By Dede Barry
Stage 19 was a nail-biter to watch – all the protagonists were fighters, giving every ounce of energy on the road. Discovery’s Paolo Savoldelli looked to be in danger on the Colle delle Finestre, steadily losing time to Lampre’s Gilberto Simoni, Selle Italia’s José Rujano and Liquigas’s Danilo Di Luca, but he fought back, flew down the descent and chased all the way up the final ascent into Sestriere and essentially won the race, as Sunday’s final stage is sure to be a parade commandeered by the sprinters in the final meters.
Rumor has it that on the final stage of the Giro, townspeople stop the riders as they pass by, serving them pizza, cakes and gelato. The key is not to eat too much before hitting the final circuits in Milan, because that is where the real racing begins.
On Saturday, the Discovery team placed staff along the dirt portion of the Finestre so that the riders could easily get bottles. The climb is very narrow, making it difficult for team cars to get to their riders. So hours before the race arrived, one staffer had to trek 5km up the mountain, carrying all the bottles. Once the race had passed, he had to head quickly back down again so that he could be at the hotel to take care of the riders when the arrived. But it was worth it – Paolo was running out of energy on the climb, and the hand-ups he got there fueled him to the finish.
In Sestriere, Paolo had a huge fan base with banners and Savoldelli fan club T-shirts littering the town. As Paolo was making the final ascent into Sestriere, thousands of tifosi watching the big screen television on the hillside at the finish were cheering as each time split up the climb showed that he was gaining back time on Simoni. When he was losing time on the Finestre, the massive crowd would fall silent and watch nervously as the time splits came up on the screen.
It was evident at the finish that Paolo’s victory was not just a personal victory, but a win for the Discovery team and staff, who have been working incredibly hard since the year began. The staffers take great pride in their jobs, and they are all committed to preparing everything perfectly for the riders so that they don’t have to focus on anything other than pedaling.
The 88th Giro has been one of the toughest and most exciting ever. It is incredible to think the riders have raced more than 3400km, over thousands of feet of mountains, and that the time gaps among the leaders are so close.
Sunday will prove to be another exciting day as the riders charge towards the line in Milan for what is likely to be a hard-fought, high-speed field sprint.
Dede Barry is a former professional cyclist, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist and a contributor to “Inside the Postal Bus,” a book by her husband, Discovery Channel rider Michael Barry.