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Giro d'Italia 2009: Stage 21

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It's all over today, with this final time trial taking in the beautiful highlights of Rome. We expect to see Denis Menchov crowned as winner of the Centennial Giro d'Italia this afternoon. Let's just hope the weather doesn't do anything nasty today!

14:57 CEST   
All roads lead to Rome, and the Centennial Giro d'Italia finally has found the way to the Italian capital. Today is the crowning stage of the Giro and we expect to see Denis Menchov take the title he has earned over the last three weeks. We close things out with a 14.4 time trial through beautiful Rome, taking in many of the fantastic historic sites – at least we will see them, the riders won't have a an eye to spare for them as they negotiate the many corners and cobblestones.

The best time so far belongs to Tom Stamsnijder of Team Rabobank, at 19:28, with fifty riders in.

As usual, the riders are going off at one-minute intervals until we get up to the top fifteen. They will head out with three minutes in between.

There are three intermediate time checks, at 3.3km, 7.7km and 11.6km. At the first one, the best time is shared by Bartosz Huzarski (ISD) and Addy Engels (QuickStep), 4:27.

Maarten Tjallingii of Rabobank has the best time at the second time check, 10:19.

And to round things out, Stamsnijder had the best time at the third time check, less than 4 km before the finish line where he is currently the leader. His time at 11.6 km was 15.45.

Andrea Masciarelli of Acqua & Sapone takes off from the start house.

And he is followed immediately by Edvald Boasson Hagen of Columbia, who has a stage win in the Giro to his credit.

Slowest so far today is Thomas Fothen, the younger of Milram's Fothen brothers. He took all of 23:29 to cover the course.

Don't we recall hearing about the Seven Hills of Rome? We may be seeing them in the background today but our weary warriors won't be climbing any of them. There are a few bumps near the beginning of the circuit, with the riders going all the way from 20 to 62 metres – hope the sprinters get over those high hills!

The weather might play a role here today, although of course we hope it doesn't. The forecast is for a pleasant 24° C/ 75° F, but with a chance of light rain in the afternoon. The course is hard enough, with all those corners and cobblestones, and the rain could only make things worse. We don't want to think of what might happen with the combination of grime, oil and rain on cobblestones, with riders going all out. But we are happy to say that it looks like we just might be spared that precipitation.

Boasson Hagen was only second at the first time check, with a time of 4:23, which is four seconds behind Cervelo's Ignatas Konovalovas.

Dries Devenyns of Quick Step has set a new best time by one second, at 19:02

The first rider to go today at 13:45 was Evgeny Sokolov (Bbox) who came into the stage in 169th, and therefore last place, nearly five hours down on Menchov. He fell into that last place on Stage 12, which just happened to be the 61km time trial, so we guess that this really isn't his discipline. Still, he has held out all three weeks and is at the finish today in Rome, which is a major accomplishment in itself.

Konovalovas is really flying today, and looks like he will smash the best time.

The Lithuanian comes in at 18:42, which is 20 seconds faster than the previous best.

We are sorry to say that the clouds are gaining the upper hand and we may see some rain after all.

Bradley Wiggins of Garmin Slipstream is on the course now. He is considered to have good chances here and has put in a fine show at the Giro, having come over the mountains quite well. He is currently in 73rd place, as best of the American squad.

Boasson Hagen was second at the second time check, one second behind Konovalovas.

Speaking of Garmin, we have been asked to send some very special greetings today: Happy First Birthday to Waylon Zabriskie! Dad sends you all his love and will see you again as soon as he can!

Boasson Hagen can now see the Colisseum which is his goal.

Team Columbia has a few possibilities for today, too. How about former World Champion and current Australian champ Mick Rogers? Or Italian champ Marco Pinotti, who won last year's closing Giro time trial? And another name that seems to pop up is Edvald Boasson Hagen, who already has one stage win here to his credit.

The wind is picking up and it looks like we will have rain soon, unfortunately.

No best time and therefore no victory today for Boasson Hagen, who finishes seven seconds down.

So who else is the favourite to win the stage today? Levi Leipheimer's name had been bandied around for a long time, but he has looked a little tired lately. How about his teammate, who has won so many big time trials? Is Lance Armstrong finally going to explode onto the scene today?

Wiggins has set a new best time at the second time check, three seconds ahead.

A few days ago, Astana DS Johan Bruyneel seemed to think his seven-time Tour de France winner might shine here today. "He will show something special at the time trial in Rome. I am convinced of that," he said.

The sprinters ended their festival in Bayern today, with -- guess who? -- Columbia's Andre Greipel taking his third stage win. This time he beat Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo) and Gerald Ciolek (Milram).

3 km to go for Wiggins!

The rain is coming down more now, as Visconti crosses the line in 19:00.

The rain has picked up even more, so things will start getting unpleasant.

Sprick of Bbox has crashed and looks to have a mechanical. Blame it on the weatherman!

