Rujano: "better than I could have ever dreamed"
Totally isolated and left behind by the lead group with 40 kilometres to go, it seemed Paolo Savoldelli's time in the maglia rosa was facing certain death. However, a combination of guts, courage and cramping saw the race eventually swing back in his favour, and barring disaster, 'Il Falco' will fly into Milano tomorrow afternoon to claim overall victory in the 88th Giro d'Italia.
"I don't feel like one of the great champions of the Giro, because the old champions used to attack on the climbs and make a big difference to the show. I'm more of a regular rider, and I have to calculate a lot, because I know what my limits are," said a pragmatic Savoldelli to Cyclingnews.
"I was afraid at the beginning of the climb [Finestre], because the pace was going so fast. I didn't think I was going to make it. I went at my own pace. I was very careful to eat and drink enough on the climb, the most important thing was not to have a crisis. Now I'm going to the Tour de France to help Lance Armstrong.
Today's penultimate stage of the Giro lived up to all expectations plus more, the never-before used climb of the Colle delle Finestre with its 9.2 kilometre-long section of unpaved road murder for the riders but a treat for the spectators, who witnessed one of the greatest offensives ever seen in the history of the race.
Gilberto Simoni (Lampre-Caffita), Josè Rujano (Selle Italia-Colombia) and Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas-Bianchi) gave it their all in their attempt to knock Il Falco Savoldelli from his perch, but in the end, the incredible effort took its toll on all but one, as mountain man Rujano rode away to a much-deserved stage victory in Sestrières.
Said Rujano to Cyclingnews: "It was so fast on the Finestre. It was too hard to attack, so we decided to wait for the final climb. It's been a great Giro. To finish with the King of the Mountains, winning a stage, it's better than I could have ever dreamed." Rujano added that he got his first bike when he was nine years old, and his hero was Marco Pantani.
At the top of the Finestre, 33 year-old Simoni must have surely thought victory was his as he climbed his way into the maglia rosa virtuale. But one thing he did not foresee was both he and Di Luca becoming the victim of cramps on the final ascent to Sestrières, which ultimately cost him the race.
As a result, the top five at the start of today's stage - Savoldelli, Simoni, Rujano, Di Luca and Garate - all held their positions on the classifica generale, and tomorrow's procession to Milano will be without stress for all bar the sprinters.