Piepoli takes Santuario win - Noè new Rosa

GC favourites face-off - 38 year-old holds GC lead

Leonardo Piepoli conquered the intimidating stage ten to Santuario Nostra Signora della Guardia when he flew away from an elite group with four kilometres remaining on the final climb and hammered to a solo win and his third career Giro d'Italia stage. He reponded to the initial move by Italian Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas), who had attacked but then reconsidered his strategy. When Saunier's Piepoli launched himself on the steep slopes of the final climb, nobody could respond.

A brave move by Andy Schleck (Team CSC) was reeled in by another attack from Di Luca, who rode up to the Luxemburger, and then dropped him in the final kilometre to finish second. A visibly agonized Schleck managed to hold off Piepoli's team-mates, Simoni and Riccò who finished fourth and fifth.

Previous race leader Marco Pinotti (T-Mobile), admittedly not the strongest climber, faded on the 14% gradients of Santuario and was forced to give up his pink jersey to 38 year-old Andrea Noè (Liquigas), who finished 10th on the stage, and now leads the overall classification by 1'08" over Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre - Fondital).

Piepoli's attack on the day's final climb reminded the tifosi of his two 2006 stage victories (La Thuile and Furcia) and just how strong of a domestique Simoni has. The rider from Puglia rocketed away from a select group of favourites once the remainder of the day's escapees had been caught (Baliani, Losada, Hincapie and then Parra - 173km of freedom).

"I did not have time to talk to Gibo but I knew it was the right move," remarked the 35 year-old Italian. Behind, team captain Simoni and his super-domestique, Riccò, marked the general classification rivals. Piepoli held off Schleck and then Di Luca over the final stiff 14% gradients. "When the final 300 metres came it was really, really difficult."

Once Piepoli attacked he remained solo for the rest of climb even though 21 year-old Giro-revelation Schleck came within a whisker of closing him down at 1800 metres to go. The CSC rider finished third for the day and was rewarded with the Maglia Bianca of best young rider.

"I hope to have this maglia in Milan," he said in French at the finish. The tall rider, younger-brother of Fränk, immediately came to a stand-still next to the barriers after crossing the line. "I had stopped at the finish because I had really given my all. Di Luca had closed on me and Simoni was chasing hard."

Di Luca showed 'The Killer' look as he powered past Schleck with 1400 metres remaining. He had previously launched on Santuario at five kilometres out but then sat up; however, on his second attempt he was able to distance his GC rivals.

"It was a great test," said Di Luca, who took the Maglia Verde of best climber from Luis Felipe Laverde (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare). "I got a nice second place." He noted of the earlier launch, "I think my first attack went well but it was too soon."

Some doubt his form, saying that his willingness to show his cards on an early 'easy' mountain stage might mean he believes he does not have the legs to contend for the three-week title. "The first exam of the Giro... I am very happy. After Montevirgine, I think the Giro is going very well. I don't think I won the Giro today but it was an important part of the overall."

He could not match his stage win of seven days ago. "Piepoli was truly strong. If we had caught him right away then maybe the finish could have been different.

While Piepoli pounded on the Santuario slopes teammates Riccò and Simoni were watching the other favourites. Riccò was caught off-guard, looking back several times for Simoni, but he was later impressed by his captain's diesel engine.

"When Di Luca went I waited for Gibo. I only thought of him," explained an exhausted Riccò. "We showed to have a great team today."

Simoni backed up his young companion. "I believe that Piepoli is not a surprise, and for our team it is great prize," the two-time Giro champion remarked of the stage win. "He did what he wanted to do and we are happy.

"Riccò did some great work. There were not great surprises by anyone. The Giro did not start today but every day it keeps getting tougher. The battle is day-by-day."

2004 Giro winner and Simoni's old teammate followed in the Saunier duo. Cunego was not able to keep up with Di Luca but, like Simoni, believes the big days are yet to come.

"I felt OK," he said of the ride. "I think that I demonstrated to be going well and that the attackers had their chance today. The team did well and we were always there. In other words, I am satisfied. I think the next stages will go even better for me."

"The Giro is long and it is just starting now. There are still many climbs. How did I finish?" he asked. "Seventh? Oh, good!" he concluded with a smile.

The race lead slipped out of the grip of Marco Pinotti (T-Mobile). Pink Pinotti showed well over the last few days and confirmed his earlier prediction that the Santuario would be his last moment in the lead. Noè started the day 28" down and finished 3'39" up on Pinotti, enough to give the campaigner his second career Maglia Rosa.

"Today it was my day to try; to try to push out Pinotti and take the maglia," noted Noè in his raspy voice. "It is important to be in this jersey again. ... This morning, in the team meeting we decided that if there was a chance then I would be able to go for the maglia, as a prize. But from here on in I am completely for Danilo."

