Savoldelli blasts into Verona

Di Luca secures Maglia Rosa - Mazzoleni steps onto podium

Paolo Savoldelli blasted to time trial victory on the rain-soaked roads leading to Verona's Piazza Bra. The Italian rider of team Astana bettered previous leader David Zabriskie (Team CSC) at all time checks to take his fourth career Giro stage victory. Eddy Mazzoleni joined his teammate in celebrations by finishing second for the day and moving into third overall behind Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) and Andy Schleck (Team CSC). Di Luca rode with caution and strength over the wet roads to keep the Maglia Rosa in what will all-likelihood remain his at the end of the final stage tomorrow in Milano.

"They told me that I had the best times all along," said the rider known as Il Falco Bergamasco in a calculating manner after his stage win. He experienced a low in his Giro when he crashed in the rain-soaked finale of stage 11 but, today, he bounced back on equally wet roads. "This was a way of coming back. ... I am happy. This result helps so much. I feel better because that crash had taken a lot from me and now I am back."

Teamates Savoldelli and Mazzoleni worked superbly over the final week of the Giro to ensure Astana would be represented on the final podium in Milano, and with Mazzoleni's time over Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) it has become a reality.

"My roommate, Mazzoleni, did well too. He will be on the final podium in Milano," continued Savoldelli. "After the stages in which I helped Eddy I started to concentrate on this stage. Di Luca, he is the strongest, he did really well. Complements to him and to his Liquigas team. I think his team, our team and Saunier really controlled this Giro."

Mazzoleni's second place for the day pushed Zabriskie into third and gave the Italian two steps up, into third, in the final classification. "I have gone stronger than in the last years. I also have to say thanks to Savoldelli for helping me," said the rider from Bergamo.

Two time Giro champion, Simoni, ended the day slipping into fourth overall but he still had a smile on his face. "It would have been 'bello' to be on the final podium with Danilo but I preferred to win on Monte Zoncolan than riding to conserve a third overall," the 35 year-old from Trento noted. "The team won four stages of the Giro; we went very, very strong."

Saunier took its multiple victories in the Giro but it could not take out Liquigas' Di Luca. The rider from Abruzzo kept his cool today, guarding himself against any possible threats from Andy Schleck (Team CSC). "I managed myself very well over the time trial; I had time checks along the course to let me know where I stood," concluded Di Luca.

"It is an amazing day for me today. There is no other race as beautiful as the Giro. Amazing! The Giro overall is very important to me, like Liège, but a completely different feeling."

Schleck was only able to put 29" into the race leader but end the day satisfied in his three week performance, which earned him the best young rider's jersey. Schleck noted in French, "I am in the Maglia Bianca, I am very happy with what I accomplished."

How it unfolded

Starting in the Bardolino wine region next to Lake Garda, the penultimate stage of the 90th Giro d'Italia headed along the lakefront of Lago di Garda at Lungolago Lenotti, then looped through town and headed north to Garda, past Paola Pezzo's bike shop, due east up a climb to Costermano and to the first time check in Albarè after 10.3 kilometres. It then continued east to Rivoli Veronese, site of a famous Napoleonic era battle. The course turned south towards Verona through the vineyards of Valpolicella. The second time check, at 20.8 kilometres in Sega, then up and over the Pastrengo climb at mid-race (3.5km at 3.1% average gradient) then southeast towards Verona. Third time check was at Bussolengo at 29.8 kilometres, then it was a straight shot on fast, wide roads into the centre of Verona to finish next to the famous Arena di Verona in Piazza Bra.

With the intermittent rain and wind from the east-northeast, the 43-kilometre course was slower than normal due to the conditions. For the Giro's stage 20, riders started in reverse order of General Classification at one minute intervals, except for the final ten riders who were separated by three minute gaps.

Early on, Discovery Channel's Steve Cummings got close to the 56 minute barrier with 56'21" and the first rider under 56" was Acqua & Sapone's Dario Andriotto. But then it was time for Tinkoff's young Russian phenomenon Mikhail Ignatiev, who set the fastest time at all the checks on the way to posting a rapid 54'21". Next contender for stage 20 glory was Crédit Agricole's Laszlo Bodrogi. Starting under a driving rain, Bodrogi had a slow start, but once he got over the first hill and out on the open roads, the big Hungarian wound it up and had a fast finish to post 53'28", almost a minute faster than Ignatiev.

American TT Champ Dave Zabriskie was now on the course and had a fast start, equalling Ignatiev's time after 10.3 kilometres in Albarè and posting the fastest time at 20.8 kilometres in Sega. Zabriskie rode through in 26'32", 49" ahead of Bodrogi, and then went on to be fastest time at 29.8 kilometres in Bussolengo, but had lost 2" to Bodrogi as he was just 47" ahead of the Crédit Agricole rider. The headwind and rain had picked up and this slowed the CSC rider over the final 14 kilometres to Verona. Zabriskie rode into Piazza Bra and posted the fastest time of 52'58", the first rider under 53 minutes. But from the second time check at 20.8 kilometres, Dave Z had ridden 19" slower than Bodrogi. His time was excellent but in a time trial, every second counts.

