By Dede Barry
The common thread we’ve seen running through the last two stages of the Giro has involved an early breakaway of riders hoping to stay away for the stage win, but falling just short.
In the final kilometers of stage 3, the riders passed over a category-2 climb, and indications of who’s on form were provided. All the favorites fared well, but a few stood out, like Damiano Cunego and stage winner Danilo Di Luca.
Di Luca has had a spectacular start to the season, with two World Cup victories in April. We could see him in the maglia rosa in the next few days, as he is a climber and can sprint well, too.
In stage 3, the pure sprinters, like Robbie McEwen, Alessandro Petacchi, Stuart O’Grady and Jan Kirsipuu, were clustered together more than a minute behind the leaders. With this time gap, the sprinters have essentially lost all hope of battling for the maglia rosa again in this three-week tour, which means the battle for the maglia ciclamino (purple points jersey), will flare up for the remainder of the race.
The big surprise of the stage was the speed of the 2004 Giro winner, Cunego, in the final sprint. Cunego is a truly consummate rider who can sprint, climb and time trial and always gives his best effort. His eagerness on Tuesday gives him a few more points as the odds-on favorite for the overall victory in Milan.
With a relatively flat parcours on the schedule for Wednesday, stage 4 seemed tailor-made for the pure sprinters, but a few crashes in the technical and hilly final kilometers mixed things up a bit, and it was Bettini who shot across the line first to win his second stage and cushion his overall lead.
His celebration was premature, however – a few minutes after the stage, he was relegated to fourth place for hooking Baden Cooke into the barriers in the final meters, and the stage was awarded to Lucca Mazzanti. Bettini still has the overall lead, though, 13 seconds ahead of Di Luca. As for Cooke, he went down hard and walked across the line, visibly disappointed.
Many riders were caught up in crashes in the final kilometers. Discover Channel team leader Paolo Salvodelli lost 43 seconds on the day; he never made it back to the leaders after his fall.
After the stage, Matt White of Cofidis said the crash with 10km to go derailed his team’s efforts to protect their sprinter, O’Grady, in the final. According to Whitey, Stuey is getting better each day and will keep trying for a stage. The points jersey is not a goal, though, as Stuey would prefer to save some energy to chase the green jersey around France come July.
This is Whitey’s second appearance in the Giro. His first was in 2000, when he helped Francesco Casagrande finish on the podium. Casagrande retired from cycling just before the 2005 Giro, like Mario Cipollini, although Casagrande’s exit was a lot quieter – it barely got a mention outside of Italy.
The first time Whitey did the Giro there was only one other English-speaking guy in the peloton, Marcel Wust. He could barely speak to his teammates in Italian. Now half the peloton speaks English.
Whitey is a solid domestique and is friends with everyone in the peloton. He is often seen chatting with the other Aussies at the back of the peloton when they are cruising long.
When I asked Whitey if riding for GC was on the radar for his team, he replied that while Italian Leonardo Bertagnoli is hoping for a top-10 finish, the team will focus on winning a stage in the next few days. Whitey’s wife, Jane, whom he coached to become a 2004 Olympic bronze medalist (track and field), has been around to provide a little extra motivation.
Most of the teams are staying at 1000 meters in the mountains of Abruzzo tonight. Thursday’s stage will be tough.
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.