It seems Columbia-Highroad has brought a team that can win any stage they want.
First, they showed their combined strength on the Lido di Venezia, beating pre-race favourite Garmin-Slipstream in the team time trial and putting Cavendish in the maglia rosa.
Three days later on stage four, Team Columbia-Highroad placed its second rider in pink, Thomas Lövkvist demonstrating his strength and maturity on the climb of San Martino di Castrozza and now a serious dark horse for the final podium in Rome.
Yesterday, it was the turn of Edvald Boasson Hagen, the least experienced man in a five-man breakaway making a mockery of his rivals in Chiavenna.
And Saturday in Bergamo, Team Columbia-Highroad pulled another rabbit out of the hat in Kanstantsin Siutsou.
A textbook move by the 26-year-old from Belarus, who now resides in this neck of the woods, Siutsou attacked just as a dangerous nine-man move was about to be caught 15 kilometres from the finish of the Giro's eighth stage.
It was by no means an easy road to victory. In fact, with the cobbled climb to Bergamo Alta, its summit 3.45 kilometres from the line and Siutsou holding just 20 seconds' advantage at that point, the odds were against him.
But on the descent he seemed not to care for his life, taking every risk and then some. His pedalling style still smooth, still powerful, Team Columbia-Highroad found themselves yet another big winner in the making as they almost made it a 1-2-3 with Boasson Hagen and Michael Rogers, had it not been for the stubborn intervention of maglia rosa Danilo Di Luca, pipping the Australian for third.
"I knew the road because I live nearby, 25 kilometres away on the lake. It was a good moment to attack; the [GC] leaders were without their teammates," said Siutsou.
"In the Settimana Lombarda race, [Stefano] Garzelli won a similar stage that used this climb [to Bergamo Alta] and I knew when you have a gap like I had at the top, you can be quite sure you will win."
Astana, Columbia take it to the maglia rosa
When the smack-down came on the Colle del Gallo, a sometimes decisive climb used in the Giro di Lombardia autumn classic, the maglia rosa faced some serious decision making.
GC threats Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner (Astana), David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) and Michael Rogers (Team Columbia-Highroad) were all there - Di Luca was not.
By its summit 26.7 kilometres from the finish, Rogers was in virtual pink by 18 seconds, and both he and Leipheimer were using their super-domestiques Boasson Hagen and Horner to drive their advantage home. But this self-professed cold-blooded killer did not panic and handled the situation with tongue-wagging aplomb. Ten clicks later and gruppo compatto, Rogers et al. must have been wondering why they bothered; it was a silent but deadly message from "Il Killer di Spoltore" of what may happen if they try this stunt again.
"The team managed the attacks really well. We didn't panic - they were still a long way out [from the finish] - and a lot of teams helped us, including Cervelo, Diquigiovanni and Rabobank. Maybe Astana attacked because they wanted to see how I would respond in difficulty," said Di Luca.
It's strange just how relaxed our maglia rosa is. Fifteen days out from Rome, is he so confident he will win his second Giro, are his legs so good, that he feels only nothing can beat him except disaster?
Or is he feeling so unbeatable, so God-like, can he also defy disaster?
"Maybe it's because you don't know me," Di Luca told Cyclingnews with a wry smile.
"Yes, it's true, I'm well aware I'm in very good condition. And yes, I've had a good start to the Giro - I've enjoyed good results until now and anything good that happens from now is something extra.
"But I still want to have the maglia rosa in Rome. I'm conscious of my strengths," he said.
Horrillo falls far
The situation of Rabobank's Pedro Horrillo, who crashed out on the descent of the Culmine di San Pietro and was airlifted to hospital with reported breaks to his T12 and C3 vertebrae and punctured lungs, will continue to be unknown for another 24 hours.
Said Rabobank doctor Geert Leinders, "The situation is very serious, but for falling 60 metres, it's about as good as it gets.
"But we have to be careful not to be too optimistic; we have to wait. He was in a coma when he arrived [at hospital], then he wanted to wake up, but the doctors chose to keep him unconscious for the next 24 hours so they can treat him best.
"The good news is that scan of his brain and his head were negative. We are waiting for news on any possible complications, and possible changes to his respiratory condition," he said.
How to Break a Rider's Legs 101
In the first week of a Grand Tour, begin with a lung-busting team time trial, add two consecutive mountain stages in the Dolomites mid-week, and end with three back-to-back 200-kilometre-plus stages.
For the peloton of the 92nd Giro d'Italia - minus seven men since the start in Venice a week ago - the weekend began in Morbegno in the country's far north, not far from the previous day's finish in Chiavenna, moving south towards Sunday's circuit race in Milano. But rather than head directly to the business and fashion capital of Italy, a diversion towards historic Bergamo was in order.
After 34 kilometres, a group of three broke free, becoming seven-strong six kilometres later and two kilometres after that, numbering 10 - Dario Cataldo (Quick Step), David López García (Caisse d'Epargne), Johann Tschopp (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Serge Pauwels (Cervélo TestTeam), Carlos José Ochoa (Diquigiovanni), Jelle Vanendert (Silence-Lotto), Evgeni Petrov (Katusha), Giovanni Visconti (ISD), Héctor González (Fuji-Servetto) and Eduard Vorganov (Xacobeo Galicia) - gaining 2:18 on the peloton by kilometre 42.
Not making much headway if they were to stand any chance of winning, the LPR-led peloton appeared to be keeping the situation under control, the break's lead only 4:12 after 116 kilometres. And that was as good as it got for the break, their tenuous advantage sliding towards the final climb of the day, the Colle del Gallo, but compared to Horrillo of Rabobank who crashed on the previous descent of the Culmine di San Pietro and was airlifted to hospital in a serious condition, they probably were counting themselves lucky.
Sensing the inevitable capture, Petrov (Katusha), López García (Caisse d'Epargne), González (Fuji-Servetto) and Cataldo (Quick Step) broke free of their companions 44 kilometres from the finish, the peloton just 1:15 behind. It then grew back to number eight, but the 6.3-kilometre, 7% Gallo put paid to their chances, as the peloton exploded on its slopes. A series of attacks and counters finally saw a very select, very dangerous group of nine over the GPM that included Leipheimer and Horner (Astana), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Columbia-Highroad), Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne), Pellizotti (Liquigas), Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) and Rogers (Team Columbia-Highroad), who was the virtual maglia rosa with a 54-second lead and 26.7 kilometres from home.
Panic the real leader did not, assembling his forces to the fore and within 10 kilometres, annulling any opportunity that might have been.
With the pinch to Bergamo Alta left, that left the door open for one more attack...
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