By Lennard Zinn
After winning stage two, Danilo Hondo said he hoped to soon repay Giovanni Lombardi for putting him in perfect position for the sprint. Well, after the leadout Lombardi gave him again today, Hondo is going to have to come up with a really nice gift for his Deutsche Telekom teammate.
With 500 meters to go, it appeared that Hondo was leading Lombardi out and evening the score. The two were in third and fourth positions when the Italian suddenly came around to give the German his wheel. Hondo didn’t realize it was Lombardi and bumped him, thinking it was somebody else trying to take his position. Lombardi rapidly explained the plan and took him right to the front, leaving the German to carry the last two hundred meters to the line.
Alessio’s Endrio Leoni, a very fast man indeed and the top sprinter of the early spring races, could make only gradual progress around the right. The German said later, “I thought the race was lost when Leoni came alongside, but the uphill finish was apparently as hard for him as it was for me.”
Gritting their teeth, their legs screaming in pain, both continued to force down one pedal after another with all of their might, and the German led by a wheel when they hit the stripe to collect his second straight win.
“With the way the road curved and went up and down to the finish, it was very hard to keep a rhythm and stay at the front. I lost sight of Lombardi and was just focusing on the Alessio team when he came up alongside. I bumped him, but it was no big deal.”
The first half of the stage was flat, but the second half steadily gained altitude with a number of descents between climbs. Small breakaways, particularly in the last 15km, kept the pace very high on the climbs, enough for sprinter Ivan Quaranta to lose four minutes despite having five Alexia teammates trying to bring him back up.
Race leader Rik Verbrugghe crashed about 90km into the stage on a straight section of divided road. He banged his right knee and back and had to switch bikes, but he was back in the bunch by km 100 with the help of some of his Lotto-Adecco friends and was able to continue to be the only wearer of the pink jersey thus far.
The combination of climbing and the curving run-in to the finish were too much for Mario Cipollini, who is still looking for the opportunity to nab a stage. The young German upstart helping deprive the Lion King of his thunder now has the purple points leader’s jersey to bring home to his eight-week old baby, Lara Chantal.
Tomorrow’s stage features this Giro d’Italia’s first mountaintop finish, at the Santuario di Montevergine. It is not steep, varying between grades of five and 10 percent, but it is 17km long. Look for the climbers, particularly Dario Frigo, to try to wrest the pink jersey from Verbrugghe.
84th GIRO D’ITALIA, Stage 3, Lucera to Potenza, May 22.
1. Danilo Hondo (G), Deutsche Telekom, 149km in 3:44:30 (39.821kph); 2. Endrio Leoni (I), Alessio; 3. Andrej Hauptman (Slo), Tacconi Sport-Vini Caldirola; 4. Massimo Strazzer (I), Mobilvetta-Formaggi Trentini; 5. Davide Rebellin (I), Liquigas-PATA; 6. Stefano Garzelli (I), Mapei-Quick Step; 7. Mario Manzoni (I), Alexia Alluminio; 8. Mariano Piccoli (I), Lampre-Daikin; 9. Gabriele Missaglia (I), Lampre-Daikin; 10. Giuseppe Di Grande (I), Tacconi Sport-Vini Caldirola, all s.t.
Overall: 1. Verbrugghe, 525km in 12:46:55; 2. Frigo, at 0:09; 3. Hruska, at 0:13; 4. Olano, at 0:15; 5. Colombo, at 0:18; 6. Piccoli, at 0:20; 7. Belli, at 0:26; 8. Azevedo, at 0:28; 9. Duma, at 0:29; 10. Rastelli, at 0:30; 12. Simoni, at 0:33; 15. Hondo, at 0:41; 16. Pantani, at 0:49; 17. Noé, at 0:51; 19. Gontchar, at 0:56; 21. Savoldelli, at 1:01; 27. Gotti, at 1:11; 28. DiLuca, at 1:12; 30. Garzelli, at 1:13.