Garzelli il Grande

2000 Giro d'Italia Champion Stefano Garzelli has secured his second stage victory in this year's...

Second 2007 stage for 2000 Giro Champ

2000 Giro d'Italia Champion Stefano Garzelli has secured his second stage victory in this year's Giro thanks to a solo attack with 50 kilometres remaining. The Acqua e Sapone rider kept a group of five at bay into Lienz, Austria, to take his eighth Giro career win. The overall classification battle stayed status-quo, with Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) in the Maglia Rosa, as the favourites finished eight minutes back with their minds on tomorrow's mammoth stage to Monte Zoncolan.

"The win means...," an exhausted Stefano Garzelli pondered after the stage victory in Lienz. "I just did not want to lose. I am very content with this one. I risked it a little bit because it was such a long way out."

Garzelli first attacked the Maglia Rosa Gruppo of Danilo Di Luca at 50 kilometres to go and then, once at the front end of the race, went solo on the Bannberg ascent. He succeeded in keeping a hungry chase of five (Caucchioli, Serrano, Rubiera, Mangel, Lastras) at bay, including over the flat closing 16.8 kilometre circuit around Lienz.

"I am outside of the classification battle so I was able to try my luck," continued the 33 year-old, who has never won solo in the Giro. "I knew the finale form the Giro del Trentino, but I really had to go all out in the finale and I was extremely exhausted. In the last 10 kilometres, with a head-wind, I really thought there was no way. I got the time checks near the end and then I thought it was possible."

Before the stage win on Saturday, in Bergamo, Garzelli's last stage win came on the mountains romp to Presolana, on May 29, 2004. He had always been a considered a Giro contender but during this Giro his ambitions changed when he could not keep up with his three-week rivals.

"In the next years I don't know if I will aim for the Giro overall or not," he noted post-stage. "It was nice to win the stage the other day to Bergamo, and today, I did not really think I was going to get another stage win, but then I did. I did pay for the [Bergamo] win on Tre Cime, I slept all day yesterday! [Laughs. - ed.]"

Mangel took the sprint for second, followed by Serrano, Rubiera, Caucchioli and then Lastras. "I tried over the last three stages," said Pietro Caucchioli (Crédit Agricole), third overall in 2002. "My condition is still improving and I will try al the way to Milano. However, I am here to prepare for the Tour and unfortunately this time of the year my asthma is bothering me a little bit. I will have to improve before the Tour."

The second group to finish behind Garzelli was headed by Salvatore Commesso (Tinkoff Credit Systems). In that group was young Giovanni Visconti (Quickstep-Innergetic), who attacked late to join the chasers. "My cold hands made it hard to descend," said the 24 year-old. "I was not feeling ready for the finale and when I felt I had good legs I took off. However, I was too late and it was too difficult to enter with the front riders [Caucchioli's group - ed]."

The GC favourites have already turned their attention to tomorrow's last monster stage, the 142-kilometre run to the top of Monte Zoncolan. "I think Danilo will win tomorrow but who knows," continued Garzelli after the two former teammates watched a TV stage preview together. "He has to stay attentive up to the end of the time trial on Saturday."

Andy Schleck, in the Maglia Bianca of best young rider, hopes to give Di Luca a run for his money on the final, 10.1-kilometre ascent. "I like the Italian public. Tomorrow, I want to give it a go because I feel good. It would be a special win and I will push Di Luca for the win," said the 21 year-old Luxemburger, one of the few non-Italian challengers.

Di Luca first had to shake the cold and wet off of stage 16. "We all stopped for 10 minutes in the stage to put on warmer gear," noted the current overall leader. "It was a hard stage for us." Tomorrow he will face one of his final challenges, with missiles sure to be launched by Simoni, Schleck, Mazzoleni and 2004 winner Cunego.

"Tomorrow everyone will be firing," said Lampre-Fondital leader Damiano Cunego. "It will be very hard but I am an optimist."

