Forza Franco! Big win for Pellizotti in Peschici

Giro d'Italia breakthrough for Liquigas-Bianchi

Franco Pellizotti's nickname is "il Delfino di Bibbione" (the Dolphin of Bibbione), named after his hometown of Bibbione near Venice and today, the slim blond curly-top dolphin-boy had to swim all the way to the southernmost point of the Giro d'Italia to win his first stage at the Giro, a race he has always ridden well in. The 28 year old six year pro, took his 8th career win in the picturesque hill town at the tip of the hilly Gargano Peninsula. Pellizotti has been close before at the Giro, with several top three stage finishes, but today's win was his biggest victory ever.

Pellizotti always rides well at the Giro d'Italia, with 11th in '04, 9th in '03 and 16th in '02, but the likeable rider from the Veneto may be on the way to his best ever Giro finish. Today, fast Franco moved up 19 places on GC, gaining back 3'43 on Maglia Rosa Basso to ride into fourth overall. With Liquigas-Bianchi leader Danilo Di Luca inconsistent so far at this year's Giro, Pellizotti could be another interesting card to play for the celeste team if Killer Di Luca doesn't have the legs.

Post-stage, a delighted Pellizotti said, "I thought we could go to the finish when the break had 6 or 7 minutes lead. I felt great today and was going for the win. My teammate Charly Wegelius did an exceptional job working for me and Di Luca (who won his first Giro stage in Peschici in 2000) explained the finish and even told me what gear to use." Pellizotti continued, saying "Yes, I really wanted to win today; that was our strategy. And now that I've moved up on GC, it's even better for our team to have two riders in contention than just one."

Maglia rosa Ivan Basso had another day in the pink today and the calm, focused CSC rider said in Peschici, "It was another hard stage today; we didn't realize just how hard it would be because my team had to cover a lot of attacks in the first 90 minutes. Once the right break went, my team was in control until Lampre took over in the finale." When asked about his goals for Thursday's TT, Basso said " I want to ride well in the time trial and then let's see what happens in the second half of the Giro." Ever the gentleman, Basso wasn't worried about Pellizotti's great leap forward on GC, saying, "congratulations to Franco; he's an amico and I'm happy he won."

With a congested voice from his allergies, Discovery Channel's defending Giro champ Paolo Savoldelli spoke of Stage 10, saying, "CSC had to do a lot of work at first then the break went which was good. I'm still suffering from allergies; I felt bad in first part of the stage, but better at the end. Maybe the air was different in Peschici."

When queried about Thursday's crono, Savoldelli said, "It's a course for (TT) specialists; riders with power and strength. Sure, I'll go all out to gain time on the climbers, but Basso is good and will probably gain time on me."

Although he was disappointed not to be in the hunt for a repeat stage win today in Peschici, and certainly about his general performance at this year's Giro, Liquigas-Bianchi team leader Danilo Di Luca seemed happy his teammate won today. "Now that (Liquigas-Bianchi) has won a stage, we can be more relaxed. I'm not worried about the TT; Basso and Savoldelli are strong but I've done a lot of work on my time trialing and I know I can take time from Cunego and Simoni."

Most disappointed of all the riders today in Peschici was Phonak's Axel Merckx. Eddy's figlio d'arte (Italian for chip off the old block) made it into the big break of the day and he made a superb solo attack with 15km to go on the final descent into Peschici. With 1km to go, Merckx still had a 0'10 gap and it looked like he might make it to the finish for the win, but he was caught on the final ramp with just 150m to go and ended up 11th.

Choked up by emotion and effort, Merckx said after the stage, "well, that's sport, that's cycling. I tried to play my cards and made a good attack on the descent...its too bad they caught me with 150m to go. This season I've had lots of bad luck; I got the flu at Paris-Nice, then I crashed two days before Liege, which was a big goal for me. I tried to win today, but missed it by just a little...let's see how it goes for the rest of the Giro."

How it unfolded

The 10th stage of the Giro, and the last one before the second rest day, began in sunny, warm conditions on the Italian east coast in Termoli. 187 riders signed on for the 187 kilometre stage, as there have been relatively few abandons in the Giro so far.

It was another fast start on the flat terrain, with 49 km covered in the first hour thanks to the usual attacks. After 25 km, a break of 21 riders got away, including Robbie McEwen (Davitamon), Francisco Perez (Caisse d'Epargne), and Sven Krauss (Gerolsteiner) but 20 km later, the break was cancelled by the fast moving peloton, led by Team CSC. Five kilometres later, the counter attacking started that eventually saw the winning break get clear.

