Contador hangs tough in maglia rosa
Franco Pellizotti has lived up to his promise of challenging for overall victory at the Giro d'Italia by winning the 12.9 kilometre mountain time trial to Plan de Corones, over roads touching 24 percent gradient. The 30 year-old Liquigas leader, known in Italy as 'Il Delfino' (the dolphin), won with a time of 40'26, while Emanuele Sella (CSF Group Navigare) was second and Gilberto Simoni (Diquigiovanni) third.
"I have demonstrated that I came here to win this Giro," Pellizotti declared from top of the 2273-metre high climb.
Spain's Alberto Contador showed today that he will be hard to dislodge from the top spot. The 25 year-old of Team Astana, who took over the race leader's maglia rosa on yesterday's stage to Passo Fedaia, finished fourth and gained an important eight seconds on Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott) and now leads the race by 41 seconds over the Italian.
"My rivals after today are the same as after yesterday, Riccò did well. There are still lots of riders. I hold a small advantage on Simoni and Riccò, and this can change, I have to be ready," noted Contador, winner of the 2007 Tour de France.
The win was a relief for Pellizotti, who has the whole of Team Liquigas at his disposal in his bid to win the 2008 edition. After spending four days in the maglia rosa during the first week, he was distanced by some of the classification rivals on the previous two days through the Dolomites.
On the final section to Plan de Corones - 5.25 kilometres of sterrato ('gravel road') that had never been raced before - curly haired Pellizotti proved the strongest, covering the distance 21 seconds faster the Simoni. "I knew I was going well, but I had no reference points," he noted of his ride. After coming to the line, he reserved further comment until the final six riders finished.
Pellizotti, who won his first Giro d'Italia stage in 2006, ousted the provisional best time set by Dolomite king Emanuele Sella. The leader of the mountains competition rode the course, clad in the maglia verde, in a time of 40'32. "It was very hard climb," confessed Sella, immediately after finishing his run. "The condition is there. I hope to get my third win in the mountains, but now I am not saying anything."
Simoni continues to ride with strength in this Giro d'Italia and though he was not able to come home with a time better than Pellizotti had just posted before him, he did manage to gain time on rivals Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes), Riccò and Denis Menchov (Rabobank).
"I had hoped to win, but I did not think I could battle so well and be better than so many other riders. So, let's see," said two-time Giro winner Simoni with his daughter at his side. "The level is very high and I believe that this Giro is one of the hardest. It is still an open Giro and this crono served to reshuffle the cards."
Said race leader Alberto Contador: "Eight seconds... My objective was to maintain the jersey and open up some time. I lost some time in the last kilometre, my back tyre slipped and I lost my momentum. However, I'm content it's a good result."
Contador heads into the rest day with the maglia rosa, which he now looks set to carry at least through the end of the stage to Monte Pora on Friday.
Riccò did not look as brilliant as he did 24 hours previous on the Passo Fedaia. He carried the maglia bianca of best young rider well over the first 7.6 kilometres of the course, but lost time on the upper section of gravel road.
"I am content," confirmed the rider from Formigine. "I did a great crono. Compliments to Pellizotti and Contador. We all did a great time trials."
His wheels slid on the roads that had deteriorated since the first rider, Markus Eichler, departed at 10:00 this morning. "In the finale, I was going well. I could not give more or I would slide, so I could not get out of the saddle."
Di Luca and Menchov faired worst of the classification contenders. Di Luca suffered on the sterrato and by the day's end lost 1'45. "The rhythm was good but in the end I did not do as well as I thought," he conceded. "We were all going at our maximum. Let's see in Milano, we still have two stages in the mountains to try."
He is now 2'18 back in the overall standings, while Menchov, who lost 1'49 on the day, is 2'47 behind Contador.
How it unfolded
Not many riders will have been eager to get out of bed this morning, with the short but painful ride up to Plan de Corones or Kronplatz facing them. But the inevitable happened - for some earlier than others - as the first of three waves was set off at 10:00 sharp. Markus Eichler, who inherited the numero nera for the last rider on GC, had the pleasure of getting up really early today.
