Liquigas too strong for Bettini's long break to work today
Time for a costume change! For the second time in three days, Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas-Bianchi) won a Giro d'Italia stage in his ProTour jersey, but with his 0'20 time bonus won in l'Aquila, the local lad from Spoltore, just 50km away in Abruzzo, took over the maglia rosa and the race lead from Paolo Bettini by just 0'03. Although Di Luca has had a fabulous season so far in 2005 with wins in Tour of the Basque Country, Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne, as well as taking the lead in the ProTour, today was the biggest win of his career. A delighted Di Luca told Italian TV, "Today was an even better moment than my Flèche Wallonne win...above all because I took the Maglia (Rosa) and I got it in Abruzzo. I won another stage and I had a great team again. Today, Bettini did a great job, but our team pulled him back. Better than this...my Giro is finished!"
Before the Giro d'Italia, Di Luca's goals were to win a stage and possibly take over the race lead and today with his 35th career win, the 29 year-old was still incredulous. After a bacio from his tearful mama, Di Luca explained, "I thought I could win the stage today but didn't expect to take over the maglia rosa." When asked whether he would defend the maglia rosa, Di Luca said, "Of course I'll defend it as long as I can."
After three disappointing years at Saeco when the talented Italian never lived up to his potential, the ProTour leader explained, "My comeback this year really started when I went to Mexico. I asked the team if I could go and they supported me. There are some really good people here and I really feel like a leader."
At 223 km, Stage 5 was the longest stage of the Giro and it was the eighth time that the Abruzzese city of l'Aquila had hosted the Corsa Rosa. 91 years ago, the Giro's Bari-l'Aquila stage covered 428km and took almost 20 hours to complete. 61 years ago, Carlo Clerici won a Giro stage with a 30 minute lead in a fuga bidone and hung on to win in Milano ahead of his Swiss teammate Koblet. The last time the Giro finished in l'Aquila four decades ago, the stage was won by Guido Carlesi of Team Filotex, also called "Coppino" for his resemblance to Fausto Coppi.
24 hours after his sprint DQ, perhaps maglia rosa Bettini was thinking of making his own history when he made his audacious early break today. The ex-maglia rosa explained post-stage that "(Quick.Step) decided today to try and get into a break without dangerous riders for GC, but Liquigas wanted the stage today. It was really hard for my team to manage things. But today wasn't a response to what happened yesterday. We wanted to go on the attack and we did. But even though we lost the (lead) today, I'll go for the maglia rosa again; I'll try to get a time bonus at the Intergiro. I promised my fans in Tuscany I would have the maglia rosa and still hope to get it back."
How it unfolded
The official start was given under partly overcast skies on a cool morning at 11:18, with 191 riders taking the start. Non starters were Calcagni (Liquigas) who abandoned on Stage 4 with a broken collarbone and Inaudi (Cofidis), who also crashed and abandoned yesterday. There was plenty of early action with attacks by Høj, Gomez Gomez and Ivanov (Domina Vacanze), who took the first intermediate sprint in Ortucchio after 22 km. Three kilometres later, seven riders bridged to Ivanov; Fofonov (Cofidis), Andrle (Liberty Seguros), Tosatto (Fassa Bortolo), Moletta (Gerolsteiner), Sutherland (Rabobank), Gomez Gomez (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Baumann (T-Mobile) and the seven riders were away with 200km to race. This group was cruising about 1'00 ahead of the Gruppo maglia rosa when Vladimir Miholjevic (Liquigas), Filippo Pozzato (Quick.Step), Christian Werner (T-Mobile) and nine others counter-attacked. Then Van Huffel (Davitamon-Lotto) attacked and surprisingly, maglia rosa Bettini followed after 40km on Monte Diavolo. Eventually 14 riders joined the counter-attack group, chasing the front break of seven.
Ivanov was first over the Passo del Diavolo after, and on the descent the chasers caught up to form a mammoth break of 21 riders with 2'00 on the peloton. The front group consisted of maglia rosa Bettini (Quick.Step), Tosatto (Fassa), Miholjevic and Wegelius (Liquigas), Rujano and Parra (Selle Italia), Gomez Gomez and Rodriguez (SDV), Ivanov (Domina), Baranowski, Andrle and Gil (Liberty Seguros), Moletta (Gerolsteiner), Van Huffel (Davitamon-Lotto), Sutherland and Eltink (Rabobank), Fofonov (Cofidis), Casar (FDJ), Dmitri Muravyev (CA) and Lopez Garcia (Euskaltel) and Petrov (Lampre), who was not working.
With 91km raced and 132km to go, on the climb of Valico di Monte Godi, Tosatto attacked with Rujano and Miholjevic, and they crossed the GPM but the rest of the break caught them on the descent. As the riders passed Lago di Scanno after three hours of racing, the average speed was 36.45 km/h and the gruppo was at 8'50 behind the Gruppo maglia rosa. Still angry from yesterday, Bettini won the Intergiro sprint in Sulmona with 85km to go and added 6 to his lead on GC, with the average speed at 38.64km /hr. As Lampre upped the pace on the front of the main group, the lead of the Gruppo maglia rosa had dropped by more than half to 4'00.
