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Not too terrible: Ivan Basso takes stage, maglia rosa on Maielletta

Savoldelli and Di Luca have a bad day at the office

After the rivalry in Italian cycling two decades ago between Saronni and Moser, today on the ascent of the Maielletta were the opening salvos of the battle between Ivan Basso and Damiano Cunego. This time, the match went to Basso, who won his third career Giro d'Italia stage win. Basso earned his nickname "il Terribile" when he was still a teenager because he won so many races. It was a a carpe diem moment for Basso today, as he clearly took more than one page out of Lance Armstrong's playbook to win the stage and take control of the corsa rosa. Not only was Basso's hi-rev seated climbing style similar to Armstrong's, but his tactic of taking over the race by attacking and winning on the first hard climb of the Giro d'Italia was classic Lance.

A happy yet reserved Basso said after the stage, "I went to the maximum today; my team did a great job today and Carlos Sastre was exceptional. He could be a Giro contender too, so to have him working for me was great. When Cunego attacked with 4km, I couldn't follow him right away, but I went after him and then just kept going." But Basso is clear that the Giro d'Italia isn't over yet, explaining, "Last year was a good experience for me, because I learned from it. So I'm just going day by day. We're still just in the first week of the race. Last year I learned that I could lose an hour in one day when I got sick."

Basso's cycling svengali, CSC team boss Bjarne Riis was pleased with today's outcome as well, saying, "It was perfect for us today. Sastre was really strong today and did his job well. Ivan had good legs too, but the real work is still ahead of us in this Giro, but Ivan was the strongest today." Basso's main adversary today, and perhaps for the foreseeable future was Damiano Cunego. "I tried to make a move with 4 kilometres to go and it worked," said the Lampre-Fondital rider. "When Basso caught me and then accelerated, I tried to stay with him but couldn't hold him. But it's the first climb of the race and there's a lot of climbing to go, so the Giro is still wide open."

Despite a giornata no, Discovery Channel's leader Paolo Savoldelli remained optimistic after losing 2'35 to new maglia rosa Basso. Savoldelli said, "The Giro is not finished here...I knew Basso was strongest and I knew that I wasn't on a good day right away when the climb started. I went into the red zone right away and couldn't hold the pace. Thanks to Danielson, I was able to limit the loss. But the next step is the TT and then, the last week is so hard. But to lose 2'35 on the first climb, that's a lot... it should be 1'20". But I'm still optimistic."

Local lad Danilo Di Luca knows the Maielletta like the back of his hand, but it wasn't enough to make the difference today. Di Luca went out the back of the lead group halfway up the climb and ended up 8th on a stage he really wanted to win, slipping to 6th on GC, 2'48 behind Basso. "I did OK today," explained Di Luca. "I hung on and defended my position as best I could. I'm still not as fit as I was last year but I'm getting better. And there is a lot of Giro still left to race."

How it unfolded

On the menu at the Giro d'Italia for Sunday dinner was the first big test of the race, the mountaintop finish atop Passo Lanciano, called Maielletta. Under warm and overcast skies, Stage 8 started at 12:45 in the Adriatic seaside town of Civitanova Marche with 187 riders, and headed south along the coastline with a tailwind, which led to a fast pace from the start. There were plenty of attacks throughout the first hour, with a major split in the gruppo after 48km, and 50km run in the first hour.

One of yesterday's attackers Calzati (Ag2r) made a move after 55km in Mercantino Conca and was quickly joined by Perez Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne), Sorensen (CSC) and Bruseghin (Lampre-Fondital). After various counter-attacks off the front to get across to the break, eventually a group of 14 riders consolidated themselves up front after 70km, with the gruppo maglia rosa at 2'50 in Roseto degli Abruzzi.

The big break now contained Calzati, Perez Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), Sorensen (CSC), Kuyckx (Davitamon-Lotto), Flores (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Moletta (Gerolsteiner), Bruseghin (Lampre-Fondital), Belgian champion Baguet (Quick Step-Innergetic), Niermann (Rabobank), Italian TT champ Pinotti (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Cortinovis (Team Milram), Edalaine and Poilvet (Credit Agricole) and Santo Anza' (Selle Italia-Serramenti Diquigiovanni).

At the feed zone in Montesilvano after 96km, the percorso turned right and headed southwest towards the Pescarese back country and the final climb of Maielletta (Passo Lanciano) via small, twisting and rolling back roads. After two hours, the average speed was still extremely high, with 48.8 km covered in the second hour of racing. Bruseghin (Lampre-Fondital) was the top break rider on GC in 42nd, 3'46 behind maglia rosa Gonchar. The break was 3'15 ahead after 100km while back in the peloton, Paolo Bettini was stung by a bee that got inside his jersey. T-Mobile was riding tempo up front for Gonchar, but Saunier Duval and then Liquigas-Bianchi hit the front for their leaders Simoni and Di Luca.

