In spite of injuries suffered earlier in the race, Giro d'Italia debutant Manuel Belletti (Colnago-CSF) claimed victory on stage 13, just five kilometres from hometown. He admitted he had felt exceptional emotion as he passed in front of Marco Pantani’s old house at the 3km-to-go mark and prepared for the fantastic jump that allowed him to surprise Greg Henderson in the last 300 metres in Cesenatico.
Finally there is some Italian romance in a Giro d’Italia so far dominated by foreigners. A rider from the smallest team with little international fame beat out a top sprinter from one of cycling's biggest outfits. The New Zealander from Team Sky received an impromptu lead-out from Australia’s Cameron Meyer (Garmin-Transitions), but could do little when Belletti launched his race-winning move.
"When the HTC-Columbia rider [Craig Lewis] attacked in the last kilometre, I was only concerned about Henderson," Belletti explained. "I jumped off his wheel but I didn’t believe in winning. This was only a dream."
Lewis wasn’t too disappointed about the missed opportunity. "My only chance of winning was to try something like this," the rider from South Carolina told Cyclingnews after the stage. "I woke up this morning and thought this might be a good day for me to breakaway. The bad conditions we’ve had so far have made everyone tired but I still feel good."
The same couldn't be said for Belletti, who accompanied the American in the stage 13 escape group of 17 riders. "I have had tendon problems at my both knees since we experienced low temperatures over the Terminillo," he said. "In the stage to L’Aquila, I crashed with 60km-to-go, that’s why I finished in the last group. It hurt my hip again – the reason I'd had to pull out of Tirreno-Adriatico. This is my first Giro. I’ve continued racing in the past two days because I wanted to arrive here. I was far from thinking I could win here. I’d like to finish my first Giro but I’m afraid my knees won’t allow me to do so."
Prior to showing up at the post-stage press conference, Belletti had tears streaming from his eyes but managed to compose himself and describe his feelings. "In Sant’Angelo, my village, five kilometres away from here, I saw my name on banners," he said. "People cheered for me and to win in front of my public is incredible. With 3km-to-go, we passed in front of Pantani’s house. I never had the honour to shake his hand, but I've grown up with his myth. I’ve started racing in the local club Fausto Coppi of Cesenatico, the same as Pantani had raced before. I’ve seen our former coaches; I was thrilled."
Belletti, 24, studied commercial art prior to become a professional cyclist with Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni - Androni Giocattoli in 2008. He switched teams this year to have more opportunity as a sprinter yet has now, ironically, collected his first win for his new squad via a breakaway, and suffered like hell for a fortnight to achieve it.