By Les Clarke
It's been three long years since Paolo Savoldelli tasted Giro success, and in that time there's really been nothing to cheer about. Broken bones and illness have replaced racing and kept the Italian off the bike for most of his stint at T-Mobile, and the disappointment has grown for this 32 year old. Now at Discovery Channel and leading the Giro, the man who flies downhill may finally be finding some luck and form that go his way and not against.
Plagued by injury and illness for the last two years, 2002 Giro d'Italia winner Paolo Savoldelli has shown that those lean years are well and truly behind him as he commands this year's edition of the Giro. 'Il Falco' sits atop the general classification after stage 15, with 25 seconds to countryman Danilo Di Luca in second. With a new team, and the experience of recovering from major crashes, Savoldelli has trained hard to become a clear favourite to take overall honours in Milan this Sunday.
Savoldelli's win in 2002 came in similar circumstances to those he now finds himself in - after keeping himself close to the action during the early stages, he has proven his ability in the mountains to capture the lead after some tough climbing. In 2002 he maintained a stranglehold through the mountains and into Milan, and in 2005 he looks strong enough to repeat his feats of three years ago.
Events during those years in between are unforgettable for all the wrong reasons - spending more months than not recovering from accident or illness, especially after his training accident in 2003 while training with T-Mobile, the team he joined following his Giro win. He hit a moped head-on at speed on a descent and was left with multiple facial fractures, putting him out of action for months. This ruled him out of the Giro, so, focussing on the Tour de France became his main objective - this was shattered when he developed a serious virus and had to miss La Grand Boucle. Last year his Giro and Tour hopes were dashed, again, when he broke his wrist at the Tour of Cologne in April. Even early in 2005 he was recovering from a broken collarbone - it seems luck went missing for the youthful-looking lad from Bergamo.
It's something that still lingers in his mind, telling La Gazzetta dello Sport's Gigi Perna late last year, "When I won the Giro, I was convinced that I could be a top stage race rider but with my crash in 2003, I've wasted two of the best years of my career." At 32, time compounds any feelings of disappointment, but other aspects have helped when the going's been tough, "The experience has made me think...and the birth of my daughter Mariko has helped me too," he also said after sealing his move to Discovery Channel and becoming their leader for the Giro when Yaroslav Popovych, another Giro contender, signalled his intention to concentrate on the Tour de France.
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