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A look at the school, the races and the future of this unique 'sport'
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As a young rider, they called him Ivan The Terrible, and today on the first mountain stage of the 88th Giro d'Italia, Ivan Basso (CSC) showed that he was terribly strong and terribly smart on the road to Zoldo Alto (Dolomiti Stars). Basso exploded the Giro with his brilliant riding and demolished his competition, donning the first maglia rosa of his career. Earlier this season, Basso lost his mother after her long fight with cancer, but didn't lose his focus on preparing for the Giro d'Italia. Today all of Basso's work with CSC's team director Bjarne Riis paid off as the 27 year old rider from Cassano Magnano took charge of the Giro. "I had this stage on my mind for a long time; I did two days of training in the Dolomiti six weeks ago and rode the final part of the stage twice. Today I really wanted to test myself, to ride my own race and not see what my adversaries were doing."
The always astute Riis wasn't surprised at Basso's performance today as both of them have worked hard since last year's Tour De France podium to put the CSC rider in the maglia rosa. "It's a great day; it went just like we wanted and it's really incredible."
When Alessandra Di Stefano of RaiSport TV asked Riis if he was expecting a debacle from Cunego, he surprisingly replied, "Yes, because I thought that this Giro, which is on a higher level (than 2004)...it's too early for a young rider like that to be in that position. Plus the climbs today were really hard. But Cunego will go on, he's quite a rider."
After two lost years to injury and sickness, 2002 Giro d'Italia winner Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) was the only rider who could stay with Basso on Stage 11 and his tenacity paid off with a stage win in Zoldo Alto (Dolomiti Stars). "I really wanted to win the stage today. After two years, I couldn't risk losing today, because you never know what can happen. That's why I worked with Basso rather than risk of being dropped. But we didn't have any deal; I just was cleverer (in the sprint)."
Talking of his audacious attack on the descent from Passo Duran, Savoldelli explained that, "Basso was stronger than me on the climbs so I tried to get an advantage so I could ride my own pace on the first part of the final climb. It worked out well, then Basso attacked and Simoni was dropped. I did take a few pulls to get rid of Simoni, but I have to apologize to Basso because I sat on his wheel for the last 2km. It was just too important for me to win the stage and he took the Maglia (Rosa). So it worked out well for everyone. I've already achieved my objective here; I wanted to be competitive and win a stage and I've done it."
It was the Discovery Channel rider's second stage win in the Giro d'Italia and his 17th overall win. Post-stage, a delighted Discovery Channel sports manager Johan Bruyneel told Cyclingnews, "It was a big day for us today, a double day because Popovych was second in the stage in Catalunya and took over the leader's jersey. As for the Giro, after today, no matter what, it's clear that Savoldelli is back on a very high level and I'm very happy for him. He started this race with some doubts, but I knew he would improve as the race went on. Paolo started well in the prologue and was up there looking good on the first climb of Sammomme'. He did a good TT and today was a great stage win for him and the team. So to me, all the doubts about Savoldelli are gone.
"When Lance and I visited the team on rest day, I had a long talk. After today, I think a podium place for Savoldelli is realistic. Yes, Basso is the strongest uphill and is the favourite, but there is still a long way to go in this Giro d'Italia." Basso is only 0'18 ahead of Savoldelli on GC, so the superb descending of il Falco could carry him to the maglia rosa Sunday in Livigno if he doesn't lose more time to Basso on Saturday in Ortisei.
A gutsy Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas-Bianchi) lost his maglia rosa today, but the ProTour leader didn't seem that disappointed. He's only 1'04 behind Basso and 0'46 behind Savoldelli and still a big danger at this Giro d'Italia. "I'm still feeling good and you can see how strong Basso is, but I'm still satisfied with my ride today," he said. "I managed to limit the damage and now we just to see what happens. I'm tired but still satisfied."
Although Gibo Simoni was able to hang with Basso and Savoldelli most of Stage 11, the wheels came off Lampre-Cafitta today as last year's Giro d'Italia winner Damiano Cunego had a major crisis and lost over 6'00, ending his chances of winning the 88th Giro d'Italia. After the stage, a disappointed but still determined Simoni said, "Yes, today was tough. I wasn't able to turn my legs that well today...but the Giro isn't over yet, so we'll just to keep going on the attack. Either we're riding the Giro to win or nothing."
Simoni's teammate Cunego didn't make any excuses today for his poor performance, as he explained what happened. "It was the classic 'giornata no' today; when I realized that I wasn't on a good day, I just tried to go at my own pace. After all the pressure I've had on me, that messed me up today. My problem was that my legs and head just wouldn't go. Now I feel liberated from all the pressure and will just go ahead now without worrying."
On a bright, beautiful day, 185 riders took the start at 12:50 in Marostica's Piazza Scacchi. On the descent of the Rosina climb, Benoît Joachim (Discovery Channel) attacked solo and the gruppo let him go. Big Benoît gained time quickly and after 23km in Campese, he had over 4'00 lead. It was a good move by Discovery, as they could sit back and watch the others chase. At that point, Lampre-Cafitta sent its troops to the front so Joachim didn't get too much more time. At the top of the day's first climb, the Scale di Primolano 20km later (where Fausto Coppi crashed and broke his pelvis fifty-five years ago in the Giro d'Italia), Joachim still had 3'00 with the average speed 40.7 km/h.
