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It takes two to tango

Leaderboard unchanged as CSC take charge

One of two teams with two riders in a break of eleven, Ceramica Panaria-Navigare played the numbers game to perfection today in Domodossola, showing it takes two to tango.

As Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears' Francisco Perez attacked just under the five kilometre kite, Colombian Luis Felipe Laverde quickly took the wheel of the Spaniard, smartly sitting on for a free cab ride to the finish, while team-mate Fortunato Baliani did his best to break up the chase. Then fresh as daisy, Laverde put daylight between him and his adversary - a easy-peasy sprint to earn his best-ever victory.

"It was a beautiful win today, the best of my career," affirmed Laverde. "I didn't expect it because my condition isn't one hundred percent, but I tried and got the win. We worked hard all day in the break and I knew my team-mate Baliani was working for me [when I was away with Perez].

"I knew it was important to be in the break today, but eleven riders is a lot. At ten kilometres to go, there was a lot of tension, everybody wanted to win; I saw that Perez was very smart on the climb, so when he attacked in the finale, I immediately got on his wheel."

Added Baliani: "I'm really happy for my maglia verde today, but also really happy for Laverde that he won. He deserved to win; I've raced with him for years and he's a really good rider."

Since turning professional five years ago, little-known Laverde had only the one win to his name, a stage of the Settimana Ciclistica Lombarda back in 2003. Now armed with the status of a Grand Tour win and the confidence that follows, the victory will hopefully bear more fruit for the 27 year-old from Medellin.

"My first win was at the Settimana Bergamasca was a surprise because I thought there was a break at the front and I didn't know I had won. But today I knew I was in the break and going for the win!" Laverde exclaimed, smiling.

"It's difficult to be famous in Colombia; to be famous in Colombia for cycling, you have to be world champion, but maybe after today, I will be a little bit more famous."

With his rivals seemingly demoralised and the team of the maglia rosa Ivan Basso controlling proceedings in the plotone for the entire stage, Française des Jeux's Sandy Casar - the best-placed rider in the breakaway - was really the only one to profit from their near eight-minute advantage by the day's end. Consequently, the 27 year-old Frenchman catapulted fifteen places to sixth on the classifica generale, bumping the previous sixth to tenth places down one spot.

"I'm happy with the way things are going in the Giro and I hope it continues like this," said Basso. "The day after tomorrow, the stage finishes on Monte Bondone. It's a hard climb and an important stage, and we'll have a lot of work to do. Long races you win with your head, so let's see what's going to happen. Normally, I construct my win step by step, day by day."

Asked how it feels to wear the maglia rosa in his home country, Basso said: "My first maglia rosa was filled with emotion because it was the first, but for now, only one is important - the one this Sunday in Milano."

Furthermore, Basso appears to be growing stronger by the day, and the toughest mountains are yet to come. At least his foes will have a semi-day off tomorrow, no doubt scratching their heads about what to do.

"Today, I finally felt good and I could breathe with the mountain air without pollen," said 2005 champion Paolo Savoldelli. "At the Giro, I didn't expect a Basso that was so strong; I knew he would be good in the time trials but he is very strong on the climbs. And he's more relaxed and stronger this year."

On his team-mate Tom Danielson, who has been doing an exceptional job his for team leader, pacing Savoldelli up the climbs, he said: "Tom is an exceptional athlete who can climb and time trial. He tried to get in a break today and could still go in a long break on the next stages. He has a big, big future; he's only been riding as a pro for a few years and is getting a lot of experience at this Giro."

How it unfolded

Stage 14 departed Piazza Chanoux in Aosta at 11:16am with 171 racers taking to the road - Giovanni Bernaudeau (Bouygues Telecom), Moises Aldape (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare) and Vladimir Miholjevic (Liquigas) were not among them, however. This was a transitional mountain stage that started in Aosta, climbed up the Passo Gran San Bernardo and through the tunnel before it descended to Switzerland for a final climb up Passo Sempione and fast descent back into Italy for the finish in Domodossola. There were attacks from the very beginning of the stage as the climb up to Passo Gran San Bernardo began in Aosta itself. Swiss squad Phonak heard the call of the alpenhorn and was looking to get away, especially Johan Schopp, who lives in Sierre at the 118km point of today's stage. After 13km, Gerolsteiner's Ronny Scholz had enough and abandoned

Past St.Leonard with 5km to the KOM atop Gran San Bernardo, 11 riders managed to extricate themselves under the impulsion of Johann Tschopp and Steve Zampieri (Phonak), with Francisco Perez Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), Fortunato Baliani and Luis Laverde (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare), Ivan Parra (Cofidis), Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux), Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner), Paolo Tiralongo (Lampre-Fondital), Raffaele Illiano (Selle Italia) and Iker Flores (Euskaltel-Euskadi) making it a rather strong party of escapees. At the GPM where Casar took the mountain points ahead of Balliani, the break had 50" before entering the long tunnel into Switzerland.

