Welcome back to what has been called "the" decisive stage of the Giro, a "monster" time trial, which if it doesn't actually decide the overall winner, will certainly have a major effect on the rankings.
Bart Dockx of Silence-Lotto was the first to head out today. Dario Andriotto of Acqua & Sapone has the best time at the finish so far, 1:42:12, which puts him 10 seconds ahead of Katusha's Ignatiev. Dockx, by the way, is slowest so far, over three minutes down.
There are three intermediate time checks, at km 18.6 (top of the first climb), 34.5km (roughly the bottom of the first climb) and 44.5km, the top of the second climb.
Dockx no longer has the slowest time. That "honour" now belongs to Evgeny Sokovlev of Bbox Bouygues, who came in at 1:51:48, more than nine and a half minutes back. Wonder what the cut-off time will be?
We suspect that the official Giro timing may have a problem, or did Fuji's Alberto Fernandez really need 1:47:16 to cover the first 18.6km?
If so, he sure sped up later, as he crossed the second time check at 1:00.10. Hm, negative speed?
Bertolini of Diquigiovanni just put in a new best time at the second time check, 55:08.
By the way, Tyler Farrar of Garmin crossed the second time check in the time of exactly one hour flat. But even here he was slower than Mark Cavendish, who had a time of 58:41.
So who is going to take the honours today? Lance Armstrong has to be an obvious candidate, especially after yesterday's strong showing, and his teammate Levi Leipheimer is perhaps most often mentioned as the potential winner. But how about Ivan Basso? Denis Menchov? Or Damiano Cunego, who still has something to prove in this race? Even race leader Danilo Di Luca shouldn't fare too badly. Give us your thoughts in
Here is some Garmin news: David Zabriskie has hit the finish line in 1:45:11, which makes him 10th at the moment. Doing better is teammate David Millar, who had the second best time at the second check, 48 seconds behind Bertolini.
As usual, the riders are setting off at one-minute intervals, with the top twenty going off at three-minute intervals. Bart Dockx of Silence-Lotto opened the gala at 12:05, and Danilo Di Luca will be the last to head down the starter's ramp at 15:49.
The cut-off time in today's stage may well play a role. With 29 riders in so far we already have a time difference of over nine and a half minutes. The cut-off time is a percent of the winner's time, added to his time. We are, however, not sure whether it is 12 or 15 percent. At any rate, it wouldn't surprise us to see some riders finish outside of the time limit today.
If you are looking for straight sections or flat sections today you are wasting your time. The first climb starts only 2.8 km after the start, and they don't start descending until km 26. Then they start up the next climb, hitting the top at km 44.5 and not starting to descend until about km 55.
Cavendish continues to lead Farrar at the third time check, 1:25:17 to 1:25:50.
Bradley Wiggins of Garmin is on the course now. Some people consider him a dark horse to win here today.
We have a new leader! Yuriy Krivtsov of AG2R is now at the top of the charts, with a time of 1:41:27, which is 45 seconds faster than Andriotto.
Giovanni Visconti of ISD set a whopping new best time at the first check, 55 seconds faster than the previous one. Can he hold that speed on this long, difficult course?
And of course we wish a Happy Birthday to Mauricio Ardilo of Rabobank, who has hit the big three-oh today!
Millar is continuing on at a measured pace. He was also second best at the third check, only 11 seconds behind Bertolini.
We hear the time cut off will be 25 percent today, so there are some riders probably a little happier now about their chances to continue in the race.
Milram's Thomas Rohregger was the last to go, and soon we will be in the top twenty.
The first climb is the Passo del Bracco, ranked Category Three. It is 613 metres high, and the riders will climb 504 of those meters over 15.8km. The average gradient is 3% but some sections are up to 8%.
We wonder what has happened to Fuji's Hector Gonzalez. He had the second best time at the second time check, but doesn't show up on any later time checks, which he should have passed long ago.
Bertolini has now moved into first place overall. His time of 1:39:50 is over a minute and a half faster than Krivtsov's time
And Oscar "the Cat" Gatto is now at the bottom of the list. His time of 1:52:19 was 31 seconds slower than Sokolov.
