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A look at the school, the races and the future of this unique 'sport'
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With a textbook bike throw and wearing the maglia ciclamino of Best Sprinter of the 88th Giro d'Italia, Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) took his third stage win in Rossano Veneto, spoiling the party for Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo), who tried very hard to get a second consecutive stage win. But Petacchi's nerves got the best of him and his Fassa Bortolo train today, and the Tuscan speedster started his sprint too early and provided a perfect leadout for his Australian rival.
"I'm really happy", explained McEwen after his win. "It was a big win for us today, not just for me but for the whole team. Guys like Gates, Vogels, Vierhouten and Brandt, who were right at the front on the finishing circuit, which was a little dangerous."
Petacchi was clearly disappointed at the finish, losing the mind game to McEwen again: "I made a mistake. I started early because I was afraid that the Australian would anticipate me and ride his own line in the finishing curve," he said. At 250 metres, I was already in the lead and wehn McEwen came up next to me, I looked at him and lost my composure, losing 30-40 centimetres that cost me the win. I still thought I'd won, but his bike throw was better than mine."
As a dark, roiling clouds followed the gruppo along the Giro percorso today, the first mountains loomed in the background as Rossano Veneto approached, the Giro d'Italia favourites like Cunego, Simoni, Basso, maglia rosa Di Luca, Savoldelli and Garzelli stayed out of trouble.
On a bright, sunny mid-week day, 185 riders took the start at 11:59 in Ravenna. In contrast to the 88th Giro's previous stages and a strong headwind, with the mountains starting Thursday, the gruppo of the Giro d'Italia seemed reluctant to make much of an effort today. After 113km outside of Rovigo, Rafaele Illiano (Selle Italia) attacked and was 0'38 a few kilometres later. Fassa Bortolo was riding tempo and they let the Selle Italia rider hang out front for almost 90 minutes with a maximum lead of 2'00, before pulling him back with 30km to go. "With my team sponsor Selle Italia from Rossano Veneto, our team wanted to do something today and I think I did a good job," said Illiano.
Once Illiano was absorbed, Ivan Basso (CSC) and some other riders missed a traffic circle and had to go off road for a moment in Cittadella. Basso then suffered some broken spokes in his front wheel and looked like he might be in trouble, but his CSC teammates quickly escorted him back into the heart of the gruppo after a wheel change. Cofidis came to the front to ride tempo for Stuart O'Grady as the French team wanted to show themselves as the percorso passed by their bike sponsor Wilier Triestina before entering the finishing circuit.
Once in Rossano Veneto, there were three 5.2km circuits to ride and T-Mobile, Cofidis, Quick.Step and Fassa Bortolo were all battling it out on the front to position their sprinters. With the circuits being run at over 50km/h average, there were no attempts to get away and on the last lap, Fassa Bortolo took over the pacemaking to try and deliver their fast man Petacchi, who was looking for back to back wins today.
But it was not to be, as Fassa seemed to blow the leadout for Petacchi again. His last man Velo didn't wind it up enough and with Robbie McEwen glued to his wheel, the Italian just didn't get up to escape velocity. With 50 meters to go, McEwen made a textbook move and came around Petacchi on the right and with a perfect bike throw, just beat the Fassa man by a tire for his third sprint stage win of the 88th Giro d'Italia. O'Grady made a beautiful move at the last moment to come around Petacchi on his left and with another perfect bike throw, just grab third place from Zabel.
The Giro mountains begin with the first stage in the Dolomiti to Zoldo Alto. Starting in Marostica's Piazza dei Scacchi, the climbing chess game begins with two small ascents of the Salita della Rosina and the Scale di Primolano, then a long, gradual ascent up to the first GPM at Passo di Cereda (1369m) then another at Forcelle Aurine after 105.km. After a descent to Agordo, it's the steep 13km ascent to Passo Duran (1601m.), a difficult 8km descent and then the final 12km ascent to the finish at the ski resort of Dolomiti Stars in Zoldo Alto. Look for Lampre-Cafitta riders Gibo Simoni and Damiano Cunego to go on the attack in this first Giro mountain stage.