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Giro d'Italia 2009: Stage 17

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What a stage today! It is the shortest non-time trial stage, at only 83 km. But there is a saying in German which fits perfectly, "klein aber gemein" which means roughly, short but nasty. The stage starts out flat, then has a little bump, then has a bigger bump, and then it all explodes as they head up the Blockhaus.

We are actually a little early today, the race doesn't start until 14:50, or 2:50 p.m., if you like your time written that way.

The organisers chopped off the four top kilometres from this stage, but that didn't make it any easier. The peloton now won't face the 11% gradient section near the top, but they still have one section of 13% lower down. By the way, they took those four kilometres and added them to the flat section.

We are now in the Abruzzo region, which was so tragically struck by a major earthquake last month, killing nearly 300 people. Danilo Di Luca is from this region and wants to win today "as a homage to all the earthquake victims and because it is in my area."

We are actually still awaiting the start of the stage. No idea what the hold up is.

This isn't the only race on the calendar today. The Tour of Belgium is holding its first stage and right now we have 22k to go and a break of 18 has 23 seconds. That group includes Rabobank sprinter Graeme Brown.

Over in the Bayern Rundfahrt, two escapees have a lead of just over two minutes with about 16 km to go. They broke away early and had a lead of up to six minutes or so, but the sprinters' teams wanted this stage for themselves.

Who is going to win today? What kind of team tactics will we see? You can talk about it in our forum.

Today's stage started in Chieti, which is hardly new to the Giro. In fact, it featured in that very first Giro 100 years ago. Stage two ran from Bologna to Chieti, a whopping 378 km, and it was won by Giovanni Cuniolo. Stage three departed from Chieti and headed to Naples, a stage only 243 km.

19° and partly cloudy at the Blockhaus, with a possibility of rain at the finish.

The race is finally underway. They set out about 10 minutes ago and rolled through the neutralized zone, until the "real start" was just now given.

Everyone is all together. No doubt they are all wary of the climb today.

Only six of the 22 teams are still at full strength. The hardest hit is Garmin-Slipstream, which is down to only five riders.

With 6 km to go in Bayern, the two escapees have been caught. Milram is now leading the field, hoping to set up a sprint win for Gerald Ciolek.

What a nice, pleasant, slow-paced group ride we are watching...... hope someone wakes us up when and if something actually happens!

What will happen today? We predict a breakaway on the run-in flat section, which will probably shrivel up and die on the climb, followed by the favourites all together in a bunch nervously eying one another. Who will be the first to jump? Di Luca? Sastre? Or an outsider, who will gamble on getting the stage win while the top three concentrate on not losing time to one another?

Andre Greipel of Team Columbia-Highroad wins the sprint in Bayern, to take the first leader's jersey.

8km remaining from 83km

A flat tyre here in the Giro for Luca Mazzanti of Katusha. But it is quickly fixed and it shouldn't take him long to get back to the slow-moving peloton.

Attack! The first to go is none other than Thomas Voeckler, of Bbox Bouygues Telecom.

Serguei Ivanov (Katusha) won the stage of Tour of Belgium. He was in a large, late breakaway which was in danger of being caught with 5km to go. He countered the break, left a few tagalongs behind and just barely held off the sprinters. Brown nearly pipped him as he made his victory salute.

Voeckler is no longer alone. It was a group of five and now more riders come from behind to join them. None of the favourites has made the jump, though.

16km remaining from 83km

It looks like a group of eight and we will try to get their names.

So we think we have a group of 10 ahead of a group of four or five, ahead of the peloton. We're still working on getting all the details.

The lead group includes Ruggero Marzoli (Acqua & Sapone), Giuseppe Palumbo (Acqua & Sapone), Felix Cardenas (Barloworld), Thomas Voeckler (Bbox), Giovanni Visconti (ISD), and Matteo Bono (Lampre). There are more and we will try to get their names.

The rest of the lead group is Mauro Facci (Quick Step), Gonzalo Rabunal (Xacobeo), Riccardo Chairini (LPR) and Delio Fernandez (Xacobeo).

We never did get you the names of the five-man chase group, but it doesn't make any difference now, they have been absorbed back into the peloton.

28km remaining from 83km

LPR has moved to the head of the peloton. Yes, Danilo Di Luca is definitely planning to make this his stage.

Barloworld's Colombian climber Mauricio Soler had set his sights on this stage, telling Cyclingnews last week, "If my health is good I will try". He must have had a foreboding as to what would happen. He had to drop out of the race during Monday's mountain stage, finally giving in to a tendonitis that had been bothering him for days.

32km remaining from 83km

There is a first bump in the road, and the lead group has fallen apart on it. Four riders are now in the lead, but the others scurry along and catch up again.

1:45 for the 10 in front now.