Eichler's time was just two seconds under the 50-minute mark, and with a 25 percent time cut being enforced, riders taking much longer had cause for concern. A winning time of 40 minutes would make the cut-off exactly 50 minutes.
Thomas Fothen of Gerolsteiner had an early start, too, and took his time. His time of 53'48 turned out to be the slowest of the day. He then had to hope for the best, meaning the worst for the best riders and a winning time of not much better than 43 minutes.
The first wave consisted of 50 riders and the best time was set by Julio Alberto Perez Cuapio (CSF Group Navigare) with a 43'22. That meant Fothen was safe for now and could enjoy his lunch break. The second wave of riders was scheduled to set off at 12:30, with sprinter Fabio Baldato (Lampre) not looking forward to the day. But he too finished under 50 minutes and was saved.
Briton David Millar (Slipstream Chipotle Presented By H30) was scheduled at 12:40, but this course was not the typical time trial affair. Nonetheless, Millar produced a decent 46'48. Shortly after Millar, it was Charly Wegelius (Liquigas) who set off. He was seen as faithful lieutenant to his captain, Franco Pellizotti, over the weekend and today was more or less a rest day - he revealed toCyclingnews recently that he likes to take those when possible. But he didn't take it quite that easy, as a 44'14 was also a decent showing.
Irish rider Philip Deignan (AG2R La Mondiale) also had a good race, finishing just under 44 minutes. The last rider of the second wave was Vladimir Gusev (Astana), who started at 13:19 and finished at 14:04. Then it was waiting time until 15:00, when the last 52 riders set off.
First to go was Luca Mazzanti (Tinkoff Credit Systems). He was followed closely by two mountain goats, José Rujano Guillen (Caisse d'Epargne) and Jens Voigt (Team CSC). Rujano put the hammer down and passed the 7.7 km mark - which was both the only time check of the day and the beginning of the unpaved part of the ride - in 21'10. Voigt, who like everyone else, enjoyed the relatively pleasant weather, followed 47 seconds behind.
Rujano's finishing time was 41'15, which eventually netted him sixth place. Vasili Kiryienka (Tinkoff Credit Systems) had a technical problem that forced him to walk the last half kilometre, but with gradients of up to 24 percent, this wasn't much slower. No following cars were allowed today and the only technical assistance came from motorbike support.
Rujano's time stayed up until Emanuele Sella (CSF Group Navigare) hit the slopes. The winner of the last two days managed to get past Rujano's time, with a 20'36. At that point, the favourites started to tackle the only downhill part of the day - the two-metre long start ramp.
Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) was the first, at 16:13, while further up Swedish TT champion Gustav Erik Larsson (Team CSC) struggled to the finish, completely burying himself. He did manage a good ride, though, with a 42'44. Sella came to the finish with a new best time, 40'32 and three quarters of a minute faster than Rujano.
One favourite after the other left the ramp, with Alberto Contador Velasco (Astana) the last at 16:31 in his pink jersey with matching helmet. Sella's intermediate time stood, as neither Pellizotti (20'58), Gilberto Simoni (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni) (20'54), Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval - Scott) (20'53) nor Contador (20'48) could dislodge the Italian. Would he make it three in a row?
Further up, on the gravel section, was where the real differences were made. And Pellizotti made a difference by beating Sella's time by six seconds to become the new leader. Simoni finished strongly, but with a 40'43, he could not get past his compatriots. Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Silence - Lotto) and Denis Menchov (Rabobank), all riders visible this past weekend, put in decent rides to finish in the top 11.
Danilo Di Luca was the surprise of the day, as he was visibly struggling on the gravel section. Already behind at the check (21'26 and eighth place), his eventual time was 42'11 (ninth). Riccò looked powerful - at times too powerful - as his back wheel spun a couple of times. He came in at 40'56, while Contador also looked to be having a hard day. But the Spaniard held on to fourth, eight seconds faster than Riccò, which added to his overall lead.
After the race all riders got down the mountain the same way the skiers, who were still out today, came up - in a gondola. Pellizotti's winning ride put the time cut at around 51 minutes, which put Raivis Belohvosciks, Mathew Hayman, Paolo Bossoni, Christopher Sutton, Lander Aperribay and Thomas Fothen out of the race.