Italy's Franco Pellizotti, the Giro d'Italia's race leader for four days, has what could be his one chance to prove himself as a captain this year. As Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown found out, the 30 year-old, who rode for 2007 champion Danilo Di Luca and will have one Ivan Basso as team-mate next year, sees 2008 as his year to shine.
Franco Pellizotti has twice finished in the top ten of the Giro d'Italia. He finished ninth while riding in service of Danilo Di Luca last year, and was the team's highest finisher in eighth and took home a stage win in 2006 while Di Luca struggled in the mountains and was never in contention. This year, his four days in the pink jersey whetted his appetite to take home the final maglia rosa in Milano. However, he thinks that the last minute inclusion of the Astana team could make it difficult, not just for him but for any Italian to achieve an overall victory.
"The team's arrival really changed the outlook of the race," Pellizotti said of Astana, which was given a last minute invitation by RCS Sport, the organisers of the Giro d'Italia. "Without the team, it would be the Italians who would be battling it out over all the big stages. Even if they were called at the last moment they are prepared; I know Contador said that he came in unprepared, but he has been improving well in the last days."
The stage ten time trial showed just how prepared the Kazakh-backed team was, and at the end of the day their trio of leaders had all placed inside the top ten on the stage, and all had moved ahead of Pellizotti. Despite putting in a solid performance to finish 18th, 2'09" behind stage winner Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre), the situation put his team in a difficult tactical situation.
"Astana, they are in there and are able to play the cards with Leipheimer, Contador and Klöden. They are all riders who have experience and can do some damage," the blonde rider from Bibione commented.
Pellizotti expects Saturday's first true mountain stage to Alpe di Pampeago to make a difference. "It is the first true stage and I will have to feel out the force that is in the legs.
We have still yet to ride the big mountain stages, 'un tappone.' Someone will want to attack to make a difference, for sure. Surely it will be Di Luca who will want to try; he has been distanced in the classification, so it makes sense."
In addition to Di Luca, he added that the teams of Astana and Saunier Duval-Scott would be forcing the pace. "Watch out for the Saunier duo of Riccò and Piepoli," he warned. Riccò "has gone strong in this first week and then demonstrated today that he can ride a time trial. So, if his condition holds then he will be the one who could do some damage."
Pellizotti was also impressed with Russian Denis Menchov of Team Rabobank. "Menchov, we can never count him out," he said of the 2007 Vuelta a España winner. "He has been there. He did a great crono.
"It will be hard for the Italians to win this Giro, but we can look at this Giro as one of the most beautiful in the last years, with more champions at the start of the race – more riders that want to take home the maglia rosa."
Find out more about Franco Pellizotti.
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