After one hour, and with plenty of climbing going on, the pace was a lively 28.6 km/h - as the break came out of the Swiss side of the tunnel, their lead was 2'40 on the gruppo maglia rosa. After a tough day to La Thuile yesterday, CSC wasn't interested in chasing the escape, who had extended their lead after 85km in Saxon to 6'50 as they traversed the upper Rhone River valley. After two hours of racing, the average speed had stabilized to 41 km/h due to a persistent headwind.

CSC was still riding a steady tempo on the front of the gruppo maglia rosa, with Basso looking relaxed. Andoni Aranaga (Euskaltel) abandoned after 80km, then in Ardonne after 94km, Staf Scheirlinckx (Cofidis), wearing the Maglia Verde of best climber, crashed hard into a traffic island and abandoned with a broken collarbone.

In Brigg at the foot of the Passo Sempione with 66km to go, it was Francaise des Jeux's Sandy Casar who took the 110 Gazzetta intermediate sprint and the escapees began the 20km ascent up the Sempione with a lead of 7'55". The status quo remained between the break, although Flores made a solo move halfway up the climb, but the headwind slowed him up and the message from his team car was to chill out after a few kilometres. CSC still led the gruppo maglia rosa as they ascended the Sempione, and at the KOM atop Passo Sempione, as a few raindrops began to fall among the snow capped peaks, it was Balliani who crossed first and earned enough points to take over the maglia verde.

There were now 46km to the finish in Domodossola, with 20km still in Switzerland as the 11 break riders began the long, fast and cold descent to the final flat 7km to the finish. 9'30 behind the break, the Basso's group crossed the Passo Sempione as the riders plunged down the rapid mountain road at 100km/h. As the break passed from Switzerland back to Italy, no one stopped to have their passports stamped and had managed to hold their advantage of nine minutes over the gruppo maglia rosa. With two fast finishers - Stefan Schumacher and Sandy Casar - in the break, Phonak and Panaria would certainly try something to get away using their two riders in the break.

CSC's Blaudzun, Gustov and Bobby Julich were on the front down the descent as the Ossola Valley approached with a relaxed, smiling Ivan Basso resplendent in his pink tunic. With 15km to go to the finish in Domodossola, the break's advantage had dropped to 8'30. First to attack was Parra, who was ably covered by Casar, but the headwind slowed them down. Enjoying a big lead on the main group, those in front were afforded plenty of time for tactical manoeuvres. As a short tunnel began, Parra surged once more and was countered again by Casar. Flores attacked next but it came from too far back and Zampieri covered him. Perez then made a move with 6km remaining - it was good enough to get away but Laverde managed to get across and Phonak had hit the front of the selection to try and pull back this two man move that had quickly gained eight seconds' lead.

With 4km to ride, the front duo had stretched their slim advantage to 10 seconds as Laverde had started to work. The chase couldn't get it together, however, so it seemed both Spaniard and Colombian had it wrapped up with 2km to go. Perez tried to drop Laverde on the pave' section in Domodossola, and although the chase was getting close, Laverde's Panaria teammate Balliani kept breaking up the rhythm to help his teammate. In the last 800 metres the front duo had just five seconds over the chase which prompted Perez to go long. This didn't surprise Laverde, and with a solid sprint the little Colombian took the win.

Laverde's victory in Domodossola was a second career win for the 27-year-old, with Perez securing second and Tiralongo taking the sprint for third, seven seconds behind the front duo. Sandy Casar was the day's biggest beneficiary, with the Frenchman riding into the top 10 on general classification courtesy of the break, which takes him to 6th, 8'01" behind race leader Basso. Liquigas led in the gruppo maglia rosa at 7'44 as Paolo Bettini finished 12th and held onto his maglia ciclamino of best sprinter.

Stage 15 - Monday, May 22: Mergozzo-Brescia, 182 km

This dead-flat sprinters' stage to Brescia is probably the easiest stage of the 2005 Giro and the last chance until Milano for the fast men to fire. With Petacchi and McEwen out, T-Mobile's Olaf Pollack will undoubtedly be looking for a win to secure something for his efforts so far in this year's Giro.

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