By Bjorn Haake
Ex-professional Davide Cassani, who now commentates bicycle races for the Italian RAI television channel, previews each stage in the early spring. RAI shows a clip preceding each stage, with Cassani pointing out the key sections, scenic beauties and tourist attractions. Often, he will catch up with other riders, be it just a cyclotourist or maybe an Italian junior racer, to give each clip a unique theme.
But the special stage up to the Plan de Corones required a special invite and several of Italian's key riders followed Cassani's call to head up the climb in the early spring, when skiers were more likely to be found on the top than cyclists. Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes), Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval - Scott), Gilberto Simoni (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli), Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre) and Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) were among the good dozen people who wanted to get an early glimpse on one of the toughest stages in this year's Giro d'Italia.
The group started out together, but after almost eight kilometres, when they took the sharp left to hit the gravel part, the group had thinned. Cassani tackled the first switchbacks of the five-kilometre long unpaved section with some of the favourites. Despite the snow clearance, the gravel roads were hard to handle and in just one hairpin turn, Bruseghin – despite his front wheel slipping and sliding – had gapped Cassani by a good 15 metres.
This showed just how hard the race will be today, even if it may stay dry. It takes power and some cyclo-cross skills. With the dirt spraying up, most in fact did look like cyclo-race racers after just five kilometres on the dirt part. A concerned looking Di Luca, who had 'attacked' and left the others behind, mumbled "34-29" into the camera. If the Italian will indeed use that kind of gearing for the slope with a maximum gradient of 24 percent, remains to be seen this afternoon. Chances are that at race pace he may find it a bit easier heading to the top.
While at the time the riders were followed by the RAI crew in cars, no such luxury is on order today. Follow cars are not allowed. Only a motorbike with spare wheels will be able to stay behind the racers. The last batch of riders will go off at 15:00, at one-minute intervals. The last twenty riders will be spaced three minutes apart. From the above riders, Pellizotti is the first to leave, at 16:13, just ahead of Simoni. Bruseghin starts at 16:22, followed by Di Luca and Riccò. The last rider to go off is maglia rosa Alberto Contador, who will start his adventure at 16:31.
The prediction for today? If the pre-ride was anything to go by, then Di Luca will finish ahead of Simoni, Pellizotti and Bruseghin...