No doubt we have all forgotten who is wearing what jersey on our day off, so let's run down the list again. "Pretty in pink" (and aren't we getting tired of that cliché) is Denis Menchov of Rabobank as the overall leader. Danilo Di Luca (LPR) is "super in ciclamino" as leader in the points ranking. Stefano Garzelli of Acqua & Sapone is the mountain leader and therefore "great in green". Our brain is now too exhausted for further wordplay, so we will simply say that Kevin Seeldrayers of Quick Step has taken over the white jersey of best young rider.

Over two minutes lead now. Di Luca was just at the back of the field, but probably just paying a visit to the team car. The rest of his team is leading the peloton.

Will today see the return to winning by Lance Armstrong? He has shown more and more the last few stages, while Giro captain Levi Leipheimer rather fell apart on Monday. Will the seven-time Tour de France winner be the one to ride away with the stage title?

This is a very big day for Danilo Di Luca, on any number of levels. On the personal level, the local rider wants to honour the earthquake survivors and his fans. "I’m hoping to give the Abruzzesi a day of joy, excitement and hope," he said. "Menchov is very strong but tomorrow I’m going to have all the fans on my side. I’m going to try and win it for them."

40km remaining from 83km

We either have a crash or a bunch of guys decided to have mechanicals at the same time. Two ISD riders and a Milram were all involved, but all are going again. The peloton is going up one of the smaller unranked climbs.

The stage is about half done! Think the last half will be a fast as the first half? Nah, probably not.

Looks like Chechu Rubiera of Astana was also caught up in that mix up. He is heading back to the peloton together with the two ISD riders.

43km remaining from 83km

LPR is leading the field still, with Rabobank right behind them.

This stage is also Di Luca's chance to grab back the maglia rosa from Rabobank's Denis Menchov. He is only 39 second behind the Russian.

The leading group now has a gap of just over three minutes. They have started to climb, not so much now, but it will just keep on getting more and more and more...

Good heavens, what has Christopher Froome of Barloworld done to himself? He looks quite disfigured! Oh, he has just stuffed his jersey full of water bottles. He even had to reach up his sleeve to get one from his back!

The lead group is approaching the TV intermediate sprint. Five of them will get points. Their lead over the peloton is now 2:46.

Luca Barla of Milram was involved in the earlier incident and is now sporting a bandage on his left calf.

48km remaining from 83km

Visconti wins the intermediate sprint, with Palumbo second and Facci third.

The gap is now 2:56, as the peloton crosses the marker for the intermediate sprint.

Third-placed Carlos Sastre will do his best to make up the 2:19 that separate him from first place. "There aren't many options left but we do have two mountain stages with climbing finishes," he said. "One of them is a relatively short stage at 80km long with a finish in Blockhaus and then on Friday, we have the other mountain stage finishes in Vesuvius."

Did we say it was sunny atop the Blockhaus? Well, "was" is the operative word there. Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown is up there and says the fog has suddenly rolled in.

58km remaining from 83km

Not much further to go now. Cervelo has moved to the head of the peloton.

Has Danilo Di Luca made mistakes so far in the Giro? "I don't believe so," he told Brown of Cyclingnews. "I won two stages, I attacked where I could, I gained time where i could... So, I think that I did the most that I could do.

58km remaining from 83km

The gap is down to two minutes.

Sprick of Bbox has a mechanical. Tough timing for him, since the peloton is zipping along right now.

Kevin Seeldrayers took over the white jersey for the best young rider, and aims to hold on to it until the end. The 22-year-old Quick Step rider modestly told Cyclingnews, "I have not done so bad here at the Giro d'Italia. I will try to keep improving."

Chiarini tries to pick up the pace in the lead group, and the others come after him. Voeckler catches him and keeps on going. Some riders were not able to keep up this pace and have dropped back.

Sastre clutches his chest - not in pain, but in conversation with his team car.

There are now six riders in the front, and Voeckler has a few words about how they need to work together better. He didn't put it quite that politely, though.

A Cervelo rider has gone down. He was at the head of the peloton and his front wheel simply slipped away, and he slid across the road to the the grass. It is Philip Deignan who has left a lot of skin on the asphalt.

The first group is now Marzoli, Cardenas, Voeckler, Chiarini and the two Xacobeos.

66km remaining from 83km

Now the first riders are going to start going up.

The first riders who have fallen out of the lead group have now been caught by the peloton which is only 53 seconds back.

Danilo Di Luca has an advantage over his rivals today, in that he knows this Blockhaus climb. "I have done it hundreds and hundreds of times. It is my reference point and the place where I train when I need to include a long climb. So, I know it by heart," Di Luca told Cyclingnews.

Di Luca looks grim as he hangs onto Sastre's rear wheel as the field of favourites heads up the climb.

Cardenas and Voeckler jump out on the 13% gradient section, and Chiarini tries but can't catch them.

The fun is over and the torture has started.

Di Lucas now leads with one LPR teammate.

68km remaining from 83km

Chiarini has caught Voeckler and Cardenas.

Only 35 seconds lead now for the trio in front.

