By Lennard Zinn
Pietro Caucchioli (Alessio) earned his second stage win of this Giro d’Italia on Wednesday. Caucchioli, previously thought to be a slow finisher, has joined sprinters Ivan Quaranta, Danilo Hondo and Mario Cipollini with two Giro stage victories apiece by outsprinting fellow breakaway José Azevedo (ONCE) in the Circuit of Flowers.
Jan Ullrich, healthier after a day of rest, nabbed his second third place of the Giro, outsprinting Gianni Faresin (Liquigas), who was 27 seconds back. Ullrich’s teammate, Matthias Kessler, was dropped in the sprint for third and finished nine seconds behind Faresin and three seconds ahead of the group.
Meanwhile, 1998 Giro d’Italia winner Marco Pantani will decide Thursday whether he is able to continue in this year’s Giro. After Wednesday’s race team manager Giuseppe Martinelli asked the 1998 Tour de France winner to pull out of the race, which finishes on Sunday in Milan. “He really suffered a lot in the San Remo stage,” Martinelli said Wednesday after asking Pantani to retire.
However, Pantani was adamant that any decision not be made until Thursday in the hope that his condition would improve overnight. Pantani, who had high hopes for this year’s Giro as he and his team are excluded from this year’s Tour de France, had slipped to 24th place overall, almost a half-hour adrift of the leaders.
The 119km stage formed a two-lobed loop with a climb on each lobe sharing the same descent. It started in, passed through (at km 67), and finished in the City of Flowers — Sanremo — on the Ligurian coast.
The race started extremely slowly, presumably in anticipation of the hardest stage of the entire Giro tomorrow — 230km over five climbs to the mountaintop finish of Santa Anna di Vinadio. The first two hours went by at an average of 29kph. The sprinters, including Mario Cipollini and Stefano Zanini were walling off the front of the group all along the Ligurian coast and up the climb to Bajardo, where the green jersey Fredy Gonzalez was allowed to outsprint Caucchioli and Andrea Peron (Fassa Bortolo) for the KOM. The sprinters rebuilt the wall at the front over the Passo di Ghimbegna up to the top of the descent at the Bivio Malga Bignone.
The winding, rough descent, which would also be used on the second lobe of the circuit, was controlled by Lampre-Daikin. Near the bottom, the first attack of the day was mounted — a solo attempt by Colpack-Astro’s team captain, Denis Lunghi. After passing through Sanremo, the course headed up toward the village of Poggio, going up the road used as the final descent of the Milano-Sanremo classic. Four riders chased Lunghi down by Poggio, including two of the best descenders in the race, Azevedo and Peter Luttenberger (Tacconi), but all of them were caught soon after. “We (Lampre-Daikin) had to close it up,” said race leader Simoni afterward, “because there were a couple of riders in the top 10 breaking away.” (Actually, Azevedo was in sixth and Luttenberger in 14th.) At the back, Marco Pantani, Gonzalez and the sprinters were losing contact for good.
At the Intergiro on the continuing grade up through Ceriana, José Arrieta of iBanesto.com went through first, ahead of Abraham Olano. The third-placed ONCE rider, however, crashed at the front of the pack on an uphill switchback a kilometer later (he regained contact without problem), but it was at this time that that Caucchioli set off with Kelme’s Francisco Leon. Danilo Di Luca and his Cantina Tollo teammate, Sergei Yakovlev, chased hard after them but could get no closer than 16 seconds back. Selle Italia’s Hernan Buenahora came up to and dropped Di Luca as Caucchioli was dropping Leon. They crossed the KOM at the Passo di Ghimbegna just after Buenahora passed Leon and was caught by iBanesto’s Cesar Solaun. They still had to climb again to the Bivio Malga Bignone before going back down, and Caucchioli’s lead was growing. Solaun dropped the other two but was still 34 seconds down on the Alessio rider and 38 seconds up on the pink-jersey group, who were now starting to pick up speed under prodding by the Lampre team.
By the beginning of the descent, the group had absorbed Solaun and was 36 seconds behind Caucchioli. The 25-year-old from a small town near Verona is not known for his descending skills, but he had managed to chase down Julio Perez and stay ahead of the pack on the stage descent into Reggio Emilia. With Luttenberger leading the pack, his lead was dropping and was at 26 seconds with 20km of downhill to go. His lead went up again after a small rise, and Azevedo, who had led the downhill chase to Reggio Emilia, launched himself like a rocket off of the front. The Portuguese star, by far the most accomplished active rider from his small country, was flying around the corners. He completely misjudged his trajectory on one of them and stopped just in time as he hit a low rock wall on its apex. The mistake did not seem to make him more cautious, however, and he returned to gaining time in large chunks on the Alessio rider. With 15km to go, he had closed to 15 seconds, while the pack was 25 seconds behind him. At 10km to go, he caught up and went right to the front, while Caucchioli was hanging on for dear life to follow his screaming arc through the curves. The Alessio rider did lose contact with 4.5km to go, but the descent became more gentle shortly thereafter and he got back on the wheel of the rider in yellow. The two now had a safe, 48-second lead, and Ullrich, Kessler and Faresin jumped away from the pack, now numbering 28.
In the sprint, Caucchioli, whose second career victory was his win in Reggio Emilia, was not expected to fare well against the ONCE rider with a long list of victories to his name. It appeared that the Portuguese rider also misjudged the Italian and led out the sprint, only to be dusted by many bike lengths. Ullrich, who, like his American teammate, Kevin Livingston, is healing from his second cold and second round of antibiotics of this race, is obviously feeling better. “The time trial, followed by the easy stage to Parma and a rest day made a huge difference for us,” said Livingston before the race.
Race leader Simoni, when asked if he was concerned about tomorrow’s hard stage, when the weather is expected to be poor, replied with the utmost of confidence. “Tomorrow is my kind of race. After tomorrow, the only thing I will be missing, as they say in Trentina (his home region), is putting the victory wreath above my door.”
84th GIRO D’ITALIA, Stage 17, Sanremo “Circuito dei Fiori”, June 6.
1. Pietro Caucchioli (I), Alessio, 123km in 3:36:52 (34.030kph); 2. José Azevedo (Por), ONCE-Eroski, at 0:02; 3. Jan Ullrich (G), Deutsche Telekom, at 0:27; 4. Gianni Faresin (I), Liquigas-PATA, s.t.; 5. Matthias Kessler (G), Deutsche Telekom, at 0:36; 5. Giuliano Figueras (I), Panaria-Fiordo, at 0:39; 7. Mauro Zanetti (I), Alessio; 8. Matteo Tosatto (I), Fassa Bortolo; 9. Marco Velo (I), Mercatone Uno-Stream TV; 10. Unai Osa (Sp), iBanesto.com; 13. Di Luca; 14. Simoni; 17. Noé; 18. Frigo; 20. Gontchar; 22. Gotti, all s.t.
Overall; 1. Simoni, 2895km in 75:18:36 (37.6kph); 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; 15. Savoldelli, at 12:46; 17. Pantani, at 17:57; 23. Di Luca, at 22:49; 44. Perez, at 57:10; 64. Ullrich, at 1:22:29; 121. Livingston, at 2:06:13.