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Today was the "tappone", the major mountain stage of the Giro d'Italia that raced through the dark heart of the Dolomiti Mountains with five major climbs and almost 220km of racing. With 10km to race at the base of the final climb to Ortisei, it looked like Saturday's stage might end with the status quo; Ivan Basso (CSC) in control of the Giro in his maglia rosa, but evidently the day-long chase by his CSC team and tough finishing climb took a toll on Basso, who faded in the end on the final ascent of Pontives and lost the Giro race lead to Discovery Channel's Paolo Savoldelli.
65 years ago, the Giro d'Italia arrived in Ortisei with a historic win by Gino Bartali, while Fausto Coppi wore the maglia rosa. Today, Savoldelli made history himself with a superb surge on the final climb to strip the maglia rosa from Basso. The CSC rider had stomach problems during the stage and simply ran out of gas on the final climb. Nicknamed il Falco (The Falcon) for his superb descending skills, it's been two long years since Savoldelli has been tested in the mountains. Two days ago, il Falco won the stage ahead of Basso and today Savoldelli passed his test with flying colours. Saturday's Savoldelli resembled the same rider who flew up Passo Coe to Folgaria to take the maglia rosa and win the Giro in 2002.
Savoldelli explained post stage that, "Basso's CSC team worked a lot and kept the race under control today. Everybody knew that the stage would be decided on the final climb, because the Passo della Erbe was very hard and a long way from the finish. I felt good today and on the final climb I saw that Simoni had attacked, so I followed him. Then I saw that Basso was dropped. I accelerated hard, maybe too hard because I slowed in the last 500m of the climb. But I still managed to take time from Basso."
The Discovery Channel rider commented further, "I didn't have any plan today; on the last climb, no one is going to try and save energy. I had more energy today...that's part of cycling; two days ago, Basso was better than everybody. Today it was me, tomorrow it might be Simoni and the day after Basso. That's the spectacle of cycling.
"At this point, I'm doing more than was expected, so that will make anyone happy. I prepared well for this Giro, even if I did have to stop for my broken collarbone. Maybe I raced too much in other years before the Giro and was already tired physically and mentally. I seem to be getting better every day. Now I have the maglia rosa, and let's see how it goes. My objective was to come back and be competitive...I've suffered quite a bit in the last two years."
Savoldelli is now in command of the Giro, with 0'50 lead on Basso, 0'53 on Di Luca, 2'16 on Simoni and 2'39 on the day's other big winners from the day's big breakaway: Garate, who jumped seven places on GC into fifth and Caucchioli, now sixth at 3'25.
Someone who clearly suffered today was Ivan Basso, who had stomach trouble all day and vomited after the stage. Although Basso was too indisposed to talk to the media, his CSC team director Bjarne Riis explained after the stage that, "Ivan doesn't feel good...he had a bad stomach all day, so I can say that we were lucky today because the team was strong. We managed to keep the pace high for him so (Ivan) didn't have to worry about attacks. In the end he didn't lose that much. And we hope that he's OK tomorrow...if not, it will be tough for him."
Another Ivan was the big winner on the day Saturday, Selle Italia-Colombia's Ivan Parra, brother of Tour De France star Fabio. The 29 year-old from Sogamoso, Colombia is a talented climber who came to Europe six years ago and has raced for Vitalicio, O.N.C.E. and Kelme, but didn't get the breakthrough win he was seeking. The 88th Giro's Stage 13 was the breakthrough Parra was looking for, as he notched his second career win in Europe and crossed the line today in Ortisei with tears of joy streaming from his eyes as he pointed to a photo of his young son.
"All my people were waiting for me here today", Parra said after his gutsy stage win coming from a break that was away for 185km. "I have to thank my team Selle Italia-Colombia for giving me an opportunity this year. I've been looking for a win like this for years. I was feeling good today and I knew my wife and son were at the finish so I gave it everything."
Telling the story of the day, Parra related that, "Me and my teammate Rujano were in the break and we were both strong today. We both tried to get away because it was important for (Selle Italia-Colombia) to win today."
Saturday was a day where both Simoni and Cunego showed their "grinta" (determination) on the tough ascent of the Passo delle Erbe, but didn't have the legs to back it up. But on the last climb, Simoni and Cunego and their Lampre-Cafitta team managed to crack a Basso who was not 100%. But as yesterday, they underestimated Discovery Channel's Savoldelli, who showed today that he may be the strongest rider in the 2005 Giro. Interviewed post-stage, a terse Simoni said, "Yes, it was a hard day. Savoldelli is riding strongly."
On a gorgeous Saturday morning among the vineyards of Mezzocorona, 177 riders took the start at 10:34 at the Citadella del Vino and headed northeast out of the Adige River valley into the dark, unforgiving heart of the Dolomiti. The battle began immediately as riders tried to get away before the first difficult but unclassified 20km climb up Monte San Pietro.