At the base of the day's final GPM up the steep climb to Goriano Sicoli, Sutherland attacked solo, but diminutive Venezuelan climber Rujano popped off the front and rode away from the Aussie like he was standing still. Liberty man Gil followed Rujano, and at the summit, Rujano led Gil by 30, with the gruppo maglia rosa at 1'10 and peloton at 2'35 with 36km to go. Rujano took the climbing points on the first category GPM and moved into the lead of the Best Climber classification.
On the 8 km descent, Gil caught Rujano, and then the maglia rosa came across with other chasers and then there were nine: maglia rosa Bettini, Rujano, Parra, Gil, Rodriguez, Van Huffel and Eltink. Petrov and Wegelius were there, but were not working. On the twisting up and down country roads through the heart of Abruzzo with 50km to go, there was little agreement up front and Bettini tried his hardest to keep things organized. There were six chasers 1'00 behind the gruppo maglia rosa (Ivanov, Lopez, Casar, Miholjevic, Baranowski and Sutherland) while at 3'25 in the main gruppo, Lampre, Discovery and Cofidis began chasing harder.
On the climb to Secinaro with 40km to go, Rodriguez attacked the Gruppo maglia rosa solo. It was the Saunier Duval-Prodir rider's 26th birthday and he decided to celebrate by making an audacious solo move. Behind the gruppo maglia rosa, the six chasers were at 1'40 with the main group at 3'00, with Liquigas now joining the chase. Eltink and the two Selle Italia riders were working with Bettini, while the Liquigas and Lampre riders were still not collaborating. Rodriguez took the sprint in Secinaro 0'30 ahead of the Gruppo maglia rosa, with Liquigas pounding away on the front of the main group 3'30 behind the leader and the Ivanov group being absorbed. At the base of the sinuous descent from Secinaro, a few raindrops began to fall and in Tione degli Abruzzo with 32km to go, Rodriguez still had half a minute on the eight-man Bettini group.
The main gruppo began to crank up the speed, and with 30km to go, the rain was increasing as well as the pace, under the impulsion of the acid green train of Liquigas-Bianchi. Rodriguez remained out front 0'30 ahead of the eight chasers, while the main gruppo was 2'45 behind. At 25km to go, Bettini's group had pulled back most of Rodriguez's birthday break, but it was too late. With the entire Liquigas team humping away on the front, the gap was now 1'20 to the leader and 1'00 to the Bettini group. Rodriguez was caught and the nine riders of the gruppo maglia rosa had been on the attack for 170km. Bettini was still trying to keep things organized up front, but was also thinking of the uphill final 1300m.
With 20km to go, the rain had stopped and the sun had come out. Liquigas had their heavy hitters up front like Milly Milesi and Dario Andriotto as the gap dropped to 0'40 to set up the finale for Danilo Di Luca. Lampre had told Petrov to start working to make the chase But as he realized that the break was broke, maglia rosa Bettini sat up and was quickly re-absorbed by the main gruppo, as was Wegelius, who joined his Liquigas teammates in the chase.
With 15km to go, Gil, Petrov, Eltink and Parra were still out front with 0'40, but their lead was about to be terminated by the peloton, where CSC started to move up. Bettini was riding right behind Di Luca, who had won Tuesday's stage to Giffoni Valle Piana and was just 0'13 behind the maglia rosa on the classifica generale. T-Mobile had moved up for chase and with 10km to go, there was a crash including Nardello and Lopez. The Italian got up and with his jersey in shreds, got back in the race, while the Euskaltel man had smashed his lower back against the curb and looked to be down for the count. Incredibly, he continued and finished the stage in 168th place at 11'06.
CSC had now sent Peron and Blaudzun to the front and with 4km to go, it was gruppo compatto with the break lasting 190km. There were 2.5km to go before the 1300m climb to the finish in the centro storico of l'Aquila and CSC and Ceramica Panaria-Navigare were going all out for position. Noè was leading out Di Luca, and under the last km kite, Kessler (T-Mobile) was leading Valjavec (Phonak), Di Luca, Basso (CSC) and Cunego (Lampre). Eventually Bruseghin (Fassa Bortolo) made his move on the uphill finish but Di Luca easily countered him and passed Bruseghin with 50m to go to win the stage and take the maglia rosa.
Stage 6 - May 13: Viterbo-Marina Di Grosseto, 153km
After a 200km transfer north around Rome to Viterbo, the sixth stage of the Giro is a short, nervous ride across the back country of the Maremma region to the Tuscan port town of Marina Di Grosseto. Stage 6 will have two parts; the first 64km to the Intergiro in Manciano for an uphill sprint where Bettini will be looking to take a time bonus to narrow the 0'03 gap to new maglia rosa Di Luca. After the Intergiro, attackers will certainly try to stay away, but the three final circuits of 6km each in Marina Di Grosseto will set the stage perfectly for the sprinters teams to flex their muscles in the finale. Look for Alessandro Petacchi to finally win his first stage of this year's Giro.