Giro’09 St.21: Menchov Slides To Victory!

Race Report: The Centenary Giro is over and it will probably take another 100 years before they serve up a finish as exciting, heart-stopping, but ultimately as sporting as we saw today in Rome. Denis Menchov added another Grand Tour to his palmares on the rain soaked roads of Rome that saw Ignatas Konovalovas claim the fourth stage win of the race for the Cervйlo Test Team.

The Colosseum has stood in Rome for just under 2000 years but the only time period the two modern gladiators doing battle today were concerned about was 20 seconds.

Di Luca had said previously, while leading the race, that he felt a buffer of around 30seconds over Menchov would give him a realistic chance of fending off the Russian in this short and decisive final showdown. But, as they rolled down the start today, the situation is reversed and it is Menchov, the better of the two against the clock, who is wearing the Maglia Rosa with a 20 second buffer over Italian favourite DiLuca.

Di Luca threatened momentarily, but faded over the latter half of the TT.

20 plus corners in less than 15 kilometres, sections of uneven cobblestones (Michael Rogers described it as like “Paris Roubaix on tt bars”) and the threat of thunderstorms were going to make this final run to the finish an exciting spectacle for those watching and a nervous 18 or so minutes for those riding with the will to win.

While a sprinters day in Milan is what ‘recent’ followers of the Giro have come to expect as a closing, the words of a somewhat agitated race director Angelo Zomegnan, when quizzed over the change at the race presentation, should be remembered: “This will be the 90th edition of the Giro d’Italia and we haven’t had 89 Finishes in Milan.”

In fact, the Italian capital has hosted the race on a number of occasions, beginning with the very first edition of the race when eventual overall winner Luigi Ganna won the stage that wound its way here from Napoli. Other winners on the streets of the famous capital have included some well known names from the history of Italian cycling, including Binda (1927 and ’29), Olmo (’36) and Cinelli (’38) as well the foreign guard of Rik Van Looy (1959) and Urs Freuler (’82 and ’89). Rome also played host to the opening prologue time trial in 2000.

The course is designed to showcase the ancient Roman capital and its famous landmarks and on completely closed roads should be able to hide the problems of modern Rome and its traffic congestion and ‘interesting’ driving techniques (something Milan was not able to keep out of the public eye quite so well when the Giro stopped there for Stage 9 )

Let The Racing Begin
The first man away for the final stage of theCentenary Giro was Evgeny Sokolov of BBox Bouygues Telecom, but it would be three and a half hours before we got the show of a lifetime between the top two on the GC.

Ignatas Konovalovas from Team Cervйlo was the first man to break the 19minute barrier with a time of 18minutes and 42 seconds (46.2km/hr). As the 79th man out of the start house, the Lithuanian time trial champion put himself in a great position for a stage win if the predicted bad weather arrived before the end of the day.

The first of the men expected to challenge for the stage win, arrived in the form of Edvald Boasson Hagen, winner of the 7th stage of the race as well as part of the opening TTT win with Team Columbia High road.

The Norwegian time trial champion picked his way around the corners near St Peter’s square and then put the power down on the cobbles, but it was not enough to take over the lead, finishing 7 seconds behind Konovalovas and eventually third overall.

Then, just as Bradley Wiggins, probably the biggest favourite for the day’s prize, was making his way out onto the course, came the news that the rain was arriving on the outside of the city.

With the course having so many turns and cobbled sections, any rider who would need to ride over the course in the wet, could be looking at adding around a minute to their time for the day.

Wiggins was getting his money’s worth out of the course using every cm of available road in the corners on the first part of the course, and then with 3 kilometres left to race, the rain arrived for the Brit.

Wiggins was visibly taking the final corners slowly and after being one second up on Konovalovas at the intermediate time checks, it was going to be super close on the line. Wiggins received a friendly reminder of the dangers of the final curve in the form of Matthieu Sprick, who was rolling towards the finish after slipping off in the final kilometre.

On the line, it was hundredths in it, with Wiggins missing out on the fastest time by under a second to the 23 year old Team Cervйlo rider. Konovalovas made his professional debut for Credit Agricole in 2008, winning a stage at the Tour of Luxembourg on his way to claiming the best young rider prize and points jersey.

All he had to do now was pray the rain hung around and sit and wait for the GC riders to decide just how many risks it was worth taking to defend or attack their overall positions.

