By Lennard Zinn
Gilberto Simoni once again showed attentiveness, sharp wits, courage and great descending skills to turn a sudden rainstorm to his advantage on final descent of the May 31 stage. The Lampre-Daikin team captain came up one second short of taking Frigo’s shirt from him, but he is poised ideally to take it tomorrow on the tough, long stage tomorrow in the high Dolomites. The 139km 12th stage was won by Frigo’s teammate Matteo Tosatto in a three-up sprint from Slovenian Zoran Klemencic and Simoni.
The stage was animated by the other Verbrugghe, Ief, who made two long solo breakaways today, the first for 10km between the 50 and 60km points. The 25-year-old Lotto-Adecco rider launched the second attack 20km later, and this time, he stayed away for 40km, reaching a maximum advantage of 2:09. It was during this second attack that a fierce storm moved in and knocked out radio and television contact with the race and tore up banners attached to temporary fences along the course. When Verbrugghe was caught 17km from the finish, Fassa Bortolo went back to the front, and Frigo was gritting his teeth behind the roostertail of water coming up off the wheels of his teammates.
The stage was completely flat until four kilometers from the finish, where a short, narrow ascent of the tree-lined Mercato Vecchio signaled the arrival of the final drop to the finish in the high-end cycling-shoe and ski-boot manufacturing capitol of the world, Montebelluna. The entire hill was painted with Tosatto’s name, as he hails from nearby Castelfranco Veneto. Despite having pulled the pack for many kilometers in the service of Frigo, the local hero attacked from the front and crested the hill 2.7km from the finish alone. The only rider near him was Klemencic, who caught him by the first curve of the wet, winding, treacherous descent. The two work together and look prepared to start a game of cat and mouse when suddenly Simoni shot past them under the one-kilometer arch. He had hung it out on the wet descent and was going hard trying to gain time on the other g.c. contenders. The other two could not believe their good fortune to have his wheel instead of trying to avoid taking the lead while at the same time avoiding getting caught. Tosatto jumped hard with 200 meters to go and the others were powerless to catch him. He had time to punch the air excitedly in front of his home crowd, 10 bike lengths ahead of Klemencic.
Massimo Strazzer (Mobilvetta) led in the group containing Frigo 10 seconds later, while DiLuca lost another nine seconds. Simoni had started the day 15 seconds behind Frigo but had gained the 10 seconds and a four-second bonus for third place to come up one second short.
Tosatto later said, “I am happy that (director sportif) Giancarlo Ferretti allowed me to try for the stage win here and that we still hung onto the pink jersey.” Simoni could only smile and shake his head about coming so close, but he remarked with a glint in his eye, “We’ll wait and see tomorrow if I get the pink jersey on the Marmolada.” Frigo said he expects an attack from the Lampre-Daikin climber and that, “I will respond to it.” His team boss, Ferretti, was not so sure, saying, “It is not a question of who will attack. The Marmolada (the riders’ name for the Passo di Fedaia, the steepest climb on the finishing loop that immediately precedes the 11km climb to the finish on the Passo Pordoi) is such a tough climb it is a question of who will get dropped and who won’t. If Dario loses the jersey tomorrow, he can win it back on Sunday in the time trial.”
84th GIRO D’ITALIA, Stage 12, Gradisca d’Isonzo to Montebelluna, May 31.
1. Matteo Tosatto (I), Fassa Bortolo, 139km in 3:33:17 (39.102kph); 2. Zoran Klemencic (Slo), Tacconi Sport-Vini Caldirola; 3. Gilberto Simoni (I), Lampre-Daikin, all s.t.; 4. Massimo Strazzer (I), Mobilvetta-Formaggi Trentini, at 0:10; 5. Marco Zanotti (I), Liquigas-PATA; 6. Ivan Quaranta (I), Alexia; 7. Giovanni Lombardi (I), Deutsche Telekom; 8. Endrio Leoni (I), Alessio; 9. Davide Rebellin (I), Liquigas-PATA; 10. Giuseppe Di Grande (I), Tacconi-Vini Caldirola.
OTHERS:;13. Osa; 15. Garzelli; 17. Olano; 18. Savoldelli; 19. Pantani; 22. Belli; 24. Noé; 26. Gontchar; 29. Frigo; 31. Gotti; 32. Figueras; 33. Azevedo, all s.t.; 44. Hruska, at 0:19; 45. Camenzind; 46. Di Luca, all s.t.
Overall: 1. Frigo, 2184km in 55:58.34 (39.009kph); 2. Simoni, at 0:01; 3. Azevedo, at 0:03: 3. Olano, at 0:14; 5. Belli, at 0:19; 6. Hruska, at 0:39; 7. Noé, at 0:44; 8. Figueras, at 0:45; 9. Osa, at 0:48; 10. Di Luca, at 0:57;11. Garzelli, at 0:59; 12. Gotti, at 1:04; 13. Camenzind, at 1:08; 14. Chaucchioli, at 1:08; 15. Pantani, at 1:11.
OTHERS:; 21. Rebellin, at 1:47; 24. Gontchar, at 1:54; 33. Savoldelli, at 3:23; 64. Perez, at 23:04; 67. Ullrich, at 24:04; 128. Livingston, at 55:35.