Förster più forza on the Corsa Venezia
As a 28-year-old, handsome Italian, with a loving family, a healthy newborn son, an adoring public and now pretty in pink, Ivan Basso has a lot of reasons to be happy today.
"I'm really, really happy today. I think it was a beautiful Giro, and this is a really special moment in my career," were some of the first words from the 2006 winner of the Giro d'Italia.
As Gerolsteiner's Robert Förster outsprinted Axel Maximiliano Richeze, Olaf Pollack and a blocked-off Paolo Bettini to conclude the first of the formalities on Milano's Corso Venezia, it then became time to think about one of the last: awarding the final maglia rosa of the 89th Giro d'Italia.
But first, a comment from today's winner, who took the best win of his six-year career: "Twenty days are harder than two hundred metres!" Förster joked.
"The Giro this year was harder than the last few years. I had a few problems in the beginning with my shoulder; I crashed in the Niedersachsen [Rundfahrt] and had some problems, but each day, it got better - and the last day was the best day," he smiled.
Explaining the timing of his sprint with Ongarato's surprise attack inside the final kilometre, Förster explained: "Twelve hundred metres before the finish [team-mate] Krauss was in front, and I said to him, 'No, no, it's too early'. Then came two guys from Milram in front of us, and I said to Krauss, 'Go in behind the second Milram rider'; he [Ongarato] was fast, but Krauss managed to close the gap.
"The wind was from the front; the last sprint I did four days ago, I went too early in the headwind and I remembered this, telling myself, 'It's the wrong time to [sprint for the] win.' One hundred and eighty metres from the finish line, I knew that was the right moment to start sprinting."
"I'm sorry I couldn't win the stage today; it was hard to pass there!" Bettini exclaimed with a wry grin. "But it's a big satisfaction for me to win the ciclamino again here in Milano."
Standing on the podium, looking resplendent, Basso showed an Armstrong-like dominance throughout. From the moment he took his first maglia rosa on May 14 - leaving the entire field behind on the Maielletta, just over a week into the race - he never looked like being beaten. Not by Savoldelli, not by Simoni, Cunego, Gutierrez Cataluna... Not anyone.
His massive margin over the two other podium place-getters says a lot. Without taking anything away from 31 year-old Spaniard José Gutierrez Cataluna, nine minutes and eighteen seconds is not in the same league. And whether he likes the description or not, twelve minutes ahead of a champion like Gilberto Simoni is simply extra-ordinary, out of this world.
Said Basso of Gutierrez Cataluna's performance: "He was very good in this Giro. He made good tactics, because he didn't answer to all the attacks, but only managed his advantage [to the others]."
Speaking of what 34 year-old Simoni termed 'extra-terrestrial' qualities - very much a point of contention after yesterday's gargantuan mountain stage to Aprica - it, not surprisingly, continued to be a talking point today.
"I don't want to speak about it; it shows a lack of respect for me and my team. We showed we are great and we are the best, and I am proud of my win and proud of my Giro," said Basso at the post-race press conference.
About the spectator yelling some not-so-nice words at him, he replied: "Nobody can ruin my happiness. I'm really happy, and I know the Italian public are with me; people like me because they know I am the same on the bike and also with my family - I am real, I am not constructed, I am sincere."
Sport, as in life, creates winners and losers. Winners are grinners, losers are not. And Simoni, six years his elder and a two-time winner, doesn't like losing one bit. On the other hand, second overall in the Giro d'Italia is Gutierrez Cataluna's greatest-ever career performance, and looking at the faces on the final podium, the mixed messages reflected this.
Asked who his greatest rival was, Basso didn't hesitate: "Simoni - I have no doubt it was Simoni.
"He's won the Giro twice and has finished on the podium. But I was very consistent; there were seven key moments in this Giro and each of these seven key moments, I took a little bit of time. I don't think I 'killed' this race [in one go]. I am not an alien, I made my win little by little."
For the rest, Damiano Cunego can be satisfied with fourth, who came good towards the end, albeit a little late. Defending champion Paolo Savoldelli, fifth on the final classifica, will need to search for answers regarding his allergy, and whether he still has what it takes to win the Giro. And the sixth place of Sandy Casar gives a little hope to French cycling, something the country so desperately needs in their search for the next Fignon or Hinault - but 23'53 is nevertheless a long way down.
"I had a good start to the Giro, then I had a lot of problems and it didn't go so well for me," said Savoldelli, "but I managed to ride [well] towards the end of the Giro, defend my position and finish fifth. So now I'll try to prepare well for the Tour de France."
As for Basso, it's one Grand Tour down and one to go. After a week's vacation and spending some time with his newborn son Santiago, he, along with his trainer, team manager and confidant Bjarne Riis, will sit down and work out exactly how to go about winning the Tour de France.
