LPR gangs up on Astana, but Contador refuses to fold
Teamwork has always played an important role in cycling, and Friday's Giro d'Italia stage to Monte Pora was a prime example of how self-sacrificing domestiques can change the outcome of a race. In the pouring rain, on the long, narrow and treacherous descent of the Passo del Vivione, the LPR Brakes team put on a awe-inspiring display of team tactics. The squad's leader Danilo Di Luca had an invaluable ally in the peloton's most skilled descender, Paolo Salvodelli, who also happens to be a former Giro d'Italia champion.
With more than 50 kilometres and two substantial climbs left in the stage, the pair broke free of a select group containing the maglia rosa, Alberto Contador, after the day's biggest climb. Then Salvodelli put his technical skills to good use on the descent, leading Di Luca away from the chasers and back into contention for the overall classification, and only Liquigas' Vincenzo Nibali could follow. As the road flattened, Salvodelli pulled flat out for his captain and then up ahead, from the breakaway, Giairo Ermeti was called back to help hold the gap as the race headed up the first of two climbs in the final 20 kilometres.
After using the last of the energies of his team, Di Luca forged on ahead, stamping his pedals to second on the stage, and gaining 1'08 on the chasing Riccardo Riccó (Saunier Duval) and 1'45" on Contador. With a time bonus on the stage, he moved into third overall, just 21 seconds behind Contador, and back into the race for the final maglia rosa in Milan - a possibility which seemed all but lost after his somewhat dismal performance in the Plan de Corones time trial. After the stage, Di Luca credited his team, saying, "I have to say thanks to 'Falco' Savoldelli. I started it and he joined me; we asked for Giairo to help."
Behind this drama, other teams were sacrificing good men to benefit their captains. Contador's Astana team did all it could to keep him in pink, but it ultimately came down to the young Spaniard to finish the job. "Di Luca attacked too fast, but Klöden and Colom did a good job," said Contador. "I could not answer the attack of Riccò. I am still glad I have the jersey, even if only four seconds, for the mental advantage. I am not afraid for tomorrow – the Mortirolo is a very steep climb and it is good for me, plus it is far from the finish. I am confident, as long I am in the jersey by one second."
While Astana used Andreas Klöden and Antonio Colom to limit Contador's losses to Di Luca, the Rabobank team was also sacrificing for its leader, Denis Menchov. The Russian moved into sixth overall, 2'47" behind Contador, thanks to a bad day by Gilberto Simoni.
"Everything came apart in the descent where Di Luca staged his attack, due to those narrow turns," Rabobank directeur Erik Breukink explained on the team's web site, rabobank.nl. "Mauricio Ardila gave it his all for Denis. So he has again played a very important role."
Menchov lost contact with the elite chase group when LPR made its move, and it was the help of the Colombian, Ardila, which allowed him to rejoin the pink jersey group after a tough chase. "It might have been game over if it had not been for Mauricio," acknowledged the team manager. "But that was also an intense effort by Denis, though. So it is good to note that he can ride that solidly on the very last climb."
Ultimately it is up to the team leader to do the work, and no amount of teamwork can make up for bad legs. Two time Giro champion Gilberto Simoni suffered after being dropped from the pink jersey group, and while he was briefly towed back into the group by his Diquigiovanni team-mate Gabriele Missaglia, he still came in more than twelve minutes behind stage winner Vasili Kiryienka - but with two of his team-mates standing loyally by his side.