With 48km to go in Cepegatti, the rain started falling making the roads slick and causing a big crash including former maglia rosa Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) and climber Fertonani (Caisse d'Epargne). The gap was 2'30 and Pinotti sat up to go back to help his leader Simoni and the break then became a baker's dozen. The pace slowed in the third hour, with the average dropping to 46.3 km/h.

With 30km to go in Rosciano, the gap had dropped to 2'00 as Saunier Duval kept the pressure on up front with big American Aaron Olson doing great work for Simoni. With a descent down to the Pescara River valley, the gruppo slowed on the slippery roads, where Cunego's key gregario Paolo Fornaciari (Lampre-Fondital) hit the deck with a Credit Agricole rider. Calzati, Kuyckx, Baguet and the two Credit Agricoles were riding hard up front, and as they crossed the bridge over the Pescara River, their lead was just under 2 minutes. The break had been away for almost 100km but due to the fast percorso and tough chase, had never gotten much more than a 3'45 minute lead.

With 22km to go as the first slopes of the Maielletta ascent approached, the lead of the break was down to 1'20 and falling fast as the yellow wave of Gibo Simoni's Saunier Duval squad was in command of the situation. Approaching the Gazzetta 110 sprint in Manopoli, Flores attacked the break and Baguet followed him and won the sprint. With 17km to go, Baguet was caught by Bruseghin, who was flying up the ascent and quickly gapped the others. Bruseghin was trying to get as far up the road as possible before the attacks from behind caught him, and also to try to help his leader Cunego later on up the climb. Them Bruseghin, the muleskinner from Capello Maggiore, was caught by a determined Calzati as the gruppo maglia rosa approached, having caught everyone expect the Bruseghin, Calzati and Perez Sanchez.

As the climb up to Maielletta made a right in Lettomaoppello, the real ascent started and as the road got steeper, Bruseghin hit it and dropped Calzati like a hot rock. Two riders, Tschopp (Phonak) and Piepoli (Saunier Duval) attacked to try to bridge up to the Lampre-Fondital man. The first few kilometres of the Maielletta were at a steep 10% gradient, which quickly made a selection in the gruppo maglia rosa, with Ullrich one of the first out the back. Bruseghin was caught with 9km to go as CSC had Sastre on the front hammering hard. This action put maglia rosa Gonchar in trouble and the Ukrainian went out the back of the now 12 riders up front.

Tiny climber Piepoli (Saunier Duval) then took over from CSC on the front with 8km to go as the road got steep again. The front group included Basso and Sastre (CSC), Piepoli and Simoni (Saunier Duval), Bruseghin and Cunego (Lampre-Fondital), Mazzanti (Panaria), Di Luca (Liquigas-Bianchi), Caruso (Liberty) and Gutierrez (Phonak). Savoldelli was in trouble and dropped off the back with 7km to go. Rujano passed the Discovery Channel rider to get to the front group.

The gruppo maglia rosa was at 0'40 as up front, Sastre had hit the front again. With 6km to race, the gruppo Basso was in control, as Savoldelli was trying to limit the time he was losing to the other Giro favourites. Di Luca was trying to hang tough up front but was suffering a lot and was gapped as the road got steeper again with 5km to go.

Behind the gruppo Basso, the gruppo maglia rosa of Gonchar had caught Savoldelli, along with Danielson, Sella and Pellizotti. Rujano jumped away from gruppo Basso on the long, straight steep section with 4.5km to go but CSC rode him down after 500m as Di Luca was croaking behind. From right side of the front group, Cunego then jumped hard with 4km to the summit and got a gap. Only Basso could get across to him, with an impressively smooth, powerful acceleration. But Cunego's action might have been too much for him, as Basso accelerated again, and just cruised away from Cunego like he was riding a scooter.

With 3km to go, Basso had 0'10 on Cunego, with Gutierrez and Caruso coming up from behind. At 0'30, Mazzanti was hurting Simoni and Piepoli, and back at 1'30 was the gruppo of maglia rosa Gonchar, now including Savoldelli where Tom Danielson was riding heroically for his leader.

Looking like Lance Armstrong's little brother, Basso was just cruising along spinning his little gear but the grimace of pain was on his face as he passed under the 1km kite. Cunego was chasing 0'23 behind as the Phonak man Gutierrez caught him, with Caruso 0'05 behind them and then Piepoli and Simoni. Basso won solo with Cunego second ahead of Gutierrez at half a minute, Caruso at 0'45, Mazzanti at 1'09, Simoni and Piepoli at 1'15, Di Luca at 1'32, Rujano 1'50 and eventually the maglia rosa Gonchar at 2'35, just behind Savoldelli's group.

Stage 9 - Monday, May 15: Francavilla Al Mare-Termoli, 147km

Not another sprinters stage for Monday, that rolls south along the Adriatic coast to Termoli, because with 47km to go, the percorso hangs a right and heads into the hilly Campobasso hinterlands to emerge onto the coast 10km south of Termoli for a headwind finish on Via Martiri della Resistenza. Can Robbie make it four for four? Don't bet against the Aussie pocket rocket.

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