. While young Italian Champion Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) temporary holds the race's maglia rosa, changes to the general classification are expected after the 39.4-kilometre run from Italy's beachside town to the walled city of Urbino today.
This year's Corsa Rosa was noted for its time trials when unveiled last December, but on closer inspection the time trial kilometres will suit smaller riders over larger traditional flat stage time trialists. Today's Stage 10 time trial contains 376 metres of climbing in the final 20 kilometres alone.
The Le Marche stage may not favour pure time trial engines like Italy's Marco Pinotti (High Road) and Great Britain's David Millar (Slipstream), but it does suit climbers hoping to win the overall classification when the race concludes in Milano on June 1.
"If the time trial would have been a flat one then [Riccardo Riccò] would lose more, around four minutes," stated Di Luca of his GC oponent. The Italian knows that his rival's weak point is long time trials and will seek to take advantage of that on today's stage.
The 'flat' stages of this year's event will be left on the distant horizon after this week. Saturday's stage from Verona to Alpe di Pampeago is the first of five significant mountain stages that mark the remainder of the event.
Long, impressive first week
The Giro's first week saw exciting stages fought out from Palermo to San Vincenzo, where the leaders jersey changed hands from USA's Christian Vande Velde (Slipstream Chipotle - H30), to Italy's Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) and now rests with Visconti.
Only three sprint finishes marked the first week in the race that historically features multiple wins by Mario Cipollini, Alessandro Petacchi and Robbie McEwen in the first week alone. One sprint went to Mark Cavendish (High Road) while Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) claimed two victories. Stages were instead marked by escapes and uphill finishes.
Despite all the controversy surrounding the sport fans have been tuning in to watch the racing, with Italian television ratings high. Sunday's Stage 9 to San Vincenzo contended with Inter winning the Italian football championships and Italy's Valentino Rossi succeeding in the MotoGP at Le Mans, France but the viewing audience still peaked at 19.63 percent (around 2.67 million).
The public's positive reaction to this year's Grand Tour was a nice ending to the Giro's first phase, which features long transfers and complaints from riders, team staff and journalists alike. The situation was so bad that Giro director Angelo Zomegnan shortened the stage to Peschici as a compromise, allowing the riders more sleep on the Thursday morning.
The race has already lost 19 riders along the way, and will start with 179 competitors on Tuesday. Out of the race so far are Maximiliano Richeze (CSF Group Navigare), Igor Astarloa (Team Milram), David Zabriskie (Slipstream Chipotle - H30), Bradley McGee (Team CSC), Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC), Dominique Cornu (Silence-Lotto), Tom Stubbe (Française des Jeux), Nick Nuyens (Cofidis), Enrico Poitschke (Team Milram), Kevin De Weert (Cofidis), Rene Mandri (AG2R La Mondiale), Alberto Loddo (Tinkoff Credit Systems), Yauheni Hutarovich (Française des Jeux), Aitor Galdos (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Patrick Calcagni (Barloworld), Steve Morabito (Astana), Sergio Ghisalberti (Team Milram), Bingen Fernández (Cofidis) and Filippo Savini (CSF Group Navigare).
Italy's Savini is one of the race's many fallen heroes. On Stage 9, the CSF Group rider just returned from the team car to fetch water battles and was handing one to team-mate Matteo Priamo when the group suddenly slowed. The 23 year-old did not have time to brake and ended up on the roadside with a fractured hand after 1600 kilometres of racing and just 30 kilometres from the stage finish. He heroically tried to continue while the ambulance waited and then finally gave into the pain and climbed off his bike.
Last on the classification, Ermanno Capelli (Saunier Duval-Scott), will depart first in the Urbino time trail, at 13:00 in Piazza del Popolo. Visconti starts last, at 16:17.