By Andrew Hood
After 3178 kilometers, the 85th Giro d’Italia will really come downto 43.9 km of pavement. After 18 stages and at least 84 hours, 49 minutesand 55 seconds of racing, this Giro will likely be decided by just a handfulof seconds.
It’s Tyler Hamilton vs. Paolo Savoldelli. The Bostonian vs. the Bergamasco. It’s sure to be an exciting finish to an already emotional and drama-filled Giro.
Savoldelli has two advantages going into Saturday’s 43.9-km decisiveindividual time trial; one with the clock and another with emotion.
Savoldelli has a 1 minute, 28 second lead on third-place Hamilton andwears the maglia rosa, an important psychological edge in what’ssure to be a painful day after three weeks of racing.
“I think the time difference might not be enough, but the main differenceis made by the last stages. The strongest and freshest always ride better in a final time trial,” said Savoldelli, who finished safely in the bunch Friday. “Of course, I hope to keep my advantage and win. Having the maglia rosa will help.”
As the race leader, Savoldelli will start last and Hamilton will alreadybe up the course, so he will know the time splits through the entire course.Thousands of tifosi will pour out of nearby Bergamo to cheer on their favorite son. Savoldelli also earned two, 8-second time bonuses by finish second in stages 16 and 17, respectively, which could come back to haunt Hamilton.
Either way, it’s down to the wire, said Hamilton.
“It’s going to be tough. Savoldelli’s a great rider, as he’s shown in the past two days. He’s also a good time trialist. I’ll give it everythingI’ve got,” Hamilton said. “We’ll see if that’s enough.”
Hamilton goes into Saturday’s race against the clock tired from twodifficult days in the Dolomites while Savoldelli rode with strength totake the pink jersey. Then, of course, there’s second-place Pietro Caucchioli,sitting quietly at 55 seconds behind Savoldelli.
“I think (Thursday) was a pretty interesting day,” Hamilton told VeloNews before Friday’s start. “You had Frigo and Evans, who were so strong the day before, they looked almost invincible, then BAM. Luckily for me, I’m still in the mix.”
On paper, the longer, flat course favors a proven time trial specialistlike Hamilton. He won the first Giro stage by an American since 1988 inthe 30-km Numana time trial Sunday where Hamilton beat Savoldelli by 1:35and Caucchioli by 1:15.
A closer look at the Numana time splits reveals that Hamilton dominatedthe first part of the course, which opened with a category-three climbat 9 km, then faded later in the stage (he also slipped out of his pedalcoming into the finish, which cost him a few seconds). Savoldelli was only15 seconds slower than Hamilton over the final 9 km and Caucchioli was25 seconds slower.
Hamilton quickly left Friday’s finish to take a peak at Saturday’s timetrial course.
His fate – and everyone else’s — will be decided on 27 miles of Italianpavement.
Cipo victorious again
Mario Cipollini won his 39th career Giro d’Italia stage and his fifthof the 85th Giro in Friday’s 143-km stage into Brescia. Breaks early inthe stage were checked by Acqua & Sapone and the peloton roared intoBrescia for three laps on a 6-km finishing circuit along the ancient walls surrounding the city.
Coming into the finish, Fassa Bortolo’s Alessandro Petacchi tried to hitch a ride on Cipollini’s train by slipping right in front of Super Mario and behind Cipo’s setup men Mario Scirea and Giovanni Lombardi.
The ploy didn’t work and Cipo came around Petacchi to win by a halfa bike, but it did ruin Cipollini’s chance to spread his wings in his trademark, arms-in-the-air, I-am-a-cycling-god, finish-line move.
Cipollini said he was tempted to quit the Giro when the race vergedon collapse following the expulsions of Stefano Garzelli and Gilberto Simoni.Cipollini said the pressure from the media almost became too much.
“I’m not a savoir. I just sweat, I work hard, sometimes I win, but I cannot do anything else,” Cipollini said.
Cipollini has one more chance to win a stage in Sunday’s finish in Milan.If he does, he will still be one stage-win short of the all-time recordheld by Alfredo Binda, with 41 career Giro stage victories.
Hamilton ran out of gas
Hamilton said he was “one Coke short” from hanging on in Thursday’sepic climbing stage through the Dolomites. The CSC-Tiscali captain “bonked” late on the 19-km climb to Passo Coe and fell back 1:28 to Paolo Savoldelli.
“I really felt good the whole day. I attacked, then Savoldelli counter-attacked. I had just made an effort. Maybe I could have gone with him, but I really would have had to dig deep,” Hamilton said. “I thought I would hang back and work with that group, thinking that he wouldn’t be able to maintain that pace, but he actually did. I underestimated how strong he was. He deserves a lot of credit.”
Hamilton said he bonked going into the steep final climbing section and lost strength just when Savoldelli was charging into the overall lead.
“With about 4-km to go, I got the sugar bonk. I didn’t eat the whole climb. When you feel real good sometimes you think you don’t need to, but I was sweating a lot and I didn’t really eat or drink too much on that climb. All of a sudden it went downhill real fast. It could have been worse.”
Hamilton attacked with 9-km to go to drop the struggling race leaderCadel Evans (Mapei), a move many say came too early. Hamilton said it’seasy for arm-chair quarterbacks to critique the race.
“If I had a can a Coke or something with 5 km to go, maybe it wouldhave been different. But that’s bike racing. You can’t worry about that.The picture is so much clearer after the race. ‘Oh, I should have donethis, I shouldn’t have attacked there, bup, bup, bup…’ There are so manythings. It’s so easy after the fact to say I should have done this or that.”
