By Lennard Zinn
Gilberto Simoni has been saying for two days, ever since he took over the pink jersey, that he would not lose much time in the time trial. He was good on his word, crushing former world time trial champions Abraham Olano and Sergei Gontchar and losing only 29 seconds to specialist and second-placed Dario Frigo in a 55.5km time trial on the southwestern shore of Lake Garda. If it was not already apparent, especially after the disqualification of third-placed Wladimir Belli yesterday, this has become a two-man race. Frigo’s best hand to play was the time trial, so Simoni might very well have won the Giro today, especially now that Fassa Bortolo is short two of its best climbers, Francesco Casagrande and Belli.
Simoni had gone riding in the morning with his bike sponsor, former world road champion Maurizio Fondriest, and reported feeling very relaxed while Fondriest fussed over every detail of his equipment. His aero-tubed aluminum Fondriest with a rear disc wheel, deep-section front wheel, Deda aero’ bars and aero’ helmet was very similar to the setups of all of the top riders. When four o’clock came around and it was time for he and Frigo to start, it had become a time-trialer’s day. A pelting rainstorm that had tormented the early starters had given way to high winds – a condition that serves to increase the time difference between those with more aerodynamic equipment and positioning and greater power output from those less powerful and higher in drag.
Frigo, starting second to last, blasted off the line and immediately showed that the times of former and reigning world time trial champions Abraham Olano and Sergei Gontchar were not so awesome after all. At the first time check at km 12.3, before even 15 minutes had passed, Frigo was already 12 seconds faster than Olano and 16 seconds faster than Gontchar. But Simoni was the real shock, having lost only four seconds in those 12km, despite having had a section of a pink Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper blow into his front wheel at km 11. He cleared some pieces out of his brake with his hand and left some wrapped around his fork and front quick release that shook off over time.
The next time check, at km 24.9, showed Olano and Gontchar losing an additional 22 and 32 seconds to Frigo, respectively, but Simoni had only lost an additional six. Over the next 10km, to 35.2km, Frigo’s teammate Andrea Peron and Telekom’s Danilo Hondo had gone 10 and eight seconds faster than Frigo, but it looked as though the race leader had cracked, having conceded 27 seconds to Frigo. At this point, Simoni had lost 37 seconds and only led Frigo overall by seven seconds, as, with the help of a four-second time bonus for third place the day before after Belli had been disqualified, the Fassa Bortolo rider had started the day 44 seconds behind. The end of Simoni’s race leadership looked nigh, as 20km remained in the time trial.
In the next 11.5km, to km 46.7, Frigo was second fastest, having lost a massive 32 seconds to Peron, but Simoni was right on his heels, only three seconds slower. Nevertheless, Frigo was now only four seconds away from the jersey!
The big shock came in the final 8km to the finish, though. Instead of conceding the race lead, Simoni caught fire and was the fastest over this stretch, taking back 11 seconds from Frigo, and kicking 17 and 22 seconds out of Olano and Gontchar! The Lampre Daikin rider had not only held onto his jersey, he had taught the time trial specialists a thing or two!
Simoni later said, “I told you the pink jersey gives you a few extra seconds per kilometer! Now I am sure that I will win in Milano. Barring a crash or something, I can’t think of how I could lose at this point.”
Frigo was smiling, despite not having the jersey back. “Hey, that’s life. I won the stage and had eight days in the jersey. Admittedly, there are climbs coming more adapted to Simoni that to me. But the only time I have conceded to him on a climb was the last time up the Pordoi. Maybe I will have to do the sprints! But there are still others in this race, riders, like Osa, Gotti and others, who can create opportunities for me with breakaways in the mountains. I don’t have to take too much time, after all!”
As for the disqualification of Belli yesterday for punching a spectator, Simoni expressed understanding for his anger and frustration. The race leader said, “On the Mortirolo a couple of years ago, I didn’t like the kinds of things Pantani’s tifosi (fans) yelled at me. I can understand how a guy can get really enraged in those conditions. It is a real zoo up there with all of those people running along in the street with us.”
Spectators are not a neutral part of any sport; they affect the progression of the game. We all understand how the cheering of fans can encourage greater athletic performance. But on the other hand, a spectator’s baiting can also lead to an athlete blowing his chances.
84th GIRO D’ITALIA, Stage 15, Time Trial, Sirmione to Saló, June 3.
1. Dario Frigo (I), Fassa Bortolo, 55.5km in 1:11:35 (46.509kph); 2. Gilberto Simoni (I), Lampre-Daikin, 1:12:04; 3. Abraham Olano (Sp), ONCE-Eroski, 1:12:51; 4. Sergei Gontchar (Ukr), Liquigas-PATA, 1:13:07; 5. José Azevedo (Por), ONCE-Eroski, 1:14:00; 6. Marco Velo (I), Mercatone Uno-Stream TV, 1:14:20; 7. Andrea Peron (I), Fassa Bortolo, 1:14:26; 8. Rik Verbrugghe (B), Lotto-Adecco, 1:15:15; 9.Laurent Desbiens (F), Kelme-Costa Blanca, 1:15:19; 10. Andrea Noé (I), Mapei-Quick Step, 1:15:24; 11. Osa, 1:15:42; 13. Caucchioli, 1:15:47; 30. Ivan Gotti (I), Alessio, 1:17:07; 53. Pantani, 1:18:40; 63. Ullrich, 1:19:15; 73. Livingston, 1:19:50; 80. Di Luca, 1:20:05; 91. Perez, 1:20:36.
Overall: 1. Simoni, 2630km in 68:36:45 (37.673kph); 2. Frigo, at 0:15; 3. Olano, at 4:32; 4. Osa, at 5:22; 5. Gontchar, at 6:10; 6. Azevedo, at 7:14; 7. Noé, at 7:35; 8. Gotti, at 7:39; 9. Buenahora, at 7:40; 10. Contreras, at 8:20; 11. Chaucchioli, at 11:01; 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; 41. Perez, at 45:48; 74. Ullrich, at 1:22:45; 123. Livingston, at 1:54:51.