Liquigas eases its stranglehold
Luis Felipe Laverde (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare) and Marco Pinotti (T-Mobile) have scored a double success in the 177-kilometre stage to Spoleto. With an attack on their three escape companions on the slopes of the Forca di Cerro, the duo moved free towards the finish in southern Italy, where the Colombian won the stage and the Italian took the Maglia Rosa. Danilo Di Luca's Liquigas squad controlled the pace all day but released its stranglehold on the leader's jersey for an earned rest.
"When one believes in something I think that they can make it happen," said the 31 year-old Pinotti, who lives in Bergamo. He was the only one of an early escape of five (Christophe Kern, Daniele Contrini and Hubert Schwab) who could stick with the attack of Laverde, who attacked at less than 22 kilometres to race, four kilometres before the summit of he days final climb.
Already quasi-secure of the Maglia Rosa due to Liquigas loosing its control, Pinotti worked in harmony on the downhill run to the Umbrian town of Spoleto. The duo had a pact and 'Pino' did not contest the sprint by Laverde.
"Today went really well in the escape, I am very happy with this win," said the 27 year-old, winner of stage 14 (Domodossola) in 2006. "The rules were respected, in that I took the stage and he took the jersey. It is not written this is always the case but it was great gesture."
The Colombian rider who makes his home in Imola remarked on the original escape, which went free at kilometre 61. "When we were in five it was a little more risky. When I attacked it was great to have him [Pinotti] with me because he was going for the jersey."
The acid-green Liquigas team controlled the pace all day with a tempo that allowed the leader's jersey to move out of its camp. Di Luca is now 4'12" back on compatriot Pinotti and plans for a classification shake-up in stage 10, to Santuario Nostra Signora Della Guardia.
"It is normal in cycling," commented the 31 year-old rider, still in the Maglia Rosa that he would soon release. "Cycling is beautiful, with all of these tactics. I think back in the cars that all of the directeurs must have been busy talking and deciding what to do," he joked.
"We will look forward to the tenth stage." The team also lost the Di Luca's Maglia Verde to Laverde and Vincenzo Nibali's Maglia Bianca to Schwab (Quickstep-Innergetic).
Pinotti reckons he should be able to keep his first ever leader's jersey for another 631 kilometres, or three stages.
"It is my first leader's jersey to ever take," continued 'Pino.' For me it was a good gesture to let Laverde win the stage, I was secure to take the Maglia Rosa, so we both got something."
The team is now down to only six riders with the abandons of Barry, Hansen and Ziegler. "I think my team will be able to defend the jersey. I know we have had some bad luck but we should be able to keep the jersey for two or three days."
How it unfolded
Almost one half hour after mezzogiorno (midday), 188 riders started on via Quintilio Vara in the enter of the ancient Roman hill town of Tivoli, 30 kilometres east of Rome. Non-starters were Patrice Halgand (Crédit Agricole) and Thomas Ziegler (T-Mobile).
It was a beautiful, clear day with temperatures in the mid-twenties. After a bit of a warm-up, the Giro came alive with attacks from the usual suspects, with Tinkoff and Ceramica Panaria-Navigare very active. 42.5 kilometres were covered in the first hour of racing across the beautiful rolling terrain through the Province of Rieti. Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) crashed in the first hour, but chased back to the gruppo.
After 50 kilometres as the Giro proceeded along the Strada Statale 4 through the green heart of central Italy towards Rieti, there was an attack by Ricardo Serrano (Tinkoff Credit Systems) and Laverde (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare) which was pulled back, then another by Serrano, which was a set-up for a counter move by another Tinkoff rider, Daniele Contrini, winner of the first stage of the 2007 Tour of Georgia.
Contrini was joined by Marco Pinotti (T-Mobile), French rider Christophe Kern (Crédit Agricole), Hubert Schwab (Quickstep-Innergetic) of Switzerland and once again Luis Laverde. The quintet got away on the outskirts at Rieti and at the Garibaldi sprint in Rieti, after 67 kilometres, it was Kern who took the points ahead of Contrini and Pinotti, with the gruppo, led by Petacchi at 1'40".
A few kilometres outside of Rieti, the 21-kilometre long ascent of Monte Terminillo began. Know as Rome's ski resort, the ascent was via the southern face, also called the Sella di Leonessa and had a average gradient of 6.6% with some pitches up to 12%.
The break was working well together, as the Liquigas team of the Maglia Rosa was barely chasing behind, riding at a gentle tourist pace. Leon Van Bon (Rabobank) abandoned after 77 kilometres, while in the break, halfway up the climb, Pinotti at 46th on GC at 3'11" and then became Maglia Rosa Virtuale.
The temperatures had cooled considerably as stage 6 pierced the enter of Italy. At the back of the peloton, World Champion Paolo Bettini was struggling next to the race doctors car with a sore left knee from his crash two days ago.