Szmyd has a small lead over the Di Luca-led peloton.

Szmyd doesn't get away. We see an Astana jersey near the head of the peloton but can't tell the number.

Pellizotti goes, and so does Armstrong!

The two Liquigas riders have a lead of about 10 seconds over Armstrong, who looks back to see where the peloton is.

Cardenas hangs on to Armstrong, but can't stay with him. Armstrong now passes Szmyd. Pellizotti is in the lead.

Pellizotti continues to lead ahead of Armstrong, who is ahead of what used to be the peloton but is now a group of 15-20.

That group includes Di Luca, Menchov, Sastre and Leipheimer, among others.

The group of favourites is now at 30 seconds, and Armstrong is about 8 seconds behind Pellizotti.

Armstrong looks like the Armstrong of old: smooth, no effort, consistent speed.

Masciarelli leads the chase group.

20 seconds now between Pellizotti and Armstrong.

Ten Dam takes over the lead work, but at this time it is every man for himself. Sastre sitting at the back, watching and assessing, as always.

Attacks are starting out of the group: Di Luca, of course, followed by Garzelli and Menchov.

73km remaining from 83km

Basso is with them and Sastre moves up too. They have now caught and passed Armstrong. Or can he stay with them?

Di Luca is putting his stamp on this stage for sure.

Armstrong can't stay with them and falls back. Sastre jumps out of the group to catch the leaders, followed by Simoni.

Szmyd also move up with Sastre. They will catch Armstrong in a few seconds.

74km remaining from 83km

Armstrong is now on Sastre's rear wheel. Basso is also in the Di Luca group.

Pellizotti has about 35 seconds on his chasers. Di Luca grimaces and continues to lead his small chase group, from which Garzelli has disappeared. It is now Di Luca, Basso and Menchov.

75km remaining from 83km

Pellizotti continues to lead over the three chasers, but Garzelli joins the trio again.

Pellizotti has about 30 seconds over the Di Luca group, with Sastre 54 seconds back.

The riders aren't broiling in the sun today, they are riding through a beautiful forest.

In the Sastre group we also have Armstrong, Szmyd and Simoni. Sastre is doing all the lead work, of course.

Simoni drops back. Sastre tries to pick up the pace.

75km remaining from 83km

Pellizotti has half a minute on Di Luca and nearly a minute on Sastre.

The leading Pellizotti looks cool and calm, his blond curls are not disturbed.

Pellizotti was fourth overall coming into this stage, just over three minutes down.

Simoni has joined the Sastre group again, which is now exactly one minute down.

Di Luca continues to drag his little group up the mountain as they pass under the 7 km marker, 39 seconds down.

Leipheimer is about one and a half minutes back in a group.

Pellizotti has enough of a lead over Sastre right now that he would pass him in the GC. The gap is now over a minute.

We hear that Leipheimer, Masciarelli, Rogers and Bruseghin plus maybe Valjavec are all together, 1:20 back.

Armstrong doesn't look like he is particularly having fun right now.

Pellizotti doesn't look quite as smooth and cool as he did earlier. Now 42 seconds back to the Di Luca group and 1:18 to Sastre.

80km remaining from 83km

The end is in sight, almost, for Pellizotti.

Sastre drops out of his group but struggles to hang on.

Di Luca is only 2:29 ahead of Pellizotti, who is making up some good time today. Another motivation for Di Luca....

The "Blond Adonis" has now moved into the fog.

The other two can't follow. Di Lucas can't shake Menchov.

81km remaining from 83km

Di Lucas grimaces and bears down, while Menchov looks cool and calm.

Sastre has caught the Armstrong group again.

82km remaining from 83km

Now finally Pellizotti can be sure of his stage win.

We peer through the fog and see the pea-green clad Pellizotti. Hopefully he can find the finish line!

Pellizotti has not only picked up time over Sastre, he gets those 20 seconds bonus seconds. That will hurt Sastre!

A flat section near the finish line. He looks back anxiously but sees no cyclists. And he crosses the line with a big smile!

Menchov tries to sprint for the next bonus seconds, but has no chance. Garzelli takes second, Di Luca third and Menchov fourth. He loses a few seconds, plus the 8 seconds that Di Luca got for third.

The next group approaches the finale, with Armstrong, Sastre, Rogers, Leipheimer, Szmyd, and so on.

Monday's stage took well over seven hours, today's was just over two hours.

Pellizotti has passed Sastre in the GC and it is possible that Basso has passed him too. Perhaps he sat back and waited and assessed just a tick too long.

The riders continue to dribble over the foggy finish line, looking very relieved to finally be there.

Seeldrayers lost time to Masciarelli, who was second to him in the young rider ranking.

Menchov continues to lead Di Luca, with Pellizotti now third, Basso fourth and Sastre dropping to fifth.

Another exciting mountain stage! Join us tomorrow, when we think things will be a little calmer again.

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