Mayo takes first and Saunier's fourth

Piepoli, Riccò, Simoni and now Mayo - Di Luca keeps a wet Maglia Rosa

Iban Mayo has taken his first Giro d'Italia win in his first ever appearance in Italy's Grand Tour and in the process has given Saunier Duval its fourth success after stage wins by Piepoli, Riccò and Simoni. The 29 year-old Basque rider attacked to start his solo bid on the Passo Ballino and held his lead over the final 17 kilometres to win on the rain soaked roads to Terme di Comano.

After early attacks were controlled on the Pian delle Fugazze, Danilo Di Luca rode home cautiously under the protection of his Liquigas squad to keep the Maglia Rosa on the eve of the Verona time trail.

The move that brought Mayo his victory was formed on the 1162-metre climb to Fugazze when he joined an escape with Marco Marzano (Lampre-Fondital), Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo), Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), Alberto Losada (Caisse d'Epargne), Evgeni Petrov (Tinkoff Credit Systems) and Giovanni Visconti (Quickstep-Innergetic).

Mayo attacked with Spanish amigo Losada on the slick run down to Rovereto and the compatriots kept a nice advantage for the start of the Ballino. "It was one of my most beautiful wins," noted Mayo of his 24th win. Also in his palmarès are victories on Alpe d'Huez and Mont Ventoux. He used his climbing abilities to pull away from 25 year-old Losada in the 5.4% sections near Lago di Tenno. "I raced with passion over the finale," he continued in a Spanish and Italian mixture.

Mayo's win gave Saunier Duval its fourth victory in the 90th Giro d'Italia. Although the team of Pietro Algeri started the Giro with the point of winning the Maglia Rosa (Gilberto Simoni is currently 2'28" back on Di Luca) it can be happy with Leonardo Piepoli's win on Santuario Nostra Signora Della Guardia, Riccardo Riccò's on Tre Cime di Lavaredo and Simoni's on Monte Zoncolan.

"I think that the team has gone well in this race and to add the fourth victory is great," Mayo commented with a bit of modesty. Today the team tried to put Di Luca in difficulty with an attack by Piepoli on the upper slopes of Fugazze. The move did not change the GC outlook, but it put Mayo in the race winning move. "The Fugazze climb was a very rapid climb, Leo [Piepoli] tried but Di Luca went very strong."

Only the Russian, Petrov and Visconti remained close on the final descent, and they were making ground on Mayo (down to 30") until Petrov lost control. The Russian slid out on a wet corner and left his partner to chase alone. "It was a truly cold day and unfortunately it went how it did," summarized Visconti. He had made the right move but could not close the gap to the more experienced Mayo. "I tired; the escape was our only chance today. I thought Garzelli was going strong but he faded and then, with Petrov, I thought I had my chance but Mayo went well."

The Maglia Rosa was only in difficulty for a few kilometres today and his biggest adversary was the weather. Temperatures in the low 20's and constant rain meant that Di Luca had to stay bundled in warm clothes to keep himself healthy for tomorrow's final test, the 43 kilometre time trial to Verona.

"Saunier decided to attack and it was fine," recalled Di Luca after the stage. "I stayed with Piepoli and in the end it worked for them - they put Mayo in the escape and they won the race. The climb was always calm for me and I had the help of my team." His mind is on tomorrow's test. "I need to warm up and have a message... I have to stay concentrated up through tomorrow night. I am not afraid of the crono; I will do it at my maximum - I have too. I will make sure to get time checks over the whole course."

How it unfolded

On a cold, rainy June 1st, 141 riders left the Piazza Duomo in the historic centre of Treviso on stage 19 for a 179-kilometre race to Comano Terme, north of Lake Garda. The rain slackened in the early hours, but not the pace of the third from last stage of the 90th Giro d'Italia.

With a strong east win that pushed them alone, the Giro gruppo blasted along at a frantic pace. After 27 kilometres in Maser as the Giro passed the Sidi factory, a group of 14 riders including World Champion Bettini, double stage winner Garzelli, two Tinkoffs (Brutt and Contrini) and Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval) was free, but Predictor and Rabobank were most active in the chase and the break never got more than a 45" lead.

Garzelli sat up in Bassano del Grappa after 43 kilometres, while Bettini and Mayo sat up in Pianezze after 54 kilometres and the rest of the break was absorbed after 61 kilometres among the cherry trees in Breganze. It was gruppo compatto as the Pasubio valley and the Pian delle Fugazze climb, covered by dense clouds, were looming ahead of the gruppo that was no longer compatto as it fractured in two on the twisting streets of Thiene. Flats slowed both Bettini and Andy Schleck but both regained contact with the Gruppo Maglia Rosa. Everything came back together just before the feed zone after 88 kilometres as the Valli del Pasubio began, leading to the tough climb to Pian del Fugazze.

