Pink Pinotti barely keeps lead
Kurt-Asle Arvesen grabbed success from an escape group of 22 riders in the eighth stage of the 2007 Giro d'Italia. The Norwegian CSC rider hooked on to World Champ Paolo Bettini's (Quickstep-Innergetic) wheel in the final 500 metres to capture a last minute dash by Emanuele Sella (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare). Marco Pinotti's T-Mobile had to work extremely hard to conserve the race lead but the team, thanks to the helping-hand of Saunier Duval, was able to keep the Maglia Rosa on the shoulders of its leader by 28 seconds.
The escape that formed by kilometre 49 worked smoothly all day until its dynamics fell apart in the final kilometres. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r Prévoyance) opened up a gap that was followed by Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff Credit Systems) and then Emanuele Sella (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare). The latter kept going and looked to have a serious chance of winning the stage in Fiorano Modenese.
But it was the World Champion himself who reacted with less than five hundred metres remaining. Tagged by Arvesen, he immediately picked up Brutt and had the punchy Sella in his sites. Sella was smacked down with only 150 metres remaining, and at the same time, Arvesen started his sprint on Bettini's right. He continued his charge and nipped the Italian at the line.
"Today went very well," said the 32 year-old Arvesen after the stage win. "The team tried to get into an escape. Once in the escape, I think that the riders rode well together."
Regarding Bettini, he added, "I am sorry for him, but he wins a lot but I can only win every four years." It was his second win in the Corsa Rosa; his first one came exactly four years ago, on May 20.
Bettini seems to be getting better by the day and maybe tomorrow, when the race enters his home region of Tuscany, he will go one better. He showed an amazing turn of speed when he jumped to reel in Sella.
"I feel better than three days ago, but it is too bad that... Nothing," Bettini said with disappointed. "I knew the finale would be hard and that the others would watch me. It goes like that. ... I went at 150 metres but Kurt-Asle Arvesen is a great sprinter."
Controversy reigned early on in the race when Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Prodir) was part of the escape that formed on the backside of Passo della Futa. The rider from Formigine, near the stage finish, came under fire from his escape companions who believe his move would ruin the their chances of staying clear to the line.
"He was too close in the overall, also the young riders' classification. So we could not go on with him," said Arvesen after the finish.
"There were some 20 riders in that escape and there was not much agreement," Riccò recalled. "My directeur told me to come back and be with my captain Simoni." Riccò initially refused to talk when he crossed the finish line, but team captain Gilberto Simoni indicated that there was an order for him to return from the break to the peloton. "I decided on my own to come back; the riders in general did not want me in that escape," Riccò tried to clarify.
Due to the absence of a Saunier rider and several Liquigas and Lampre men up front, the yellow squad was forced to pull for the majority of the day. "I made a mistake to go back to the group," Riccò said.
Saunier Duval also got help from T-Mobile, who was desperate to save the Maglia Rosa of Pinotti. Andrea Noè (Liquigas) was the major threat in the escape as he started the day only 4'38" down on the race leader. Pinotti himself was pulling in the final kilometres to conserve race leadership.
"I saved the maglia thanks to my teammates," said the 31 year-old from Bergamo. "Bernucci, Merckx, Olson, and the others all did well, but we can't work like this again tomorrow."
How it unfolded
On another beautiful late spring day, 185 riders departed Barberino di Mugello at noon for a 200-kilometre stage to the other side of the Apennine Mountains, with Bouygues rider Thomas Voeckler a non-starter.
There was a fast start up to the first GPM atop the Passo della Futa after 13 kilometres, won by Panaria's pocket climber Lele Selle ahead of Zampieri and Caucchioli. Then it was "la bagarre", constant attacks across the hilly heart of the Apennine Mountains. After 24 kilometres near Baragazzo, Predictor's big Dario Cioni struck out on his own and this provoked a major chase behind him that eventually put a big break of 27 riders up front.
After the first hour of racing, the average speed was 34.4 km/hr and after 40 kilometres, the break had a few minutes lead, but it also had a potential winner of the Giro in Saunier Duval's Riccardo Riccò and this was a problem for the "senatori", experienced riders like World Champion Bettini and Lampre's Marzio Bruseghin who wanted the break to succeed.
The other riders started to work over Riccò buy leaving gaps and trying to get him out of the break. Eventually Riccò got the message from the others and his direttore sportivo Pietro Algeri told him to come back, so he dropped backed to the gruppo on the descent to Porretta Terme after 55 kilometres with Tiralongo, Codol, Perget and Wegelius, while Cyrille Monnerais (Française Des Jeux) abandoned.
At Porretta Terme after 61 kilometres, the big escape of 22 riders was leading the gruppo maglia rosa at 4'15". The front-runners were Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC), Paolo Bettini (Quickstep-Innergetic), Assan Bazayev, Serguei Yakovlev (Astana), Evgeni Petrov, Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff Credit Systems), Dionisio Galparsoro (Euskaltel-Euskadi), George Hincapie, José Luis Rubiera (Discovery Channel), Alessandro Spezialetti, Andrea Noè (Liquigas), Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r Prévoyance), Emanuele Sella (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare), David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne), Alexandr Arekeev (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo), Marzio Bruseghin, Patxi Vila, Marco Marzano (Lampre-Fondital), William Walker (Rabobank), Francis Mourey (Française Des Jeux), Mario Aerts, Dario Cioni (Predictor-Lotto).
