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Pre-race favorites leave Giro disappointed

A stunned Cadel Evans and Alexander Vinokourov cross the finish line. | AFP
A stunned Cadel Evans and Alexander Vinokourov cross the finish line on stage 11.

Ivan Basso’s domination of the Giro d’Italia left many of the pre-race favorites licking their wounds when the corsa rosa concluded Sunday in Verona.

Giro officials held a pre-race press conference in Amsterdam with seven favorites for victory.

Three weeks later, Basso’s 1:51 gap over David Arroyo (Caisse d’Epargne) was good enough to claim pink, but time differences to the “Amsterdam 7” proved just how good he was.

Of the seven – Basso, Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre, Alexander Vinokourov, Stefano Garzelli, Gilberto Simoni and Damiano Cunego – only three finished in the top-10. One abandoned (Garzelli) and only two won stages (Evans and Garzelli).

(Related: Giro final stage report | Final results)

Evans was closest, fifth at 3:27 back, but the world champion revealed Sunday that he was suffering from fever in the second week that nearly prompted his early departure.

“We came here with the legs and the ability to win it, so when you’re aiming to win a grand tour, to come away with fifth is a little disappointing,” Evans said. “But overall, with my own health issues and having a bit of a reduced team, it was satisfying. But you always want to do more.”

Cervélo’s Sastre had an up-and-down Giro, crashing twice in the first week and ceding time in every climbing stage. Sastre quietly hid back pain that nearly forced his early departure and regained the initiative when he was part of the race-breaking escape to L’Aquila.

Coming into the Giro with just eight days of racing in his legs since the conclusion of the 2009 Tour, Sastre gambled everything with a long-distance attack in Saturday’s penultimate stage, in a brave attempt to break the Liquigas stranglehold. The bid failed, and Sastre slipped from sixth to eighth overall.

“The pains that I was experiencing throughout the Giro, even though it improved and I wasn’t feeling as bad as when they started, hadn’t completely disappeared, either,” Sastre said. “It wasn’t an excuse, because more than anything, you have to recognize that there were riders here better than me.”

Cunego was never a factor in the GC and fell short of his goal of winning a stage. Garzelli surprised many to win the climbing TT up Plan de Corones, but had given up on the GC battle when he lost time over Monte Grappa. He later crashed coming down the Mortirolo and abandoned Saturday.

Vinokourov in the chase
Vinokourov leads Evans and Sastre, chasing Basso on stage 19

Simoni’s final Giro had a bittersweet moment Saturday when he was pipped by eventual stage-winner Johann Tschopp to claim the Cima Coppi prize over the Passo del Gavia.

Vinokourov was the most aggressive and unpredictable of Basso’s challengers, but was more intent on winning a stage than truly contesting the overall. He held the pink jersey twice in the first half, once for a day in stage 3 and then for four more stages after reclaiming the jersey over the strade bianche.

Vinokourov called Liquigas’s bluff on the stage to L’Aquila, when he didn’t have the team to chase down the 54-rider breakaway.

Basso later described that day as the “L’Aquila disaster” because Liquigas left the chase too late.

With riders like Richie Porte (Saxo Bank) and Arroyo gaining 12 minutes, Liquigas had a real dogfight on its hands, but it didn’t come from any of the “Amsterdam 7.”

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