The Giro’s visit to the balmy environs of southern Belgium was a definite success: huge fan turn-out, quality racing, and even the weather tried to cooperate for one of the days. PEZ takes a look at the first four Belgo-stages, and looks at the menu of the fun still to come.
Stage 1 – May 6: Seraing ITT, 6.2 km
The first day of the 2006 Giro was not a Prologue, even though the TT was only 6.2 km and the winning time was under 8 minutes, but apparently the Giro organizers knew something that we didn’t – as the time gaps were fairly significant especially considering the under-4 mile effort.
The short, super technical course featured a 2k climb and a frightful descent, which culminated with a bmx jump, most call it a speed hump, but it’s surprising no one caught some major air over it. Paolo Savoldelli just about lost it over the speed bump into the final turn – he had to lock his rear wheel up hard, and lost a tire in the process as Ed Hood found when he spoke with Discovery mechanic, Alan Butler.
Bradley McGee set an early best time, which stood the test of all but one rider – the final one – defending champion, Paolo Savoldelli. Il Falco not only beat McGee’s time, he stomped it, putting 11 solid seconds into the prolific Prologue specialist. To put that into perspective, there was only 11 seconds between McGee in 2nd and Ivan Basso in 13th.
Johan Bruyneel noted that the Tour suits Savoldelli’s capabilities far more than the Giro…one has to wonder if Il Falco will give Le Tour a full-go here soon. His time trialling is fantastic, as is his climbing on the more reasonable mountains.
Savoldelli clearly is in form, not that the rest of the field is not, but that was a superb ride. Germany’s, as of Saturday still relatively unknown and underrated, Stefan Schumacher, rode to an excellent 4th Place – only 13 seconds in arrears of Savoldelli. Many spoke of Bettini’s hopes of a Maglia Rosa, or even Petacchi, but even then it was Schumacher who had the best shot, as he can contend in bunch sprints as well as the Classics-style finishes – we saw that come to fruition a few days later in dramatic fashion.
Results From Stage 1
1 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 7.50 (47.489 km/h)
2 Bradley Mcgee (Aus) Franзaise des Jeux 0.11
3 Josй E. Gutierrez Cataluna (Spa) Phonak Hearing Systems 0.13
4 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner
5 Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile Team 0.15
6 Francisco Perez Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears 0.16
7 Josй Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears
8 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile Team 0.17
9 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 0.18
10 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas 0.19
Stage 2 – May 7: Mons – Marcinelle, 197 km
The second stage of the four-stage jaunt through Wallonia, dawned nasty, gloomy, and wet. The wet weather made for uneventful proceedings for the first 190 km. An early break went up the road in the first half hour and returned to the fold for the final half hour. All eyes were on Alessandro Petacchi’s Train – and it looked impressive heading into the final minutes – with one mile remaining there were still four Milram riders setting up the Ale-Jet for lift-off.
Tally one up for Robbie Mac – McEwen didn’t even give Petacchi a chance in their first duel.
From there, things went very awry. The slight uphill rise on the finishing straight must have slowed what is normally a train that can hardly be jumped, as T-Mobile’s Olaf Pollack jumped early and hard. Petacchi hesitated to ditch his train for the fast-moving Pollack, but little Robbie McEwen, riding for a Belgian team while also living in the rainy haven for bike racing – had no doubts. Robbie Mac hit out to Pollack’s wheel then made easy work of the German, taking the sprint in easy fashion. Pollack managed to hold onto second ahead of a hard-charging Paolo Bettini. Alessandro Petacchi’s dismal Belgian luck continuing from the Spring, as he finished in 4th.
Stage 3 – May 8: Perwez – Namur, 202 km
Stage 3 was another nasty, wet one, but even the harsh conditions could not hide the fact that the finish would be a serious doozy – finishing atop the cobbled climb to the Citadel in Namur, about 2k uphill to finish the hilly 200k stage.
Once again a break tried its luck to no avail, as it was brought back with 20k to go. Crashes and flats were the name of the game for the day. Paolo Savoldelli flatted, a rider in the break wrecked, there was a field-splitting wreck in the finale, and most importantly, Belgium jumped up and bit Alessandro Petacchi.
Petacchi’s 06 Belgian Campaign came to a dismal end when he broke his knee-cap in Stage 3. He’s out of the Giro and will miss Le Tour as well.
Petacchi has had an absolute crap time with Belgium in 2006. After deciding that he wanted to focus on the Belgian Classics in Spring, it was all downhill. He was never a factor in any of the big Classics, and in the one race which was tailor-made for him to win: Ghent-Wevelgem, he was dusted in the sprint. Stage 3 just added insult to injury – Ale-Jet went down early on in the stage. Petacchi eventually finished almost a quarter of an hour down, and a trip to the emergency room post-stage revealed the worst: a broken knee-cap. Petacchi was out of the Giro, and he confirmed yesterday that he will be out of the Tour as well – his hopes are now pegged on the Vuelta. Talk about a reason to never, ever return to Belgium again.
After the return of the break, near chaos ensued, as no team was really willing to take responsibility for what was to be an unpredictable uphill finish. CSC, Gerolsteiner, and Francaise Des Jeux were all active on the front, but no team took complete control in the run-up to the Citadel. Heading to the foot of the climb, CSC and Gerolsteiner were patrolling the front. Alberto Loddo (Selle Italia) opened the festivities on the climb, attacking at the base. Discovery’s Chechu Rubiera rode up to Loddo and countered him 300 meters later. A select group of contenders hovered just behind the strong-looking Rubiera, when all of a sudden, Stefan Schumacher was even with Rubiera after blasting across the gap.