NO! Wiggns didn't make it! He finished one second down. Did the rain slow him down?

We have a very hard driving rain right now, so that is very much to the disadvantage of the riders underway now and later.

Things haven't gone as planned for Team Silence-Lotto, which the Belgian team admits. Silence-Lotto has had not only a difficult first half of the season, but a rather anonymous Giro d'Italia. That all changed on Saturday when Philippe Gilbert salvaged the team's race with a perfectly timed move to take the stage win in Anagni.

Gilbert put in a time of 19:18 today, currently putting him in seventh place.

Rain, rain, go away...... It is coming down hard, the road is wet, the cobbles are wet....

We're seeing a lot of very slow times right now. But most of the riders now are domestiques and not time trial specialists, who only want to finsh the race. So why should they take any risks? The season isn't even half over.

Jens Voigt is on the road now, and looks to be taking things carefully.

Saxo Bank is another of those teams which hasn't particularly stood out in this Giro. Will they do something today? DS Torsten Schmidt said, "I'm sure that both Lars Bak and Jens Voigt want to show what they are made of on the tricky time trial in the streets of Rome - but I am not expecting a stage victory."

Voigt's teammate Jason McCartney heads toward the finish line well down, with a time of 21:06.

We now have a bit of sun mixed in with our rain. In the US we would say that means the devil is beating his wife, but in Germany, we say the devil is celebrating his wedding!

Looks like the sun has won the fight at the moment, we are happy to see shadows again!

Voigt has a slight slip on the wet cobblestones, but the old fox recovers quickly.

Pinotti takes to the course. Will he be able to win, as expected by many, or will the wet pavement put an end to those plans?

What is there to say about Rome that hasn't already been said? Population over 2.7 million, capital of Italy, spans the Tiber River, over two and a half thousand years old. The centre of the Roman Empire, and the home of the Roman Catholic Church.

Sebastien Rosseler (Quick Step) won the final stage of Tour of Belgium. Overall leader Lars Boom (Rabobank) put in a strong time trial to take second on the stage and the win in the race.

Voigt is definitely taking it easy today.

Danilo Di Luca of LPR Brakes did his best to win this race, but it wasn't enough. He is proving to be a gracious loser. "I can only say well done to Menchov," he said. "He was the strongest in the time trial and one of the strongest on the climbs, so he deserves to win the Giro."

Michele Scarponi is now underway.

The top fifteen take to the course as of 16:18. Lance Armstrong starts at 16:28, Mick Rogers at 16:40, Leipheimer at 16:46, and the top three of Pellizotti (16:55), Di Luca (16l.58) and Menchov (17:01) will finish things off.

Voigt approaches the finish line, having had a safe ride, as compared to a fast one. His time of 21:27 make him 101st so far.

Here comes the sun, la la la la, and I say, it's alright......

2km to go for Pinotti, in the sunshine. He now passes the man who started in front of him.

Still one km to go for Pinotti. Looks like he won't repeat his victory from last year.

Who is riding what today, you ask? Well, for one, Sylvester Szmyd of Liquigas is on a normal bike. He's not going to come close to a best time today, but why should he? He put in a tremendous amount of work in the mountains for his two captains, so he deserves to take it easy today.

Pinotto finished in a time of 19:11, or 29 seconds down, by the way.

The Rabobank Russian isn't taking anything for granted. "I can't say I've won until I cross the finish line in Rome," Menchov said. "I don't have three minutes, so I can't relax and go for a stroll. The times are tight, so I'll be going flat out in the time trial."

Damiano Cunego takes off. He came into this stage in 18th place, 27:52 down. Definitely not the kind of results he expected.

Barloworld's Christopher Froome nears the finish. He gets a good time of 19:42, exactly one minute behind the leader.

Jean-Paul Van Poppel of Cervelo is quite proud of his team, and not just fourth-ranked Carlos Sastre. Yesterday morning he told them "this is not an ordinary team. It started as a small team but we cannot hide anymore behind that, especially after the spring classics but also from here.

20:15 for Evgeny Petrov.

Scarponi comes in at 20:29.

We are in the top 15 now, going off at three minute intervals.

Thomas Rohregger of Milram heads in to the finsh line. The Austrian is riding his first Grand Tour.

Who is the next to go out? Armstong, in an aero helmet.

Armstrong takes off. Will he try to win the stage?

Lövkivst crosses the finish line in just over 19 minutes.

Popovych is in third place at the first time check.

Lots of people out on the street today, and they are happily cheering on Armstrong, who is powering along.

As we get down to the last riders, let's take a look at some of the sights we are passing here on the course.

What is Armstrong riding today? He is of course on his TT Bike!

No stage win for Armstrong today! He was way down at the first time check.

Armstrong crossed the first time check at 3.3km 22 seconds down and in 65th place.

Armstrong now heads towards Vatican City as he powers along the cobblestones in the sunshine.

