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By Lennard Zinn
Jan Ullrich may not be looking so good, but Deutsche Telekom still has plenty of firepower to call upon. In the uphill switchback sprint at the end of this 167km flat stage, Danilo Hondo, a German with an Italian name, got past Rafael Mateos in time to raise his forefinger in triumph.
Mateos looked to be pulling off a surprise win for his small team sponsored by a company that makes plastic bags for collection and recycling of various materials. The Spanish Colpack-Astro rider had a gap of several bike lengths with 200 meters to go, but Hondo shot out of the group and passed him. Lampre-Daikin’s Gabriele Missaglia followed in third.
The stage ran southeast along the Adriatic coast and then turned inland to the finish in Lucera. But for a number of crashes, the stage was relatively uneventful, especially in light of yesterday’s unexpected shakeup.
A group of five, soon down to four, got away at 7km and had a lead of 6:37 after one hour, having covered 44km in that time. The four were caught with 25km to go.
The winding uphill finish was too tough for the likes of Mario Cipollini and Ivan Quaranta to be at the front. The riders got to see it twice, finishing on a 10km circuit, and the switchbacks were so tight that you had to be at the front to have any hope.
The sharpness of the curves forced riders in the back to come to a complete stop, and there was a crash on one switchback the first time up. The first time coming down from Lucera, Paolo Savoldelli, Saeco’s g.c. man, crashed and had to catch up on a teammate’s bike.
Today’s crashes did not produce any major injuries, however. Yesterday’s victim, race favorite Francesco Casagrande, is back at home in Tuscany nursing his broken left wrist.
Stage winner Hondo is a product of the same East German sport school system that produced Jan Ullrich and Erich Zabel. At 27, he is the same age as Ullrich and said with a straight face after the finish, “if I can have as good a career as Zabel, I will be very happy.” At age 13, he started in the cycling school in the town of Kotbus and went on to win gold and other medals at junior world’s on the track. “Uphill sprints are not necessarily my specialty, but I have a lot of strength, which is what they demand,” the German remarked later.
84th GIRO D’ITALIA, Fossacesia to Lucera, May 21.
1. Danilo Hondo (Deutsche Telekom), 163km in 3:39:35 (44.538kph); 2. Rafael Mateos (Sp), Colpack-Astro; 3. Gabriele Missaglia (I), Lampre-Daikin; 4. Wladimir Belli (I), Fassa Bortolo; 5. Massimo Strazzer (I), Mobilvetta-Formaggi Trentini; 6. Gabriele Colombo (I), Cantina Tollo-Acqua&Sapone; 7. Stefano Garzelli (I), Mapei-Quick Step; 8. Massimiliano Gentili (I), Cantina Tollo-Acqua&Sapone; 9. Jose Martinez (Col), Selle Italia-Pacific; 10. Ivan Gotti (I), Alessio, all s.t.
Overall: 1. Verbrugghe, 376km in 9;02:25; 2. Frigo, at 0:09; 3. Hruska, at 0:13; 4. Colombo, at 0:18; 5. Olano, at 0:19; 6. Piccoli, at 0:22; 7. Belli, at 0:26; 8. Azevedo, at 0:28; 9. Duma, at 0:29; 10. Rastelli, at 0:31; 12. Simoni, at 0:33; 15. Pantani, at 0:49; 16. Noé, at 0:51; 17. Hondo, at 0:53; 19. Gontchar, at 0:56; 21. Savoldelli, at 1:01; 27. Gotti, at 1:11; 28. Di Luca, at 1:12; 30. Garzelli, at 1:13.