Almost there…It goes without saying that the Finestre is a brute of a climb and I guarantee that at some point one of the riders is going to come to the car and say, “I can’t do this.” It may be that it happens today, or on one of the preceding stages. It happened last year on the Stelvio, when they were right on the limits of human tolerance. Of course your inclination is to tell them to climb off and get into the team car, but that would be to do them a disservice.
Some of them are in pieces, but if they’re here it’s because they want to ride the Giro, not part of it. There’s nothing worse for a cyclist than to abandon so you have to coax them, encourage them, even bully them if necessary. You have to do anything you can to get them round, because that way they honour the Giro.
Moment in time
Has there ever been a better stage than the penultimate one of the 2005 Giro? Paolo Savoldelli’s incredible performance in salvaging the maglia rosa is arguably the highlight of 21st century road racing, a stage so good that it’s almost unthinkable we might see its like again.
The organisers had been inspired by the success of L’Eroica, a sportive held on Tuscany’s strade bianche (white roads). They therefore included the sterrata climb to Finestre, sandwiched between two ascents of Sestriere: an absolute humdinger. Going into the stage – and indeed into the Finestre – Savoldelli led double Giro winner Gilberto Simoni by 2:09, with the Venezuelan Jose Rujano at 3:00. An hour later, however, his Giro looked in grave peril. Simoni, Rujano and Danilo Di Luca had wiped out his advantage in just 15km and ‘Gibo’ was now virtual maglia rosa. With Sestriere still to come, a floundering Savoldelli was staring down the barrel. By the beginning of the climb to Sestriere he led the race by four seconds, but they were three climbers and he was one passista.
The rest was spellbinding. Simoni and Di Luca pulled for all they were worth, while Rujano sat on in the hope of pilfering the stage. Savoldelli, meanwhile, found help in extremis. Wim Van Huffel and Mauricio Ardila, neither of them team mates, each did turns on the front as the gap stabilised. Finally Di Luca cramped and Simoni ran out of steam, and Savoldelli completed a heroic rescue job.