CSC's Zabriskie exceptional in TT stage win in Firenze

Di Luca keeps maglia rosa, Basso now just nine seconds behind

No one was expecting Dave Zabriskie (CSC) to win today's difficult Giro d'Italia Stage 8 time trial from Lamporecchio to Firenze. Stage 8 was a difficult test across the heart of Tuscany that Zabriskie's CSC teammate Andrea Peron said "...was a very hard stage. Today was like a time trial in the Tour De France with the climb at the beginning and the then a flat finish where you have to go all out." US National TT champ Zabriskie showed his tremendous talent as a tester today and followed CSC's Bjarne Riis' plan. Riis had Dave Z ride all-out to put pressure on the other riders and give his team leader Ivan Basso fast time splits to ride against.

26 year-old Zabriskie, in his first year at CSC, is from Salt Lake City originally and lives in Berkeley, CA, has ridden fast TT's in Italy before with a win in a stage in the Giro delle Regione as an espoir rider. A pro rider since 1999, Dave Z spent four years with US Postal service. In 2003, he had a bad training crash, breaking his leg when a car ran into him. But 2004 was a big comeback year for Zabriskie, with a US national TT championship and a long solo break that brought him a Vuelta stage win. Since joining CSC, Zabriskie's done three training camps in the Tuscany and knows the roads of Stage 8 very well. "I've probably see the entire course in training except that final straightaway (into Firenze). I stayed steady over the climb and punched it over the top. I knew most of the descent and didn't take too many risks in the corners."

Cyclingnews spoke to Zabriskie and asked him his objective in today's time trial stage and he explained, "I wanted to go really fast and I could give Ivan (Basso) my split times. (Bjarne Riis and CSC d.s. Alain Gallopin) told me to go for it, so I did."

Until he busted out today in Firenze, Dave Z has been pretty quiet in the Giro d'Italia, but that will probably change. "So far, the Giro has been a little laid back for me", explained Zabriskie, "But it's been stressful for Ivan (Basso) and other guys because they've been trying to keep Ivan out of trouble in the finishes. But from now on, I think the Giro is going to get a lot harder. Everybody is going to have to more work for Ivan. There will be less stress in the peloton and it's just going to be a different race now."

After a bad day on the final climb yesterday where he lost time, Ivan Basso (CSC) turned the tables on Damiano Cunego and Gilberto Simoni of Lampre-Caffita. At the end of Stage 8, Cunego had lost 2'07 and Simoni 2'35 to Basso with somewhat disappointing performances from both riders. Sunday, Basso had a much better day at the Giro d'Italia. The CSC man has ridden Stage 8's course over 20 times in training this season, as his team boss Riis wanted to make sure Basso had the maximum confidence and preparation going in to today's crucial Giro stage. Riding a new Cervelo P3 carbon fibre TT bike with O-Symetric chainrings, climbing specialist Basso rode the best time test of his career to finish 2nd, 0'17 behind his teammate Zabriskie.

"I'm happy with my performance today," said Basso. "But after losing some time yesterday, I'm not going to jump for joy. The Giro still has two weeks to go, the mountains are still to come. I'm a climber, not a time trialist and that's where I can make a difference. I've worked well with Riis to prepare this Giro and I'm looking forward to the mountains."

Basso may be a time trialist in climber's clothing, as he took 0'27 from Savoldelli, 0'36 from Gonchar, 1'39 from Garzelli and Cioni and 2'30 from Scarponi in today's test, and moved into second on GC, just 0'09 behind maglia rosa Danilo Di Luca.

Discovery Channel's Paolo Savoldelli was third today and moved into third on GC, but il Falco di Bergamo wasn't that pleased with his performance. "Before the start today, we tested the radio and it was OK, but after a couple of kilometres, all I could hear was noise so I took the earpiece out because it was bugging me. I rode the race without any time checks, just on how I felt. I had no idea how I was going relative to the other riders and unfortunately that's not the best way to (ride a time trial)." Despite his mechanical problems, Savoldelli had an excellent TT, finishing third and riding into third place overall, 0'35 behind maglia rosa Di Luca and 0'26 behind Basso. Perhaps more importantly for the Discovery rider's GC chances in this year's Giro, Savoldelli gained time on all his rivals, including 0'50 on 2004 Giro winner Cunego, 1'10 on Garzelli and 1'36 on danger man Simoni.

After his fall in yesterday's finale, Liquigas-Bianchi's Garzelli battled back today to a respectable 11th place. His start was slow, but the former Giro winner pushed it hard up Monte Albano and got a good rhythm over the last half of the TT. "I felt good today, even if my (right thigh) hurt when I got out of the saddle," he said. "This Giro has started hard, but there are still 13 more stages and two entire weeks to go."

