By Lennard Zinn
After coming as close yesterday as one could without actually getting the maglia rosa, Gilberto Simoni took it from Dario Frigo by 48 seconds on a tough day in the Dolomites under sunny skies. And Mexican Julio Perez, already the sentimental hero of this Giro, finally broke through with the stage win he has shown himself so deserving of. Simoni finished with him, while Frigo placed third, 45 seconds back. The 225km stage climbed four first-category passes and totally shook up the overall standings.
While at the start in Montebelluna there were a couple dozen names clustered within two minutes of each other who could be considered possibilities for overall victory, by the finish atop the Passo Pordoi, that number had dropped to perhaps five. The biggest loser today was last year’s winner, Stefano Garzelli, who lost 14 minutes, while Marco Pantani and Danilo Di Luca each lost over six minutes.
At the start, the race left without the only Japanese member of the peloton, Colpack-Astro’s Hidenori Nodera. He would be only the first of four riders to pack it in this day.
The race started off slowly, and the bunch was still together over the top of the first pass, the 1989-meter-high Passo Rolle at 93km. Even Mario Cipollini and Ivan Quaranta caught back on the descent! Shortly after the riders started going gradually up the Val de Fassa at km 125, 16 riders got away and were soon pursued by a 17th. When they began their first ascent of the Pordoi, their lead was two minutes over the pack. At the 2239-meter summit at 153km, there were still seven with a two-minute gap and were led over by king of the mountains Fredy Gonzalez (Selle Italia-Pacific).
After 30km of descending, the race headed immediately back up the 14km climb of the Passo di Fedaia. This grades on this steep climb near the top reach 18 percent, and it is nicknamed the “Marmolada” due to its location on the side of the jagged crags of the mountain of the same name, the tallest peak in the Dolomites. It was on the Marmolada that Simoni first made his presence felt. After his Lampre-Daikin team softened the bunch up with a ferocious pace, Simoni pressed on and only Frigo, Perez, Carlos Contreras (Selle Italia) and Unai Osa (iBanesto.com) could follow. By the summit, those five held a 12-second lead over Wladimir Belli (Fassa Bortolo) and Hernan Buenahora (Selle Italia) and a 45-second gap over Ivan Gotti (Alessio) and Marzio Bruseghin (iBanesto.com). Di Luca and Olano followed at 1:20, Gontchar at 1:40, and Azevedo at 2:05.
On the descent back to Canazei for the second 12km climb of the Pordoi up to the finish, Belli, Buenahora, Gotti and Bruseghin all caught back on, and Olano, Di Luca, Gontchar and Noé came within 21 seconds.
Simoni felt out the group with an attack at the base of the climb and sat up when he saw Frigo on his wheel. With 10km to go, Buenahora attacked, Simoni shot by him, but Frigo was still there and the pace fell again. With Frigo just keeping the group rolling at the front, Perez attacked, getting a large gap quickly, and Osa took off after him. At the 8km mark, Simoni jumped, Osa hooked on as he passed by, and the two caught Perez with 7km to go. Frigo was the only one of the five in back pulling, and it would continue that way all of the way to the finish. For a kilometer, a Simoni vs. Frigo pursuit ensued, with the Lampre captain’s lead growing to 20 seconds and Osa getting dropped. Perez then started working with Simoni, while Frigo continued to pull his group.
By now, the road was packed with spectators parting for the riders, and the front two were gaining almost 10 seconds per kilometer. With 2km to go Simoni dropped Perez, but the Mexican caught back with 1km to go. Simoni signaled the Panaria rider to stay behind him until 150 meters to go, when he flapped his right elbow to indicate that the young man from Tlaxcala should go by and take the stage win.
Among the pursuers, Frigo shows that he was still the strongest despite leading the entire chase, and he shattered the group in the sprint to at least take the remaining time bonus for third place (four seconds, compared to eight and 12 for Simoni and Perez), 45 seconds behind.
