Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes - Farnese Vini) and Carlos Sastre (Saxo Bank) know their chances to win this year's Giro d'Italia are limited to two stages. Placed second and third overall respectively, the Italo-Spanish pair spent the rest day recovering from two weeks of incredibly intense racing and planning their possible rise to the maglia rosa, held by Rabobank's Denis Menchov heading into the final week of racing which commences today.
After a mammoth stage win and a late night transfer, a day without racing was welcome relief for Sastre. The Cervélo TestTeam captain earned his respite with victory in stage 16, which moved him into third on general classification.
"I'm trying to rest as much as possible from this dramatic Giro, which is witnessing what are really summer temperatures," said Sastre yesterday. "And I'm also trying to charge my batteries to take on this next week - these last five racing days of this year's Giro d'Italia - with the best chance of being able to go for the top spot."
I'm also trying to charge my batteries to take on this next week - Carlos Sastre
Those who thought Sastre was in Italy purely as preparation for the Tour de France may be revising their opinions, with the Spaniard indicating that he has set his sights high, as he displayed in the stage to Monte Petrano. "Above all, I want to meet the expectations that I set myself when I signed up to this race and to go home feeling satisfied that I've done everything that I had to do and that I've given 100 percent every day," he said.
As for the week ahead, there's no doubt Sastre is expecting the racing to become even more intense, given the limited opportunities available to overall contenders. "There aren't many options left but we do have two mountain stages with climbing finishes," he said. "One of them is a relatively short stage at 80km long with a finish in Blockhaus and then on Friday, we have the other mountain stage finishes in Vesuvius. That will be a slightly longer stage with a more demanding pass than tomorrow's.
"So, there are two options, two opportunities that keep my motivation and enthusiasm alive to keep trying up until the very last day in Rome," he added.
One of the men expected to chance his arm on the road from Chieti to Blockhaus will be Di Luca. Sitting in second overall, just 39 seconds behind Menchov, the Italian knows he has little other choice than to try and attack in the last two mountains stages. He does have a slight edge, however, as Cyclingnews discovered.
"He [Di Luca] is the only rider Menchov fears," said LPR-Brakes - Farnese manager Fabio Bordonali. "Those two are a step ahead of the others. You saw, when Di Luca could not distance Menchov he then started to work with him to create as big as gap as possible to the others, like Leipheimer. Certainly, Di Luca will try on Blockhaus or Vesuvio, like he did on Monday."
The obvious problem for Di Luca will be shedding the Russian if the pair attacks. Di Luca realises this but is remaining optimistic. "Menchov showed again he's very strong, but I tried," said the LPR Brakes captain. "There's still Blockhaus and Vesuvius. We'll see... it would require that Menchov has a very bad day.
"I still believe and I will until the end, but it depends on how Menchov reacts in the last two key stages," he added.
As for the possibility of Sastre making another move like that which helped him to the win on Monday, Di Luca knows that he and his Russian general classification high flier will be wiser during the next two mountain stages. "Sastre attacked because he was capable of attacking," he said of Sastre's attack up Monte Petrano. "He won't be able to attack anymore because now Menchov and I will be more attentive of him."
See the remaining Giro d'Italia stages in detail with Cyclingnews' break down of this year's route.