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A look at the school, the races and the future of this unique 'sport'
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Stage 11 - Wednesday, May 20: Torino - Arenzano (Genova), 214km
Mark Cavendish (Team Columbia - Highroad) celebrates his stage win in Arenzano.
This time he's done it for real. No stage neutralisation, no half-hearted sprinting, no worries.
A perfect sprinters' stage, a perfect sprinter's lead-out, a perfect sprint - at least for one man and his team.
In the final six-hundred metres of Wednesday's hot and sticky finish in Arenzano, stage seven winner Edvald Boasson Hagen couldn't have delivered his equally precocious teammate a better lead-out, and when the current world-best sprinter took over, pressing his hands hard into the handlebar drops and simultaneously engaging his stubby, tree-trunk-thick muscled thighs, Mark Cavendish left no one guessing who would win.
"I got a good position by my team at the start [of the Turchino Pass, the day's final climb]. There were guys going backwards but it was okay; it's amazing how deep you can go when you can smell the finish...Actually, to be honest, I didn't need to go deeper - I was floating," said Cavendish, whose form is even surprising himself.
Surely, this victory - his third including the opening team time trial - must be the sweetest of the Giro?
"I was happy when I won on Sunday [in Milan]..I guess two's better than one," Cavendish said in typically deadpan response.
Not all was as happy as this year's Milano-Sanremo champion and his Team Columbia-Highroad squad, who were jumping with joy after their fifth trick of the Centenary Giro.
Third-placed Alessandro Petacchi of LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini claimed certain riders were not following "the correct code of sprinting ethics" - possibly referring to his run being impeded by certain members of Tyler Farrar's Garmin-Slipstream team (though not naming any names), the American finishing one spot ahead of the dual stage winner from La Spezia.
"There was some argy-bargy in the sprint, but that is how it goes sometimes," Farrar told Cyclingnews.
"Frustrating, Mark [Cavendish] just flat-out beat me today. No way around it, he was the fastest guy. The guys took care of me over the climb and did all they could. It was hard with guys attacking in the last kilometres. We tried to hold it [together] to a lot later," Farrar said of their teams' slight tweak in tactics, which didn't quite work.
When Cyclingnews got a chance to ask Cavendish about what may or may not have happened, he didn't want a bar of it.
"It happened behind me. It happened behind me so I don't know. It happened behind me," he said in a frustrated tone.
Farrar's getting close - does ‘Cav' feel he'll soon be challenged by the American?
"He's an incredibly nice guy, Tyler [Farrar], so it's a shame to say he's not a super, super good sprinter. But he's got to give it a go."
What utter confidence this man has right now.
Less talk, more action: Let's get it on!
We've been talking about it for days.
Tomorrow, it'll be on: 60.6 kilometres of suffering against the clock in the scenic surrounds of Cinque Terre, equating to more than one and a half hours' time trialing and packed with two climbs, over 1,100 metres' elevation and a pair of dare-devil descents.
The big question is what the classifica generale will look like after Stage 12.
"It will be myself, Rogers and Menchov within a few seconds," said the maglia rosa of Danilo Di Luca, who made a point of informing the press that he's worn the hot pink tunic for more days than any current rider.
"If I lose 40 seconds to [Denis] Menchov, that would be great. I will use the normal [road] bike and time trial bar extensions."
So, if Di Luca keeps the maglia rosa after Thursday's stage, is 75 percent of his second Giro victory in the bag?
"It could be, but there are four very difficult stages after, and a crisis one day is always possible - it can happen to anyone. But maybe after Blockhaus [stage 17] or Vesuvius [stage 19] I can say I've won the Giro with some certainty," he said.
A move to the Mediterranean
A brief transfer from Wednesday's finish in Pinerolo found the 188 remaining riders gathered in Turin's Piazza Castello for the eleventh stage of the Centenary Giro.
Chris Horner was the significant omission - particularly in terms of Levi Leipheimer's chances of donning the final maglia rosa; the Astana "warrior" as Johan Bruyneel affectionately calls him injuring his knee after crashing on a descent the previous stage, and tearing a muscle in the back of his knee.
The host city of the 2006 Winter Olympics it may have been, but on this sun-soaked late morning in far-eastern Italy, there was not a speck of frost to be found in this city located on the left bank of the Po River, which also happens to be the headquarters of Italian car maker Fiat. As per usual, and quite sensibly mind you, Lance Armstrong chose the confines of the Astana bus until just before the départ réel, as it's known in France.
214 kilometres was no walk in the park - but compared to the previous day that knocked the stuffing out of a more than one general classification rider, Wednesday's leg to the outskirts of Genova was relatively mild on paper.
The bumpy flatlands saw a multicultural escape form 65 kilometres into the race, Spain's Gustavo Cesar Veloso (Xacobeo Galicia), Australian Cameron Meyer (Garmin-Slipstream), Ukrainian Dmytro Grabovskyy (ISD) and local lad Alessandro Donati (Acqua & Sapone) the four that got away. Though unlike previous breakaways in this Giro, the quartet failed to make inroads, their day coming to a close shortly after the 100km mark.
A handful of clicks later and not too long after Levi Leipheimer's uneventful spill that only cost him a few abrasions (though his evening shower will certainly sting), Cesar Veloso's teammate Vladimir Isaichev of Xacobeo Galicia was the next to try his luck. Being fifth from the wooden spoon on general classification, almost two hours' down on Di Luca, the young pro was free to ride solo for the time being, quickly amassing a six-minute-plus lead 90 kilometres from the finish.
Isaichev's advantage topped out around 20 kilometres later with a 7:30 buffer. But with so few sprinters' stages on offer, teams with one or two such riders - Garmin-Slipstream, Milram, LPR Brakes and Quick Step those doing the work - came to the fore and initiated the inevitable chase-down.
Lampre's Marco Marzano shot out of the chase pack 45 kilometres out, quickly catching and passing Isaichev, the Russian dead as the bugs on the windscreen of the Cyclingnews car at the Giro, who continue to discover it's not healthy to meet a glass windshield at 140 km/h.
Twenty kilometres later, Marzano was gone, too, as Astana controlled the intact peloton on the Passo del Turchino, the summit of the day's only climb coming after 194.3 kilometres.
With such high-speed pace-setting by this team shrouded in mystery and led on the descent by Armstrong, the man of mystery himself, how could anyone escape until the finish?