By Andrew Hood
This year’s Giro d’Italia is shaping to be a fight between Spain’s Aitor Gonzalez and the Italians. The season’s first major three-week stage race kicks off Saturday with a road stage in Lecce, where world champion Mario Cipollini hopes to tie the record of 41 stage victories record held by Alfredo Binda.
But it’s in the mountains in the Giro’s final decisive week that will keep the cycling world on edge. The major plot line is whether or not Gonzalez, with the help of Fassa Bortolo teammate Dario Frigo, can topple a group of motivated Italians on their home turf.
“I believe I can finish on the podium or perhaps win if I have some good luck,” Gonzalez said. “I have had some trouble with illnesses but I believe I can ride into form during the race and hit my peak in time for the mountains. The final time trial is in my favor.”
Indeed, the Giro seems to have taken a page out of the Vuelta a España playbook, including the difficult Monte Zoncolan climb on the 12th stage – called the Angliru of the Giro – and ending with a flat, 33km time trial in Milan.
Gonzalez stayed close to the climbers and the won in the final-day time trial in Madrid to win last year’s Vuelta. He hopes to use the same formula in the Giro.
The laid-back Spanish rider will have a fight on his hands against the Italians. The last foreign rider to win was Pavel Tonkov in 1996.
Saeco’s Gilberto Simoni is the clear favorite going in, with wins at the Tour of Trentino in April and the Appenines one-day race May 1. The 2001 Giro champion is motivated to make up for his embarrassing removal from last year’s race after he tested positive twice for cocaine, though he was later cleared of doping charges after officials ruled the traces came from sweets he ate from South America.
Yes, I believe I can win,” Simoni told VeloNews. “I am really preparing for the mountain stages and attacking hard in these stages. That’s my major goal is to win my time in the mountains.”
Vini Caldiroli’s Stefano Garzelli is also considered a threat for the overall. He’s back after serving a suspension for his controversial positive test for probenicid while leading last year’s Giro. Garzelli was surprisingly strong at Trentino and finished second to Simoni. His lack of racing might hurt him in the final week.
Lampre’s duo of Raimondas Rumsas and Francesco Casagrande present a formidable front. Rumsas finished third overall in the Tour de France last year and Casagrande is happy at Lampre after an unhappy tenure at Fassa Bortolo. With little chance of racing in the Tour de France, Lampre will be throwing everything into the Giro.
The real question mark will be role of Marco Pantani. The Pirate vows to fight for overall victory, but looked less than impressive in early season races. A stage win in the mountains for Pantani would be a major step in the right direction.
“I feel good right now,” the 33-year-old Italian told AFP. “I have trained hard, worked hard and my conscience is clear. I’m ready to tackle the Giro in a certain way. I am hoping to put myself in contention for the first part of the course and bide my time in the second, which I think will be decisive.”
Other riders will be playing starring roles, including Panaria’s Julio Perez Cuapio, who will be going for another King of the Mountains jersey.
Cipollini will be hunting for stages and the maglia rosa in the opening week while Lotto-Domo’s Robbie McEwen and Fassa Bortolo’s Alessandro Petacchi will be looking to derail the Lion King’s train.
The 2003 Giro d’Italia, which starts in Lecce on Saturday, features 21 stages and covers 3449 kilometers.
It will work its way across the foot of Italy from Lecce in Puglia before crossing into Sicily for the Messina-Catania stage. The race then returns to the mainland, heading north through Arrezzo, Faenza, and Pavia on the way to its traditional finish at Milan’s cathedral on June 1.
There are 10 major climbs with five mountain-top finishes, 11 flat stages, three hilly stages and two time trials.
