Petacchi brings home the bacon in Milano
As the maglia rosa of Paolo Savoldelli crossed the finish line on the Corso Venezia for the twelfth and final time, the simultaneous relief and delight was obvious. 'Il Falco' wasn't equipped with the strongest team coming into the Giro, but he certainly had one of the strongest heads, great physical condition, and made friends when he needed to. Bottom line: Vittoria Savoldelli.
The group embrace from his team-mates, Discovery Channel staff and close friends was truly uplifting, and Alessandro Petacchi's fourth stage win, an impressive though textbook victory from Fassa Bortolo, was almost lost in the emotion.
Even before the stage begun, team manager Johan Bruyneel said Savoldelli's biggest victory has already been achieved - "and that's back to being a super bike rider after two years of a lot of problems. Being on this level again is his biggest victory and everything else is a bonus".
The 32 year-old may not be as exciting to watch as Simoni, Cunego or Rujano, but as he admitted after yesterday's stage: "I'm more of a regular rider, and I have to calculate a lot, because I know what my limits are." Well, Sav and his team got the numbers just right, and at the end the day, the Giro is theirs, and salvation is his.
However, this isn't to take anything away from second-placed Gilberto Simoni (Lampre-Cafitta), who basically spent three weeks chasing the maglia rosa, never gave up, and almost got there. The 33 year-old from Trentino gave it everything on the Colle delle Finestre yesterday, where those fortunate enough to watch bore witness to one of the finest climbing assaults of all time, but the effort took its toll on Gibo, as one of the easiest climbs of the race proved his undoing.
Little needs to be said about that little Venezuelan with a mighty motor, Josè Rujano (Selle Italia-Colombia), other than that the 23 year-old has a big, big future. Direttore sportivo Gianni Savio will have his hands full keeping him on his team for next year; the lure of a place on a ProTour team and significant financial incentives will be hard to resist.
But this outfit - just one of two Pro Continental Teams invited to the Giro - can go home with their heads held high. They have shown teamwork, ability and race smarts equivalent to that of any ProTour outfit, and have deservedly come away with a place on the podium, three fantastic stage wins, and the mountains classification.
The points classification was taken out by Olympic champion Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step), who also enjoyed an excellent Giro with a stage win to boot. But it's still hard to forget that brutto (ugly) day in Frosinone two weeks ago, where he refused to admit guilt after guiding Baden Cooke into the barriers, at a time when the Australian was in dire need of a stage win.