Popovych is the next to come towards the Colisseum. He will have a good time.

It is a time of 18:53, or fourth place, for Popovych.

The Piazza del Popolo is an oval shaped park at the northernmost tip of the time trial route. In modern Italian it means "plaza of the people" but actually takes its name from the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, which is in the piazza and in turn got its name from the poplar trees.

Armstrong is 45 seconds down at the second time check, putting him in 21st position there.

Whoops, lets scratch that Armstrong time. We don't have a confirmation on that.

Best young rider Kevin Seeldraeyers is currently 17th at the finish.

We have confirmation of 45 seconds down for Armstong, putting him in 40th place.

The green-clad Stefano Garzelli takes off. No mountains for him today!

2 km to go for Armstrong, and he can expect a very low ranking.

Leipheimer is the next to go. He will probably be highly motivated to go all out today.

Armstrong nears the finish and has picked up his speed.

Armstrong crosses the finish line in a time of 20:01, which currently puts him 42nd place.

Ivan Basso is the next on the start ramp.

Only 4 riders to go now: Sastre, Pellizotti, Di Luca and Menchov.

The course today takes the riders over the Tiber River and back again. The Tiber is the third-longest river in Italy, at 460 km, but probably the most famous.

David Arroyo heads towards the finish, with a time of 19:58.

Marzio Bruseghin finishes in 18:58, which now makes him fifth.

Thomas Fothen no longer has the slowest time. That dubious honour has gone to Volodymir Gustov of Cervelo with a time of 24:28.

Sastre has been underway for three minutes, and now Pellizotti and his blond curls take to the course.

Di Luca in his cyclamen jersey is moving into the starting blocks.

Our man at the scene Gregor Brown says that the rain is picking up again, which is not good news for the top riders.

Di Lucas is on the course now. How much time will he lose today?

Why did Bruseghin not do better today? According to Brown, the Lampre rider said "I couldn't go very well over the cobblestones. I'm not used to them, since I never go to church."

19:31 is the time for Mick Rogers. Only seven more riders to come in.

The riders go by St. Peter's Square, which is actually not in Rome but in Vatican City. The Square is right in front of St. Peter's Basilica, one of the largest churches in the wold and a holy site.

Di Luca is up out of the saddle, powering his way along.

Oh dear, he is wearing his orange aero-helmet and orange shoes with his pink skinsuit. Fashion horror!

Di Luca and Menchov are going all out right now -- take no prisoners, give no quarter.

Ninth place for Garzelli, not a bad time trial for a mountain man.

Di Luca has set a new best time at the first time check! By one second.

Well, maybe Di Luca hasn't given up hope entirely. "Anything could happen in the time trial," he said. "The gap is small. It's a special course, very technical, but Menchov has shown he is strong."

It is now pouring down rain at the finish line. We hope very much that we don't have any crashes.

Leipheimer is coming to the finish -- no stage win for Astana today. He is coming in at 19:35.

Menchov five seconds down on Di Luca at the first checkpoint.

Menchov was not leaving anything to chance, and hoped to ride the time trial course today twice beforehand to check it out.

Di Luca is on his road bike, while Menchov is on his time trial bike. Will that make a difference in this weather?

Di Luca has lost time at the second time check, coming across 17 seconds down.

Sastre and Pellizotti are both still underway but the world only has eyes for the man in magenta and the man in pink.

Di Luca re-crosses the Tiber river and Menchov approaches the next time check.

Menchov has made up a lot of time. He came in at the second time check only three seconds down.

Sastre, anybody remember him? He puts in a relatively slow time of 20:08, making him 62nd right now.

The second half of the course is less technical and challenging than the first half, so we expect to see Menchov continue to make better time than his Italian rival.

Pellizotti heads into the final curves now.

Pellizotti ends the stage with a time of 19:21, making him 15th. But he is on the overall podium.

Di Luca was 32 seconds down at the third time check.

And it is not only raining again, but harder than ever.

Di Luca heads into the finish.

He goes under the final km banner.

Di Luca receives tremendous applause as he crosses the line with a time of 19:27.

Menchov may very well set a new best time and win the stage as well as the race!

Last KM for Menchov! And he goes down!

He quickly gets a new bike and gets back up and going. But how much time did he lose?

Di Lucas looks stunned -- what might happen?

No stage win is possible now for the Russian. Can he save his GC lead?

He does! Menchov takes the title!

He crosses the line in 10th place, with a time of 19:06.

The usually quiet Russian raises his arms in triumph and shouts out his joy.

What drama! What excitement! Much more than we wanted, frankly!

That's it folks! The Centennial Giro d'Italia is now one for the history books. The overall title goes to Russian Denis Menchov of Rabobank. Congratulations to him and the rest of the podium and all of the jersey winners. And congratulations to all the riders who started out in Venice and to all of those who made it to the finish line here in Rome.

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