May 10 – Stage 1: Lecce (start and finish), 201km
May 11 – Stage 2: Copertino to Matera, 177km
May 12 – Stage 3: Policoro to Terme Luigiane, 145km
May 13 – Stage 4: Acquappesa Marina to Vibo Valentia, 170km
May 14 – Stage 5: Messina to Catania, 180km
May 15 – First rest day, transfer to Maddaloni
May 16 – Stage 6: Maddaloni to Avezzano, 222km
May 17 – Stage 7: Avezzano to Terminillo (Campoforogna), 146km
May 18 – Stage 8: Rieti to Arezzo, 214km
May 19 – Stage 9: Arezzo to Montecatini Terme, 160km
May 20 – Stage10: Montecatini Terme to Faenza, 202km
May 21 – Stage 11: Faenza to San Dona di Piave, 222km
May 22 – Stage 12: San Dona di Piave to Monte Zoncolan, 185km
May 23 – Stage 13: Pordenone to Marostica, 149km
May 24 – Stage 14: Marostica to Alpe di Pampeago, 162km
May 25 – Stage 15: Merano to Bolzano (individual TT) 42.5km
May 26 – Stage 16: Arco to Pavia, 207 km
May 27 – Final rest day
May 28 – Stage 17: Salice Terme to Asti, 117km
May 29 – Stage 18: Santuario di Vicoforte to Valle Varaita (Chianale), 174km
May 30 – Stage 19: Canelli to Formazza/Cascata del Toce, 239km
May 31 – Stage 20: Cannobio to Cantu, 133km
June 1 – Stage 21: Idroscalo to Milan (individual TT), 33kmGiro hoping for more spectacle, fewer busts
Giro d’Italia organizers are hoping to make it to Milan without the major convulsions of doping scandal.
Top riders have been kicked out of three out of the past four editions of the Giro. In 1999, Marco Pantani was kicked out while wearing the maglia rosa and last year, Stefano Garzelli failed a doping test while in the leader’s jersey and later was ejected from the race.
In 2001, police came swooping down on racer’s hotels in the so-called “San Remo raid” and the consequences are still being fought out in Italian courts. A variety of banned substances ranging from caffeine to banned blood regulators were uncovered by police officers in the biggest swoop since the chaotic 1998 Tour de France.
So it’s no wonder that race organizers are hoping for a quiet race, at least on the police front.
“I respect the law and so all the inquiries done in perfect respect of all the procedures, but I hope that eventual new inspections won’t turn into big, staged shows as they did in the last two years,” Giro boss Carmine Castellano said in an interview with Eurosport. “The show must be only during the race, from the riders.”
This year, however, organizers are determined to ensure a drug-free Giro with world cycling’s governing body (UCI), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and a national commission all closely monitoring the race.
Blood tests taken Thursday deemed all riders “fit” to race. Another test will be taken before Saturday’s start in Lecce. Castellano said he believes riders have learned they cannot cheat.
“I’m sure that the group of 2003 has more sense of responsibility than two or three years ago,” he said. “We introduced new and certain measures in order to clarify the situations, as much as possible, for all the riders, but I think that all the teams now understand the problem.”
Giro winners since the end of WWII
1946 Vasco Bergamaschi (Italy)
1947 Fausto Coppi (Italy)
1948 Fiorenzo Magni (Italy)
1950 Hugo Koblet (Switzerland)
1954 Carlo Clerici (Switzerland)
1956 Charly Gaul (Luxembourg)
1957 Gastone Nencini (Italy)
1958 Ercole Baldini (Italy)
1959 Gaul 1960 Jacques Anquetil (France)
1961 Arnaldo Pambianco (Italy)
1962 Franco Balmamion (Italy)
1965 Vittorio Adorni (Italy)
1966 Gianni Motta (Italy)
1967 Felice Gimondi (Italy)
1968 Eddy Merckx (Belgium)
1971 Gosta Petterson (Sweden)
1975 Fausto Bertoglio (Italy)
1977 Michel Pollentier (Belgium)
1978 Johan de Muynck (Belgium)
1979 Giuseppe Saronni (Italy)
1980 Bernard Hinault (France)
1981 Giovanni Battaglin 1982 Hinault
1984 Francesco Moser (Italy)
1986 Roberto Visentini (Italy)
1987 Stephen Roche (Ireland)
1988 Andrew Hampsten (USA)
1989 Laurent Fignon (France)
1990 Gianni Bugno (Italy)
1991 Franco Chiocciolo (Italy)
1992 Miguel Indurain (Spain)
1993 Indurain 1994 Eugeni Berzin (Russia)
1995 Tony Rominger (Switzerland)
1996 Pavel Tonkov (Russia)
1997 Ivan Gotti (Italy)
1998 Marco Pantani (Italy)
2000 Stefano Garzelli (Italy)
2001 Gilberto Simoni (Italy)
2002 Paolo Savoldelli (Italy)