The 2009 Giro d’Italia looks to be shaping up into a battle of cycling’s titans, as still more big names have announced plans to race in Italy in May .
With Lance Armstrong, Damiano Cunego and Ivan Basso already confirmed, 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre and longtime Armstrong sidekick José Luís Rubiera are both expected to start the centennial edition of the corsa rosa.
Sastre said last week that he’ll likely skip the Vuelta a España and race the Giro instead as preparation for his Tour defense.
Ivan Basso, whose Operación Puerto-related racing ban ends next week, is back in the spotlight and he’s hoping it will be for sporting reasons alone.
Basso faced the media for the first time in a press conference Friday in Italy and seemed anxious to put the focus on racing and not on his links to the Puerto doping scandal.
Basso’s ban officially ends October 24 and he will race for the first time since April 2007 at the Japan Cup on October 26 as part a two-year contract with Liquigas.
Lance Armstrong never raced the Giro d’Italia during his seven-year Tour de France reign, but now it’s looking likely that he might be part of the corsa rosa during the race’s centenary.
Giro d’Italia director Angelo Zomegnan officially invited Armstrong to the 2009 edition of the three-week national tour of Italy, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Armstrong has already hinted he’d like to race in the Giro. Speaking to reporters earlier this month, the Texan said skipping the Giro was one of his few regrets during his racing career.
Giro d'Italia chief Angelo Zomegnan said he will not retroactively test samples from the 2008 race in a bid to weed out possible users of CERA, the latest generation of the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin).
According to Gazzetta dello Sport on Friday, Zomegnan believes none of the riders on the race - won by Spaniard Alberto Contador - used the drug.
"The Giro has already made the necessary checks and the laboratories, as well as the UCI, have affirmed there is nothing to suspect," said Zomegnan. "It would be useless to ask for new tests."
Now Alberto Contador can go back to the beach.
After interrupting a vacation a month ago to pack his bags to head to Italy, the defending Tour de France champion secured one of the most unlikely victories in cycling history to claim the 91st Giro d’Italia on Sunday.
“It’s never been so worth it to leave a vacation early,” Contador said. “I didn’t know I was coming to the Giro until eight days before the race. This Giro has a special flavor and perhaps means more to me than last year’s Tour.”
Alberto Contador (Astana) is 28.5km from winning a Giro d’Italia he never expected to start.
The Spanish climber deflected a flurry of last-gasp attacks from arch-rival Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott) over the Gavia and Mortirolo in Saturday’s 232km mountain shootout to retain the maglia rosa and roll into Sunday’s final-day time trial with the narrowest of margins.
Alberto Contador (Astana) might be wishing he was back at the beach after fending off relentless attacks from Danilo Di Luca (LPR) and Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott) in Friday’s wild 19th stage that saw him save his maglia rosa by the narrowest of margins.
Contador saw his grip on the pink jersey trimmed to four seconds to Riccò and 21 seconds to Di Luca and looks vulnerable going into Saturday’s epic stage over the Gavia and the Mortirolo.
It was a world championship-style victory for Jens Voigt (CSC) in Thursday’s 147km 17th stage that traced the routes of the 2008 and 2009 worlds courses.
Voigt attacked an all-star group that included two-time world champ Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) and the national champions of Italy and Spain with 35km to go at the start of two finishing circuits on the Varese worlds course the peloton will see in October.
Chasers left it too late and never saw Voigt again as the German diesel hammered home to one of his most impressive victories of his head-banging career.
Levi Leipheimer came to the Giro d’Italia as part of the last-minute invitation for Astana that included Alberto Contador and Andreas Klöden as co-leaders.
Leipheimer was at home in California when he got the call and he quickly made arrangements to fly to Sicily. No one knew what to expect. The team wanted nothing more than to make the most of the unexpected situation.
Flash forward three weeks and Contador is poised to become just the second Spanish rider to win the Giro.
Is Mark Cavendish so good that he’s already gifting sprints?
In the manner that High Road teammate André Greipel sprinted to victory ahead of Cavendish and Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) ? when Cavendish looked back to Bennati at least three times to check that the Italian wasn’t pulling through ? it would seem so.
No way, says Greipel. The burly 26-year-old bristled at the suggestion that the biggest victory of his professional career was handed to him by his younger teammate.