By Lennard Zinn
The day after climbing four first-category passes, the riders hit two more, and the results were once again devastating for some top riders. The top two on GC, however, showed that they can recover overnight from a brutal stage, and once again, Simoni was the strongest climber and Frigo was almost as good. Carlos Contreras (Selle Italia-Pacific) won the 166km stage in a sprint from five others, just barely beating Wladimir Belli. Unai Osa (iBanesto.com) followed in third ahead of Simoni, Frigo and Contreras’s teammate Hernan Buenahora. But Fassa Bortolo’s co-captain Belli was thrown out of the race for punching a spectator.
The pack stayed together over the 20km climb of Monte Bondone, and a six-man breakaway developed after the bottom of the descent. On the 13km Santa Barbara climb rising above the northern tip of Lake Garda, Joachim Castelblanco (Selle Italia-Pacific) dropped the rest of his breakaway companions and continued alone. A minute back, Simoni tried an attack from the group of the race leaders, but Belli responded immediately and Simoni sat up. Pantani followed with a surprising attack and a struggling Di Luca came off the back. The pack rolled up to Il Pirata easily enough, and he was unceremoniously dropped shortly thereafter as well. Osa then attacked with Giuliano Figueras, and their gap over the pack grew quickly. Osa dropped the Panaria rider after a kilometer, passed straight by Castelblanco, and went over the summit first.
In the group, as the difficult climb steepened to its maximum pitch of 23 percent, Simoni kept the pressure on at the front, eventually shedding everyone except Frigo. The riders had a tough job keeping their concentration with the narrow road full of tifosi running alongside. The ones in orange shirts that said “Simoni” on them were particularly rabid, sprinting for long periods up the steep hill alongside the pink jersey, paying attention only to him as they bumped other spectators and swerved dangerously toward Frigo, Belli, Contreras and Buenahora following behind. After getting dropped in the midst of this craziness, Belli finally snapped at a fan in a Lampre jersey yelling in his face and punched the guy in the nose, knocking him backward.
By the summit, Simoni passed everyone ahead but Osa, who remained a scant 10 seconds clear at the top, and dropped everyone behind but Frigo. Belli, Figueras, Contreras and Buenahora were another five seconds back, and Noé, Gotti, Castelblanco, Savoldelli and Gontchar came over singly 15-20 seconds further behind.
Simoni, who already demonstrated stellar descending on the finishes to stages 1 and 12, led the entire way down the narrow, single-lane, extremely technical descent, and Belli, Figueras, Contreras and Buenahora rejoined. Osa was doing his utmost to hold his slim lead; he even slid out on one of the top curves and barely stayed on the road. The “Falcon” Savoldelli, presumably so named by the way he dives down from the heights, was blowing by everyone between him and the Simoni group. Figueras, meanwhile, had moved up behind Simoni and looked to be a good bet for a second consecutive Panaria stage win, as he lives on Lake Garda, knows this narrow, tortuous descent, and is a pretty fast sprinter. Castelblanco, descending timidly judging by the way Savoldelli came by him like he was standing still, crashed and tore up his left knee and thigh, ultimately getting passed by 10 riders on the downhill.
Osa did well to stay ahead of the plummeting Simoni for almost the entire 12.5km descent, but the race leader blew by him alone just as the road began a three-kilometer run-in to the finish in Arco. Frigo, Belli and the two Colombians didn’t let them stay out ahead long. Figueras by this time had dropped off with cramps and was shaking his legs trying to keep them moving. Savoldelli had almost gotten up to the group but could not quite make it, and Gontchar got to him again once the road leveled out.
Belli attacked the leading six on the outskirts of Arco, and Simoni was forced to chase him down. Nobody else countered, so they snaked back and forth across the road looking at each other, until, with 600 meters to go, Buenahora jumped hard and had a 10-bike-length gap going. As he faded, the other five blew by him, and Contreras came from the back of the group to take the stage. He nearly went down in history as a tragic story, having thrown up his arms up 20 meters short of the line, almost allowing Belli to get past.
The race leader expressed disapproval for Belli’s pugilism, saying that he had better be careful with behavior like that, as he could just as easily end up on the receiving end of such a punch. The Lampre rider did acknowledge the danger the rabid tifosi on the climbs can pose, saying, “Usually we can get by okay, but we all remember what happened to Guerini on the Alpe d’Huez!” A few hours later, the jury emerged from a long meeting and announced that Belli, in third place overall, would not be allowed to start the time trial tomorrow. Fassa Bortolo’s co-captaincy is over.
Simoni remains confident about his chances against Frigo in the critical 55.5km time trial along the southwest shore of Lake Garda tomorrow. World time trial champion Gontchar rode well today and looks to be as good a bet for the stage win as Frigo. It is hard to believe that Ullrich will be a threat, as he finished 21 minutes down today.
SS84th GIRO D’ITALIA, Stage 14, Cavalese to Arco, June 2.
1. Carlos Contreras (Col), Selle Italia-Pacific, 166km in 5:13:30 (31.770kph); 2. Wladimir Belli (I), Fassa Bortolo; 3. Unai Osa (Sp), iBanesto.com; 4. Dario Frigo (I), Fassa Bortolo; 5. Gilberto Simoni (I), Lampre-Daikin; 6. Hernan Buenahora (Col), Selle Italia-Pacific, all s.t.; 7. Sergei Gontchar (Ukr), Liquigas-PATA, at 0:04; 8. Paolo Savoldelli (I), Saeco, s.t.; 9. Peter Luttenberger (A), Tacconi Sport-Vini Caldirola, at 0:22; 10. Andrea Noé (I), Mapei-Quick Step; 11. José Azevedo (Sp), ONCE -Eroski; 12. Ivan Gotti (I), Alessio; 13. Abraham Olano (Sp), ONCE-Eroski, 14. Figueras, all s.t.; 15. Joachim Castelblanco (Col), Selle Italia-Pacific, at 0:55; 16. Velo, s.t.; 17. Caucchioli, at 1:58; 24. Pantani, at 3:17; 40. Di Luca, at 7:19
Overall: 1. Simoni, 2475km in 68:36:45 (37.523kph); 2. Frigo, at 0:48; 3. Belli, at 1:19; 4. Osa, at 1:48; 5. Buenahora, at 2:19; 6. Contreras, at 2:24; 7. Gotti, at 2:36; 8. Olano, at 3:45; 9. Noé, at 4:15; 10. Gontchar, at 5:07; 11. Azevedo, at 5:18; 12. Figueras, at 7:00; 13. Chaucchioli, at 7:18; 16. Savoldelli, at 8:20; 18. Pantani, at 11:21; 23. Di Luca, at 14:48; 44. Perez, at 37:16; 79. Ullrich, at 1:15:34; 125. Livingston, at 1:47:05.