By Andrew Hood
Paolo Savoldelli’s imminent victory in the 2005 Giro d’Italia is a combination of cunning, strength and luck. Even by his own account, Savoldelli admits he wasn’t strong enough to blow apart the race. Yet he’ll take his second Giro victory within four years. VeloNews European correspondent Andrew Hood sat down with Discovery Channel’s Sean Yates before Sunday’s final stage to get the inside story on Savoldelli’s remarkable victory. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews: What was it like sitting in the team car listening to Paolo having some difficulties?Sean Yates: It was nerve-wracking on the Colle delle Finestre. He wasn’t on the best of days; that was evident at the start of the climb. We saw 20 guys go up there and he’s sitting there letting them do that, yet he didn’t look overly stressed. We thought he’s either playing it extremely cool or he’s having a bad day. As it happened, he was on a bad day. On the climb, it was virtually every man for himself. Ahead, Di Luca and Simoni were swapping turns, but in the back, Paolo caught the majority of climbers that went ahead of him. No one passed him, so at the end of the day he did a good climb.
VN: Yesterday you found a few friends along the road, that was critical wasn’t it?SY: Yes, it was. You need friends in this world. The Davitamon riders had their own interests to ride hard. Van Huffel rode hard and the others were blocked and he moved up to 11th place. On a stage like that, you don’t know what’s happening behind you, he could have moved up to the top 10 quite easily. It obviously worked out well for us. Simoni was probably having a few chats with his friends up the road, so what goes around, comes around.
VN: Was Finestre Savoldelli’s worst day?SY: Yes, it was. This entire Giro we could never really see how he was doing. On the day he won the stage, Basso was the favorite and we just said, stay with Basso. The day he took the jersey, he had to attack there. We realized that Basso wasn’t feeling good and no one was attacking. The only person Basso was worried about was Paolo and we were getting close to the finish and I said, ‘we’ve got to attack,’ because otherwise Basso was going to roll to the finish in the jersey. That day he had to give it everything, even then Simoni and Di Luca closed him down. In the time trials, he was good.
VN: It seemed that it was a real panic moment for Savoldelli, it could have been worse had he tried to go to hard to follow Simoni, Di Luca and Rujano?SY: I don’t know Paolo that well as it’s my first year with the team. He doesn’t say a lot, but he rides very cleverly the whole time. Conservative when he has to; gives it everything when he has to. He’s definitely impressed me in that department. He’s gauged his efforts. In the time trial (Friday), he started conservatively because he didn’t want to blow up on the climb but he finished very strong. He’s raced very intelligently in this Giro.
VN: That’s really been the deciding factor in this race?SY: We have had a very fortunate Giro. We had aspirations for a top 5. We didn’t have a strong team for the mountains. We had Danielson, who we lost, so we had to ride off the back of others. He had one piece of bad luck when he lost 43 seconds when he got caught up behind a crash. He came into this Giro saying he was fit, but up until that point, he hadn’t really done anything to back it up. There was a certain amount of trepidation among us all about how good he was really going to be. We didn’t imagine he was going to win the Giro, let’s put it that way.
VN: So it was difficult for the team to really know what to expect?SY: He hasn’t really raced in the high mountains since he won the Giro last time. He’s had two years where he really hasn’t raced. He came second at the prologue at Romandie and he did a solid time trial, but the high mountains are something else. He didn’t feel that good at Romandie. He tried to go hard one day in the high mountains, but he cracked, so that wasn’t the most inspirational performance ahead of the Giro.
VN: There were no problems up that dirt climb, did the team use any special tires?SY: We were humming and hawing about using heavier tires, but then he’d have to ride them the rest of the stage. You needed all the help you could get yesterday. We’ve had one or two punctures during the entire Giro. We have great tires, we really do. We just thought if he punctures it would be bloody bad luck.
VN: That climb just looked epic on TV – how impressive was it for you?SY: It was epic. We tried to drive up the night before. We drove 120km to get there and we went up 2.5km to check it out but they wouldn’t let us up there. That first bit was like a wall, it was so steep all the way up to the top. This is a serious climb – anything can happen here, you could lose minutes. The problem we knew would be if Rujano would go and Simoni would follow and the time gaps would start opening. Then Di Luca started going hard, then he cramped. It was just a combination of facts that let us win the race, really. The cycling gods were definitely on our side. We won it – that’s what counts.
VN: How would rate this victory? Even Paolo said he doesn’t ride like the great Giro champions of the past and attack to blow apart the race?SY: It was tricky. We had to ride off the big favorites, who were Basso and Simoni. They had the big teams to control the race. Basso got sick, Simoni lost too much time in the time trials. That’s it. If you can’t ride a decent time trial, you’re not going to win a big tour. These days, the way the race is controlled, you don’t get guys attacking with 200km to go and winning by 14 minutes. With the teams being so strong, it has to be on the final climb. That’s why the time gaps are so small in the mountain stages.
VN: What day did Paolo impress you most?SY: Every day he was showing us that he was up for it. He did a great prologue with third and then the first really steep mountain stage when Simoni were attacking, he was there. At the time trial he was third. Every day he showed more and more his qualities, which made the team get stronger and get more focused to do a better job.
VN: For the team, this is a big win?SY: It’s huge for the team. When you consider Lance has one six Tours, one Vuelta with Heras and now one Giro, that’s eight grand tours in seven years. That’s an amazing accomplishment. How many teams have won one big Tour? It’s huge for the team to get one big grand tour victory under the belt so early.
VN: Do you think Savoldelli was strong enough to beat Basso straight up if he hadn’t gotten sick?SY: Basso was obviously riding well. Basso got some time in the time trials and was strong in the mountains, but then he cracked on that day to Pistoia (stage 7). They said it was cramps or whatever, but at the end of the day we won the race. The race is three weeks long, Paolo had a bad day yesterday but he got through it. I don’t know with Basso. Yesterday, Team CSC was at the front all day then he just cracked. My personal opinion is that Riis put too much pressure on Basso and the team.
VN: Paolo had no pressure at all, that must have helped?SY: It’s really the best situation. Our guys gave it everything they had. We didn’t have the team to take the race by the balls, we had to sit in the back seat, because otherwise a lot of our guys wouldn’t have finished the race.