Ok, my title is a bit misleading: Di Luca didn’t have it so bad – he gets to spend the night in the Maglia Rosa. Menchov did put the fast finishing Italian to shame though with a perfectly timed move that left no questions to be answered. Perhaps Di Luca was feeling a little chuffed with his performance over the past two stages and figured Menchov could use a little love for his misbegotten Rabobank squad. Anyhow, the point is: Menchov dusted the group of favorites on the line, and Di Luca is sitting very pretty in pink. Methinks he’ll have it for a significant spell to come.
Let’s look at the day that was, shall we?
First off, I have a little bit of an issue with the slight issued to the inimitable Dolomiti this year. What is this? A crappy whatever climb yesterday, and then a one and a half climb adventure today? Did I miss something here? The Giro organizers are known for their creativity, but this kind of minimalist creativity is not my thing. I like to hear words like Sella, Pordoi, Gardena, Tre Cime, Fedaia, and Giau. Ok, I just had to get that off my chest. I’m done.
So the stage started uphill immediately with the latter half of the Passo Rolle…since they only did the first part yesterday. Of course, a break went along the slopes of the first climb, and the only thing I can think of is just how miserable it must have been to start the day with attack attack attack from a bunch of stage hunters that had no chance at bringing down a stage. I know that would put me in a bad mood.
Yep, the Alpe di Siusi proved to be a nice axe – it chopped off a lot of excess fat from GC favorite beast.
Thankfully, it only took 5 kilometers for the super aggressors to part ways with the field that was stil yawning and trying to figure out what was going on. Thomas Voeckler (BeatBox, I mean BBox), Eros Capecchi (Fuji-Servetto), Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre), Daniele Pietropolli (LPR), Jose Serpa, Carlos Josй Ochoa (Diquigiovanni), and Giovanni Visconti (ISD) made up the seven-some that needed some breathing room. They didn’t get all that much.
Fast forward – we start the mainly downhill run to Bolzano now, oh my there went Tesero…just a couple of weeks ago, they swung right and headed up the Alpe di Pampeago. No such fun today. Through the high valley, down the big descent to Ora, up the Adige Valley to Bolzano, and now we’re back in real time motion: the 25k monster of the Alpe di Siusi begins.
The Main Event
Today’s break, one of the few that you can absolutely deem as hopeless, had a not so comfortable 3 minute gap as the climb began just outside of Bolzano. Liquigas shouldered much of the burden of the lengthy final climb, and the team’s collective efforts were more than enough to put paid everyone’s chances save for seven hearty souls. I’m getting ahead of myself though, there were some significant casualties along the way.
The climb to the Alpe di Siusi is a three-parter (Read the PEZ-Preview here)- a tough opening segment, followed by a flattish middle, and topped off with a 10k piece of real mountain delight. Most everyone made it through the first two parts ok, even the break, but once the road kicked up for its final thrust for the heavens, the piper arrived and had his hand out ready for bill payment. The break succumbed first, and not long after, Mr. Lance Armstrong made paid his bill, at long last, to the piper. Armstrong’s dropping wasn’t a quiet event though, no, there were cameras, fans, and three teammates along to make his first real dropping in something like a decade a little more pleasant. Up ahead, team leader Levi Leipheimer only had Chris Horner at his disposal, but thankfully that was more than enough for today.
Not long after Lance, Lampre lost their representation up front, and we’ve been reminded for the umpteenth time that Damiano Cunego is NOT A GRAND TOUR RIDER. Ok, that’s it, there’s no shame in it. You can wins LOTS of other races, be one of the most decorated riders around, but a la someone like Paolo Bettini…not like Ivan Basso. It’s ok. Marzio Bruseghin also went around the time of Cunego, so Lampre isn’t feeling too much love at the moment – no World Champ, no GC contenders…can we get a stage please?
With 5k to go, Liquigas is still manning the front. Sylvester Szmyd is doing real ox and cattle type work up front. Basso and Pellizotti are on his wheel lashing the poor piece of livestock. The group is around 25 strong, but Armstrong, Garzelli, Cunego, and Bruz are gone. Things get a bit dicey for Menchov and Sastre as riders really start coming unglued and the masses do their best to stay upright as the hammer hits em square between the eyes. Menchov and Sastre get across without too much issue, and the lead group is beginning to take shape.
