Garzelli rips into Bergamo from power-escape

Giro's Champions turn the screws on Maglia Rosa Di Luca

Today was supposed to be a mountain transitional stage but, instead, the Giro's champions attacked over the top of the first climb, the Passo di San Marco. Garzelli, Simoni and Savoldelli used their domestiques to put Maglia Rosa Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) in difficulty. Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) won the escape's seven-man sprint into Bergamo while a fatigued Di Luca led the chase home at 38".

"I have not won a stage in the Giro since 2004 and now I have added a really beautiful stage," noted the 2000 Giro Champ, 33 year-old Garzelli. The Acqua e Sapone captain escaped with teammate Codol and Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval-Prodir) over the top of San Marco.

The three were eventually joined by Astana's Paolo Savoldelli and Eddy Mazzoleni. This small group bridged to the early morning escape to form the final elite group of seven; Simoni, Garzelli, Mazzoleni, Savoldelli, Paolo Bettini (Quickstep-Innergetic), Fortunato Baliani (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare) and Ivan Parra (Cofidis).

Simoni surprised many by launching an attack from the seven-man gruppo on the pavé climb to Bergamo Alta, at 500 metres to the top. Garzelli and Bettini were the only two to respond to Simoni, and they each chased on their own through Porta San Lorenzo, over the top (at -3.4km) and down to Bergamo Bassa.

The two-time Giro Champ led though the final bends, including the right-hander at -250m to go into Piazza Cavour but his rival was coming on strong. Garzelli caught, looked at and passed Simoni on the left with only 60 metres to go.

"In the finale, up to Bergamo, I really did not think of Simoni but he went strong on the pavé," continued Garzelli.

He commented on the tactics of Passo di San Marco. "It worked well thanks to my team. I know that today we used a lot of force but I think that the others are feeling tired too. Thanks to [teammate Massimo] Codol; he really goes well in descent and then he also did a huge turn on the flat."

"We had a group of strong men," noted Codol, who grew up near by, in Lecco. "We went all out to distance Lampre and Liquigas. Those two teams went so strong and they did well in the chase."

World Champion Paolo Bettini tried hard for the win but could not compete against the men who build their season for the three-week Giro. He rolled over the line in third. "Simoni did a great number on the pavé and I was just trying to save myself!" he recalled. "Garzelli and Simoni train to be strong in the final week of the Giro."

Astana successfully joined forces with Acqua e Sapone and Saunier Duval. The teams' three captains added precious time to maglia Rosa Danilo Di Luca. "Today was a stage in my home area," noted Savoldelli, who finished sixth. He used his descent skills to their maximum to put Di Luca in the red. "I felt better today. ... I had talked to Mazzoleni at the start of the stage and we wanted to try something. We went all out in the descents."

Three GC favourites were left to pull back the front seven; Di Luca, Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) and Andy Schleck (Team CSC). Liquigas and Lampre pulled hard for their captains while Schleck was left on his own. The 21 year-old Luxemburger, current best young rider, crashed on the descent of La Trinità-Dossena but was able to chase back to the Gruppo Maglia Rosa.

"I wanted to win? I want to win everyday," responded Schleck after the stage. He is now in third overall, 1'57" back on Di Luca. "Maybe tomorrow I will have another go."

He remarked on his crash into Evgeni Petrov (Tinkoff Credit Systems). "I feel fine after the crash with Petrov. It was unfortunate but I was able to catch on to the Di Luca group."

Cunego lost a few seconds to his rivals, and is now in fourth (at 2'40") overall. "It was hard work for the team today," said the 2004 Giro Champ. "The escape did well to fly down the descent. Also, thanks to my team and Liquigas, they did a lot of pulling today.

"I have good condition and it is rising but every day is hard, hard for everyone."

At one point Di Luca was in danger of losing more than a minute to his rivals but the 31 year-old from Abruzzo limited his loses on the run into Bergamo. "I thought that Savoldelli would attack on the descent but then Garzelli and Simoni also went," he noted at the finish. He was pleased with his team's collaboration with Lampre. "It was good that they worked with us."

Simoni moved up the GC board and the rider from Trento is worrying Di Luca on the eve of stage 15 to Le Tre Cime di Lavaredo. "He keeps getting stronger, and tomorrow will really be a hard stage," he concluded.

How it unfolded

The Giro weekend opened with a stage from the furniture city of Cantù, north of Milano, to the dynamic city of Bergamo. 157 riders took the start at 12:11 under rainy skies and headed northeast to the Lecco arm of Lake Como, then due north to the end of the lake, then due east into Valtellina and the city of Morbegno. There were numerous attacks along the lakeside on the way to the beginning of the climb, most notably a 15 rider group headed by Tinkoff's Totò Commesso - But Liquigas chased them all down.