Mauricio Soler of Barloworld is on the course now. He was in 19th place going into the day, so we are now sending the riders off at three minute intervals.
David Millar has now knocked Bertolini off the throne! The Scot came through in a time of 1:39:46, which was four seconds faster than the Italian.
Team Columbia is now two-three at the first time check, with Marco Pinotti second and Edvald Boasson Hagen third.
We are happy to report that Hector Gonzalez has popped up and was noted as fifth fastest at the third time check.
The day's second torture instrument, or climb, is the Monterosso al Mare, Category Two. Here the riders climb 537 of its 548 metres, over 8.8 km. It may be shorter but it is nastier: an average gradient of 6,1%, with max of 10%.
Armstrong is on the course now.
Astana's Lance Armstrong doesn't mince words as to the stage. "The Giro TT is wicked hard. Never, ever flat and 62 kilometres. I'm doubtful for riding the TT bike as well. And the descents? Insane."
Have we mentioned that Visconti also has the fastest time at the second time check? He is still speeding along, 1:36 faster than Bertolini.
The start is in Sestri Levante, right on the Mediterranean. It is perhaps not as well known as other Italian Riviera destinations, but is turning into a big favourites of the Italians. It has two bays, whose names we like: Baia delle Favole, (Bay of the Fables), and Baia del Silenzio, the (Bay of Silence). The Bay of the Fables, or Fairy Tales, was named for Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, who lived here in 1835.
Wiggins shows why he is a secret favourite here, setting a new best time at the first time check, 24 seconds faster than Visconti.
Armstrong is on the road now, and he is not using his special time trial bike. He has normal wheels, and a normal helmet. However he does have clips, aero bars clipped on to his handlebars.
Marzio Bruseghin of Lampre is another favourite today. He is not even using clips.
We see, though, that Wiggins is wearing an aero helmet. Is that why he has such a good time?
This portion of the Italian Riviera is known as Cinque Terre, which translates as Five Lands, although it is acutally only five villages. The whole area is also the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area is noted for its rugged beauty.
Marzio Bruseghin of Lampre is looking forward to today's stage. Back at the Giro presentation in December, he said, "I like this time trial, demanding and hard. It will be one of the favorable days, there will be the hard climbs though and I hope it all equals out."
Boasson Hagen and Pinotti are now second and third at the second time check.
Simoni is the next to tackle the course.
Garzelli just passed the man who started one minute in front of him.
Garzelli now has the best time at the first time check, but Scarponi who started later was even faster. His time is not yet up though.
Wiggins sets a new best time at the second time check, of 53:13.
Ivan Basso will be the next to go, as Thomas Lövkvist has already taken to the course.
Bosisio, Di Luca's mountain helper, has taken the new best time at the first check.
Jim Ochowitz, now working with BMC, says, "I think Lance has been well prepared for the race. Most of his preparation over the winter was geared for this race. The collarbone break set him behind but he's growing into the race. He looks really good - iti's the typical Lance Armstrong. He's got great experience and a lot of confidence and I think you're seeing that here today."
Carlos Sastre is the next to go. Cervelo DS Jean-Paul Van Poppel sees good chances for Sastre today. "It's the big day so we will see how it goes, because it's not the usual time trial. In fact it is very unusual. It contains super hard climbs and the downhill is very technical. Everything is there and everybody can go to their maximum and I think that Carlos will do a good time trial, I really believe he can do that."
Ochowitz is picking Armstrong to win today and Leipheimer to take the overall title.
"It's completely different than a normal time trial," says Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre of Cervelo. "I don't know if I'll be better or not, but it appears to be a different scenario for a climber. Everybody must remember Carlos Sastre is a climber, not a specialist in the time trial."
Lövkvist has his power meter on, and appears to be keeping his effort at a certain level. He's certainly not going all out.
Visconti approaches the finish line and looks like he will have a new best time.
And does he have a new best time! 1:37:17, which is 2:29 faster than Millar.
Leipheimer is now in the starting blocks.
Garzelli has now caught the man who started two minutes ahead of him. He is going to make some time good in the GC today.
