Easy, Gorgeous Beginnings
The first and only attack before the finishing climb came after a ridiculously easy first hour in which less than 30 kilometers were covered, but seriously, there wasn’t much in the way of riding to be done what with those obscenely gorgeous views of the Amalfi Coast. After an hour of ginger pacing was too much for three daring escapists: Yuriy Krivtsov (Ag2r Prйvoyance) and Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff Credit Systems). Ok, so it was 2 at first, but 5k later they were joined by Markel Irizar (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
We All Fall Down
And so they set off on their audacious bid for glory. And it was around this time when riders started falling down all over the place. That’s pretty much all there is to report before the final climb: break gets around 5 minutes, under control, and everyone else falls down. At one point, it seemed someone was falling down in every single turn on the suddenly very wet (apparently that happens when it rains), uber-slick roads. One mega-fall saw Petacchi, Bettini, Cunego, and Maglia Rosa Enrico Gasparotto all touch pavement. Bettini did not look the better post-fall.
Fast Forward To The Business End
Garzelli’s Acqua e Sapone team led it to the start of the climb of the Montevergine. That didn’t last long though as Liquigas returned to the front and set the serious tempo for a good portion of the climb.
Pavel Brutt attacked the hell out of the three-up break and motored away as the two others put on a game, but seemingly vain, chase. It was very apparent early on just how fast this climb was – it looked like Brutt was climbing in a 39×13-15…somewhere in there.
Maglia Rosa, Enrico Gasparotto, was dispatched very early on and rode the climb at a leisurely gait with the sprinters as company.
The Liquigas pace-setting machine led by Wegelius looked good and kept the other contenduhs in check as Pavel Brutt slaved away at front slaying himself to stay away…looking like he was on the verge of giving birth the whole time. Unfortunately for Brutt, there was so motivated bike riding coming up from behind – it’s the first uphill finish of the 2007 Grand Tour season, so his gap fell, fell, fell.
10K To Go!
And then with 10k to go, Brutt wasn’t all by his lonesome anymore. His formerly dropped companions caught the square-pedalling Russian, and the field was only 55 ticks in arrears.
At 10k to go in the field, it was still a very, very large grouping of bike riders – at least 50, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 75.
Blast From The Past
Shades of the past came hurtling out of the field around the 9k to go mark as first T-Mobile’s Frantisek Rabon hurtled out of the field, but then followed and quickly countered by the enigmatic Julio Perez Cuapio, and that was the last we heard of Rabon, and the beginning of a valiant fight from Perez. Of course you remember him, he animated the mountains for a couple of editions about five years ago, but has been a ghost ever since.
Perez was motoring with some sort of vigor not often seen and pranced off into the distance. Shortly thereafter, Cofidis’ Steve Zampieri had a dig and jumped the sputtering Liquigas train. He made the junction with the dead break and went right on through. For Liquigas it just kept getting more out of control as Predictor’s Dario Cioni followed suit and bridged up to Zampieri. Rapidly, the Cioni group began to grow as riders all wanted a piece of this aggressive action. Soon the Cioni group grew by a lot as they were re-absorbed by the field.
Still, Julio Perez slaved away at the front, absolutely hurting the pedals.
5% Of Average Grade Doesn’t Slow Em Much
To get an idea how fast they were going up the finishing climb – a Tinkoff rider slid out through one of the switchbacks. I can assure you that will not happen on the Zoncolan.
Perez Cuapio was moving in rapid fashion, but not fast enough – a motivated chase from Piepoli (Saunier Duval), and Liquigas put paid to his escape with about 3k to go.
With about 3k to go Paolo Bettini cracked in impressive fashion. Bettini had been sitting far forward in the field, then BAM, he went backwards about as fast as the front was going forward. EuroSport noted something about a hurt rib? It had to have been something from the crash earlier in the day.
At 3k to go the group was still around 50 strong and Perez was holding on to a tight little 15 second gap.
2k to go and the gap was about the same.
Ultimo Chilometro Sprintation
Inside the Ultimo Chilometro and Perez gave up the ghost as Pellizotti slammed past, leading the drastically reduced field from only 2k previous.
And so came the showdown – which of the uphill fastmen would prevail? Di Luca? Ricco? Cunego? Di Luca answered in short order, as he went from a long way out with Ricco doing his damndest to get on terms with Di Luca’s jump. He managed that, but the curvy final meters did not lend themselves to coming around the Killer, and Di Luca’s move was perfect – his second win at Montevergine Di Mercogliano: six years after the last.
In terms of time differences? Negligible. The Maglia Rosa changed hands, but it went right on over to Di Luca, so no big deal there. Liquigas lost some of its stranglehold over the top of the GC, but that’s no surprise. The small bits of time that were lost aren’t ideal for a rider like Savoldelli, but really nothing to cry about or sound the alarm over.
It was a quality stage with quite a good finish, but the coming weeks will most likely show that today was but an entertaining opening to future fun. Then again, it could also be telling – a number of contenders lost some time – not tons by any means, but enough to warrant the raising of an eyebrow: Popovych lost 34 seconds and Savoldelli did the same. Simoni lost 15 seconds, which isn’t much at all, but it further sets him back – he’s now a full 2 minutes behind Di Luca.
1 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas 4.22.42
2 Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval – Prodir
3 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre – Fondital
4 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team CSC 0.03
5 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone – Caffe Mokambo
6 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas 0.06
7 Luca Mazzanti (Ita) Ceramica Panaria – Navigare
8 David Arroyo Duran (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 0.07
9 Emanuele Sella (Ita) Ceramica Panaria – Navigare 0.13
10 David Zabriskie (USA) Team CSC
11 Julio Alberto Perez Cuapio (Mex) Ceramica Panaria – Navigare 0.15
12 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre – Fondital
13 Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) Lampre – Fondital
14 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) Saunier Duval – Prodir
15 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saunier Duval – Prodir
Hmmmm…how about Mr. Andy Schleck? Interesting.
An Extended Run-Down Of GC
1 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas 14.26.10
2 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas 0.26
3 Andrea Noe’ (Ita) Liquigas 0.35
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas
5 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team CSC 0.53
6 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre – Fondital 0.54
7 David Zabriskie (USA) Team CSC 1.03
8 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Astana 1.07
9 Eddy Mazzoleni (Ita) Astana
10 Andrey Mizourov (Kaz) Astana
11 Serguei Yakovlev (Kaz) Astana
12 Francisco Javier Vila Errandonea (Spa) Lampre – Fondital 1.17
13 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Lampre – Fondital
14 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre – Fondital
15 Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) Lampre – Fondital
16 Volodymir Gustov (Ukr) Team CSC 1.24
17 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone – Caffe Mokambo 1.25
18 Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval – Prodir 1.33
19 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 1.43
20 Josй Luis Rubiera Vigil (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team
21 David Arroyo Duran (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 1.50
22 Evgeni Petrov (Rus) Tinkoff Credit System 1.58
23 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saunier Duval – Prodir 2.00
24 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) Saunier Duval – Prodir
25 Aitor Perez Arrieta (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 2.17
So I lied about Liquigas losing a little bit of their stranglehold up top…I guess top 4 on GC is something one might call a deathgrip.