Just after Morbegno and 90 kilometres, 11 riders attacked early on the interminable ascent. The group included Fortunato Baliani (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare), Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), Sylvester Szmyd (Lampre-Fondital), Ivan Parra (Cofidis), José Luis Rubiera (Discovery Channel), , former Maglia Rosa Pinotti (T-Mobile), Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC), World Champion Paolo Bettini (Quickstep-Innergetic), Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Alberto Losada (Caisse d'Epargne).

This group rode to a 2'00" lead until 10 kilometres left to the GPM of Passo San Marco. Stefano Garzelli sent his Acqua e Sapone team to the front to up the pace and with three kilometres to the summit, Garzelli made his move but Di Luca's Liquigas boys were there to increase the pace and keep Garzelli in check.

At the GPM it was Baliani ahead of Rasmussen, Szmyd, Parra and Rubiera with Pinotti gapped and then Arvesen, Bettini and Mayo at 40" and Losada at 54". The Gruppo Maglia Rosa was at 1'58" with Liquigas on the Pellizotti, Noè, Wegelius and Spezialetti chasing with 79 kilometres to race.

Acqua e Sapone's Codol got out ahead on the crazy, technical descent, while Francesco Bellotti (Crédit Agricole) crashed hard into the wall and broke his bike in two. The audacious downhill attack of Savoldelli and Mazzoleni was quickly followed by Garzelli with Gruppo Maglia Rosa at 15" as Di Luca didn't want to take risks. Savoldelli and Mazzoleni were covered by Pellizotti but Garzelli just couldn't keep up with the best descenders in the peloton.

Halfway down the descent from Passo San Marco, the break was riding out front, with the Savoldelli, Mazzoleni, Pellizotti trio at 1'25", while a trio with Simoni, Garzelli and Codol was at 1'45" and closing; further back was the Gruppo Maglia Rosa of 25 riders at 2'15" from the break. With Wegelius and Noè riding hard as they could while Lampre's Cunego and Bruseghin were sitting back. The two chase groups behind the break had now joined together so Savoldelli, Mazzoleni, Pellizotti, Simoni, Garzelli and Codol were trying hard to get across to the original break. Mayo had dropped back to the chasers to help his captain Simoni.

At 50 kilometres to go in San Giovanni Bianco at the base of the day's penultimate climb, the counter-attackers joined the break and 16 riders were now together off the front as they started the climb of Trinità-Dossena, with the Gruppo Maglia Rosa at 1'02".

The ascent covered 9.4 kilometres with an average gradient of 6.4% and points at up to 12%. As Mayo went to the front for Simoni and set an infernal pace, first Rasmussen, then Losada dropped out of the break. Saunier Duval, Astana and Acqua e Sapone were putting a lot of pressure on Di Luca and Liquigas as well as Cunego's Lampre squad.

Once Mayo dropped back after a few kilometres of the ascent, Simoni hit the front and kept the pace high. Savoldelli, Mazzoleni and Garzelli were going all out to gain time on the Gruppo Maglia Rosa. Szmyd and Arvesen dropped out of the break to go back to the Gruppo Maglia Rosa to help with the chase as Di Luca had his secret weapon Charlie Wegelius taking monster pulls in the chase along with Lampre's Paolo Tiralongo and Nibali of Liquigas.

Up front, just Codol, Garzelli, Savoldelli, Mazzoleni, Pellizotti, Lucky Baliani, World Champ Bettini, Parra and Mayo were left and with five kilometres to go on Trinità-Dossena. As road got steeper Simoni upped the pace, then his teammate Mayo hit the front and upped the pace. Bettini was suffering like a dog trying to hold on to the break as Mayo and Codol dropped off with two kilometres to go.

The Astana helped keep the pace high up front but as Di Luca had lost all his teammates, Pellizotti dropped back from the front group to help the Maglia Rosa. Up the ascent lined by thousands of crazed tifosi Bergamaschi, at the GPM in Dossena with 38 kilometres to go, Garzelli, Savoldelli, Mazzoleni, Baliani, Parra and World Champ Bettini were left ahead of the chasing Gruppo Maglia Rosa, led by a brilliant Tiralongo and now Pellizotti.

The gap was still at 1'03", and after the 1 km of descent on a sharp right-hand hairpin, Petrov crashed and took down Schleck in the Gruppo Maglia Rosa. Petrov had to change his bike while Schleck was gapped and without a teammate on the tricky technical descent; the CSC youngster was having trouble getting back to the Di Luca group.

