The day we’ve all been waiting for, the day with two ascensions of the Sestriere and the famous half off-road climb of the Finestre has finally arrived!
The day started with a break of three under sunny skies. Mark Renshaw of FDJ, Grischa Niermann a German rider from Rabobank, and Ruslan Ivanov of Domina Vacanze set off early and had up to 17 minutes at one point. On the first climb of the Sestriere Renshaw dropped off, leaving the other two to fight on alone. The peloton cut some time off Niermann and Ivanov’s lead on the climb, but they still had 14 minutes as the peloton reached the summit. CSC pulled the peloton hard on the descent and through the valley, bringing the lead down to 9 minutes at the foot of the Finestre. About this time Renshaw was caught and the race was about to get crazy!
The Finestre proved to be all that was expected, and then some.
In the opening kilometers of the Finestre, Niermann couldn’t hang with Ivanov, who kept plugging away on his own as his lead fell to 8 minutes. CSC was still on the head of the peloton, and they seemed content to stay there. As the peloton started the climb, the attacks started right away. It was Selle-Italia’s Illiano
who went first, followed by his teammate Rujano. Garate went with him, as did Simoni, Valjavec, Van Huffel, Di Luca, Basso, and a couple others. However Savoldelli wasn’t with them, he was chasing with Karpets, Caucchioli, and several others. Was this the end of the Pink for Disco?
Savoldelli didn’t look stressed as he led his group, 15 seconds behind the leaders. His group caught up with Cunego, who had fallen off the fierce pace being set at the front of the race. The front group was being led by Simoni and Rujano who were both looking to make up big time on the gnarly Finestre. Ivan Basso fell off the front group, and then was passed by Savoldelli’s group. Was he feeling sick again? Either way a third stage win in a row looked out of the question. Savoldelli’s group was now 24 seconds back and they still were far from the unpaved section as Simoni, Di Luca, and Rujano pushed the pace up front. Savoldelli started talking into his race radio as the gap grew to 30 seconds. He was waving to his car, which was coming up from behind on the narrow, twisting roads. Savoldelli had nothing to drink, and still his car hadn’t been able to reach him. The gap grew, and was up to 53 seconds at around the halfway point up the climb.
Maglia Rosa, Savoldelli, rode the Finestre at his own tempo and eventually held on to Pink by 28 seconds.
Savoldelli sucked down a gel of some sort, and finally got a bottle from a Discovery worker who was standing on the side of the road with bidons and musettes. This seemed to give him energy and inspiration and he picked up the pace, dropping Caucchioli. The gap came down to 47 seconds, then 41 as Simoni and crew hit the dirt section. Simoni, Di Luca, and Rujano were setting a blistering pace on this dirt road running through a beautiful forest, and it was too much for everybody but Valjavec. The four of them continued up the hill, with Di Luca doing lots of work. The pace stayed super high, and Valjavec finally fell back. The gap to Savoldelli was growing again, rising up to 1:15, then 1:49.
Both Simoni and Di Luca will ruefully look back at this day for quite a long time… At least we know that cramps get the best of ’em.
Remember Niermann and Ivanov, the break from the morning? Around 3 km from the top Simoni’s group caught Niermann and then Ivanov just minutes later. Neither of them managed to follow as they were passed. As the leaders approached the summit, the sides of the road were totally packed with screaming spectators, and there was still a bit of snow. Di Luca was still doing lots of work, at moments riding uphill on dirt with no hands while eating, as the three leaders did the last bit of dirt road and began the downhill. The gap had increased to 2:19 as Savoldelli passed the summit. Now it was time for Il Falco to validate his nickname.
On the descent, Di Luca started to grab at his right thigh, and he looked to be in pain. He was dropped by Simoni and Rujano soon after as he entered his own world of pain caused by cramps – which, as we saw today, never ever occur at a convenient time. Savoldelli, along with Van Huffel and Ardila of Davitamon had cut 19 seconds off the gap, and brought it down to 2:00. They then caught up with Gonchar, Valjavec, and Garate, forming a group of six. They had the gap down to 1:36 with 10km to go, but the road was about to go up for the last climb of Sestriere. Di Luca was still in between as the last hill started, and Savoldelli and crew were at 1:24.
Rujano was the only member of the leading group of three that didn’t cramp – a victory was the result.
