By Dede Barry
In its first two weeks, the Giro d’Italia covered 2500km between Reggio Calabria and Livigno, a journey that’s only 1600km if one does a straight shot in the car. On Sunday, as the riders entered Livigno after having completed back-to-back, six-and-a-half-hour stages through the Dolomites, they passed a sign on the road that read, “Only 1000km to go.”
En route to Livigno, the passed over several difficult climbs, including the infamous Passo Stelvio, where each of the 48 switchbacks are numbered. It was on the Stelvio that the peloton blew to pieces.
At the finish line, each rider looked beaten down and exhausted, but none more than CSC’s Ivan Basso, who had soldiered on through a stomach ailment for two days. In that short span of time, Basso went from leading the race, seemingly invincible, to struggling to make the time cut.
Athletes are mortal, and when they push their bodies to extremes they become vulnerable to illness and injury. Unfortunately for Basso and CSC, the team leader fell ill while attempting to accomplish his biggest goal of the season. After months of preparation, the disappointment is deep.
The stages have been so tough the past two days that it almost seemed like there were three different events going on simultaneously – the race for the maglia rosa, the race for the stage win and the race to make the time cut. At the end of each stage there was only a handful of riders left to contest the stage and the maglia rosa, while the bulk of the peloton was just trying to make the time cut.
Coming into Livigno, the gruppetto – the bunch at the back of the race, also called the autobus – was huge. This group normally consists of domestiques who have finished their work for their leaders, sprinters and other riders who don’t have the energy, fitness, and/or ability to contest the big mountains. It usually is marked by good camaraderie as the riders work together to beat the time cut, often sharing a laugh or two to pass the time and keep the spirits high.
Sometimes, if they are lucky, the gruppetto even gets a little assistance. During the Livigno stage, some riders were seen holding onto team cars for an extraordinarily long time as they were getting water bottles on the climbs, and one commissaire’s moto even provided a little tow to a lucky gruppetto member.
The race for the maglia rosa remains tight between Discovery Channel’s Paolo Savoldelli, Liquigas-Bianchi’s Danilo Di Luca and Lampre-Caffita’s Gilberto Simoni. Di Luca and Simoni gained some precious seconds on Savoldelli on Sunday, but the Discovery leader retained the lead and looked very strong for most of the day. There is still a week of racing left, with many challenges ahead, and more drama is sure to unfold.
On Monday, the riders awoke to pouring rain and temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius. Most probably felt as Michael Barry and Tony Cruz did: “Stiff and sore, like they did their first big weight workout in the gym.” The good news is, the weather forced organizers to trim the stage to 150km from 205km, and Tuesday is a much deserved rest day.
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.