"Now I only want to see my baby, then we will see," said Basso about his build-up to La Grande Boucle, and who he will take with him. "Let's see what Riis says; I don't know, but my team here was great, from the first day to the last day, physically and also in terms of morale. I'm sure they would still be here if things went badly.
"This Giro has taken a lot of energy, more than last year, because I've had the stress of leading the race. But our project is to do both this year, and we are convinced we can also do well in the Tour [de France]; we don't know [for sure], but we will try."
They have exactly thirty three days. And their time starts now.
How it unfolded
On a partly cloudy morning in the tiny village of Magreglio, high above the Lecco arm of Lago di Como and atop the Madonna del Ghisallo climb, 151 riders started the final stage of the 89th Giro d'Italia at 13:48, with 140km left to race.
It would be mostly a procession until the Giro riders hit Milano for 12 laps of a 4.8km circuit. The gruppo was just cruising along with the first hour covered in the average speed of 30.4km. Big Paolo Forniciari (Lampre-Fondital) took two intermediate sprints in Usmate and Bernareggio. Next was the Gazzetta 110 sprint in Cambiago with the sprint line right in front of Colnago's World HQ. Bettini took the points towards the maglia ciclamino.
After two hours, the average was 32.7km and right after the sprint, Gabriele Missaglia (Selle Italia) took off solo and quickly gained 2'45. He was going for more points in the Fuga Piaggio breakaway classification but the gruppo woke up quickly and began to chase. When Missaglia realized he had committed a booboo, he sat up and was caught on the outskirts of Milano. CSC led into the city and onto Corso Venezia with Ivan Basso resplendent in his maglia rosa. A tired Henk Vogels (Davitamon-Lotto) crashed as the first lap began but got up with no serious consequences and rejoined the gruppo compatto.
After one lap in Milano, Quick.Step's Davide Bramati went ahead of the gruppo with 48km to go. It was Bramati's last race in a 16 year career. After the Giro d'Italia, Bramati would become a direttore sportivo with Quick.Step. The 37 year-old Brama, who had been a key gregario for riders like Pavel Tonkov, Johan Museeuw, Tony Rominger, Paolo Bettini and Tom Boonen among others, cruised just ahead of the gruppo as all the riders gave him a well-earned standing ovation to one of the most experienced and respected riders in the sport of cycling.
With seven laps to go, CSC was still riding easy tempo on the front with speedster Giovanni Lombardi leading the way for CSC, each rider with pink Selle Italia saddles and pink handlebar tape. This was the status quo until five laps to go, when CSC stepped on the gas and the speed went over 40km/h, with big Jensy Voigt taking his turn at the front.
Milram's sprinter Lorenzetto crashed on his right side and could just not chase back because the speed was now close to 50km/h. As the 150 riders crossed the line to start the penultimate lap, it was Voigt again hammering away again at the head of one long, multi-coloured line of riders, with Saunier Duval's Lobato riding last wheel and Lorenzetto lapped with 10km to go.
CSC was still flying as the final lap began, but Quick.Step's Bettini and T-Mobile's Pollack had now moved up with 5km to go. Milram was going to give it ago with Elia Rigotto, as was Gerolsteiner for Frosi Förster. As expected, CSC peeled off with 3km to go and Milram hit the front with an attack by Cortinovis to make the others chase. Bettini, Pollack, Vogels, Forster, Richeze and Rigotto were vying for position as the last kilometre started and Milram took over from Gerolsteiner.
Ongarotto's Milram teammate left a gap and Ongarotto jumped early with 500m and got a good gap, but a Gerolsteiner chased him down and Frosi Forster sprinted left with 200m to go with a powerful jump. Bettini was boxed in on the left and tried to sneak by on the left between Forster and the barriers, but the experienced German wasn't letting the Italian through.
Förster took the win, the third at this year's Giro d'Italia for Gerolsteiner. Behind Forster on the right, Panaria's Richeze rode an excellent sprint to out drag race Pollack for second, with the T-Mobile German in third. Bettini raised his hands in frustration as he couldn't pass Forster, but his points gave him the maglia ciclamino of best sprinter.
Among a blizzard of pink confetti, Ivan Basso put on his final maglia rosa, then took the final podium with Phonak's Guitierrez Cataluna and Gilberto Simoni, who wouldn't shake Basso's hand, this time in congratulations, for the second time on Sunday. Besides Bettini taking the maglia ciclamino, his Quick.Step team-mate Juan Manuel Garate won the maglia verde of best climber. Paolo Savoldelli took the maglia blu for best combined rider, while Phonak cleaned up in the team classifications, winning both the team GC and team points at the 89th edition of the Giro d'Italia.
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