"Complements to Noè at 38 years-old for taking the Maglia Rosa," Di Luca added his praise.

How it unfolded

Under partly cloudy skies in the Tuscan beach resort of Lido di Camaiore, 180 riders started stage 10 at 10:34. At Marina di Carrara after 28.3 kilometres the town sprint was won by Drancourt (Bouygues Telecom) which provoked attacks from Brutt (Tinkoff), Klinger (Gerolsteiner), Rojas (Caisse d'Epargne) and Totò Commesso (Tinkoff).

Eventually 27 riders got a gap but were brought back before La Spezia. It had been full gas for the first hour of racing along the flat seaside road of Strada Statale 1, the ancient Roman road of via Aurelia that lead to the first climb in La Spezia after 52 kilometres, with 51.2 kilometres covered in the first hour.

On the climb up to Biassa, Lucky Baliani (Panaria) attacked and was joined by Bellotti (Crédit Agricole) and Wegelius (Liquigas) who was covering the move for captain Di Luca. Baliani took the sprint in Biassa after 58 kilometres and seven kilometres later, four others had bridged up, including World Champ Paolo Bettini (Quickstep-Innergetic), Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Olivier Bonnaire (Bouygues Telecom) and Mauricio Ardila Cano (Rabobank). But this move was too dangerous and T-Mobile and Liquigas closed it.

The Giro d'Italia was now traversing the Cinque Terre area north of La Spezia, a series of incredibly beautiful seaside villages like Vernazza, on a tiny, winding coastal road along. The morning clouds had cleared and with a sparking blue sky, Stage 10 had become a spectacular advertisement for La Bella Italia and il grande ciclismo.

Former Giro stage winner Ivan Parra (Cofidis) was in a hurry to get to Vernazza and went off the front after 72 kilometres. Caisse d'Epargne's Losada bridged up to Parra and Ardilla came along. The three were joined by four others; Hubert Dupont (Ag2r Prévoyance), Lucky Baliani (Panaria) and US Champion George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) and then there were seven off the front.

It was the right move at the right time and 10 kilometres further up the road, the escape had 4'24" (at km 85) on the descent to Levanto, the northernmost town of Cinque Terre. Big George Hincapie was in 14th on GC, 3'04" behind Maglia Rosa Pinotti so with this lead, the American champion was now Maglia Rosa virtuale, the race leader on the road. It was a genuine pleasure for George's American tifosi to see the Discovery Channel rider fly the stars and stripes on the roads of Italy.

After climbing out of the gorgeous seaside village and a drop through the day's first feed-zone on the back roads the average was 43.8km/h; the race was flying.

Kiwi sprinter Greg "Hendy" Henderson of T-Mobile abandoned his first Grand Tour at the feed-zone, as did CSC's JJ Haedo and both of Caisse d'Epargne's sprinters, Rojas and Markov. As the afternoon heat rose to almost thirty degrees, the break began the long gradual ascent up to the first GPM atop the Passo della Biscia, where their gap was 4'00" after 143.8 kilometres. Hincapie was still Maglia Rosa virtuale and after three hours the average speed was 42.4km/h.

No stopping at the pricey boutiques in Portofino for the escape as the seven were still working well and concentrated. At the day's second feed-zone in Rapallo, after 183 kilometres, the break was riding hard 3'15" ahead of the gruppo Maglia Rosa with Lampre and Liquigas chasing.

Ardilla was showing off some road rash on his right hip as the Colombian climber had crashed on the descent from the Biscia GPM.

At the Garibaldi intermediate sprint on Quarto delle Mille in Genoa with Parra first across the line the gruppo Maglia Rosa was at 2'40" with Liquigas on the front. As the escape traversed the urban landscape of Genoa with 30 kilometres to race, the lead of the break was now 1'50" and falling, with the short but difficult final GPM to Campi ahead on the green hills that encircled the ancient Italian port city of Genoa.

After 218 kilometres of fast racing on a hot day, the small climb to Campi would seem a lot bigger to the Giro d'Italia riders. Hincapie had a flat with 28 kilometres to go at the worst possible place, at the base of the tough penultimate climb. With the gap between the escape and gruppo Maglia Rosa now under 1'30", the team cars were barraged by the officials so Big George got neutral service and tried to chase.

Behind the break on the hot, steep ascent in the gruppo Maglia Rosa, Pinotti was already in trouble and was pedalling squares as he slowly slipped back through the gruppo. The break was now down to three as Baliani, Parra and Losada were still off the front but, incredibly, Hincapie had forced his way back to the break. At the GPM atop the Campi climb, Baliani took the points, with Dupont at 30" and gruppo Maglia Rosa at 1'10", which had absorbed Ardilla, and Pink Pinotti still hanging tough at the back of the chase group, led by Lampre.