With 5 km to go, Rujano was out of the saddle and leading Simoni up the hill. Di Luca came through just over a half minute later, and then 1:27 later Savoldelli’s group made the mark. Then, it was time for Rujano to make his move, as he noticed that Simoni had also started to cramp. The little Venezuelan took off and started to put a gap on Simoni. This guy will definitely be on a Pro Tour team next year! Simoni poured a bottle of water of his face and started losing time – his third Giro win was going up the road, and there was nothing he could do about it. With 2 km to the summit, Simoni was 23 seconds back. Would Rujano take the Maglia Rosa? Savoldelli was still chasing behind, with help from the Davitamon boys, but he had lost some time, he was at 1:54. Finally, it was Ultimo Chilometro, and Rujano took the stage along with the 20 second time bonus. Simoni came in 26 seconds later, and Di Luca third at 1:37. Savoldelli made it just in time to save his Maglia Rosa with less that half a minute to spare. Incredible riding by all the contenders today!
Simoni lost the Giro in the final 5 km – IF he had held on to Rujano and pulled off the win, the Maglia Rosa would have gone over to Gibo. That’ll be a tough pill to swallow, and from his comments, it appears he’s not pleased.
Grazie Michele Tomasi!
Josи Rujano (Colombia-Selle Italia):
“I’m really happy about this victory, and it’s for my family and for all of Venezuela. I think that if I had some more experience and didn’t get so hungry over the last km’s, I could have had more of an advantage and perhaps had a chance at the Maglia Rosa. But you know, on the Colle delle Finestre it wasn’t possible to eat, then downhill and then climb again…I was so hungry”
Right after he finished the stage he asked for a sandwich.
Gianni Savio “The Prince” (Colombia-Selle Italia DS):
“On the Colle delle Finestre with the high pace kept by Simoni and Di Luca it was impossible to attack so me and Marco Bellin (other DS) decided to not let Rujano help them, but just hold their wheels and play our chances for the stage win on the last climb of Sestriere. I’m really glad for the good Giro that my guys did and we proved that we’re worth the wild card that we got”.
Gilberto Simoni (Lampre-Caffita):
“On the Colle delle Finestre, Paolo understood that he wouldn’t be able to keep our pace, so we tried to go harder. At the end with Di Luca we collaborated, but then unluckily he got troubles with cramps. I had some cramps too, on the downhill. I was at my limit, as it wasn’t easy at all. I thought we would have Parra on our side but he wasn’t there today. I lost my Giro maybe because Cunego wasn’t there. I thought he could help me a lot. So I had to ride differently [than I would have otherwise].”
Ouch. That’ll help the relationship between Simoni and Cunego for sure.
Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas-Bianchi):
“It’s a pity for the cramps, because without that problem I could have won the stage, and I could have arrived 3rd in the overall ranking. I’m disappointed because after 30-40 seconds I was fine again, but perhaps I got them because we were too relaxed on the downhill. I’m sad but happy too, because I did a great Giro and I didn’t think I could finish like this. I’m sure that sooner or later, I will win it.”
Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel):
“I think I lost 10 years off of my life today. I did the Colle delle Finestre at my own pace. Basso started the climb like it was only 3-5 km long, like a crazy man. Then I saw him coming back and I really didn’t understand his move. I won the Giro because I’ve been very calm. I knew that if I lost confidence, I could lose it, but I was very quiet and confident. In this Giro, I lost 40 seconds in one of the early stages when two riders crashed in front of me. This was the first time that I have had a whole team working only for me. I know that in the finale of many stages, I was alone, I was missing a climber (think: Danielson), but for the first time I had a team staying around me and let me spend as little energy as possible before the big mountains. Now I’ll go to the Tour, but just to support Lance. I’ve been training with him and I know how much stronger he is than me.”
Today there was a group from ASO, the organizers of the Tour de France, who checked out the Colle delle Finestre, as they wanted to see if it would be possible to put it in the next year’s Tour route.
1 Josй Rujano Guillen – Selle Italia-Colombia
2 Gilberto Simoni – Lampre-Caffita – 0.26
3 Danilo Di Luca – Liquigas-Bianchi – 1.37
4 Juan Manuel Garate – Saunier Duval-Prodir – 1.53
5 Wim Van Huffel – Davitamon-Lotto – 1.55
6 Serguei Gonchar – Domina Vacanze – m.t.
7 Paolo Savoldelli – Discovery Channel-Pro Cycling Team – m.t.
8 Tadej Valjavec – Phonak Hearing Systems – m.t.
9 Mauricio Alberto Ardila Cano – Davitamon-Lotto – 2.38
10 Emanuele Sella – Ceramica Panaria-Navigare – 5.06
Overall after stage 19
1 Paolo Savoldelli – Discovery Channel-Pro Cycling Team
2 Gilberto Simoni – Lampre-Caffita 0.28
3 Josй Rujano Guillen – Selle Italia-Colombia 0.45
4 Danilo Di Luca – Liquigas-Bianchi 2.42
5 Juan Manuel Garate – Saunier Duval-Prodir 3.11