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For the second time in two days, CSC's Ivan Basso has been able to stand on the winner's podium, a sure sign that he is back to his best after last weekend's stomach problems, which cost him the Giro. By the way he has ridden in the last few days, it's clear that he has missed out on a big opportunity to win his national tour, as he was ahead of all the specialists and the GC riders in the time trial today.
"I rode a good time trial, and I think that this is a good result, both from the point of view of the race itself and for the future," said Basso, who refused to be drawn into speculating whether he would have won the Giro without the problems of last weekend. "No, I don't want to talk about it, because it wouldn't be respectful to my colleagues who are fighting for the maglia rosa, whom I have great respect for. They are winning the Giro. I'm very satisfied with my Giro, even if I didn't get what I wanted. However, in life you have to learn to take what happens.
Basso clocked 45'05 for the tough 34 km course between Chieri and Torino, which went over the ill-omened Colle di Superga, where Marco Pantani famously crashed in the 1995 Milano-Torino and the great Torino football team of the 1950s was wiped out in a plane crash. Unfortunately, today Simone Cadamuro (Domina Vacanze) crashed on the descent and had to be taken to hospital, ending his race.
In the race for the general classification, Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel, 4th at 0'23) put time into his closest rivals Gilberto Simoni (Lampre, 10th at 1'34), Jose Rujano (Selle Italia, 16th at 1'59), and Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas, 14th at 1'55). That means that Il Falco will start tomorrow's difficult mountain stage with a 2'09 gap over Simoni and 3'00 over Rujano, who seem like the only riders who can really challenge Savoldelli in the mountains. But it will take a big attack on the second last climb of the day, the Colle della Finestre, for Gibo and Rujano to take that sort of time out of Savoldelli.
Savoldelli said that taking 1'11 out of Simoni was what he expected. "I took about two minutes on the other time trial stage, which was 45 km, so it was more or less the same order. I took it fairly steady on the first stretch because I didn't want to kill myself on the climb, so I had something left in order to give everything in the final stretch."
As for tomorrow's crucial stage to Sestrière, "Tomorrow is going to be a hard race from the start, like the other day. The pressure's going to be on the first time up Sestrière to try to weaken the opponents. I think someone at the top of the classification will try to jump away on the Colle delle Finestre. I'll ride on the defensive as I always do and try to lose as little time as possible."
Gilberto Simoni was satisfied with his ride, that saw him finish in 10th place and only lose 1'11 to Savoldelli. "With it being Savoldelli and knowing how well he goes on descents, it could have been a couple of minutes, so it went well for me," said Simoni, who was actually slower on the climb than Savoldelli. "I guess he was very motivated and there's still tomorrow. Maybe I was thinking too much about tomorrow, but we're all getting tired now. I was going all out but I never quite got on top of it."
Simoni said of tomorrow's stage that, "I'm going to play it by ear. Tomorrow, anything could happen. I'll try to keep my eyes open, because there are several people who could win the Giro d'Italia. I'll wait for the right moment. It's going to be hard for everybody on a stage like tomorrow. You can't spend the entire time waiting for other people to do things."
Other good times today were ridden by David Zabriskie (CSC), who clocked a 45'25 to set the early best time before Basso blitzed it by 20 seconds, then Russian Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears), who came in second today, 9 seconds behind Basso. Karpets did enough to move into 7th on GC, ahead of Caucchioli and Sella, while Italian TT champ Dario Cioni (Liquigas, 5th at 28 seconds) slotted himself into 8th overall.
The penultimate stage of the 88th Giro d'Italia celebrates the Olympic Valleys of Sestrieres that will host the 2006 Winter Olympics and the riders who take the start will celebrate a world of pain. Starting in Savigliano south of Torino, Stage 19 makes a long, gradual 45km climb up to Sestrieres after 101km. After a long descent to Susa, the final 45km of this stage is simply brutal. The never-before used climb of the Colle della Finestre is a 18.5km monster, with an average gradient of 9.2%. Said to be harder than the Passo Gavia, the final 7.9km of Finestre is on a gravel "strada bianca" that will make the the climb even more difficult. Once over the Finestre, there's another descent and the final 12km climb back up to Sestrieres.