Gonchar new maglia rosa; Basso and Savoldelli well placed
Pre-race favourite Team CSC has taken the honours in the fifth stage team time trial, 35 km between Piacenza and the home of violin maestro Antonio Stradivari, Cremona. The powerful Danish squad finished the flat stage in a time of 36'56, an average of 56.859 km/h - a record in Giro d'Italia time trials. But despite posting the best time checks all day, a strong finish by T-Mobile almost cost CSC the win. If T-Mobile's fifth rider Matthias Kessler had not been dropped with 300 metres to go, the one second difference between the two squads probably would have been reversed.
But as Bjarne Riis said before the stage, "I don't care how we win, all that counts is that we do." They did, and it was a very happy CSC on the podium. Today's win partly made up for their disappointment in last year's Tour de France, where they missed out on the TTT stage by just a couple of seconds.
"It was an important victory for us and it was an awesome feeling standing on the podium as a team," said Ivan Basso on team-csc.com. "Everyone contributed with all they had, and it means a lot to me to have such a strong team behind me here in the Giro. Today it was all about taking the victory as a team and show people how we are able to work together and accomplish something big. Just as expected it was a close race, so in the overall standings maybe the results won't mean a lot, but I can assure you it means a lot for us as a team and the assignment we are on as team mates."
Despite this, T-Mobile could celebrate at the end of the day, as their Ukrainian team captain Serguei Gonchar became the new maglia rosa, taking it from Stefan Schumacher's shoulders, after his Gerolsteiner team finished sixth, 1'03 behind the winners. Gonchar now leads Jens Voigt (CSC) by six seconds, with Michael Rogers and Olaf Pollack (T-Mobile) in third and fourth, and Ivan Basso (CSC) and Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) in fifth and sixth. Basso is now the best placed of the "top favourites" for the Giro d'Italia, having regained all the time he lost during the opening stages in Belgium.
The Discovery Channel team finished third, but lost 39 seconds to CSC, which must have been a slight disappointment for Paolo Savoldelli and the gang. Although they had the support of Lance Armstrong in the following team car, they didn't have his far more valuable power on the road, and that cost them time. Nevertheless, Savoldelli is still only 20 seconds behind Gonchar and nine seconds behind Basso, and it's too early to tell how significant that will be in the final week.
For the other Giro favourites, Danilo Di Luca's Liquigas squad rode very well to finish fourth, just 42 seconds behind CSC. That left Di Luca in 12th overall, 49 seconds down on Gonchar and 40 behind Basso.
Damiano Cunego and Lampre-Fondital also turned in a good time to finish 8th today, 1'04 off the pace. That puts Cunego in 25th overall at 1'17 behind Gonchar and 1'06 behind Basso. Gilberto Simoni's Saunier Duval team finished, as expected, a fair way down the rankings in 18th. But the yellow and red boys only lost 1'26 to the winners, and Simoni sits 52nd on GC, 1'56 down. It could be better, but it could be worse.
Finally, Jose Rujano's Selle Italia-Serramenti Diquigiovanni squad finished in 20th, 1'37 off Team CSC's time. Rujano will have more work to do in the mountains if he is to erase the 2'46 gap to Gonchar and co.
How it unfolded
The fifth stage was run over a slightly shorter than advertised distance: 35 km instead of 38 km. The Giro hasn't featured a team time trial since 1989, and this one between Piacenza and Cremona was a straightforward one to resume the tradition. Its short distance, dead flat profile, and a light tailwind made for a fast day on the chrono machines, with time gaps expected to be minimised. Unlike the Tour de France TTT's in recent years, today the teams and riders would be awarded their actual times at the finish for the purposes of the general classification.
The first team to roll out of the sunbaked, cobbled square in Piacenza was Selle Italia-Serramenti Diquigiovanni. Gianni Savio's boys went out hard, and posted a sub-11 minute time check after 9.7 km that not many teams would better. Selle Italia eventually finished in 38'33, a respectable average speed of 54.47 km/h. Their time withstood the arrival of Ceramica Panaria, who lost several riders along the way, but not Bouygues Telecom, who came in with 38'19 to set the new top time. But that didn't last long as the stronger teams started to come in, with Davitamon-Lotto turning in a 38'05, led home by maglia ciclamina Robbie McEwen.
Saunier Duval was having problems keeping its paceline together, and that cost them a little at the end of the day. Their finish time of 38'22 was only enough for 18th place. But with the small time gaps today, it was not a disaster for team captain and double Giro winner Gilberto Simoni. At the end of the day, he had only lost 1'26 to CSC, which was just beginning its ride as Saunier Duval finished.
CSC got into its rhythm quickly, riding a single paceline for most of the stage. The well drilled unit made best use of riders like Ivan Basso, Jens Voigt, Michael Blaudzun and Bobby Julich to rocket through the first time check in 10'32, nine seconds quicker than Liquigas, which had also started well. The next team through was T-Mobile, driven by time trial specialists Jan Ullrich, Michael Rogers, and Serguei Gonchar. The magenta boys were eight seconds off CSC's pace at that first check, and gradually conceded time over the next three checks.
Although Liquigas posted a time of 37'38, it became clear that CSC and T-Mobile were the ones to watch. CSC brought it home with almost all its riders intact, in a new top time of 36'56, and speculation began whether Jens Voigt could take pink. But T-Mobile, despite being 15 second behind after 22 km, rode a great final 10 km to push CSC all the way to the line. Their only problem was that they were down to the minimum five men in the final 500 metres, and when Matthias Kessler couldn't follow the pace of Gonchar, Ullrich, Rogers and Pollack, a gap opened up. Kessler fought all the way to the finish, but while his teammates crossed the line one second ahead of CSC, he was one second behind, and it was the time of the fifth rider that counted. Still, Gonchar was now ahead of Basso in the virtual classification.
Finally, Discovery Channel and Gerolsteiner set off. Paolo Savoldelli's men got off to a slow start, posting a time 24 seconds slower than CSC at km 9.7. They never really recovered from that, with riders like Hincapie and Armstrong not there to push the pace in the final kilometres, and eventually lost 39 seconds to CSC. It was still enough for third place.
Gerolsteiner started last, with maglia rosa Schumacher enjoying his last day in the jersey. The light blue outfit was never going to challenge CSC, and although it finished 6th at 1'03, that wasn't enough to keep the leader's jersey.
Stage 6 - Friday, May 12: Busseto - Forli', 227 km
A long, dead flat classic sprinters' stage to the hometown of Italian champ of yore, Ercole Baldini, where McEwen will look to trump the competition on the last 2.5km along Forli's Corso della Repubblica.