How it unfolded

After a wet and cold second rest day, the 90th Giro d'Italia commenced again at 11:59 from the Piazza di Libertà under overcast threatening skies and cool temperatures, with 143 riders bundled up against the cold mountain air of Agordo, a town famous for eyewear and at the centre of the Dolomiti Stars family of ski resorts. Stage 16 started to climb immediately out of Agordo through the ski towns of Alleghe and Arabba with the summit of Passo Campolongo 45 kilometres away.

A few raindrops were falling and the riders were cold and tired and not in the mood for racing, so the pace was slow, very slow. 25.1 kilometres were covered in the first hour, with the second hour even slower at 24.6 kilometres as the gruppo freddo compatto scaled Campolongo with a few snowflakes falling for entertainment. The only action was the sprint for the GPM atop the 1875m Campolongo, where Panaria's Lucky Baliani took the points from stage 13's hero Le Boulanger and Maglia Verde Piepoli.

It took the gruppo another hour to descend down from Campolongo to Brunico after 84 kilometres, which included a stop in a tunnel for 10 minutes for the gruppo to put on more warm clothing. The rain had increased as the race headed east and the pace increased slightly. The average speed after three hours was now up to 28.9km/h, still decidedly a touristic pace. As the gruppo compatto approached the feed-zone in Dobbiaco, the rain tapered off, the roads began to dry and the rain jackets came off. Still clad in long sleeve jerseys, leg warmers and gloves, Maglia Rosa Di Luca's Liquigas squad hit the front and for the first time on stage 16, the average speed was finally over 30km/h.

After the feed-zone, there were 12 kilometres to ride to the Italian/Austrian border at kilometre 126. After the gruppo finished lunch, it was Astana's big Benoît Joachim who attacked just after San Candido with 70 kilometres to go. Joachim was joined by an even bigger rider, Laurent Mangel of Ag2r, and the two escapees quickly gained time as Liquigas wasn't interested in chasing.

A counter-move went after the two front riders, including Schwab (Quickstep), Merckx (T-Mobile) and Breschel (CSC) but the gruppo wasn't letting other riders go away just yet. At the Austrian border, the break had 20" on the fast moving peloton and at the Garibaldi intermediate sprint in Sillian after 130 kilometres, Mangel took the points.

Another counter-move went on the flat valley road as a big group of riders tried to get out front before the three hard climbs ahead. Six kilometres later in Abfaltersbach, the road made a sharp left onto the Anras and the steep four-kilometre climb to Anras, the attack had a 30" lead as Liquigas wasn't interested in chasing. The ascent blew the 20-strong front group apart, while suddenly, Garzelli attacked solo from the Gruppo Maglia Rosa with 49 kilometres to go as the first ascent of the Anras began.

The Acqua e Sapone man had nothing to lose and had lost over 17 minutes on the stage to Tre Cime di Lavaredo so he was no longer a threat to Maglia Rosa Di Luca. Garzelli knew the road from the Giro del Trentino nine years before and he had the legs to back up his move. With 40 kilometres to go it was Marcos Serrano (Tinkoff), Mangel (Ag2r), Caucchioli (Crédit Agricole) and Chechu Rubiera (Discovery Channel), while Joachim, Lastras (Caisse d'Epargne, Julian Dean (Crédit Agricole) and, now, Garzelli where chasing hard at 50", with another chase group at 1'30" and the Gruppo Maglia Rosa at 2'30".

Three kilometres later, the hard-charging Garzelli and his group got across to the front of the race in Kosten with 37 kilometres to go and there were now eight up front; Serrano, Mangel, Caucchioli, Rubiera, Joachim, Garzelli, Lastras, and Dean. At 1'30", there was the second gruppo with Bernucci (T-Mobile), Commesso (Tinkoff), Tosatto (Quickstep) Mondory (Française de Jeux) and Laverde (Panaria), while at 2'00", there was a third group with Quickstep's Visconti who had come across from the Gruppo Maglia Rosa.