After 52 km, 16 riders had a gap over the bunch: Benoît Joachim (Discovery), Sylvain Calzati and Hubert Dupont (AG2R Prevoyance), Jose Luis Carrasco Gamiz, Francisco Perez and Joan Horrach Rippoll (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), Sergiy Matveyev (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare), Benoît Poilvet (Credit Agricole), Serguei Yakovlev (Liberty Seguros-Würth Team), Axel Merckx (Phonak Hearing Systems), Theo Eltink and Alexandr Kolobnev (Rabobank), Angel Gomez Gomez (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Jose Serpa (Selle Italia-Serramenti Diquigiovanni), Giovanni Lombardi (CSC) and Alessandro Vanotti (Team Milram).

Behind them Franco Pellizotti and Charly Wegelius (Liquigas) tried to bridge on the first climb, as did Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) and Marco Pinotti (Saunier Duval-Prodir). They eventually made it up to the break after 75 km, then Sven Krauss (Gerolsteiner) joined them a few kilometres later, making it 21 up front. At the bottom of the descent at the halfway point of the stage, the group had 3'45 over the peloton. Meanwhile, Bradley McGee (Française de Jeux) and Dariusz Baranowski (Liberty Seguros-Würth Team) both retired from the race.

At the 110 Gazzetta sprint Manfredonia, Pinotti beat Kolobnev and Poilvet to take the points, while the bunch had dropped back to 5'52. This meant that Franco Pellizotti was the virtual leader, as he had started the day only 5'48 behind Basso on GC. But as the break headed up the main climb of the day, the 830m Monte S. Angelo with 50 km to go, a chase began behind with Lampre-Fondital taking charge of the situation. At the top, Calzati took the points ahead of Horrach and Pinotti, and the bunch was 3'30 back as the Lampre men led it over.

The break lost a few riders, including Sergiy Matveyev (Ceramica) and Angel Gomez (Saunier Duval-Prodir), but with a mostly downhill run into the finish at Peschici, the leaders stepped on the gas. Over the sparsely inhabited Gargano Peninsula, the 19 leaders kept their three minute advantage, as Lampre didn't have the firepower to pull them back for a possible Cunego win. Under 35 km to go, with attacks starting up front led by Calzati, the gap was 3'10. It fell to 2'50 with 15 km to go, but that was as close as the peloton came.

Through the windy, forested roads, there was a crash in the peloton with Panaria's Perez Cuapio and Luis Felipe Laverde Jimenez, as well as Cofidis' Leonardo Duque. The latter managed to chase back on, while the orange boys finished well down in the stage. Up front, Joachim was being aggressive, trying to break the Caisse d'Epargne deadlock, as they had four riders in the break. But instead it was Axel Merckx who made a bid for victory under 15 km to go, as the descent towards Peschici started.

Merckx used his excellent descending skills to open up 10 seconds on the chase group of 18, where Charly Wegelius was riding hard for his captain Pellizotti, not only for a possible stage win, but to move Franco up the general classification. Still, Merckx persisted and kept his advantage to 10-12 seconds all the way to the final few kilometres. But then it became tougher, as the last 1.3 km of the stage was all uphill. Caisse d'Epargne had taken over the chase and narrowed the gap to seven seconds with 1 km to go, and it wasn't enough.

Merckx emptied the tank, but was caught at 150m to go once Pellizotti wound up his sprint. Efimkin took a distant second, with Yakovlev third, and the rest of the break trickling in. Back in the peloton, Patxi Vila had crashed on the previous descent, which knocked the wind out of the chase for a while. Lampre continued to lead it to the finish, where Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step) grabbed 20th place, 3'23 behind, and all the favourites did not lose any time to each other. Except for Pellizotti.

Tuesday evening air transfer: Pescara-Pisa

Wednesday, May 17: Rest Day

Thursday, May 18 - Stage 11: Pontedera-Pontedera ITT, 50km

A flat, fast individual time test in the birthplace of the Vespa scooter, a time test that is dedicated to the memory of Italian cycling legend Gino Bartali who is from nearby Firenze. Stage 11 heads west through wide open nurseries and farmlands to then traverse the twisty roads in the centre of Pisa, then heads east with a likely tailwind back to Pontedera for the finish. Basso must show his power here to take major time from his rivals, while Cunego, DiLuca and especially Simoni must try to lose as little time as possible. Jan Ullrich and his T-Mobile teammates, World Champ Mick Rogers and Serguei Gonchar will try to test his legs in this Thursday time trial.

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