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.
At least there were two riders who were in high spirits after Monday’s grueling 12.9km climbing time trial up the spectacular summit at Plan de Corones.
While nearly the entire peloton was a chorus of complaints over the difficulty of the controversial 16th stage up slippery gravel roads with grades as steep as 24 percent, Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) and Alberto Contador (Astana) both had plenty of reason to celebrate.
Under normal conditions, Alberto Contador (Astana) claiming the maglia rosa might bring some certainty to the 91st Giro d’Italia. But there’s nothing predictable about this explosive and unpredictable race with a week still to go.
The defending Tour de France champ faltered in Sunday’s six-climb, 154km 15th stage, but had just enough spin in his legs to slink into the overall lead by 33 seconds — a lead that by his own admission might be only temporary.
Emanuele Sella (CSF-Navigare) swapped tears of frustration for tears of joy Saturday after winning a blockbuster stage as the overall favorites squared off up the grueling 7.7km climb to the Alpe di Pampeago summit in the 91st Giro’s first clash in the Dolomites.
The 195km, two-climb stage lived up to expectations to deliver big surprises as Sella pulled away early as part of a 13-man breakaway at 13km that also included Christian Vande Velde (Slipstream-Chipotle).
Alberto Contador (Astana) is poised to become the first Spanish rider to wear the pink jersey since Juan Carlos Dominguez won the opening prologue in 2002.
The only question now seems to be which day it will happen as the defending Tour de France champ enters a trio of tortuous climbing stages across the heart of the Dolomites positioned perfectly for a maglia rosa assault.
It’s unlikely that Mark Cavendish will become the peloton’s new gentleman sprinter, but he was gracious enough Friday to say thanks to Daniele Bennati for not closing down the sprint 100 meters shy of his second win in the 91st Giro d’Italia.
The High Road sprinter didn’t elaborate on whether or not he also said arrivederci as he burst past his Liquigas rival in what’s fast becoming recognized as the most lethal last-second punch in the peloton.
Liquigas's Daniele Bennati won Thursday's 12th stage of the Giro d’Italia, winning a furious sprint by the narrowest of margins over Mark Cavendish (High Road) at the end of a 172-kilometer race from Forli to Carpi.
Quick Step's Giovanni Visconti finished in the main field and kept the the maglia rosa of the overall race leader.