Sastre is bucking the trend and is riding a TT bike, so he is getting every bit of help he can. Of course his sponsor is Cervelo, which builds those aerodynamic beauties.
Michael Rogers went on his way three minutes ago and Denis Menchov just took off.
Boasson Hagen moves into second place at the finish, ahead of Millar.
Stefano Garzelli is on fire! He has caught and passed Navarro and De Greef. And Serpa.
Di Luca is in a long-sleeved skin suit (that's a lot of pink, we must say) and is now started. All the riders are now underway.
This isn't the only important stage remaining in the Giro, Denis Menchov of Rabobank reminds us. "The most important stage is the time trial, then the stages to Monte Petrano, Blockhaus and Vesuvio. Those are the four most important stages." The Russian noted that "You have to be in top condition for that one special day, even if it not really a day for specialists. I will use a normal bike on that stage, which seems like a normal stage really."
Armstrong came through the first time check in 33:36, which is 43 seconds behind the best time. That puts him in sixth place.
Garzelli has the best time at the second time check and Wiggins at the third.
We mentioned Di Luca's pink skinsuit. Of course they are all wearing skinsuits today.
Current leader Danilo Di Luca sees himself doing quite well today. "It will be myself, Rogers and Menchov within a few seconds," he said. "If I lose 40 seconds to [Denis] Menchov, that would be great. I will use the normal [road] bike and time trial bar extensions.
Armstrong has passed the second time check, 29 seconds down in fifth place.
What do we eat here in Cinque Terre, you wonder? (Like you are really afraid of going hungry here in Italy.) The obvious answer is seafood, with anchovies being a local specialty. The area is also known for its pesto sauce, and a common baked product is Focaccia. No surprise, there is also local wine and even a grappa and a lemon-flavoured sweet liquer.
Armstrong seems to be picking a lot at his skinsuit. Does it not fit right?
Levi Leipheimer of Astana is one of the top favourites for today's win. He said, "If it were a normal Tour de France-style time trial or any other time trial, I would say the gaps would be bigger. It is a really technical time trial and probably a slower time trial than normal. It means a guy like Di Luca won't lose as much."
Rogers is also wearing an aerodynamic helmet today. The three-times World Time Trial Champion said of today's stage, "The descents are very difficult - it cannot be won on the descents, but it can be lost there. The difference will be made on the climbs. I would like to see time gaps in my favour and finish in the top three."
Armstrong goes up a climb. Lots of people along the way cheering him and everyone else on.
A fan runs along and shows off his underwear, from behind. Fortunately it wasn't a thong.
Rogers is wearing the Australian national champion jersey today, as he is Australian time trial champ.
Wiggins comes toward the finish and will set a new best time.
And Wiggo is in with a time of 1:36:27, which gives him a 49 second lead.
Basso is only ninth at the first time check. Sastre's TT bike is paying off - he's sixth at that time check, two seconds faster than Armstrong!
Bruseghin is just behind Armstrong at the first time check.
Leipheimer was second at the first time check, one second back.
Garmin really needs to win a stage, and you can bet Jonathan Vaughters is praying mightily that Wiggins' time holds up. They targeted the TTT to the exclusion of just about everything else -- a gamble which didn't pay off
Di Luca also went for weight savings over aerodynamics. No aero bars, no aero helmet....
A new best time at the finish! 1:35:41 for Janez Brajkovic of Astana.
Michael Rogers is significantly back at the first time check, over a minute down.
Menchov whizzes through the first time check in record time, by far the fastest.
We don't have the exact time for Menchov, but it is said to be 18 seconds faster than Leipheimer.
Armstrong comes to the third check in 7th place, at 1:16:09.
Di Luca is through the first time check in a time of 33:19, which is fifth place.
Bosisio approaches the finish line but won't set a new best time. He is fourth.
As of the first time check, Leipheimer had made up 25 seconds on Di Luca.
Basso ninth at the second time check, at 53:45:0.
Scarponi finishes the stage in 1:37:22, which makes him seventh at the moment.
Leipheimer looks a bit temative in the curves, but you must remember that not only did he crash yesterday, he also crashed badly California and had to sit out for a while.
