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By Dede Barry
With two selective stages over the weekend, the strengths and weaknesses of the Giro favorites were displayed. Ivan Basso (CSC) lost a little in stage 7 to Damiano Cunego and Gilberto Simoni (Lampre), while the reverse occurred in stage 8, and Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) was consistent and showed his form is only getting better as the race progresses.
Dave Zabriskie (CSC) surprised some by winning the stage-8 time trial, but in my mind, he was one of the favorites going into it. Dave has been knocking at the door of a major international TT win for quite some time. His fifth-place finish at the world championships last October confirmed that he is one of the biggest time-trial talents on the ProTour.
What was more surprising in the time trial was the runner-up ride by Basso. Rumor has it that CSC team staff spent three hours spraying his bike down with some special potion to make it wick the wind away – perhaps this potion won him some precious seconds. Basso did not look so sharp the day before as he was dropped from the leading group on the final climb of the stage. He is normally considered a climbing specialist, and time trialing has not been his strength in the past. He came back from a disappointing stage 7 with a vengeance in the time trial, though, and showed that he remains a contender for the overall victory.
Stage 9 was a day for the sprinters, as the peloton rolled fairly calmly over the only climb of the day and in the final kilometers the bunch was together with Fassa Bortolo in control. After a perfectly executed lead-out, Alessandro Petacchi shot to the line and won his first stage of the 2005 Giro. With a rest day on Tuesday and a probable sprint finish on the flat run into Rossena Venneto on Wednesday, many of the teams and riders are thinking ahead to the mountains in stage 11.
The riders will not spend their rest days in bed. They will need to pedal to keep loose. They have to be prepared to race fast on Wednesday, so many of them will do a little motorpacing or at least put some force on the pedals so that their legs don’t lose the racing rhythm.
Refueling is also a huge priority. Normally the riders are racing through the lunch hour. On a rest day, they have time for three solid, nutritious meals, which aids recovery.
The Discovery Channel team will be spending the rest day in Cesenatico, the hometown of the late Marco Pantani, contemplating the possibilities as they prepare to ride north into the Dolomites and then the Alps. Although they lost one of their best climbers on Monday, when Tom Danielson pulled out of the race with knee problems, Savoldelli seems to be getting stronger by the day, sitting third overall – just 35 seconds out of the jersey – and the team is looking past its hopes for a top-five finish and thinking of overall victory. He’s in striking distance.
On Monday, I caught up with Savoldelli’s teammate Jason McCartney and we discussed his experiences in his first grand tour, how the team is approaching the race, and Jason’s thoughts on Savoldelli’s chances.
Dede Barry: It’s your first year with a Division 1 team in Europe and you are now competing in your first grand tour. What are the biggest differences you see between racing in the U.S. and in Europe?
Jason McCartney: The depth of the field in Europe is much greater. In the U.S. there are the usual suspects that can win the races but in Europe it seems like everyone is a national or world champion. Everyone wants to be at the front and every director wants his riders to be at the front. In the U.S. you can just ride up the side – here it is curb to curb and 50-60kph.
DB: What’s your experience been like so far in this race?
JM: Before I arrived I heard the Italian style was to ride a couple hours really slow, then light it up for the last two. So far we have had two days calm, then the rest have been maybe 4-5K slow then game on. The country is beautiful, not that I have been able to really enjoy it – maybe on our upcoming rest day. The bunch is huge – I think we started with 200 riders, so any time it is a bunch kick or there is a climb approaching things, are very nervous. It is great to be here in Italy, though, riding in such a classic race.
DB: Savoldelli is looking stronger each day. The team will have lots of work to do if Paolo rides into the pink jersey. What do you think his chances are of winning this race?
JM: I think he came to the race wanting to finish in the top five and I think now his ambitions are changing daily.
DB: Did you take it easy in the TT to rest up for the mountain stages ahead?
JM: Yes, I rode the TT easy saving my legs to help Savo’ in any way possible in the upcoming stages. I had a front-row seat to Dave’s TT win, as he caught and passed me on the downhill. Congratulations, Dave!
DB: There is still snow on some of the passes you will climb next week. Do you think training in the winter in Iowa will have you well prepared for the snow?
JM: No, I doubt it , because here we will be probably climbing for an hour or more, then descending for an hour, and I think the longest descent I do in the winter is maybe 30 seconds.
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.