As the front quintet neared the GPM atop Monte Terminillo, non-climber Contrini, who was zigzagging to stay in contact, lost his balance and went off the side of the road for a moment but stayed upright and got to the summit with the other front-runners.
Atop Monte Terminillo, with 83 kilometres to race to Spoleto, Laverde took the GPM and the lead was 6'18", while the four degree temperatures had the riders don their wind jackets for the 18-kilometre descent to the feed zone in Leonessa. By the time the five escapees hit the zone for lunch, their lead had soared to 7'25" with 55 kilometres to race.
The stage had entered the region of Umbria and the Province of Perugia as the roads traversed more beautiful scenery. But only the Liquigas-led peloton had a chance to look around, as the break was riding hard up front. Laverde was looking for the Maglia Verde and possibly another stage win, while Pinotti was hoping for the Maglia Rosa in Spoleto, and Kern and Contrini were hoping to hang on over the last climb for a shot at the win in Spoleto.
After three hours of racing on the hard percorso, the front riders had covered 33.2 kilometres, while the gruppo was still cruising along about five kilometres behind the break. Atop the Forca di Capistrello, with 45 kilometres to race, it was Colombian climber Laverde who took the points again ahead of Schwab and Pinotti, putting the Panaria rider within reach of the Maglia Verde.
The break swooped down the 16-kilometre descent to the tiny Umbrian mountain village of S. Anatolia di Narco in the Nera River valley, the began the final ascent of the day, the Forca di Cerro. A 12-kilometre ascent through a beautiful chestnut wood, with nine kilometres of climbing at 7% and a steep ramp called "La Geppa" after four kilometres.
Pinotti was keeping the pace high and the pressure on, with Contrini and Kern suffering. Smooth Schwab took over the pace and as La Geppa ramp began, Pinotti hit the front again and kept the pace steady and the break slowed considerably, then Laverde made the logical move and punched it to try and dump speedy Contrini and Kern.
Pinotti was suffering like a dog, but the T-Mobile man was motivated by the possible Maglia Rosa. Atop the Geppa, Pinotti went right to the front and hammered harder. Schwab and Kern were 15" behind, Contrini at 30" and there were still five kilometres of climbing to the summit.
At the GPM on the Forca di Cerro, with 17 kilometres to go, it was Laverde and Pinotti in the lead, with Schwab and Kern trying to get back to the front of the race at 32" behind, with Contrini at 1'45".
Local lad Fortunato Balliani (Panaria) felt lucky and attacked on the final slopes of the Forca di Cerro, a road he knows well from training and passed over the GPM in 6th place, at 6'46" to cheers of "Vai Ballio," while Liquigas still on the front of the gruppo, 7'13" behind. It was looking good now for the front duo to realize its dreams with a big gap and the road downhill all the way to Spoleto.
Pinotti, nicknamed "The Engineer" because of his degree, is not the best descender in the peloton and had some problems staying with the Colombian climber on the road to Spoleto.
At 10 kilometres to go, the front duo was holding off the two chasers with Contrini stuck in no mans land, and Balliani hoping to hold off the onslaught of the peloton on the road to Spoleto. Located on the ancient Roman road via Flamina and founded in 400 BC, Spoleto is practically in the geographic enter of the Italian boot.
Each summer, the former Umbrian capital hosts the world famous Festival dei Due Mondi music and arts festival, founded by the late Maestro Giancarlo Menotti which celebrates it's 50th anniversary this summer.
After five hours of racing at the stage six finish on viale Trento e Trieste, in front of F1 driver and local VIP Jarno Trulli, Pinotti and Laverde came in together and the Colombian took his second career Giro d'Italia stage win, while Pinotti took the race lead of the Giro d'Italia and donned his first career Maglia Rosa.
The two chasers Schwab and Kern duked it out for third with the Frenchman getting the final place of honour, 1'31" behind Laverde. Tinkoff tough guy Contrini came over the line in fifth, at 3'46", with local-yokel from Trevi "Lucky" Balliani managing to staying ahead of the gruppo for sixth at 6'55" and Milram's Petacchi winning the bunch gallop, 7'15" behind the two front riders.
Stage 7 - Saturday, May 19: Spoleto - Scarperia, 254 km
The weekend starts with a long flat stage, the longest of the 2007 Giro d'Italia. It races due north through the fertile plains of Umbria, past Lago di Trasimeno near Perugia then into Tuscany to the finish in Spoleto-Scarperia.
There is one climb with 55 kilometres to go, plenty of time for the sprinters' trains to pull back any escape. Petacchi will be looking for a win here, near Firenze, where the stage ends on the Mugello track, where there is the famous 15-turn racetrack used for F1 and MotoGP.
The last time the Giro d'Italia finished at the Autodromo di Mugello, it was World Champion Freddy Maertens and perhaps World Champion Bettini will take the victory three decades later. Whomever the winner is, he will undoubtedly chomp down a delicious bistecca fiorentina and have a glass of Brunello di Montalcino to celebrate.