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Sunday's Stage 14 was the ninth time the Giro d'Italia had raced over the highest pass in Italy and the third-highest road in Europe since the former military road over the Passo Stelvio debuted at the Giro in 1953. 52 years ago, on the penultimate day of the 36th Giro, Fausto Coppi attacked maglia rosa Hugo Koblet on the 20th of 48 hairpins bends and arrived at the finish that day in Bormio four minutes ahead of Koblet to take over the Giro lead.
Today, another drama unfolded on the brutal slopes of the Stelvio as Giro favorite Ivan Basso (CSC) had stomach problems for the second day in a row. Less than halfway up the 27km ascent in Trafoi, Basso dropped off the pace of the gruppo maglia rosa. Surrounded by the rest of his CSC team, Basso began his terrible struggle over the next 77km that would finally get him to Livigno 42'15 after stage winner Parra in 88th place, and end any chance for him to win this year's Giro d'Italia. A diminished Basso explained post-stage that "It was a real calvary for me today. I was really bad... I couldn't eat or drink and as soon as I did, I had to vomit. But I really wanted to finish the stage today."
When asked why he didn't abandon and climb in the team car, a still determined Basso said: "It would be better to climb in the ambulance."
For the second day in a row, Ivan Parra (Selle Italia-Colombia) was the stage winner. The 29 year-old from Sogamoso, Colombia, had spent over 350km in breakaways over the last two days, but that didn't seem to slow him down. With 25km to go on the penultimate climb of Passo di Foscagno, Parra attacked from the break and powered home solo for a prestigious "doppietta". The last time a rider had won two back-to-back Giro mountain stages was Marco Pantani, who had his own "doppietta" at Alpe di Pampeago and Madonna di Campiglio in 1999. The next day, Pantani was out of the Giro for high haematocrit.
Last year, Parra raced for the small Spanish squad Café Baques and was second in the Vuelta d'Espana stage to Avila behind his former teammate Pascual Llorente, but didn't get picked up by another team when they folded. Parra was at home in Bogota when he got a call from Selle Italia-Colombia team boss Gianni Savio, offering him a spot on his squad.
Parra went out and won the Colombian TT championships and mostly prepared at home for this year's Giro. Parra has already crashed three times in this Giro, including last Thursday's Stage to Zoldo Alto where he lost 4'00, and crashed out of his first Giro five years ago, breaking his wrist before the mountains.
After his win yesterday, Parra already had Livigno on his mind: "Last night, I had trouble sleeping because I was wound up from all the emotion and excitement yesterday," said Parra post-stage in Livigno.
"This morning when we had our team meeting; we agreed to try and get in a break to help Rujano and it worked. I knew everyone in the break was tired on the Stelvio and I saw that they were all dead on the [next to last] climb. But to win today is incredible. I never expected it would happen."
Although he lost some time to his main rivals today, maglia rosa Savoldelli is looking better and better for a possible Giro d'Italia win. Savoldelli brought his young daughter Marika with her pink sweatshirt on podium today and unlike Basso, the Discovery Channel rider had no trouble uncorking the spumante and spraying the crowd to commemorate his sixth career day in the maglia rosa.
Savoldelli didn't have it easy out there today; although his team supported him the best they could, the maglia rosa was alone over the last 80km of the stage, with no one to go back to the team cars to bring him food and water on the tough stage. "I'm tired after the long stage today but it all worked out well," said Savoldelli.
"In the last kilometer [of the final climb of Passo Eira], I had a few cramps, so when Simoni jumped, I didn't respond. I was drinking and eating all day, so the cramps were probably just from the effort."
Savoldelli also explained that back in the Discovery Channel team car, his team doctor Gaetano Daniele is his main point of contact. "Yes, our team doctor is there; he's a great guy and speaks Italian and English!" he remarked.
But 'Il Falco' is taking things one day at a time and with a week to go to the end of the 88th Giro, he is still cautious about what might happen tomorrow: "The Giro will be won in Milano, not before. Now there are still plenty of hard stages to go. Simoni is really strong, but I think we all knew that before the race. I didn't think I would ride as strongly as I am right now. I'm sorry that Basso had a bad day; the Giro loses a great protagonist without Basso. When Lombardi asked me to slow down the team after the first climb because Basso needed to stop, I did that, but Ivan was dropped for good on the Stelvio."
Savoldelli had good words for his runner-up Danilo Di Luca: "He's showing how good he is in this Giro; we always talk in the races and he's a great guy."
Now just 25 seconds behind Savoldelli, Di Luca was fifth today, having escaped from the gruppo maglia rosa in pursuit of Gilberto Simoni with 6km to go. "I was on Savoldelli's wheel when Simoni attacked and I saw he wasn't going to go, so I went after Simoni myself. We went all-out to the finish."