Joachim took the Intergiro in Fonsazo 4'00 ahead of Paolo Bettini and category leader Sven Krauss. At the feed zone in Fiera di Primiero, Nardello (T-Mobile) abandoned. As Joachim started the long, gradual ascent up to the first GPM at Passo di Cereda (1369m), the Lampre pursuit began to cut into his lead. Vila and Tonti cranked up the pace a notch, causing Quick.Step's Paolo Bettini to lose contact along with his teammate Italian champion Cristian Moreni. Joachim was first over the Cereda KOM with climber Rujano closing fast behind and the gruppo at 0'45, but the Discovery man was caught on the descent to Forcelle Aurine after 100km. After taking the KOM at Forcelle Aurine, CA's Halgand attacked on the descent to Agordo, but was caught as the steep 13km ascent to Passo Duran began.
After 3km on the Passo Duran, Lampre-Cafitta upped the pace again as this was the set-up for Simoni's first attack of the day, but Basso, Savoldelli and Di Luca covered the move, while surprisingly Cunego couldn't follow the pace and quickly was gapped by 100m. Bertagnolli, maglia verde Gil and Mazzanti were in the same group as Cunego, and unlike last year's Giro, Cunego's pedaling was slow and heavy. Garzelli had Noè and Wegelius with him, but it seemed like the Liquigas rider's crash Saturday might be affecting his climbing.
As soon as Liberty Seguros saw that Cunego was hurting, they sent Baranowski to the front to up the pace. Cunego's gap to the front began to grow as the defending Giro champion was having a terrible day. The front group was down to 16, including maglia rosa Di Luca, Basso, Simoni, Atienza, Rujano, Caucchioli, Halgand, Ardila, Van Huffel, Savoldelli, Gonchar, Sanchez, Karpets, Baranowski and Scarponi, Kessler and Cioni.
As the steepest part of the Duran began, Ivan Basso began a series of brutal attacks that blew the front group apart. Only maglia rosa Di Luca, Savoldelli and Simoni could stay with the hard-charging CSC man, while Cunego had lost 1'00 with 4km to the summit of Passo Duran, with Garzelli in a major crisis at 2'10. 500m later, first Savoldelli and then maglia rosa Di Luca lost contact.
With 3km to go on the ascent and 20km left to race, Savoldelli, Di Luca and miniscule Venezuelan climber Rujano were trailing the front duo by 0'15. At 2000m to the top, Di Luca dropped off a bit as Caucchioli and Atienza were trying to coming up to him. As the Passo Duran climb leveled off in the last 1500m. Basso was signaling Simoni to come through, but the Lampre man wasn't collaborating. Thus, Savoldelli, Rujano and Di Luca got back to the front duo with 1km to go.
At the of summit of Passo Duran with 19km to race, Rujano took the KOM ahead of Basso, Savoldelli, Simoni and Di Luca, giving the Selle Italia rider enough points to recapture the maglia verde from Gil. Caucchioli and Atienza were chasing at 0'57, with at Cioni 1'48, Karpets and Kessler at 2'10 and the Gruppo Cunego/Garzelli group at 3'15. On the technical 10km descent to Dont at the base of the final ascent, it was time for il Falco to fly and Savoldelli went right to the front and took off. Only Simoni could follow while Di Luca and Basso were quickly 200m back. The spectacle of a reborn Savoldelli unfurled as Simoni had wisely waited for the other two chasers and now Basso, Simoni and Di Luca were at 0'20 halfway to the tiny Dolomite village of Dont at the base of the descent.
Savoldelli's gap had stabilized in Dont and as the climb up to Zoldo Alto (Dolomiti Stars) began, Basso accelerated again, hard to close the gap to Savoldelli. It took the CSC man less than a kilometre to get across, while Simoni struggled with all his might to bridge and got across to the two leaders with 7km to go. Maglia rosa Di Luca was definitively dropped and was trying to ride his own tempo 0'30 behind. Rujano was somewhere between while a group including Caucchioli, Scarponi, Ardila, Van Huffel, Atienza, Gonchar, Sella and Pozzovivo was at 2'00, while Cunego and Garzelli were at 4'00.
With 5km left, Simoni was working with Savoldelli and Basso, while Di Luca was doing a good job 0'30 behind to maintain his position. Rujano was caught in between 1'00 behind, while the chase group was still 2'00 back. Basso attacked hard with 4km to go on a steep pitch in Zoldo Alto and gapped Simoni. Only Savoldelli could follow the CSC rider and with 2km to go, Simoni was at 0'15 while Di Luca had lost time and was at 0'45. Up a series of hairpin turns to Dolomiti Stars, the road was lined with thousands of delighted tifosi, the first four riders were all Italian and the cheers echoed off the steep slopes behind. Savoldelli stopped working in the final 2km and beat Basso in the sprint, while the CSC man took the maglia rosa. Simoni was third at 0'21, Di Luca fourth at 1'01, Rujano fifth at 1'40. Cofidis's Spanish climber Atienza was 6th at 1'50, while a group with Van Huffel, Caucchioli and Gontchar was at 2'00, with Liberty leader Scarponi just behind at 2'18. Lampre man Tonti led in the Cunego/Garzelli group at 6'02, with Paolo Bettini just behind at 6'30 and eventually the gruppetto with the sprinters at 32'05.
After the first hard mountains day, Stage 12 starts out with the tough climb of Passo San Pellegrino after 26km, but then cascades downhill for the next 150km to a possible sprint finish in Rovereto in the Adige River valley.