Best placed on GC in the break was the oldest rider in the race, 38 year-old Andrea Noè, in fifth place at 4'47". Both Noè and Spezialetti were not working in the break to save themselves in the future for Liquigas leader Di Luca, while World Champion Bettini was driving the break hard on the front.
On paper, the fastest man in the break was Kazakh sprinter Bazayev, with Bettini, Hincapie, and cyclo-cross specialist Mourey also having a strong final kick, but there would also be attacks by strong riders like Brutt, Arekeev and Arvesen. GC riders like Noè, Cioni, Petrov, Nocentini and perhaps Chechu Rubiera would gain time on their rivals.
At the day's second GPM in Sestola, after 101 kilometres, it was Panaria's pocket climber Sella who took the points again ahead of Vila and Walker with the Gruppo Maglia Rosa at 6'38" being driven by T-Mobile and Saunier Duval. After the descent to the valley, the lead after 75 kilometres to go was at 6'43" with T-Mobile and Saunier Duval still humping hard.
In Manaro sul Panaro with 52 kilometres to go, Lampre's climber Marco Marzano punctured but got back after a quick wheel change by ace mechanic Enrico Pengo.
In Vignola, at the Garibaldi intermediate sprint with 47.5 kilometres to race, there was no sprint as Yakovlev passed over the line first. The gruppo maglia rosa was at 6'22", but the chase by T-Mobile and Saunier Duval, with Milram now helping, was closing the breakaway's lead down. With 30 kilometres to go, the escape made a left turn for a lap at the Ferrari test track in Fiorano with a lead of 5'15" and falling. Exiting the test track, the break began the final circuit of 24 kilometres around the local roads through ceramic city Sassuolo and the hometown of Riccardo Riccò, Formigine, with nine kilometres to go.
A gruppetto of Predictor riders including Robbie McEwen were 23 minutes behind. McEwen has had stomach problems for the last few days and was at risk of finishing outside the time limit on Stage 8. As the gruppo maglia rosa passed through the finish line, the desperate chase by T-Mobile and Saunier Duval had brought the gap back to 4'30" and the dreams of Noè to take the Maglia Rosa from were no longer.
Already there were sly looks among the escapees to see who would attack first, as the gruppo maglia rosa was still led by Pinotti's T-Mobile squad, 4'01" behind. T-Mobile's Bernucci had dropped off the pace after some major work, while T-Mobile's American Aaron Olsen was having a bad day and was in the sprinters gruppetto at more than 24 minutes.
As huge crowds lined the roads of the finishing circuit in cycling-mad Emilia, up front in the hostilities began when Brutt attacked with five kilometres and his move was covered by World Champion Paolo Bettini in person.
Next to have a go at four kilometres to go was Rabobank's young Aussie Willy Walker, who had a go but was covered by Spezialetti. Then the long legs of Predictor's Mario Aerts pumped the former winner of Flèche Wallonne to a 50-metre gap at three kilometres to go, but Discovery Channel's Rubiera rode him down. With two kilometres to race, it was the turn of Ag2r's Nocentini to shoot his shot, but the brute force of Brutt's counter behind him exploded the break in two as the Russian shot past Nocentini into the lead.
Once again, it was the terrible Tinkoffs who were making the Giro extra-exciting and Brutt entered the last kilometre with a 50-metre lead.
Suddenly an orange flash bridged up to Brutt with incredible speed and then jumped him 100 metres later. It was Panaria's pocket climber Sella who made a brilliant attack but started to run out of gas with 500 metres to go.
Behind Sella, World Champ Bettini was on the move, looking for a big stage win, and chased the Panaria man down. But CSC's Arvesen had read the final kilometre perfectly, stayed in contact with Bettini and when the World Champ made his move, Arvesen went with him. He made a perfect contropiede move to pass Bettini with 120m to go and take the victory in Stage 8; the Norwegian's second career stage win at the Giro d'Italia after his win in Faenza in 2003.
4'19" later, the Gruppo Maglia Rosa passed over the finish line led by Marco Pinotti, the Maglia Rosa himself, who had worked hard all day with his diminished team to save his race lead for another day. Finally, the curtain closed on the sprinters' gruppetto containing Robbie McEwen, who had been dropped on the first climb of the day 190 kilometres before, came in at 24'20", still with four minutes in hand for the time limit.
Stage 9 - Monday, May 21: Reggio nell'Emilia - Lido Di Camaiore, 177 km
Starting in the capital of Reggio Emilia province, Stage 9 heads west, up and over the Apennines, then south along the flat seacoast of the Tuscan Riviera to finish in the resort town of Lido di Camaiore, where Petacchi will be seeking another win to go along with his first place from 2004.