When Di Luca heard of Basso's difficult Stage 14, he said: "Oh, too bad. He gave everything for this Giro, but just a little thing can catch up to you." Halfway up the Stelvio, the isolated Savoldelli asked Di Luca for some water and the ProTour leader passed his bottle to the maglia rosa. "He asked me for some water... it's normal among riders," he said casually.
But Di Luca still seemed to talk down his chances, saying: "I never expected to have this level of performance at the Giro, especially to ride like this today on such a hard day. But Savoldelli was good all day."
Now in third place with his last minute attack today that gained him 28 seconds on maglia rosa Savoldelli, Gibo Simoni (Lampre-Cafitta) is still not very satisfied with his Giro so far. "Yeah, I got some time but it didn't go the way I wanted today... whenever I attacked, everybody just rides off me. I tried again today. But the [Passo di] Foscagno wasn't a climb where you could make much difference. Cunego did a really great job today; I have to thank him for that."
As church bells rang in the Adige River valley on a humid, partly overcast Sunday morning, 166 riders took the start at 10:43, with Nick Gates (Davitamon-Lotto) a non-starter. Starting at the Würth factory in Egna / Neumarkt, the peloton headed north through the vineyards of Caldaro, climbing up through the Salten mountains west of Bolzano.
After 30km as the first GPM in Frassineto approached, Wladimir Belli (Domina Vacanze) rode off the front and was joined by Joaquin Rodriguez (Saunier Duval-Prodir). As this duo got a gap, José Rujano, Raffaele Illiano and yesterday's winner Ivan Parra (Selle Italia-Colombia) joined them six kilometers later, with Daniel Atienza (Cofidis), Sven Montgomery (Gerolsteiner), Unai Osa (Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne) and finally Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Cafitta). The nine riders were going well, while the Discovery Channel team of maglia rosa Paolo Savoldelli had Michael Barry and Tony Cruz riding tempo on the front of the front, keeping things in control.
After 38km at the Frassineto KOM, Rujano took the points with the gruppo maglia rosa at 2'00. Ordowski, Reynes and Pollack abandoned after 50km, and although Rujano was 8th on GC at 4'23", Savoldelli and his Discovery Channel teammates didn't seem that concerned that the miniscule Venezuelan was up the road, or that '04 Giro champ Cunego was there too.
Across the shoulder of the mountain range above Merano, the nine-man break continued to gain time and as the leaders started the descent to Merano in Avellengo after 64km, the lead was 5'15" and Rujano had become virtual maglia rosa.
Down the steep, technical descent, the gap stayed the same but once in Merano, the gap dropped under 5'00. Now it was time for Discovery to up the tempo on the long, straight and slightly uphill 40km of road to the base of the Passo Stelvio. Once again, it was Cruz, Barry, Bileka, McCartney, Joachim and Padrnos who upped the pace for maglia rosa Savoldelli and began to chip away at the lead. Near Naturno after 85km, Aitor Gonzalez abandoned. By the base of the 27km Stelvio ascent, the gap was now under a minute.
At the birthplace of Italian ski legend Gustavo Thoeni in Trafoi with 15km to go to the summit, Ivan Basso dropped off the pace of the gruppo maglia rosa. Grimacing in pain from his continuing stomach trouble, Basso was sweating profusely and looking lousy. The entire CSC team dropped back to surround Basso and a worried Andrea Peron took the lead with an occasional look over his shoulder at the nauseous looking Basso, who was quickly losing time. At the front of the race, yesterday's winner Parra, who comes from a village in the altiplano of Colombia at 2600m, was doing heroic work for his teammate and maglia verde Rujano, while only Atienza and Osa could hang on to the two Selle Italia-Colombia riders.
The climbing quartet was 2'20 ahead of a 30-rider strong gruppo maglia rosa, now led by Lampre-Cafitta's Patxi Vila, followed by Simoni, maglia rosa Savoldelli, Garate and Lobato, ProTour leader Di Luca with teammates Cioni and Wegelius, Sella, Pozzovivo Caucchioli, Valjavec, Caruso, Vasseur Kolobnev, Kessler, Karpets Cunego, Sanchez, Brandt, Bruseghin and Italian champion Moreni. Behind, a fast-fading Basso was already 4'30 in arrears and losing ground with every pedal stroke.
As the riders ascended the 48 switchbacks, it was eerie sight. Because the road had been closed, there wasn't a soul on the brutal climb to cheer on the riders. Up and up and up to the Cima Coppi at 2758m., the highest point of the 2005 Giro d'Italia, the skies were overcast and the temperature was four degrees among the snowbanks and waiting tifosi.