At San Pellegrino Terme, home of the famous sparkling mineral water spring and former Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Gotti, Savoldelli and Mazzoleni had bombed the descent and with 28 kilometres to race, the break had gained 10" on the Gruppo Maglia Rosa thanks to Savoldelli's brilliant descending.

Schleck had almost made it back to the Gruppo Maglia Rosa, and after service on his rear brake he finally made it back. Di Luca's teammate Pellizotti is a great descender and he was on the front keeping the gap close. The road had flattened out somewhat and the break was working well together, while in the Gruppo Maglia Rosa, Di Luca had gone back to the team car to get a bottle for his teammate Pellizotti.

Despite a Savoldelli that was going full gas for his teammate Mazzoleni, the gap of the breakaway was now down to 1'00" and falling as Lampre and Liquigas were chasing harder than ever. The final two kilometres climb up to Bergamo Alto started with five kilometres to go, then the plunge down through the Città Bassa to the finish at Piazza Matteotti would likely decide the stage and the all star break desperately wanted to maintain their lead despite the strong headwind and frenetic pace behind. The gap was now 50" and the race officials had pulled the team cars out of the gap.

Local lad Mazzoleni really wanted to win, but he had to get rid of Bettini first. Used many times for the finale of the Giro di Lombardia, the first kilometre was steep but smooth, but the there was 800m of pavé that went through the Porta Garibaldi, then along Via della Boccola before emerging from Bergamo Alto to descend to the finish.

As the pavé' began, Simoni just rode away from the break and only Garzelli could stay close to the Trentino tough man, who was getting stronger every stage. Simoni stayed ahead of Garzelli through Bergamo Alta as Bettini and the Astana boys faded, while Maglia Rosa made his own attack 38" behind, popping Cunego again, while only Bruseghin and Riccò could stay with him. As Simoni made the left turn to descend to Bergamo Bassa, he had 5" on Garzelli and the rest of the break of 8", with Di Luca, Riccò and Bruseghin still at 38".

Simoni was magnificent as he flew down to the descent to the finish in Piazza Matteotti, but the tenacious Garzelli, perhaps with the inadvertent assistance of a few TV motorcycles was closing fast. As Gibo bombed the right-hander into Piazza Matteotti, Garzelli made a very risky move and it worked; he was only 10m behind Simoni and the fast Acqua e Sapone man launched his sprint, catching and passing a disappointed Simoni in the last 100 metres.

Acqua e Sapone's strategy to win the stage that had started almost 100 kilometres earlier on Passo San Marco worked and it was Garzelli's first win at the Giro d'Italia since 2004, where he beat Simoni in a stage to Presolana. Di Luca crossed the line at the head of the Gruppo Maglia Rosa and had kept things in control, but just barely.

Cunego had chased back on and was just a few places behind Di Luca. Although he was first loser in the stage finish, the great riding of Simoni in the all-star break to Bergamo paid off for the 35 year-old Saunier Duval rider. Simoni was the big winner on the day as far as GC was concerned; he moved up three places to fifth, 2'42" behind Di Luca, just 2" behind 4th place Cunego and less than 1'00" from Schleck. Simoni was now in striking distance of the podium at the Giro d'Italia and if Di Luca has a bad day, there is no doubt that Simoni would go after the Maglia Rosa.

Stage 15 - Sunday, May 27: Trento - Tre Cime Di Lavaredo, 184 km

For Stage 15, the Giro transitions east to the Dolomiti Mountains for a mythical, monumental Sunday for the big stage, or "tappone" of the 90th Giro d'Italia.

Starting in the Trento, the capital of the autonomous region of Trentino-Alto Adige, stage 15 rolls north through the vineyards of the Adige River Valley for 35 kilometres, then turns right at Ora to ascend to the Val di Fiemme, through Moena and up the first climb of the steep 11.8-kilometre ascent of Passo San Pellegrino, then down to the Val di Cadore, up and over the even steeper (9.4% average) 9.8-kilometre ascent of the 2236m Passo Giau and then down to the world-famous mountain resort city of Cortina d'Ampezzo with 22 kilometres still to race.

Stage 15 then heads northeast from Cortina, first climbing the eight-kilometre ascent of Passo Tre Croci, then making the final assault on the Tre Cime di Lavaredo from Misurina. Only 7.2 kilometres long, the super-steep ascent averages 7.6% with pitches up to 20%. This climb is where the climbers of Saunier Duval, Piepoli and Simoni, will look to gain time on Maglia Rosa Di Luca and Damiano Cunego.

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