Evans recounts his longest day
Evans was all smiles at the start of Friday’s stage. Of course, theywere bittersweet smiles, but smiles nonetheless. The 25-year-old ex-mountainbiker made history, becoming the first Australian to wear the magliarosa.
His run in the pink jersey ended after one day when he couldn’t matchthe pace set by Hamilton who attacked with 9 km to go. Evans struggledand dropped from first to 15th overall.
“Once the guys rode away, I thought, OK, it’s over. I can go home now,”Evans told VeloNews before the start Friday morning. “On the lastclimb, I was feeling very good, feeling fine. As soon as the pace startedto change – boom – there was nothing I could do. I was hoping I could comeback around in the flat bit and recover a little bit at my own rhythm,but my rhythm was not very good (laughing).”Evans had high hopes going into Thursday’s epic stage. If he could finishwith the leaders, he was confident he could finish on the podium and possiblysnatch the win in his first-ever three-week tour.“I suppose when the guys started to ride away, I realized, ‘OK, I’mnot going to win this Giro.’ At that point, it shuts down, that’s life,that’s racing, that’s drama. When your body is finished, it’s finished.It happened to Ullrich, it happened to Indurain, it happened to me yesterday.”Although his run in the pink jersey ended sooner than the Mapei riderwould have liked, Evans remains optimistic for the future.“I’m very happy, very happy. A lot of people have always said to me,‘Oh, you’re going to win the Tour, you’re going to win this, you’re goingto win that.’ I’ve always said, well, let’s what and see. Now I’ve hada feel for everything, it’s very satisfying.”Where it all stands
Stage 18, Rovereto to Brescia, 143 km
Stage winner: Mario Cipollini (I), Acqua & Sapone scoredhis career 39th Giro stage win, edging Fassa Bortolo’s Alessandro Petacchi.
Overall leader: Paolo Savoldelli (I), Alexia finished safelyin the main bunch to retain the maglia rosa for a second day.
Points jersey: Mario Cipollini (I), Acqua & Sapone
Intergiro jersey: Massimo Strazzer (I), Phonak
Climber’s jersey: Julio Perez Cuapio (Mex), Panaria
Best team: AlessioIn the Peloton
Jens Heppner (G), Telekom, race leader for 10 days, did notstart due to nagging injuries suffered from a fall on the Pordoi on Wednesday;Fabrizio Guidi (I), Gerolsteiner, did not finish; 140 riders remainin the race.UCI jury decisions
Miguel Angel Meza (Mex), Colpack, fined 50 Swiss francs forreceiving a pull by the team car and another 50 Swiss francs for “comportement incorrect.” –which for those of you unfamiliar with the euphamismsof the UCI, usually means that one has relieved oneself in view of thepublic.The Giro also announced that Saturday’s time trial will be 1 km longerthan originally planned, due to complications with traffic circulationon the course.Injury report
There were no injuries today.Up next
Saturday’s 43.9-km individual time trial will decide who wins the 2002Giro. The course is flat, but features many turns. Weather forecasterspredict a warm and humid day.
Check today’s LiveUpdates
1. Mario Cipollini (I) Acqua e Sapone 4:12:44 (34:423 km/h)
2 Alessandro Petacchi (I) Fassa Bortolo
3. Rene’ Haselbacher (A) Gerolsteiner
4. Lars Michaelsen (Dk) Coast
5. Massimo Strazzer (I) Phonak Hearing Systems
6. Mariano Piccoli (I) Lampre-Daikin
7. Fabio Sacchi (I) Saeco-Longoni Sport
8. Aart Vierhouten (Nl) Lotto-Adecco
9. Mauro Gerosa (I) Tacconi Sport-Emmegi
10. Biagio Conte (I) Saeco-Longoni Sport
11. Cristian Moreni (I) Alessio
12. Angel Vicioso Arcos (Sp) Kelme-Costa Blanca
13. Uros Murn (Slo) Formaggi-Trentini
14. Gabriele Missaglia (I) Lampre-Daikin
15. Paolo Savoldelli (I) Index Alexia
16. Matthias Kessler (G) Telekom
17. Juan Manuel Garate (Sp) Lampre-Daikin
18. Mykhaylo Khalilov (Ukr) Colombia-Selle Italia
19. Lorenzo Bernucci (I) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago
20. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago
Overall after 18 stages
1. Paolo Savoldelli (I) Index Alexia 84:49:55
2. Pietro Caucchioli (I) Alessio, at 0:55
3. Tyler Hamilton (USA) CSC Tiscali, at 1:28
4. Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Lampre-Daikin, at 1:39
5. Pavel Tonkov (Rus) Lampre-Daikin, at 3:08
6. Fernando Escartin (Spa) Coast, at 3:19
7. Georg Totschnig (A) Gerolsteiner, at 5:32
8. Rik Verbrugghe (Bel) Lotto-Adecco, at 7:54
9. Aitor Gonzalez Jimenez (Sp) Kelme-Costa Blanca, at 8:12
10. Dario Frigo (I) Tacconi Sport-Emmegi, at 9:41
11. Oscar Pereiro Sio (Sp) Phonak Hearing Systems, at 10:41
12. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago, at 11:34
13. Ivan Gotti (I) Alessio, at 12:05
14. Franco Pellizotti (I) Alessio, at 14:13
15. Cadel Evans (Aus) Mapei-Quick Step, at 14:20
16. Eddy Mazzoleni (I) Tacconi Sport-Emmegi, at 14:45
17. Michael Boogerd (Nl) Rabobank, at 15:50
18. Julio Perez Cuapio (Mex) Panaria, at 16:36
19. Michele Scarponi (I) Acqua & Sapone-Cantina Tollo, at 17:55
20. Andrea Noe’ (I) Mapei-Quick Step 19:24