Simoni takes advantage of a perfect opportunity to strike when it counts
By Thomas Prehn
Let’s set the stage. Gilberto Simoni, a former winner and climbing specialist of the Saeco Team had already said that he intended to make his first mark on the Giro on this stage. He began the day wanting to put some time between himself and the man in the leader’s jersey, Bradley McGee (FDJeux) and more importantly, his closest rivals.
Now McGee is a flatlander and pursuiter, who is a respectable climber, but no specialist and was not expected to challenge on a day with a long difficult climb to the finish. Of course, Simoni had a host of other climbers to contend with, including the winner of the Giro in 2000, Stefano Garzelli (Vini Caldirola) and Yaroslav Popovych (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago), the man who started out the day second on GC. So there they were: All the players had reached the final climb on stage 3 of the Giro. A lone breakaway rider, Renzo Mazzoleni (Tenax), had been off the front for 130+ kilometers and, after building his lead to more than 16:00, was now loosing time fast. Simoni’s Saeco team had moved nearly all of its riders to the front and was keeping the pace high.
More than just chasing down a faltering rider, the effort had spit several riders off the back and the Saeco-led “chase” group was cut down to about 45 riders by the time Mazzoleni was caught.
This was clearly not the time to ease off and the Saeco team kept up the pressure on as more riders slipped off the back of the group, including a couple of Saeco riders. But at this point Simoni and crew needed to keep the pace high to minimize the number of attacks from the field and allowing the team’s two top riders – Simoni and Damiano Cunego – to set the agenda as the race neared the finish.
The team was mainly concerned with any potential threat from Garzelli.
So, with Garzelli forced to follow the Saeco-set tempo, the next question became when to make the final attack to the finish. That opportunity actually presented itself perfectly when a little known Phonak rider, Marco Fertonani, made a seemingly frivolous attack at exactly the right moment. Fertonani jumped a hard attack on a steep pitch with about 3km remaining. There was no chance that Saeco would allow him to escape. What could he have been thinking?
And, as expected Saeco’s Eddy Mazzoleni (older brother of the day’s early breakaway) and Cunego gave chase. The result was that the trio suddenly had a small gap on the rest of the lead group.
For Simoni, the game couldn’t have played out better if he had planned it. He was able to sit back and wait a few moments to see how the rest of the riders might respond, focusing especially on Garzelli and watching how much life was left in the legs of his chief rival. Apparently, there wasn’t enough to give chase and that was all Simoni needed to see. Moments later, Simoni made his jump, scooting up the road to bridge the gap to his teammates. Without slowing Simoni flew past the three men in the lead. Cunego had done his work for the day. The young rider waited, shadowed Garzelli for a few hundred meters and then set off on his own, finishing second behind Simoni, who is now in sole possession of the maglia rosa.
Thomas Prehn is a former USPRO champion and author of the recentlyreleased “RacingTactics for Cyclists,” now available through VeloPress. If you have questions about tactics employed during a particularstage at the Giro d’Italia, send a note to WebLetters@InsideInc.comWe will try to answer a selection of questions on a regular basis duringthe Giro d’Italia.