After a series of multiple attacks and counter attacks and after 27km, Parra, Lobato and Valjavec got away, and former Giro stage winner Aitor Gonzalez then bridged across to make it a quartet. Cofidis leader Bertagnolli abandoned after 30km from allergy problems, followed two kilometres later by De Jongh. The pace was high as the first hour covered 32.4km. 35km into stage, 16 chasers came across to make the front group 20-strong, including Intergiro leader Krauss, Rodriguez and Lobato (Saunier Duval), who also had the best placed rider on GC in the break was in Juan Manuel Garate, sitting 12th at 6'48 behind maglia rosa Basso. 29 year old Basque rider Garate was a danger man, as he was 10th in last year's Giro and fourth in the '02 edition. Maglia verde José Rujano, Tiralongo, Credit Agricole's Bellotti and Caucchioli, Belli, Horrach Caruso, Noé, Bettini, Garrido, Rasmussen, Blaudzun, Kessler and Schaffrath were the other break members, but Blaudzun was called back to the gruppo maglia rosa. The other riders were riding hard to gain time on the road to Ortisei.
As for the Giro leader, Basso and his CSC team were riding tempo on the front, 2'30 behind the big break. After 50km, the lead for the break had swelled to 3'35, as Saunier Duval had Lobato and Rodriguez driving the pace to gain time for Garate. Next rider to abandon from the gruppo maglia rosa was Ziegler after 56km. In the front group, maglia verde Rujano attacked on the approach to the first GPM at 71km on Passo di Costalunga (1745m.), and was followed by Saunier Duval's Lobato and Rodriguez who neutralized the aggression of the miniscule Venezuelan climber. This acceleration caused Intergiro leader Krauss to lose contact, who was trailing by 1'40 as Rujano took more KOM points atop the 1745m. Passo di Costalunga. Other abandons from the gruppo maglia rosa were Fertonani, Beloki, Veneberg, Hesjedal and Navas Chica.
As the now 19 escapees began the climb to the monumental Passo di Sella in Canazei, the lead was 7'45 and Garate was virtual maglia rosa, but there was still a long way to Ortisei. Krauss had been absorbed by the CSC led gruppo maglia rosa as they began the ascent to Passo di Sella (2244m.), while Saunier-Duval continued to push the pace up front. After three hours of racing, the pace was still moderate, 31.6km/h, but the gap between the break and the gruppo maglia rosa had began to drop as CSC upped the pace a notch on the climb to Passo di Sella. Under sparkling blue skies and the watchful majesty of the Gruppo di Sella rock formations, maglia verde Rujano took the KOM at the summit, while CSC's chase had pulled back 1'30 and the gap was now 6'15 at the halfway point in Stage 13.
Down a short descent and then up a short climb to the snow clad Passo di Gardena at 2121m., Garate became virtual maglia rosa again as the gap was back to 7'00, and the break began the long descent to the feed zone in Corvara in Badia, then up the penultimate ascent of the steep, difficult Passo delle Erbe. CSC had sent the big guns to the front in the person of Andrea Peron to lead the chase on the almost 30km descent to S.Martino in Badia at the foot of the Passo delle Erbe. 2004 USPRO winner Ventoso and Quick.Step's Mads Christensen crashed on the technical descent before the feed zone in Corvara in Badia and Ventoso abandoned at the feed zone.
With 90km to go in Corvara in Badia, the gap was 7'15 and the average was 32.7km/h after four hours of racing, and CSC's Red Guard of maglia rosa Basso were still in control of the situation with 120 riders still together. But this situation wouldn't last as Passo delle Erbe started. Deep in the Dolomiti, Passo delle Erbe is 15.2km long and gains 1070m to 2004m. Erbe starts with a steep initial part of 6km, then had a brief respite of a 3km descent, then another tough 6km section to the summit with a steep final 2km of over 10%. 11 years ago, Marco Pantani was first over the top of the Passo delle Erbe and Giro d'Italia organizers had dedicated this summit to the deceased Italian Giro champion.
As the gruppo maglia rosa started the first steep ramps of the Passo delle Erbe, the gruppo maglia rosa split in two, with 50 riders in the first part. After 2km of Erbe, Cunego and Simoni attacked and quickly got a gap, while maglia rosa Basso didn't respond right away. This acceleration blew the front group to bits and Basso was quickly left without teammates. After 3km of Erbe, there was a regrouping of the chase and Liquigas came to the front as well, and the two Lampre fugitives had 0'20 lead on the gruppo maglia rosa. Basso put Schleck and Zabriskie on the front, with white clad ProTour leader Di Luca was looking good on his wheel, with teammates Cioni and Wegelius right there. Savoldelli and Gonchar were there, as were Sella, Scarponi, Van Huffel, Ardila, Sanchez, Unai Osa, neo-pro Pozzovivo and Bruseghin, among others
The Lampre boys seemed to be gaining slowly gaining ground on Basso's group, while up in the front of the race, the break was starting to lose riders out the back as Saunier Duval's Lobato and Credit Agricole's Caucchioli were keeping the pressure on. Halfway up Passo delle Erbe, Simoni and Cunego had gained 0'30 and Basso was riding like he had consulted Lance Armstrong's playbook. The maglia rosa didn't panic and kept things under control with his teammates Zabriskie and Schleck riding perfect tempo on the front as the more difficult second part began in Ponte with 63km to go. Luxembourger Schleck is a chip off the old block, as his dad was a pro for 12 years and was a support rider for Anquetil, Janssens and Ocaña.