But what is team leader Liquigas-Bianchi's Garzelli to make of the ongoing charge of maglia rosa Danilo Di Luca? The ProTour leader is in superb form and no one knows how long he can keep the pink tunic of Giro supremacy. Di Luca was 10th today, putting time into all of his rivals except Basso and Savoldelli and may be in the process of hijacking the team leadership from Garzelli. "I thought I could do well today because I am in exceptional shape", said an ever more confident Di Luca. "I did a really good time trial at (Tour of Basque Country) and today you saw the real Di Luca in this time trial. Basso was really strong today and got back what he lost yesterday and before that."

The question now is when will Di Luca give up the maglia rosa. Clearly one of the strongest riders in this year's Giro, the ambitious ProTour leader may not wait for the 2006 Giro to go for the overall win if his teammate Garzelli isn't able to win the 88th Giro d'Italia. It will be for the strada to decide, starting with next Thursday's 150km Stage 11 from Marostica to Zoldo Alto (Dolomiti Stars).

How it unfolded

On a windy spring Sunday afternoon, Zabriskie had the best time at all the intermediate splits and blasted home with a unexpectedly excellent time of 58'31 (average speed 46.140 km/h). Two hours later, Fassa Bortolo's Marzio Bruseghin came through the first time check after 8.4km in Vinci 4 seconds ahead of Zabriskie for the new fast time of 11'07, while chrono clomper Gonchar (Domina Vacanze) had equalled the American's time of 11'11. Basso's fast start was paying off as the CSC man came through at 11'06 for the new fastest time. But his time only held until Discovery's Savoldelli came through two seconds faster than anyone at 11'04. Cunego was behind the Discovery rider, as was maglia rosa Di Luca.

At the second time check atop the Pinone climb on Monte Albano after 18km, Zabriskie's time of 30'07 (35.860km/hr avg.) was still holding, as Bruseghin faded and lost time to Zabriskie. Gonchar held his own and came over the top at 30'09, two seconds behind Zabriskie, but Basso blasted through in 29'59, 0'08 ahead of his teammate Zabriskie. The big challenge ahead for Basso was the descent, as the CSC man is not a great descender. Savoldelli then came over the top of Il Pinone at 30'17, 0'10 slower than Zabriskie and had lost 0'20 to Basso on the climb. Garzelli was 7th fastest at 30'38, 0'39 slower than Basso. Cunego's time was 30'53, while maglia rosa Di Luca was in at 30'25, 0'30 faster than Cunego and well ahead of Simoni.

At the third time check down the mountain at the Intergiro in Poggio a Caiano after 28.6km at the base of the descent, Zabriskie still had the fastest time of 40'56. Basso came through Poggio a Caiano at 40'56, equal to Zabriskie, losing the 0'08 he had gained on the ascent. But Discovery's Savoldelli had lived up to his nickname of il Falco and swooped down the decent, gaining 0'30 on descent on Basso to pass the Intergiro 0'08 ahead of Basso and Zabriskie. Garzelli steamed through the Intergiro in 41'25.

With a strong wind coming from his right rear quarter, Zabriskie had ridden the last 16km like a runaway express train, averaging an incredible 55km/h from Poggio a Caiano to set the fast early time of 58'31, an average speed of 46.140km/h! For the next three hours, the rest of the Giro d'Italia tried to knock Zabriskie out of the hot seat. Fassa's Bruseghin, whom Zabriskie had beaten at last year's TT Worlds by 1'00, came in at 59:19, while last year's Giro runner-up and 2000 World TT champ Gonchar rode a disappointing 59:22. Basso got closest to Dave Z with 58'48, while Savoldelli had a 59'15 and lost 0'30 to rival Basso on last part of the course. Garzelli's 1h00'27 lost him 1'40 to Basso from his slow start and on the last flat section. Lampre-Cafitta duo Simoni (1h01'23) and Cunego (1h00'55) also lost time, while with former teammate Mario Cipollini behind him providing encouragement, maglia rosa Di Luca was 10th with 1h00'06, holding on to his lead by 0'09 from CSC's Basso.

Stage 9 - May 16: Firenze-Ravenna, 140km

After Sunday's crucial chrono, the Giro gruppo heads east on a short transition stage to Italy's Adriatic coastline via the Apennine Mountains. Certainly there will be attacks on the climb to the day's only GPM on the Passo di Muraglione, but with 90 mostly downhill kilometres still to ride, sprinters' squads should suck up any fugitives before the finish in Via Di Roma in this seaside resort famous for its ancient mosaics and tasty seafood. Petacchi and his Fassa Bortolo Silver Train need to stay on the rails and the final straight kilometre ought to suit Ale-Jet, who may finally get his much needed stage win Monday.

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