By Lennard Zinn
Stomping each of his unique snakeskin carbon-soled Gaerne shoes down with enormous power, Ivan Quaranta held off Mario Cipollini to take the first purely flat sprint of this Giro on May 24. Today’s 229km stage, starting just east of Naples and ending just south of Rome, did not affect the overall standings. This was the Alexia sprinter’s fifth Giro stage win in three years, and he still acknowledges that, “Cipollini (who has 30 Giro wins) is still the king of us sprinters.”
Boxed in at the final corner 500 meters from the line, Quaranta — nicknamed Cheetah — managed to pop out in time to come by on the left of some wild action happening ahead. In fact, as the 26-year-old from Crema came by Giovanni Lombardi, the Deutsche Telekom rider whacked him in the butt. Quaranta was coming by cleanly and straight, but perhaps Lombardi was just putting fist to frustration at the way Cipollini had just been banging him around.
The battle for position had already been going on for some time when Cipollini’s speedy teammate Biagio Conte led the strung-out group into the final kilometer at a tremendous pace. As they entered the final turn, the Lion King was lying in eighth position coming up on the left of Lombardi and repeatedly banging handlebars with him to keep the Telekom rider boxed in behind Alessio’s Endrio Leoni.
Quaranta, who was stuck to the left of and just behind the big Saeco rider, finally got some free space as the road curved slightly to the left at the 400-meter mark. The compact Alexia rider with the hooked nose accelerated mightily in a 54X11 gear and got punched as he passed Lombardi, who had backed out of his box and was now on Cipollini’s wheel.
Perhaps the punch helped propel him, because Quaranta blasted past Cipo with Massimo Strazzer hanging on behind. The Lion King swung left, bashed the Mobilvetta rider off Quaranta’s wheel, stood up and accelerated enough to start coming around Quaranta’s left but only got halfway by when they hit the line. Alessio’s Leoni, the king of the early season sprints, was coming up equally fast on Quaranta’s right and looked like he, too, might get past when the last guy left ahead of the hard-charging trio, Liquigas’s Marco Zanotti, cut him off so he had to hit the brakes. At least Leoni was able to sprint, as he had bashed his hip at km 182 when got caught up in a 30-rider crash there.
For the third time in five stages, a long two-man break was neutralized by the teams of the sprinters. Davide Casarotto (Alessio) and Michele Gobbi (Mobilvetta-Formaggi Trentini) took off at 60km and built a maximum lead of almost nine minutes. After 158km of freedom, the Saeco, Alexia, Lotto-Adecco and Deutsche Telekom teams — working together for Cipollini, Quaranta, Blijlevens and Hondo (or Lombardi), respectively — brought them back with 11km to go.
Fourteen kilometers earlier, however, the crash — the one that you cringe to think about whenever you watch riders hang onto team cars — happened. ONCE’s mechanic was hanging out of the right side of the team car and reaching around to adjust the derailleur of Francisco Rodriguez’s bike when they hit a bump. Rodriguez, who had one hand on the bars and one on the car, immediately went down. The 25-year-old Spaniard started falling under the car, but the mechanic, who was holding his seatpost, lifted and pushed enough to keep him from getting run over. The astonished mechanic could only watch the hard crash open-mouthed.
With the help of a teammate, Rodriguez got back to the pack. The crash did not seem to faze him from hanging onto cars, though, as a medic in an official car patched his left elbow. Apparently, nothing could be done about his butt hanging out of an enormous hole in his shorts.
Saying, “I hope that it ends in another sprint tomorrow and I can go for another win,” Quaranta’s faith has been restored. He felt robbed of the sprint opportunity he had been looking forward to on stage one when rain turned the road into a skating rink, and the long, straight finish along the beach in Francavilla a sprint among a handful of G.C. contenders. He could not stay at the front on the switchback sprint of stage two won by Danilo Hondo, and we was dropped like a rock on stage three and only heard about Hondo’s second victory. His team kept the faith, though, and worked beautifully for him today.
For those who think top riders only race on tubulars, Quaranta won the race on clinchers – red IRC Paperlite Acqua 700X23s, to be precise, which were mounted on Campagnolo Shamal clincher wheels.
84th GIRO D’ITALIA, Stage 5, Avellino to Nettuno, May 24.
1. Ivan Quaranta (I), Alexia, 229km in 5:29:16 (41.729kph); 2. Mario Cipollini (I), Saeco; 3. Moreno Di Biase (I), Mobilvetta-Formaggi Trentini; 4. Jeroen Blijlevens (Nl), Lotto-Adecco; 5. Zoran Klemencic (Slo), Tacconi Sport-Vini Caldirola; 6. Marco Zanotti (I), Liquigas-PATA; 7. Damien Nazon (F), Bonjour; 8. Endrio Leoni (I), Alessio; 9. Enrico Degano (I), Panaria-Fiordo; 10. Massimo Strazzer (I), Mobilvetta-Formaggi Trentini; 12. Danilo Hondo (G), Deutsche Telekom; 16. Giovanni Lombardi (I), Deutsche Telekom, all s.t.
Overall: 1. Frigo, 923km in 22:50:35; 2. Olano, at 0:12; 3. Simoni, at 0:13; 4. Belli, at 0:17; 5. Azevedo, at 0:19; 6. Di Grande, at 0:25; 7. Hruska, at 0:28; 8. Duma, at 0:33; 9. Camenzind, at 0:35; 10. Colombo, at 0:38; 11. Noé, at 0:42; 12. Gontchar, at 0:47; 13. Di Luca, at 0:48; 14. Garzelli, at 0:57; 15. Gotti, at 1:02; 18. Pantani, at 1:09; 46. Savoldelli, at 3:21; 54. Verbrugghe, at 4:27; 78. Ullrich, at 10:57; 85. Hondo, at 12:25; 141. Livingston, at 24:21.