By Les Clarke
After the drama of the opening nine stages, this year's Giro contenders have hit their stride as the mountains arrived. As expected, most of the sprinters have called time and said arrivederci to fair Italia, although a few bunch gallops have proven fruitful for Ale-Jet. Davitamon-Lotto's wily super-sprinter Robbie McEwen put his hand up for stage win #3, and CSC's great GC hope, Ivan Basso, almost put his hand up for the broom wagon.
Danilo Di Luca continues to be a threat on GC, trailing leader Paolo Savoldelli by a meagre 25 seconds, and Lampre-Caffita men Simoni and Cunego aren't far behind either. But it's Discovery's 'secret' weapon, Paolo Savoldelli, who has been living up to his nickname 'il Falco' and flying up the testing mountain passes in the Dolomiti. For fans of Ivan Basso, it's been a tragedy: after his surge through GC during the time trial and the opening mountain stages, Basso fell ill and struggled on Stage 13, a tough slog over six GPMs.
Many people assumed Di Luca would struggle with the upward tilt in the road, but how wrong that's proven to be. Although not at the pointy end of the field during the first mountain stage, he's been able to stick like the proverbial adhesive to the overall leaders - with great support by fellow Liquigas man Dario Cioni, who is currently ninth on GC, meaning that Liquigas are the only team with two riders in the top 10.
No more dummy spits, confrontations or finish-straight crashes, but plenty of mountains and subsequent exit stage left scenarios for the sprinters; not before they had a chance to hit out on a couple of finishes, particularly stages 10, 12 and 15. It's the climbers, however, that have controlled proceedings at the vital times - up the climbs, where the race can be won or lost.