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Stage 9 - Sunday, May 17: Milano Show 100, 165km
Lance Armstrong takes stock late in the stage.
It wasn't the race we were hoping for, if you can call Sunday's neutralised ninth stage a race, but it did produce a winner.
The unanimous decision by the peloton to neutralise the stage in downtown Milano, claiming it to be an overly dangerous course, left more than a few tifosi disappointed, who, had they had known earlier, would have probably gone for a training ride themselves.
Only the final 11.4-kilometre bell lap was really done at race pace, as the Garmin-Slipstream, Team Columbia-Highroad and LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini teams fought for their place up front, the Centenary Giro's first maglia rosa Mark Cavendish finally getting the stage win he's long been searching for - his team's third successive victory and fourth of the race.
In a straight line, Quick Step's Allan Davis can't quite match the 23-year-old from the Isle of Man - then again, very few can - who claimed yet another podium place ahead of Garmin's Tyler Farrar. Australia's Matthew Goss (Team Saxo Bank) and double stage winner Alessandro Petacchi (LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini) rounded out the top five.
Does this mean this year's winner of Milano-Sanremo has found a way of beating Petacchi?
"I don't really understand the question because he's beaten me once," Cavendish told Cyclingnews. "I think today was putting right what I messed up the last week.
"There were stages I wanted to win [in the first week]. I had to make amends, I had to make it right [today]," Cavendish said, who apparently was the only big-name sprinter who wanted to race before the stage was neutralised, as some will question the veracity of his victory Sunday.
"Obviously, I love to win. It's an addiction. I'm usually set up in the best position to win. I launched my sprint early and launched full gas."
Did he consider the conditions so dangerous, the stage necessitated neutralisation?
"I don't think it matters in the end what I thought," Cavendish said.
"It's always a bit dangerous in the middle of big cities. Hopefully, we gave [the crowd] a big show," continued Cavendish. "It's a beautiful stage, a special stage. I think in the end, it worked out right; the time was neutralised, and everybody that did want to race got to race, and the people that didn't want to race didn't race."
Added maglia rosa Danilo Di Luca, "As always, it's difficult for cyclists to have one voice. It's almost impossible to do something, and it seems in the end, we're all wrong and it's not good for cycling. We take a decision in the moment; it's not easy to find a solution [that satisfies everyone]."
By Tuesday, a peloton well rested
What happened Sunday has effectively awarded our 190 remaining riders two consecutive days of rest before Tuesday's much-anticipated 262-kilometre tenth leg from Cuneo to Pinerolo - not quite the stage it might have been the way organisers had originally planned it, but it should be a cracker nonetheless.
That our big hitters on GC will have more than recuperated probably won't change things too much. As Di Luca told Cyclingnews previously, the summit of the climb to Sestrière is too far from the finish to attack, some 60 kilometres from the line; perhaps the short pinch to Pra' Martino, the final categorised climb of the day and its GPM 10.5 kilometres from Pinerolo, provides a better springboard.
But realistically, the real time differences - and most likely, a reordering of the leader board - won't come until Thursday's 60.6-kilometre individual time trial around Cinque Terre.
Just how much time would the maglia rosa be prepared to lose to specialists like Michael Rogers (Team Columbia-Highroad), Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Levi Leipheimer (Astana)?
"Two minutes, that would be good," Di Luca told Cyclingnews, "because it's a difficult time trial. If it was a flat time trial, five minutes."
Not your usual stage start
Gathering in Milano's famous Piazza Duomo, normally packed with a cacophony of tourists, business men and women, pigeons, hawkers and fashionistas during the working week, our Giro peloton rolled out to the official starting point in Piazza Castello for what was expected to be 165 kilometres of fast and furious circuit racing.
But that didn't happen.
Apparently, the peloton's main men - most likely a combination of Armstrong (who emailed race director Angelo Zomegnan a few days prior, saying he was concerned about the nature of yesterday's finish to Bergamo and the Milano circuit race), Di Luca, Basso, Garzelli, Cioni and Simoni - decided the circuit was too dangerous to be raced at full speed and risk crashing.
Forced to submit to the riders' demands, Zomegnan conceded the stage would be neutralised, meaning there would be no stage times, points or bonuses, and after a few hours' of sub-30 km/h racing that did no-one any good, the peloton slowed to a stop on the finish line of the Corso Venezia.
What the ...?
Di Luca got on the microphone, explained to the crowd why they did what they did, apologised, and thanked the tifosi for coming out in their Sunday best. With that done, information came through race radio that there were six laps, or 68.4 kilometres left to race.
"We did one lap, and saw it was too dangerous. The sprinters said we don't want to risk the sprint," said Di Luca, "so we stopped on the finish line, I spoke to the public, and explained why we didn't want to race.
"Maybe what happened yesterday to [Pedro] Horrillo had an influence on our decision. We wanted Rabobank to cross the line first, but someone didn't respect what we said and started increasing the pace."
The Giro route was announced in mid-December last year - and it took until today to decide the circuit wasn't race-worthy?
Sprinting idol Mario Cipollini was one of those disappointed fans on the sidelines, saying it was disrespectful and wasn't what cycling needs right now. Said Zomegnan, "I don't agree with the riders on this decision. If this circuit is dangerous, then races like Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège should be cancelled."
"It's not very smart for Cipollini to complain," Di Luca responded, "because he was the first to complain if the stage began with a climb - maybe he's forgotten what it's like to be a rider."