Schumacher and Rubiera rode a hard pace that managed to keep the chasers at bay, and Schumacher made easy work of Rubiera in the finish, as he started the sprint very early and won it easily. The 24-year-old Schumacher had pulled off an incredible win on the day, but also managed to wrest the Maglia Rosa from Paolo Savoldelli – by a healthy margin. The 20 second time bonus coupled with his 6-second margin of victory made for quite the swing – 13 second deficit to 13 second lead.
Stefan Schumacher pulled off the ride of his life to take the stage and the overall lead.
Paolo Savoldelli, for his part, rode a superb final 2k. He lost the lead, but gained time on all of his rivals by finishing in the group right behind Rubiera and Schumacher. Savoldelli gained seven extra seconds on basically every other GC contender in the Giro with his attentive riding at the finish. Those seven seconds will probably not amount to anything significant when you look at what the final week has in store, but after last year, when a terribly difficult Giro came down to scant seconds – no rider would tell you they wouldn’t mind a few bonus seconds at some point.
Stage 4 – May 9: Wanze – Hotton, 193 km
After two full-days in the wet, Stage 4 brought some much better weather for the riders, allowing for stashing of the rain capes. Stage 4 followed yet another hilly course through Wallonia, but it was always set to come down to a bunch sprint, and with Alessandro Petacchi gone, all eyes were on Robbie McEwen.
The Davitamon-Lotto team is on a serious roll heading into early Summer.
McEwen’s team did a great job pulling back the day’s break and setting up the sprint, but heading into the final kilometers, numerous teams hit the front, as all had hopes of a win now that Ale-Jet was in Italy. The sprint opened in virtual chaos with riders strewn all about the road from barrier to barrier.
Once again, it’s Robbie McEwen, for his second win in two real tries.
In typical McEwen fashion, he emerged from seemingly nowhere to take the win in easy fashion, holding off a hard-charging Paolo Bettini, who has shown early on, once again, that he can compete in just about any racing scenario, including the wild bunch sprint. McEwen’s win was his second of the Giro and he was not unhappy with the win, giving a quality flex immediately after the line. McEwen’s Spring, like Davitamon’s, seems a distant memory. Robbie Mac looks pretty close to unstoppable at the moment, the only thing keeping McEwen from a huge tally of wins is this year’s Giro course – there probably really only remains one more chance for McEwen before he makes his midway exit.
Paolo Bettini has to be fancying his chances at the Maglia Ciclamino – the points classification.
A Preview Of Coming Attractions
First on the menu is Stage 5’s dead-flat 38km team time trial. CSC and Discovery will be the heavy favorites for the win, as always. Odds look very good that Savoldelli will be wearing the Maglia Rosa after tomorrow’s stage – the Gerolsteiner team will have a tough task trying to hold a 13-second lead for the nearly 25 miles. The real question will be: how much time can CSC and/or Disco take from the rest of the teams, will the gaps be significant? PEZ says YES.
Stage 6 will be the last no-questions bunch finish stage for awhile. This could well be Robbie McEwen’s last chance at a win – so he would be wise to capitalize on it.
Stage 7 will be a mean one – there is no summit finish, but the hills and mountains around Marco Pantani’s former hometown of Cesenatico are vicious, not to mention the 236 km the riders will have to endure. There was a similar stage a few years back which saw the debut of one Emmanuele Sella – there could be some surprises on this stage – check out PEZ’ Alessandro Federico’s Recon of the mid-stage brute of a climb, the Catria.
Stage 8 will be no easier, as the race takes in the first mountaintop finish of 2006. The run-in to the final climb of the Passo Lanciano looks fairly routine – flat for the first part and then rolling to the climb, from there it’ll be rough – 12 km of steepness and the first stage where we’ll get a fair idea of who is going in which direction on GC. This stage rolls through Danilo Di Luca’s stomping grounds, and he has said on many an occasion that he wants to win this stage above all others.
The final two stages leading to the second Rest Day shouldn’t be as dramatic as Stages 7 and 8, but they will provide ample opportunities for the strong rider to make something happen. If a rider like Savoldelli or Basso is in the lead, these days could be fairly routine, as the two strongest squads in the race could provide ample control, allowing perhaps for a break to finally find the finish.
General Classification After Four Belgian Stages
1 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner 14.52.55
2 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 0.13
3 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 0.23
4 Josй Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears 0.29
5 Josй Luis Rubiera Vigil (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 0.31
6 Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile Team
7 Bradley McGee (Aus) Franзaise des Jeux
8 Francisco Perez Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears 0.32
9 Josй E. Gutierrez Cataluna (Spa) Phonak Hearing Systems 0.33
10 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step-Innergetic 0.35
11 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile Team 0.37
12 Tom Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team
13 Jens Voigt (Ger) Team CSC 0.38
14 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas 0.39
15 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre-Fondital 0.40
16 Olaf Pollack (Ger) T-Mobile Team 0.41
17 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC 0.43
18 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Fondital 0.45
19 Dario David Cioni (Ita) Liquigas 0.46
20 Joan Horrach Rippoll (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears 0.49
36 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saunier Duval-Prodir 1.02
84 Josй Rujano Guillen (Ven) Selle Italia-Serramenti Diquigiovanni 1.41
195 Carl Naibo (Fra) AG2R Prevoyance 17.52
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