By Lennard Zinn
After a gut-wrenching break from it, the riders got back to business today, and if anything is business as usual at the Giro, it is Mario Cipollini crossing the line with his arms upraised after a beautifully executed sprint. Marco Zanotti and Danilo Hondo followed the Lion King in after the 163km stage to Busto Arsizio.
Marco Pantani had gone home the night before complaining of the flu, and Rik Verbrugghe also did not show up at sign-in. Otherwise, the setting was normal, but at the start in Alba the subject of every conversation among riders, fans, journalists and officials was the same, and it was anything but who would win this stage or the overall. Seemingly the only thing on everyone’s mind was the subject of drugs and the police raid.
Whether it was the pent-up emotion looking for a release, a desire to put on a good show for the fans, or simply happiness to be doing their jobs again, the attacks came fast and furiously, starting with Alvaro Gonzalez’s (ONCE) from the gun. The teams most active in attacking were ONCE-Eroski, Kelme-Costa Blanca and Bonjour, but all attempts were neutralized within a few kilometers until Kelme’s Alexis Rodriguez succeeded in getting away at km 35. Panaria’s Michele Coppolillo, the last-placed rider overall, left the group alone in pursuit of Rodriguez a few kilometers later. Over the first of the day’s pair of climbs, the third-category Montemagno at km 45.4, Rodriguez took the KOM 40 seconds ahead of Coppolillo, 1:50 ahead of Caucchioli, who would soon give up his pursuit, and 2:05 ahead of the peloton.
All of the activity in the bunch made this the fastest first hour of a road stage yet: 48.1kph, and the Spaniard and the Italian out ahead were keeping that pace going individually. On the descent of the Vignale Monferrato at km 56, Gonzalez waited for Coppolillo, with the bunch still at 2:25. This group grew to over five minutes as the pack eased off, and the average pace for two hours dropped to 46.5kph. At just past 100km, leaving the town of Borgo Vercelli, Alexia’s ace sprinter, Ivan Quaranta hit the pavement hard, bruising his right thigh and scraping open his left knee. His team helped him catch back up, and he was patched up enroute by a medic as he held onto the car.
In Turbigo, 134km in (and less than 30km to go), Rodriguez and Coppolillo only had a minute and a half left of their advantage, and the sprinters’ teams were bringing them back in a hurry. Eighth-placed Ivan Gotti flatted in the small town but caught back up quickly. Coppolillo won the intermediate sprint in Castano Primo with 23km to go, the gap had dropped to under a minute, and the two fugitives were caught a couple of kilometers later.
The bunch came screaming into Busto Arsizio for three four-kilometer laps, and the trains of Saeco, Telekom, Lotto and Alexia were battling for position at incredible speeds. Jan Ullrich led the group for much of the third and final lap – a lap that was turned at 60kph on a circuit with two hairpins!
Giovanni Lombardi of Telekom led into the final 500 meters and did a monster pull with Cipollini on his wheel. The group had split behind, and there were only 14 riders going for the win. Liquigas’s Zanotti was on the Lion King’s wheel with Quaranta and Hondo lined up behind. When Zanotti followed Cipollini’s jump, Quaranta pulled up lame from his crash injuries, leaving Hondo to fend for himself when he had looked to be positioned perfectly behind the fastest men. The big Saeco rider easily took the long sprint to the line, and Hondo could only watch him beating Zanotti.
The press conferences afterwards were indicative of what this Giro has become. The stage winner and the overall leader are left in a position of having to speak for their sport and answer unanswerable questions about its future. There were almost no questions asked of Cipollini or Simoni about the race – only about doping-related subjects.
“The tifosi were still there for me at the start village, and I wanted to win for them. This is an important victory for me, since it is important to put on a good show for the people right now. All they got to see yesterday was the show the police put on,” said the Saeco sprinter, whose Giro victory total has reached three for this Giro and 33 overall, eight behind Alfredo Binda’s total of 41 Giro stage wins.
The race leader underlined the importance of cleaning up the sport so that kids could see that they could have a future in it. And, in answer to the one question he received about this race, he said, “Tomorrow is an important stage for me. The two climbs of the (first-category) Mottarone will be very hard. It will be the last chance for Frigo to challenge for the jersey (the final stage will be short and flat), and we expect to get a hard race from Fassa Bortolo. But we will be ready.”
And the fans will be ready for a good race.
84th GIRO D’ITALIA, Stage 19, Alba to Busto Arsizio, June 8.
1. Mario Cipollini (I), Saeco, 163km in 3:35:04 (45.474kph); 2. Marco Zanotti (I), Liquigas-PATA; 3. Danilo Hondo (G), Deutsche Telekom; 4. Massimo Strazzer (I), Mobilvetta-Formaggi Trentini; 5. Dmitri Konyshev (Rus), Fassa Bortolo; 6. Andrej Hauptman (Slo), Tacconi Sport-Vini Caldirola; 7. Fabio Baldato (I), Fassa Bortolo; 8. Ivan Quaranta (I), Alexia; 9. Mauro Gerosa (I), Tacconi Sport-Vini Caldirola; 10. Giovanni Lombardi (I), Deutsche Telekom, all s.t.
Overall: 1. Simoni, 3058km in 80:54:31 (37.797kph); 2. Frigo, at 0:15; 3. Olano, at 4:32; 4. Osa, at 5:22; 5. Gontchar, at 6:10; 6. Azevedo, at 6:29; 7. Noé, at 7:35; 8. Gotti, at 7:39; 9. Buenahora, at 7:40; 10. Contreras, at 8:20; 11. Caucchioli, at 10:10; 12. Figueras, at 11:17; 13. Velo, at 11:19; 14. Luttenberger, at 12:21; 16. Savoldelli, at 16:13; 19. Di Luca, at 22:58; 43. Perez, at 57:19; 61. Ullrich, at 1:22:49; 118. Livingston, at 2:06:13.