Tour de France Champion rules Italy – Pinotti takes final day's time trial
Spaniard Alberto Contador, 2007 Tour de France champion, has become the first foreigner to win the Giro d'Italia in 12 years. The 25 year-old of Team Astana was able to hold the gaps he gained in the Urbino time trial nearly two weeks prior over the Dolomites and Alps to close out the Italian three-week race, nearly 90 hours of racing, with 1'57" over Italian Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott) and 2'54" over Italian Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre).
"I am glad that I left my vacation to come here," Contador said with a grin while dressed in pink. "It was a Giro that many could have won and it is at the same level as the Tour de France, maybe at a higher lever."
Team High Road ruled the final day's 28.5-kilometre time trial, placing two of its men in the top spots. Italian Time Trial Champion Marco Pinotti maintained the best time of the day – 32'45" – after knocking out his team-mate, Germany's Tony Martin, by seven seconds. Third for the day went to Russia's Mikhail Ignatiev (Tinkoff Credit Systems) at ten seconds.
"I did not think that Contador was going to be the winner, I thought that he was just coming off of a vacation," Giro Director Angelo Zomegnan stated of the team that was given its invitation just over a week before the race started. He joked, "I want to say sorry to his girlfriend for ruining their vacation. He has all of July for a vacation."
Contador, winner of this year's Castilla y Leon and País Vasco, nearly lost his chances to win the maglia rosa with his crash in stage eight to Tivoli, but he put in his bid for the overall win with his ride to Urbino. That day's time trial saw him take 1'56" on Riccò and 2'03" over Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes). He showed impressive grit throughout the Dolomites defence and bravery in the pre-Alps when under the attack of rivals Di Luca and Riccò. He woke up yesterday morning, holding a slim lead and the impressive Passo del Mortirolo on the horizon. However, he kept on the wheel of Riccò, while Di Luca slipped out of contention.
Contador faced a run into the fashion capital with only four seconds separating himself from Riccò, but it proved to be nothing. He raised that gap by 1'53" at the finish line on Corso Venezia, finishing the stage in 11th at 39 seconds back from Pinotti. Riccò, who lost 55" and 1'26" to Contador at the intermediate time checks, finished 2'32" back in the timed test.
"I am going on a vacation because I am dead, then I will see if I do the Tour de France," Riccò, looking demoralised, stated. "I am going in Sardegna for 15 days to recover and rest."
Of his various verbal wars waged in this Giro, he added, "To be here so close in the Giro, a character like mine is impulsive. To be there so close, with 15 seconds, it was like that."
Martin was one of the early rider to benefit from the lack of wind. He posted the early best time of the Giro's last day, 32'52". High Road double-barrel blasted down Milano's Corso Venezia thanks to the time of 32 year-old Pinotti. The two-time national time trial champion, who finished third to Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso the Giro's 2006 time trial to Pontedera, quick checks throughout the day: 13'09 at the 10.9-kilometre check and 23'10" at the 19.7-kilometre check. Pinotti and Martin had tied at that second check, with only Ignatiev going better by two seconds; however, il ingegnere used his experience to gain 12 seconds on Ignatiev over the final 8.8 kilometres
"I started this Giro thinking about the overall, but then I changed and started to focus on the last TT," revealed Pinotti. I gave everything, everything I have saved in the last ten days." He added, "When I went on Corso Buenos Aires, I was so excited with two lines of people. It was unbelievable."
Bruseghin rode impressively to save his third-place podium spot over friend and rival Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas). It was the clash of time trial winners as Pellizotti – winner of Plan de Corones – posted quick times that were threatening the winner of the Urbino race against the clock. Bruseghin started the day with a five-second buffer and, after an impressive 34'15" time by Pellizotti, was only two seconds from falling off the podium. An impressive Giro d'Italia for Bruseghin, whose best performance before this year was an eighth place in 2007.
Bruseghin did not even bet himself keeping the podium spot. "Not even my mom did," he added. "I would not have believed in the podium at the beginning of the Giro, and especially this Giro."
Russian Denis Menchov (Rabobank) gained a spot thanks to his ride of 34'14" and moved to fifth. He leap-frogged mountain classification winner Emanuele Sella (CSF Group Navigare) with time checks of 13'56" and 24'04". Belglian's Jurgen Van den Broeck (Silence-Lotto) moved up a spot to seventh, over 2007 Giro d'Italia winner Di Luca. "I have done well, I tried up to the end," Di Luca declared of his three-week performance.
Italians Domenico Pozzovivo (CSF Group Navigare) and Gilberto Simoni (Diquigiovanni) rounded out the classification top ten, in ninth and tenth respectively.
How it unfolded
The final stage saw the riders go from Cesano Maderno, near Seveso, going south straight into Milano.
At 14:00 numero nero, Markus Eichler, set off under skies that couldn't decide between sunny and overcast. But it was certainly dry and the time trial was all downhill, going from 209 to 119 metres of altitude.
The first rider to set a best time that lasted a bit was Mikhail Ignatiev (Tinkoff Credit Systems), with a 32'55. That was no surprise as he was the second rider starting and is not an unknown in the race against the clock. He won the time trial in the Regio Tour last year.
He even stayed ahead of world pursuit champion Bradley Wiggins, who inched closer to the Russian at the 10.9 and 19.7 kilometre time checks, but eventually fell three seconds short.
Tony Martin was behind on those checks as well, between Ignatiev and Wiggins, but at the finish, he was ahead with a 32'52. It wasn't until his High Road team-mate, Italian time trial champion Marco Pinotti, came through that the young German dropped back.
Paolo Bettini crossed the line with his arms raised to a huge cheer from the crowd. Not that his 35'11 was anything to write home about, but he was happy that this tough Giro is over. Plus, his wife was watching at the finish line!
Finally it was time for the favourites to hit the road. There were several races within the race for the overall standings. Contador, Riccò and strong time trialer Bruseghin were fighting for the overall. Pellizotti was hoping to gain five seconds over Bruseghin and jump onto the podium. Menchov wanted to get those 12 seconds over Sella to move into fifth. And Van den Broeck was hoping to dislodge Di Luca from seventh by gaining eight seconds.
Things already became clearer on the first time checks. Contador was ahead of Riccò (55 seconds), Bruseghin (33 seconds), Pellizotti (28 seconds). That meant Pellizotti and Bruseghin were tied. Menchov was 41 seconds ahead of Sella and Van den Broeck had gained 24 seconds over Di Luca.
At the second check Contador was clobbering Riccò, who trailed 1'26 behind. Bruseghin was at 41 seconds, still trailing Pellizotti by five seconds. Menchov and Van den Broeck continued their quest to move up in the overall with advantages over their respective rivals; Sella (51 seconds) and Di Luca (32 seconds).
At the finish Contador crossed the line with his hands up, already celebrating his victory. Pellizotti anxiously awaited the arrival of Bruseghin, but missed the podium by two seconds. Menchov moved up to fifth and Van den Broeck to seventh.