Di Luca and Pantani come by six minutes later, looking dazed and unenthusiastic about facing the crowds of microphones stuck in their faces amid massive cheers from their tifosi. Simoni was so excited to put on the pink jersey that his smile paralleled the thin goatee growing along the edge of his chin. But he was soon overcome with emotion and fought back the tears as he held up his arms to acknowledge the crowd. He took a huge swig from his giant champagne bottle, but he kept it to his mouth too long and it shot up into his face in a foamy fountain.
Simoni said later, “I think Frigo paid for going so hard to keep up with me on the Marmolada (instead of catching on the descent as Gotti did). I can never tell who is working for whom between him and Belli. If Casagrande were still here it would be much easier to understand their tactics, since they would both be working for him.” As for whether he thinks that Frigo can get the jersey back two days from now in the 55.5km individual time trial at Lake Garda, he remarked, “the pink jersey always works miracles in a time trial!”
Perez’s expression was so clear, he did not need to say, “it’s great to win the toughest stage of the Giro! I’d trade two teeth for a day like today!” (In stage five, after breaking his chain the day before while away alone on the climb to Montevergine, he crashed and broke off his right front tooth and the next one to the right of it.) He went on to say, “I have to thank Simoni for letting me win; that was very gracious of him. I have a lot to learn, especially about descending, but I have a lot of courage and morale. By now, my mom has gotten used to me being over here, and the whole family, as well as a lot of other people in Mexico will be very happy.”
The fifth of six sons, Perez used to work as an iron-working shop in Tlaxcala, training on the side. He first came to Italy to race as an amateur for a few months each year from 1997 to 1999. In 2000, he turned pro and now lives along Lake Garda with other members of his Panaria team.
84th GIRO D’ITALIA, Stage 13, Montebelluna to Passo Pordoi, June 1.
1. Julio Perez (Mex), Panaria-Fiordo, 225km in 7:24:48 (30.350kph); 2. Gilberto Simoni (I), Lampre-Daikin, s.t.; 3. Dario Frigo (I), Fassa Bortolo, at 0:45; 4. Hernan Buenahora (Col), Selle Italia-Pacific, at 0:48; 5. Carlos Contreras (Col), Selle Italia-Pacific, at 0:49; 6. Unai Osa (Sp), iBanesto.com, at 0:57; 7. Wladimir Belli (I), Fassa Bortolo, at 1:01; 8. Ivan Gotti (I), Alessio, at 1:03; 9. Joachim Castelblanco (Col), Selle Italia-Pacific, at 2:16; 10. Abraham Olano (Sp), ONCE-Eroski, at 3:02; 11. Noé; 12. Gontchar, all s.t.; 13. Marzio Bruseghin (I), iBanesto.com, at 4:15; 14. Luttenberger, at 4:46; 15. Savoldelli; 16. Caucchioli; 17. Valjavec; 18. Shefer; 19. Herve; 20. Azevedo, all s.t.; 25. Figueras, at 5:46; 30. Di Luca, at 6:25; 32. Pantani, at 6:46.
Overall: 1. Simoni, 2309km in 55:58.34 (39.009kph); 2. Frigo, at 0:48; 3. Belli, at 1:27; 4. Osa, at 1:52; 5. Gotti, at 2:14; 6. Buenahora, at 2:19; 7. Contreras, at 2:36; 8. Olano, at 3:23; 9. Noé, at 3:53; 10. Azevedo, at 4:56; 11. Gontchar, at 5:03; 12. Chaucchioli, at 6:01; 13. Figueras, at 6:38; 17. Di Luca, at 7:29; 18. Pantani, at 8:04; 21. Savoldelli, at 8:16; 32. Garzelli, at 14:58; 33. Camenzind, at 15:10; 41. Rebellin, at 19:34; 46. Perez, at 22:59; 80. Ullrich, at 54:42; 129. Livingston, at 1:26:13.