By Lennard Zinn
With another tremendous burst of power, Mario Cipollini has become the second-winningest rider in Giro history. With extremely aggressive riding once again, the big Saeco rider turned a seemingly hopeless position with 500 meters to go into a perfect one with 200 meters to go. And when he stood up to finish it, he blew the doors off Danilo Hondo and Massimo Strazzer, grinning the entire way to the line.
The going in the sprint was a bit easier by virtue of a long climb with 27km to go that caused Ivan Quaranta to lose contact. Yesterday’s sprint winner showed once again that he is the slowest climber of the sprinters, and the Saeco, Lotto and Telekom teams saw to it that he never made it back to the peloton.
Four other Alexia riders got him within 10 seconds during the first of three 4-km finishing circuits around the fortress walls of Rieti, but that is as close as they got. The speed was pegged well above 50kph by that point – 51kph for the first lap, 52 for the second and 55 for the third, despite the many curves. It was quite a change in a stage in which the first hour was passed at under 30kph, the second at 31, and the third at 32.6.
With 500 meters to go, Cipollini was stuck in the center of a group of riders in 14th place. Approaching the final left-hand curve, he shoved his way up between Lampre’s Gabriele Missaglia and Mariano Piccoli where no room existed. He then gave Piccoli a shove on the butt with his right hand to clear a way out to the right, passed five or six riders on his left in the curve, and exited in fifth with 400 meters left. In the lead was Mobilvetta’s Moreno Di Biase with his teammate, intermediate-sprint leader Massimo Strazzer on his wheel. Points leader Danilo Hondo was behind Strazzer with Piccoli to his right.
Piccoli had been hung out in the wind too long and faded, leaving room for the four lined up at the front. Strazzer jumped with 200 meters left, Hondo came by on his left, and the Lion King came left of him, gaining ground in large gobs with each pedal stroke. He crossed the line several bike lengths clear, arms upraised.
The win moved the dark-haired resident of Monte Carlo into a tie for second in career Giro wins with Learco Guerra. His 31 victories are still dwarfed by Alfredo Binda’s 41, and when asked the obvious question about whether he can get there, he replied with a humility that defies his image,
“It’s just a number. Even if I got it, I am still just a sprinter, not a great champion. You can’t compare my wins by a few meters with those of guys like Binda, winning epic stages by minutes in the Dolomites.” Nevertheless, the 34-year-old laughed, “I showed that the old guy can still beat these young guys. I am almost an institution by now. I don’t know how long it will be before the next generation takes over, but I am enjoying it now.”
He pointed to the flat stage 9 from Reggio Emilia to Rovigo as his next opportunity to snatch another win from the youngsters.
Once again, a large crash disrupted the tranquility of the peloton. A motorcycle trying to pass to the left of the riders at km 41 got tangled up with them as the pack shifted left. It tumbled along with about a dozen riders. Kelme’s Jesus Manzano was curled up motionless in a fetal position with Panaria’s Michele Coppolillo leaning over trying to get reassurance that he was still among the living. Neither was wearing a helmet. Manzano was taken by ambulance to the hospital in Marino where he was treated and released with minor cranial trauma, a sprained neck and pulled back muscles.
Coppolillo soldiered on, re-catching the pack with a large lump next to his left eye and a huge hole in the back of his shorts revealing raw flesh below.
84th GIRO D’ITALIA, Stage 6, Nettuno to Rieti, May 25.
1. Mario Cipollini (I), Saeco, 152km in 4:13:23 (35.992kph); 2. Danilo Hondo (G), Deutsche Telekom; 3. Massimo Strazzer (I), Mobilvetta-Formaggi Trentini; 4. Mauro Gerosa (I), Tacconi Sport-Vini Caldirola; 5. Jeroen Blijlevens (Nl), Lotto-Adecco; 6. Endrio Leoni (I), Alessio; 7. Marco Zanotti (I), Liquigas-PATA; 8. Alexis Rodriguez (Sp), Kelme-Costa Blanca; 9. Gabriele Missaglia (I), Lampre-Daikin; 10. Giuliano Figueras (I), Panaria-Fiordo, all s.t.
Overall: 1. Frigo, 1075km in 27:03:58; 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; 16. Figueras, at 1:03; 18. Pantani, at 1:09; 45. Savoldelli, at 3:21; 53. Verbrugghe, at 4:27; 73. Ullrich, at 10:57; 81. Hondo, at 12:25; 107. Julio Perez (Mex), Panaria-Fiordo, at 17:31; 134. Livingston, at 24:21.