Just before Pontedeicimo with 15 kilometres to go, the Lampre-led gruppo Maglia Rosa were just letting the four-man break hang about one minute off the front as the manoeuvres started with the steep final Santuario Nostra Signora Della Guardia ascent of 8.8 kilometres.

Suddenly, Gibo Simoni punctured and quickly got a wheel from a teammate as his other Saunier Duval teammates Mori and 'Litu' dropped back for the quick re-join. Liquigas hit the front with 10 kilometres to go as the white Santuario loomed above,

The final climb was an 8.8-kilometre ascent with an average gradient of 8% and steep spots up to 14%. Liquigas rider Charly Wegelius hit the front for the acid green team and cranked up the pace on the first steep ramps. Up front, Parra had attacked his break companions and although Hincapie hung tough for awhile, the chase pace behind was too fierce for the American champion who was absorbed after being away for 166 kilometres. Wegelius peeled and it was the turn of his Liquigas teammate Spezialetti to keep the pace high as Pink Pinotti was hanging on for dear life in the 20 strong gruppo Maglia Rosa.

With 5.5 kilometres to go, Parra was 10" ahead of the chase as suddenly, Di Luca attacked on a steep section and spun his small gear up to Parra. This move put the pressure on Lampre as Vila took over the chase. Old man Noè, Simoni and Riccò, Popovych, Savoldelli and Schleck were still in the chase group as Pinotti had finally been popped and was 30" behind and quickly losing time on Noè. But Di Luca realized he had gone too early and eased off and he and Parra were absorbed. The Cofidis Colombian had been off the front for 173 kilometres.

Suddenly, from the middle of the chase group, the tiny figure of Saunier Duval's pocket climber Leonardo Piepoli attacked on the left and all that the Lampre riders on the front could do was watch as the pocket rocket from Apulia just rode away. With four kilometres still to climb to the Santuario Nostra Signora Della Guardia, it was CSC's 21 year-old talent Andy Schleck who struck out after Piepoli.

He got as close 8", but then Di Luca attacked again and this time for keeps. Killer Di Luca quickly knocked off Schleck with 1.3 kilometres remaining and went after Piepoli, but the piccolo scalatore of Saunier Duval, who won two mountain stages at last year's Giro was just too strong on the steep slopes of the final kilometre. Piepoli took the stage win after over six hours of racing, with Di Luca runner-up at 17".

CSC's Schleck had a brilliant ride to finish third at 27" and take over the Maglia Bianca of best young rider. Piepoli's team leader Gibo Simoni used the final kilometres to ride away from the others for a solid fourth at 33", while another Saunier Duval rider, young-gun Riccardo Riccò was fifth at 40", just ahead of Savoldelli and Cunego, who had lost 31" to Di Luca including time bonus.

Discovery Channel's Yaroslav Popovych hung tough and just came off the pace on the steep slopes to finish 52" seconds behind Piepoli and 12" from Cunego. Garzelli was blown out with two kilometres to go and lost over two minutes, while courageous Maglia Rosa Marco Pinotti ended up 36th at 4'31", 20" ahead of Predictor's Dario Cioni who had a disaster of a day on the way to Santuario Nostra Signora Della Guardia. After a great day in the break, Discovery Channel's US Champion George Hincapie was 52nd, 8'08" behind Piepoli.

Liquigas' old pro Andrea Noè became the new Maglia Rosa for the second time in his long career. Nicknamed "Brontolo" (complainer), Noè last wore the Maglia Rosa for one day in 1998 and at 38 years old, is a key team rider for Liquigas leader Di Luca. Among the Giro d'Italia contenders, Danilo Di Luca was sitting in eighth, 1'31" ahead of Lampre's Damiano Cunego and 4'26" ahead of Gibo Simoni.

Discovery Chann el had two riders positioned well; Chechu Rubiera was 10th on GC, 3'22" behind Di Luca, while Yaro Popovych rode into 19th, 2'29" from Di Luca. Astana's Paolo Savoldelli rode well to move into 15th overall, 1'42" behind Di Luca. Once again, Liquigas showed they had the strongest rider at the 2007 Giro in Danilo Di Luca and the strongest team. The real Giro began today.

Stage 11 - Wednesday, May 23: Serravalle Scrivia - Pinerolo, 198 km

Stage 11 is a transition stage away from the Ligurian coast, across the rolling hills of the wine region of Langhe to finish in the ancient crossroads city of Pinerolo. With the first mountains starting the next day, it wil be a classic struggle between a breakaway and the sprinters' trains. Perhaps time for US Champion Big George Hincapie to fly his stars & stripes jersey in Pinerolo?

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