Menchov descends, looking good. He has very good chances today.
Leipheimer has just now gone through the second time check in third place, three seconds down.
Ivan Basso of Liquigas offered an intersesting perspective on today's stage. It is not the curves or the climbs or descents that make the time trial so difficult, but its length. The problem will be the ability to concentrate for the whole time.
Rogers continues to fall back, coming through the second time check in 14th place, 1:14 down.
Menchov looks to be aiming for his second stage win. He was first at the second time check, in 52:38, which gives him a lead of 12 seconds.
Cunego crosses the finish line in 11th place with a time of 1:38:36.
Armstrong is the next to come to the finish line. No win for him today.
Armstrong's time is 1:36:55, which is 1:23 down and puts him at the moment in sixth place.
Di Luca is hunched down as low as he can to try and grab every second he can.
Di Luca is tenth at the second time check, with a time of 53:24, which is 46 seconds down.
Di Luca needs to start counting seconds. He has already lost 46 seconds to Menchov today. He can only lose 34 more or Menchov will be in pink.
Pellizotti is climbing. Perhaps he would be more aerodynamic without those long blond curls.
Perhaps Di Lucas should have paid more attention to the weather. He wipes the sweat from under his sunglasses.
Not such a good day today for Team Columbia. Rogers has lost 1'26 already, and Lövkvist lost 3'00 at the second time check.
Popovych made up the three minutes on Kevin Seeldrayers, who started ahead of him, and crossed the finish line just ahead of the Belgian.
Menchov takes on a climb, with his shoulders rocking lightly side to side.
Leipheimer has the best time so far at the third time check by 30 seconds, 1:14:27.
Menchov will be the next at the third time check.
This is not good: we see a few raindrops.
The road looks wet in places.
It looks a bit harder going now for Menchov as he approaches the top of the second climb.
It's not that hard going for Menchov though -- he is 34 seconds faster than Leipheimer, with a time of 1:13:53.
Now it is Di Luca's turn to torture himself on this final climb.
A pink-clad fan runs out into the road to accompany Di Luca.
Basso carefully makes his way down towards the finish.
Di Luca passes the Antler Man, who is wearing a Leipheimer tee shirt.
Di Luca crosses the third time check in 1:15:39. We must quickly compare that to Menchov but we think that the Russian is now in virtual pink!
Thomas Lövkvist finally approaches the finish, and is way back in 21st place.
And only a few seconds later Ivan Basso crosses the line in 1:36:46, making him 7th at the moment.
Sastre is the next to come in -- but first he must come out of the tunnel.
Sastre is 8th at the moment, with a time of 1:36:46. But that is still eight seconds faster than Armstrong.
Only five riders left now.
Pellizotti and his blond curls come in with a good time, 1:35:56, which makes him third.
Four to go. Leipheimer should be next.
The American has his arms stretched out in front of him and he is highly concentrated.
He crosses the line with the best time so far, 1:34:49 which is 43 seconds faster than Garzelli. But he shouldn't count on the stage win.
Rogers ought to be next, but we haven't heard of him in ages. It wouldn't surprise us to see Menchov come in before him.
3 km to go for Menchov.
Menchov is still fresh enough to sprint out of the turns. He's really going well today.
Menchov has 19 career wins, and we suspect he will add another one today.
Two kms for the Rabo rider.
The final km for Menchov. Can it be that he is willing to let the stage win go because he knows he has the pink jersey?
Rogers misses out on the top ten.
Menchov takes it! 1:34:29, which is 20 seconds faster than Leipheimer.
Now to see what his advantage over Di Luca is.
Di Luca still has more than 2 km to go.
It's official! Menchov is the stage winner and the new GC leader!
Di Luca finally makes it to the finish line in a time of 1:36:21, which means he was 1:54 behind Menchov and in 6th place on the day.
Menchov and Di Luca swap places in the GC, with the Russian moving up and the Italian moving down. Third is now Leipheimer.
Congratulations to one and all, and thanks for joining us again today. We will be back tomorrow, and hope you will be too!
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