Rujano and Parra went over the top in that order and then shook hands over the 3,500 Euros they had just won. Lampre-Cafitta's Patxi Vila was still riding tempo as the gruppo maglia rosa passed over the Cima Coppi at 2'40 led by Garate. Savoldelli was all alone and had asked Di Luca for some water on the final kilometers of the ascent.
At the summit, the riders all took taking jackets and warm drinks for the 22km descent to Bormio. A group of 10 riders including Scarponi was at 8'10, while the drama of the gruppo Basso continued. The former maglia rosa was at 18'30 and had been ascending at 15km/hr, while the gruppo maglia rosa was climbing at 20km/hr. Basso stopped and put on two jackets and the CSC leader looked like he was in shock, but still wanted to at least finish the stage.
Stage 14 then entered Lombardia and the province of Sondrio via the descent to Bormio and there were still 63km to race. After 5 hours of racing, the average was 30km/hr, with two hours still left to race, including the 15km Passo di Foscagno.
On the descent of the Stelvio, Kolobnev attacked the gruppo maglia rosa on the descent of the Stelvio and got a gap, and at the Intergiro in Bormio with 41km to race, Parra took the six second bonus, with Kolobnev at 2'08, Bettini and Moreni at 2'45 and gruppo maglia rosa at 3'15.
No-one was chasing in Savoldelli's group as the maglia rosa had no teammates to help him, so the break began to gain time. Outside of Bormio, the steep little surprise of the climb to Le Motte was waiting and it was here tough little Lele Sella took off from the gruppo maglia rosa to try and bridge up to the lead break, almost three minutes up the road before the ascent of the Passo of Foscagno began. In the gruppo maglia rosa, Domina Vacanze had now gone to the front to take over the tempo to defend Gonchar's GC position.
At the base of the penultimate ascent of Foscagno, the break was 50 seconds ahead of the fast-closing Sella, while the gruppo maglia rosa losing time and was now at 3'10 behind the front group of four. After 5km of the 15km ascension, Sella had almost caught the break, while Atienza accelerated to try and hold the hard-charging Panaria man off. In the break, the sudden accelerations by Atienza had shelled maglia verde Rujano out the back and the mighty mite of the mountains had finally met his match. But Rujano clawed his way back and the quintet still had 25km to race and 10km to the summit of Foscagno.
Sella was trying to get away, which provoked an attack from Parra, who won the stage yesterday in Ortisei. The Selle Italia-Colombia man just took off and left the others in his dust. Under the banner at 20km to go, Parra had gained 0'45 on the other four break riders, with Valjavec at one minute, Sanchez at two, Kolobnev at 2'30 and the gruppo maglia rosa at 3'30. Cunego was at the front and forcing hard, which was popping riders off the back like Bruseghin.
At the KOM on Passo di Foscagno at 2291m. with just 15km to go, Parra was alone and heading to his second consecutive stage win, while Valjavec had caught the break and then went right off the front with Rujano on his wheel. This duo was 1'30 behind Parra, while Sella was at 2'10 and Atienza and Osa were just behind him. Sanchez came through 3'07 behind. The gruppo maglia rosa was at four minutes, with Cunego and Van Huffel up front, absorbing Kolobnev.
On the final ascent of Passo Eira at 2211m. with 5km still to race, Parra was pounding away and passed over the summit 2'00 ahead of is closest chaser. From the gruppo maglia rosa, Simoni attacked with 1km to go and Van Huffel covered his move, drawing out Garate and then Di Luca, while maglia rosa Savoldelli didn't react because he was cramping. Simoni was riding hard and dropped Van Huffel, while Garate resisted. Di Luca and Caruso caught the Belgian, while the ProTour leader then just wound it up and got up to Simoni and Garate. Savoldelli came through 20 seconds behind this attacking trio, with Caucchioli, Karpets, Fothen, Caruso, Van Huffel and Gonchar.
Down the 5km in Livigno, Parra got his second consecutive win after being away in a break for 175km, while Valjavec and Rujano finished at 1'49, Osa 2'51, and Sella was caught by Di Luca and Simoni. Di Luca won the sprint for fifth at 3'15, while the gruppo maglia rosa was at 3'43. On general classification, Di Luca moved closer to Savoldelli at 25 seconds, while Simoni moved up to third at 1'48", Garate fourth and Rujano moved into fifth.
Stage 15 climbs out of Livigno and then heads downhill through Valtellina, along the Lecco arm of Lake Como and down to finish in Lissone in the Brianza region north of Milano. Rainy weather is expected, but look for Petacchi to easily grab his third stage win with most of the other sprinters already at home.