Szmyd finally crumples under his load, and pulls off for Basso. Basso takes to the front with his special look of glee and puts on his evil smile and sets up about trying for his second Giro d’Italia. Pellizotti is on his wheel, but not for long, Basso rides him right off his wheel. So much for that whole co-leader thing. I guess if you can’t stay on your teammate’s wheel, the selection for solo captain has been made.
At this point, Basso goes about his business with nary a look behind. He churns out his venomous tempo to the distinct dismay of all but six other souls. The final selection? Ivan Basso (Liquigas), Danilo Di Luca (LPR), Levi Leipheimer (Astana), Chris Horner (Astana), Carlos Sastre (Cervelo), and Denis Menchov (Rabobank), and the Maglia Rosa of Thomas Lovkvist (Columbia).
Behind, the cameras keep coming back to Mr. Armstrong, and it’s almost humorous to see him surrounded by three teammates. He plods forward trying to stop the flow of his time hemorrhage, but fails miserably and loses over three minutes by the top. Once they get their leader thing settled over at Astana camp, everyone else should be a bit nervous – Astana had six guys in the lead group till Lance got dropped…then they had two.
They pass under the Ultimo Chilometro banner and suddenly Basso realizes that they’re almost done, and he should look around, because someone is about to attack. Di Luca looks all Killer like, and we all expect the Giro’s second back to back stage win feat. This is the Killer after all, and there are only six other riders, four of whom couldn’t beat a Cat 5 with two flat tires. Di Luca assumes the #1 spot, seemingly getting ready to post up his victory salute. The heads start turning, who’s going to take it?
But then Horner comes by Di Luca, and takes the reins of the leadout. Sastre doesn’t give Horner much time to wind up the leadout though and blasts right over the top. Menchov hops on the Spanish Express with the Killer, and oh my this has to be going the way of the Killer, but then Menchov does a curious thing – he drops everyone. Only Di Luca can somewhat keep the measure of the big Russian, and it’s Menchov who rams home to the win, whilst Di Luca cruises across a moment behind: the Maglia Rosa is his.
Thomas Lovkvist and Ivan Basso are right behind Di Luca though, and Lovkvist almost manages to hold on to his jersey. Leipheimer and Horner lose a couple of seconds, Sastre a few more, in the finish line feeding frenzy. Right behind the leading group of seven? Michael Rogers and David Arroyo pulled off a coup, as they lost only a few extra seconds. It will be interesting to see how important these extra seconds become later in the race.
What can we take from this? I don’t think you can take too much. 16 riders all managed to stay within a minute of Menchov – the same amount are within three minutes on General Classification. This was a solid mountaintop finish, but it was nowhere near decisive. We shouldn’t see another decisive stage for a little while yet. Rest assured – we’ll be seeing more from those leading seven though.
Much more to come!
Stage 5 Results
1 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 3.15.24
2 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) LPR Brakes – Farnese Vini 0.02
3 Thomas Lцvkvist (Swe) Team Columbia – Highroad 0.05
4 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas
5 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana 0.09
6 Christopher Horner (USA) Astana
7 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo Test Team 0.19
8 David Arroyo (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 0.22
9 Michael Rogers (Aus) Team Columbia – Highroad
10 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Fuji-Servetto
General Classification After The Dolomites
1 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) LPR Brakes – Farnese Vini 16.20.44
2 Thomas Lцvkvist (Swe) Team Columbia – Highroad 0.05
3 Michael Rogers (Aus) Team Columbia – Highroad 0.36
4 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana 0.43
5 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 0.50
6 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas 1.06
7 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo Test Team 1.16
8 Christopher Horner (USA) Astana 1.17
9 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas 1.27
10 David Arroyo (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 1.41
11 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli 2.01
12 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Astana 2.30
13 Tadej Valjavec (Slo) AG2R La Mondiale 2.36
14 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank 2.41
15 Kevin Seeldrayers (Bel) Quick Step 2.49