In the break, Saunier Duval's Lobato was hammering away for his leader Garate and atop the summit of Passo delle Erbe, it was Garate to take the KOM points ahead of mini-climber Rujano, whom he was annoyed at for not doing much work on the climb. Simoni and Cunego were absorbed by the gruppo maglia rosa 1km before the summit and as the Basso group crested the top among a huge crowd of tifosi, the gap to the now 12 strong break was 5'42. The Cunego-Simoni move didn't pay off and Basso's CSC squad showed that they could support the maglia rosa in a tough situation.
Next was a 3km descent, then a short climb up to Passo Eores (1863m.), then a long 25km descent down the Val d'Isarco to Bressanone, across Ponte Gardena into Val de Funes, and then up the final 9km climb to Pontives and a quick 4km drop into Ortisei for the finish. In the break, Garate was taking charge and was getting help from Caucchioli and Belli, both of whom were looking to come up on GC. Plenty of riders had rejoined the gruppo maglia rosa on the descent and there were now 40 riders with Basso, still 5'45 behind while the average speed after five hours was 31.8km/h. Some dark clouds had gathered over the mountains, while bright sun shown on the Intergiro in Bressanone where Belli beat Garate for the 0'06 time bonus with 30km to go. Bellotti, Bettini and Schaffrath were at 2'30 and the gruppo maglia rosa came through the Intergiro 4'57 behind.
Zabriskie was having a super day and was pounding away on the front of the gruppo maglia rosa, constantly pulling back time on the tiring break riders who had been out front for over 150km and as the final climb approached, the gap between the break and gruppo maglia rosa had dropped to 3'30 under the powerful locomotion of Zabriskie. The front group was composed of Paolo Tiralongo (Ceramica Panaria), Ivan Parra and José Rujano (Colombia-Selle Italia), Pietro Caucchioli (Crédit Agricole), Wladimir Belli (Domina Vacanze), Giampaolo Caruso (Liberty Seguros), Andrea Noè (Liquigas-Bianchi), Tadej Valjavec (Phonak), Juan Manuel Garate, Ruben Lobato (Saunier) and Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile), with Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) and Joan Horrach Rippoll (Illes Balears) at 1'50.
As the final 9km climb to Pontives began after 202km of racing, the last 3km were the hardest and steepest. As the break hit the bottom, Caucchioli made a test move, but was quickly covered by Garate. After 2km of climbing, maglia verde Rujano made two consecutive attacks that were stopped, but then his teammate Parra countered and got a 10 second gap. This provoked an acceleration by Caucchioli and Garate, and only Rujano and Valjavec could stay with them.
Zabriskie and Schleck dropped off the pace with 7km to go, and Simoni then sent his teammate Vila to the front to drive the tempo up. Vila's forcing blew plenty of riders out the back but the hardest part was still to come. Three minutes up the road, Caucchioli, Garate and Rujano were closing on Parra but the tough Colombian was hanging on. From the gruppo maglia rosa, Sanchez attacked hard and was followed by Osa. Suddenly Simoni attacked too, and only Savoldelli could follow him, while Basso couldn't respond to accelerations and dropped off the pace.
The Discovery rider was strong and after a few meters with Simoni, il Falco flew the coop towards the finish and gained 0'40 on Basso in one kilometre, becoming virtual maglia rosa. Savoldelli was looking like the same rider who exploded in Passo Coe to Folgaria to win the Giro d'Italia three years ago.
Parra came over the top of Pontives with a 15 gap over the four chasers, while Savoldelli was continuing to fly up the ascent to take more time out of Basso. Chasers Di Luca, who had gotten across to Simoni were 0'23 behind Savoldelli, while Basso crested the hill 1'05 behind Savoldelli, having lost all his time in the final 5km of the ascent. After six and a half hours of racing, Parra won the stage after being away for almost 200km. Behind him were the remains of the break and eventually Savoldelli, Di Luca, Simoni and Ivan Basso. Although the maglia rosa changed hands, Di Luca and Simoni gained time on the race lead, as did breakaway riders Garate, Caucchioli and Rujano, while Gonchar, Cioni and Bruseghin all lost time.
Starting at the Würth factory in Egna, Stage 14 is another difficult day of mountain climbing at the Giro d'Italia with 5000m of altitude gain. The first 38km climbs up through the Catinaccio chain east of Bolzano, then plunges back down to the Adige Valley and heads due west towards the east face of the Passo Stelvio and it's terrible 48 hairpin turns over 25km that eventually arrives at Cima Coppi, at 2758m the highest point of the 2005 Giro d’Italia. although some rain may fall late Sunday afternoon, the Stelvio is open and the Giro should pass with no problem.
Then it's a 20km descent to Bormio, and another long, difficult ascent up to the Passo di Foscagno (2291m) before descending to the finish in Livigno.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Fotoreporter Sirotti
Images by Mitch Friedman/www.mitchophoto.com