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.
Italian Alessandro Bertolini (Diquigiovanni) won Wednesday's wild ride into Cesena in the 11th stage at the Giro d'Italia that saw a cascade of crashes in yet another wild day of racing at the corsa rosa.
Overnight leader Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) defended his pink jersey, but only after being dropped twice and overcoming a crash with 30km to go in the 199km, mountainous stage over what were once the training routes of Marco Pantani.
Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre) might raise Italian donkeys, but he rode like a thoroughbred in Tuesday’s rainy and very difficult 39.4-kilometer to upset the favored Andreas Klöden (Astana).
The 33-year-old Bruseghin, who has more than a dozen donkeys and grows wine grapes on his farm in Vittorio Veneto, surged to just his third career victory in impressive fashion.
The veteran Italian relegated the heavily favored Klöden to third by 40 seconds, but the real surprise was the second-place ride at just eight seconds off the pace by the injured Alberto Contador (Astana).
After a week of avoiding crashes and keeping a low profile, Andreas Klöden (Astana) will reluctantly step into the spotlight in Tuesday’s 39.4km individual time trial that will be the 91st Giro d’Italia’s first major litmus test.
The media-shy Klöden will be favorite for the decisive 10th stage as the main contenders for the maglia rosa step up to show their cards after nine nervous and exciting days of racing.
Reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador (Astana) has promised to continue riding in the Giro d’Italia, despite learning that he suffered a minor elbow fracture in a crash last Saturday.
"Contador's visit to the radiologist today (Monday) revealed a fissure in the radius head of his left elbow," his Astana team said in a statement on Monday. "The fracture without dislocation stems from his Stage 8 crash from Rivisondoli to Tivoli (on Saturday)."