The weather conditions had improved slightly as the rain had stopped and next up was Liquigas rider Vincenzo Nibali, who was third on this course in the 2004 U23 Worlds. Astana's Paolo Savoldelli, an excellent time tester came through the first check in Albarè under 15'00" and was 10 faster than Ignatiev and Zabriskie. Lampre's Italian TT champ Marzio Bruseghin was second fastest and the improving weather conditions were clearly helping the riders in the top 20. Savoldelli was on fire and passed through the second time check still ahead of Zabriskie at 26'36", while Bruseghin was third fastest. Tinkoff's Petrov had a good start, but the former U23 World TT wasn't brilliant as he was likely tired from being in the break on Friday.

Astana's Mazzoleni had started well in the first part of the course as he sought to ride into third place on GC, while behind him Cunego, Simoni and Schleck had started stage 20; the rain had come back along Lago di Garda and then it was time for Maglia Rosa Di Luca to hit the road. Meanwhile Savoldelli blasted through the third time check in Bussolengo in 37'34," 20" up on Zabriskie's time of 37'54". But just behind Mazzoleni was Cunego, who had started faster than Mazzoleni and was now gunning himself for the podium. After 10.2 kilometres Simoni had already lost 26" to Cunego and the Saunier Duval riders was in danger of losing his third place on GC as he was only 1'01" ahead of the Lampre rider. Schleck was not losing time to Cunego, while Di Luca was off to a faster start than the young Luxemburger as the rain continued to fall.

At 20.8 in Sega, Mazzoleni was third fastest in 26'37", as Cunego rode through in 26'56" and Mazzoleni had just ridden past Cunego into fourth on GC. The other Astana man was flying along the course and was closing in on Simoni, as he had gained 1'01" on Simoni, while Cunego had also gained 46" on the Saunier Duval man. Best Young Rider Schleck was trying hard in the biggest time test of his short career while his higher position was a big contrast to the low crouched position of Maglia Rosa Di Luca.

The race for the third spot on the podium was getting clearer as at the third time check in Bussolengo, Mazzoleni was still flying, rising 37'47", 7" faster than Zabriskie and still 20" behind his teammate Savoldelli. However, Cunego had slowed over the second part of the course and his time of 38'35" was well behind the Astana man. At the finish in Piazza Bra in Verona, Savoldelli had exploded over the last kilometres into town and came home in 52'20" at an average speed of 49.299km/h, 38" seconds faster than former leader Zabriskie.

Among the vineyards of Valpolicella, Schleck was gaining time on Di Luca by the second time check but it was more because the Maglia Rosa was riding carefully rather than Schleck bettering on the Maglia Rosa. Meanwhile, the three riders ahead of them, Mazzoleni was riding like a runaway freight train headed towards Verona as he had ridden past both Cunego and Simoni into third place on GC, while Simoni was still holding off Cunego by a few seconds. A pallid sun was shining in Verona as Eddy Mazzoleni passed Riccò who had started three minutes ahead of him and the Astana rider Mazzoleni finished in 52'56", second fastest just 2" ahead of Zabriskie, thus locking down his third place on GC with a cannonball of a ride, giving Astana first and second on the stage.

Cunego then came in with the time of 54'37", and he was 1'01" behind Simoni on GC for what was now fourth place. Simoni had to ride faster than 55'38" to not slip into fifth on GC and hold off his arch rival Cunego. The tough Trentino rider Simoni used his many years experience to come home in 55'03" and stayed ahead of Cunego to maintain fourth on GC.

21 year-old talent Schleck rode the time trial of his young life to finish fifth on the stage, 53'48", and maintain his second place while Di Luca had an excellent ride to finish 54'16" for eighth place.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Saturday's penultimate stage GC will stay the same at the end of Sunday's stage 21. The tough final time test ended up shaking up the general classification at the 90th Giro d'Italia to some extent. Di Luca confirmed his supremacy and became the first rider from Abruzzo, in southern Italy, to win a Giro d'Italia.

Runner-up and best young rider was CSC's emerging talent Andy Schleck, 1'55" behind. The third and final podium spot was captured by Astana's Eddy Mazzoleni at 2'25", who jumped up two spots with a magnificent time trial in Verona, while old Giro hand Gibo Simoni ended fourth, 3'15" behind Di Luca and maintained a 34" lead over arch rival Cunego, who is now fifth at 3'49". Riccardo Riccò maintained his place (sixth) on GC as did Tinkoff rider Petrov, but it was Cunego's teammate Bruseghin, winner of the stage 13 uphill TT who was fifth today despite a broken TT bar in the last kilometre to move up two places on GC into eighth, while Di Luca's Liquigas teammate Pellizotti maintained ninth and Caisse d'Epargne's Arroyo slipped to 10th.

Stage 21 - Sunday, June 3: Vestone - Milano, 185 km

It's a sprinters show as always on the final stage at the 2007 Giro d'Italia that leaves from the small town of Vestone in Val Trompia north of Brescia, then heads west across the Lombardy plain to Milano, where the final 10 finishing circuits will end in a dramatic sprinters finale on Corso Venezia. Look for comeback kid Ale-Jet Petacchi of Team Milram to win his 24th career Giro d'Italia stage win, equalling the great Giuseppe Sarroni.

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