The rain had started again as the second of three climbs, Vergein, began but it wasn't difficult enough to make a selection. As Garzelli began the descent through Oberassling, he attacked and got a gap on the wet, slippery roads. As the final climb of the day, the steep four-kilometre Bannberg began, Garzelli had a 15" gap but the chase was getting organized behind. With 30 kilometres to go, Garzelli had 10" on the chasers, with Dean and Joachim at 50" and the second chase group had Tosatto and Visconti chasing hard at 2'00". Garzelli had re-launched on the second half of the Bannberg and, at the GPM with 27 kilometres to go, he had more than doubled his advantage to 44" on Mangel, Lastras. Rubiera, Caucchioli and Serrano, with Dean and Joachim at 1'45", the second chase group at 2'40" and Gruppo Maglia Rosa lead by Liquigas at 6'00".

Garzelli's heroic move was looking good as he bombed the super-fast descent to Lienz and at 20 kilometres to go, his lead was 40". But Chechu Rubiera was trying to get the chase organized behind as there was a flat finishing circuit of 16 kilometres where Garzelli could be pulled back. As the bell rang as the Acqua e Sapone man passed the finish line in Lienz, he was riding solo with perfect form and had even gained time on the chasers who now were 44" seconds behind and the second chase group was at 2'30" and Gruppo Maglia Rosa cruising at over 6'00" behind Garzelli.

At eight kilometres to go as Garzelli passed through St. Ullrich, the efforts of the Acqua e Sapone man were showing as he grimaced in pain and put his hands on the brake hoods, then got back in the drops again. The chase group was now at 30" and had gained back some time, but they were running out of space and Garzelli wasn't slowing down much. At the five-kilometre mark, Garzelli still had half a minute as Lastras attacked solo but was pulled back, with the second chase group at 2'20" and Gruppo Maglia Rosa at 8'00". With three kilometres to race, the five chasers realized that they weren't going to catch Garzelli and started to ride for second place. In the chase, Lastras attacked again but was brought back again by Caucchioli.

Wearing his helmet with a white tiger on it, Garzelli roared across the finish line in Lienz to take his took his sixth career Giro d'Italia stage win, his first solo victory at the Italian tour and one of his best ever career wins. Mangel won the sprint from the first chase group at 1'01", while the second chase group was headed home by Totò Commesso in seventh place at 2'30". The Gruppo Maglia Rosa rolled in at 8'10". With his brilliant solo win, his 27th overall career victory, 33 year-old Garzelli had pulled back almost half of the seventeen minutes he lost to Di Luca on the difficult stage to Tre Cime di Lavaredo and had jumped from 17th on GC at 20'02" to up to 13th place at 11'32".

Stage 17 - Wednesday, May 30: Lienz (Austria) - Monte Zoncolan, 142 km

A short, sharp stage from Austria back to Italy that finishes atop the fearsome Monte Zoncolan, called the hardest climb in Europe by RAI-TV's Davide Cassani. After a few early climbs where an early break may surely go, the final ascent of Zoncolan is truly terrible. Only 10.1 kilometres long, Zoncolan gains 1203 metres for an average grade of 11.9% with the steepest pitches going straight up at over 20%.

Simoni won on Zoncolan in 2004 wearing the Maglia Rosa ahead of Marco Pantani, but on the easier east side. The Ovaro side is like a wall for the central portion from -8 to -2 kilometres. Simoni, the tough Trentino mountain man will try to do it again atop Zoncolan with the help of his Saunier Duval teammates Piepoli and Riccò, but Di Luca will be right there, as will Best Young Rider Andy Schleck. Currently second on GC, Astana's Eddy Mazzoleni will be the rider under the most pressure on stage 17, as he could lose enough time to Schleck and Simoni to slip to fourth on GC, or further down if he has bad legs on the terrifying steep slopes of Monte Zoncolan.

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