Petacchi brings home the bacon in Milano
As the maglia rosa of Paolo Savoldelli crossed the finish line on the Corso Venezia for the twelfth and final time, the simultaneous relief and delight was obvious. 'Il Falco' wasn't equipped with the strongest team coming into the Giro, but he certainly had one of the strongest heads, great physical condition, and made friends when he needed to. Bottom line: Vittoria Savoldelli.
The group embrace from his team-mates, Discovery Channel staff and close friends was truly uplifting, and Alessandro Petacchi's fourth stage win, an impressive though textbook victory from Fassa Bortolo, was almost lost in the emotion.
Even before the stage begun, team manager Johan Bruyneel said Savoldelli's biggest victory has already been achieved - "and that's back to being a super bike rider after two years of a lot of problems. Being on this level again is his biggest victory and everything else is a bonus".
Added Bruyneel: "We always thought it was possible to win. I've always maintained a podium finish was the goal, but if it goes well for you, there can be a chance to win."
The 32 year-old may not be as exciting to watch as Simoni, Cunego or Rujano, but as he admitted after yesterday's stage: "I'm more of a regular rider, and I have to calculate a lot, because I know what my limits are." Well, Sav and his team got the numbers just right, and at the end the day, the Giro is theirs, and salvation is his.
Speaking about Savoldelli's preparation for the Tour de France, where he will act as one of Lance Armstrong's key lieutenants, Bruyneel said: "It definitely won't be the same approach for him as it was preparing for the Giro. First, I need him to recover and set his mind. I'll leave him alone for a week and let him really taste this victory. Then, we'll set his mind on July."
However, this isn't to take anything away from second-placed Gilberto Simoni (Lampre-Cafitta), who basically spent three weeks chasing the maglia rosa, never gave up, and almost got there. The 33 year-old from Trentino gave it everything on the Colle delle Finestre yesterday, where those fortunate enough to watch bore witness to one of the finest climbing assaults of all time, but the effort took its toll on Gibo, as one of the easiest climbs of the race proved his undoing.
Little needs to be said about that little Venezuelan with a mighty motor, Josè Rujano (Selle Italia-Colombia), other than that the 23 year-old has a big, big future. Direttore sportivo Gianni Savio will have his hands full keeping him on his team for next year; the lure of a place on a ProTour team and significant financial incentives will be hard to resist.
But this outfit - just one of two Pro Continental Teams invited to the Giro - can go home with their heads held high. They have shown teamwork, ability and race smarts equivalent to that of any ProTour outfit, and have deservedly come away with a place on the podium, three fantastic stage wins, and the mountains classification.
The points classification was taken out by Olympic champion Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step), who also enjoyed an excellent Giro with a stage win to boot. But it's still hard to forget that brutto (ugly) day in Frosinone two weeks ago, where he refused to admit guilt after guiding Baden Cooke into the barriers, at a time when the Australian was in dire need of a stage win.
How it unfolded
After yesterday's epic to Sestrières, the final stage of the '05 Giro was always going to be a procession of sorts. Time for the 153 riders to congratulate each other on making it this far, and barring bad luck, the last 119 kilometres to Milano.
It was a late-ish kick-off time at 2pm questo pomeriggio (this afternoon), but the 22 teams all had to make a 270 kilometre-long transfer to Albese con Cassano on the outskirts of Lago di Como, so it wasn't entirely a stress-free start to the day.
Josè Rujano (Selle Italia-Colombia) spent just under six hours in the saddle on his way to victory on Stage 19, but for the majority of riders that comprised the gruppetto, it was another 40 minutes more. Not suprisingly, today's stage - expected to take roughly three hours to complete - provided a welcome change for all.
Over the last three weeks, the Giro has been blessed with superb weather, and Sunday, May 29 continued the trend, as the peloton left in 30 degree temps, aided by a gentle noreasterly cross-tailwind blowing at 5km/h.
With all the major classifications sewn up - maglia rosa Savoldelli, points Bettini, mountains Rujano - bar the Integiro [led by Stefano Zanini (Quick.Step), who was holding an 18 second margin over Sven Krauss (Gerolsteiner) and 21 seconds on team-mate Bettini], there was no need to hurry, and the average speed showed, a pianissimo 28.4 km/h for the first two hours.
At the final Intergiro sprint in Milano - Nuovo Quartiere (km 49.1), it was Zanini who got the better of Bettini and Kruass, sealing victory for the 14-year veteran of the pro peloton; so with that classifica finito, it was time for the sprinters' teams to take over as the plotone headed towards the centro di Milano.
Reminiscent of a scene out of the last six Tours de France, the Discovery Channel-led bunch sailed across the Corso Venezia for the first of twelve 4.8 kilometre circuits at twenty past four, and well behind schedule. But the hard-working people of Milano had come out in their droves to witness the final spectacle of Giro numero ottantotto, and as the pace steadily increased, it appeared the riders were readying themselves to put on a show.
With Discovery's mission all but complete, it was time for the Fassas to take over the wheel. Sharing the workload with Savoldelli's squadra, the two teams upped the speed above the 38km/h mark for the first four laps, with Thierry Marichal (Cofidis) attempting a brief but short-lived solo move.
Over the next 20 kilometres, and with roughly the same distance remaining, the pace lifted higher again, laps 8 and 9 the quickest by far, ridden at a 46.9 km/h average. The increased speed was largely a result of the Cofidis rider Matt White's breakaway on lap 8, who was later joined by Team CSC's Dave Zabriskie, but it was gruppo compatto at the end of lap 10.
At two laps to go, and just under 10 kilometres left to race, it was another Aussie by name of Matt Wilson (Francaise des Jeux) who managed to get out in front, but it lasted less than a minute, ending his escapade almost as soon as he started it.
Ridden at 49,371 km/h, the penultimate lap was ridden under the six-minute mark for the first time, and with four Fassas in front for the ultimo giro, the stage was set for a highly-predictable sprint victory.
In the final 1000 metres, Alessandro Petacchi's last two lead-out men, Matteo Tosatto and Marco Velo, performed their jobs to perfection once again. Riding so fast that they gapped all but 10 riders coming out of the last turn, Velo then sprinted and swung off with 200 metres to go, before Petacchi took a comfortable fourth stage win, a bike length clear of Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) and streets ahead of Robert Forster (Gerolsteiner).