The pace had been very fast across the flat roads of Veneto with a strong tailwind and the average speed after two hours of racing was 44.1km/h. There was a respite from the rain as the ascent began with Liquigas riding tempo trying to maintain control of the race, but the inevitable attack of Saunier Duval's Leo Piepoli came after 98 kilometres, five kilometres from the summit of the Pian del Fugazze.

He was caught after one kilometres and then Maglia Rosa Di Luca made his own move to flex his muscles that shattered the gruppo, which was down to 15 riders two kilometres from the summit. Astana's Eddy Mazzoleni tried an attack but was brought back just before the summit and Saunier Duval's Gibo Simoni took the points as the road passed from the Veneto region to his native Trentino and began the long, tricky descent - now wet from the driving rain that had started again. Many riders came back to the front of the race on the descent and with 70 kilometres to race in Raossi, Mayo attacked and Losada bridged across to him.

In Rovereto at the base of the descent, Mayo and Losada were 25" ahead of five chasers; Tinkoff's Evgeni Petrov, Garzelli (Acqua e Sapone), Rabobank's Michael Rasmussen who was celebrating his 33rd birthday with a race in the rain, Marzano (Lampre) and Visconti (Quickstep). After three hours of racing, the pace was still high at 39.6km/h average, despite the terrible weather conditions as the Giro riders entered the Adige River valley after Rovereto. With 35 kilometres to go, Mayo and Losada were still 25" ahead of the five chasers. The boys were not gaining ground on Mayo, who was driving the two man break with mucho gusto. As the climb to Passo Ballino began with 30 kilometres in Riva del Garda under a driving rainstorm, Mayo and Losada were 30" ahead of the five chasers, with Astana and Lampre leading the chase in the Gruppo Maglia Rosa at 3'10".

Iban Mayo was having a good day in the bad weather and he and Losada were riding away from the chasing quintet. Halfway up the climb, Mayo the Basque and Losada the Catalan were working well together. Garzelli had dropped off the chase of five as he was not having a good day in the cold wet conditions. With five kilometres to go on the ascent, Mayo took off and left the Caisse d'Epargne man was on his own with 20 kilometres to go. Petrov was taking monster pulls in the chase group, trying to gain as much time as possible on Arroyo, just 10" ahead of him on GC. Losada was caught quickly and then dropped from the chase group. On a steep section with two kilometres to climb, Rasmussen tried to bridge to Mayo, but it came to nothing and at the GPM with 13.5 kilometres to go it was Mayo with 41" on Rasmussen, who was now caught by the Petrov gruppo, and with the Gruppo Maglia Rosa at 3'00".

Once over the summit of Passo Ballino, there were a few kilometres of up and down road before the descent to Comano Terme. Petrov and Visconti had counter-attacked in pursuit, but the Basque was hanging tough out front. Mayo was now losing time and with seven kilometres to go on the final uphill stretch. Petrov and Visconti were 25" behind Mayo, with Rasmussen and Marzano at 45", Losada at 2'00" and the Gruppo Maglia Rosa at 3'00". On the first part of the slippery descent, Petrov crashed but the tough little Russian got up but then crashed again. There was no holding Mayo now, as the Basque rider was revelling in the terrible conditions. The Saunier Duval man traced the three hairpin turns that led to the final kilometre, while Visconti was cautiously chasing Mayo on the tricky descent.

Under low clouds and pouring rain, a delighted Mayo took his 24th career win in Comano Terme and the fourth stage for his Saunier Duval team at the 2007 Giro d'Italia. A disappointed Visconti crossed the line solo at 43", with Marzano at 1'03", Rasmussen and Petrov at 1'09" and the Gruppo Maglia Rosa at 3'12". World Champion Bettini and Maglia Ciclamino Petacchi's gruppetto came home at 23'03". Despite two crashes in the finale, Petrov, had made the break of the day and moved past Arroyo into seventh place on GC.

Stage 20 - Saturday, June 2: Bardolino - Verona (TT), 43 km

Starting in the Bardolino wine region next to Lake Garda, the penultimate stage of the 90th Giro d'Italia heads due east through the vineyards of Valpolicella to finish next to the famous Arena di Verona in Piazza Bra. Can Maglia Rosa Di Luca hold off 21 year old wunder-kid Andy Schleck in the 43-kilometre time test, and can local lad Cunego have a great day to pass his arch enemy Gibo Simoni climb onto the Giro d'Italia podium? Saturday's weather forecast is for light rain all day which may soak the stars and stripes jersey of US TT champ Dave Zabriskie (CSC) as he bids for another Giro TT stage win.

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