By the time Jens Voigt rolled away from the start with around 40riders still behind him, the course had changed completely. When the big German can’t get around a corner without putting his foot down (while riding his standard road bike with no TT bars), you know that things are a bit slippery on the streets of Rome.

Pez Favourite Dario Cioni ticked the final box for the Centenary Giro and rode in behind Voigt (who dropped 2minutes 45 seconds on Konovalovas) with a time of 21.06 to eventually finish 47th on the general classification.

Here Come The Big Guns
With Konovalovas’ time still standing, it was time for the top 15 to strut their stuff.

Armstrong, who had said before the start that he wouldn’t be taking any risks in the rain, cornered out of the saddle in one section, which was still shining thanks to its earlier bath. But, with the weather looking like it was drying out in other sections of the course, the times were creeping back down to within a minute of the ‘dry road’ best of Konovalovas.

Kevin Seeldrayers arrived with a time of 19.35 which was good enough for 17th at the time, but more importantly, he was 44 seconds ahead of Francesco Masciarelli, meaning the QuickStep Belgian had comfortably wrapped up the best young rider category and would be taking the white jersey home with him.

Armstrong’s time of 20.01 reflected the fact that the American was looking after himself on the wet roads and although he didn’t figure on the podium at the Giro, for a rider who has been out of the sport for three years, his final GC placing of 12th was pretty impressive. Look out for the Tour de France!

Leipheimer passed the first time check at 3km, 18seconds behind the time of Konovalovas which was down to more than just the weather. Rogers passed the same point just 7 seconds behind the best of the dry road riders.

Marzio Bruseghin time of 18.58 showed that the Lampre time trialler was giving it everything he had, finishing 16seconds outside the win in the same conditions that the other “Bigs” were losing minutes in. His time was good enough for fifth on the stage.

Battle Begins
At 2 minutes to five, the only rider close enough to cause any major shake up on the GC rolled out of the start ramp. Danilo DiLuca, a scant 20 seconds away from the maglia rosa rolled off the ramp like a man on a mission. It might be wet, but the Russian was going to have to risk everything on the slippery, twisty roads to make sure the pink jersey didn’t pass back to DiLuca on the final tick of the clock in this Centenary Giro.

5.01pm and the Russian’s 19-odd minute ride to victory began, just as the rain started again at the finish.

DiLuca was taking risks on the corners that were surprising even RAI Sport commentator Paolo Bettini who was following on a motorbike. Risks worth taking as the 2007 winner was rewarded with the best time at the first intermediate time check. Di Luca passed through in 4.18, 1 second quicker than Konovalovas. The Race was on!

DiLuca had left the disk wheel back in the truck and had taken to the road on a more maneuverable spoked wheel, while Menchov was aboard his time trial bike with a rear disk. Would handling or aerodynamics win out on the wet twisting circuit?

FIVE over 3!
Menchov passed through the first time check slower than DiLuca. If the Italian could keep it up, the race was there for the taking.

This was no beauty contest. Menchov must have had the time check passed to him on the radio and he was all over the bike, looking for every bit of extra power he could find to save his Giro d’Italia.

The Russian was low over his bike, riding a big gear. Di Luca in contrast, was sitting higher, pedalling faster and looked like he was going faster. You can bet things were tense in the Rabobank team car!

Check 2… 10.18 for DiLuca. No longer fastest on the stage but that was irrelevant. What about Menchov?

He’s Back!
With the middle section of the course featuring longer straight sections, Menchov had grabbed back the seconds and his skills and power as a time trialler were shining through.

Menchov’s time at the second check: 10.04 DiLuca was now 34seconds behind on the GC. What would happen over the final of the course where the rain and the corners were just waiting to trap anyone who might put a wheel (or foot, Jens) wrong.

Meanwhile Basso, Sastre and Pellizotti were finishing their time trials with Pellizotti securing his third place on the podium and an elevation in his “favourite” status for 2010.

Konovalovas was a quiet winner on the podium, but a happy one nonetheless!

The Final Metres
The last long sweeping left hand curve was taken as wide as possible by DiLuca and then it was out of the seat for a few strokes and then back in the bars for the last gasp effort for a time of 19.27. A great effort, a great fight, but it was going to take a disaster or mistake for it to be enough t unseat Menchov.

CRASH! CRASH! CRASH! Menchov’s Down!
In a straight line Menchov hit the deck and in the time it took to type the words, he was back up and back on. The cameras flashed to the face of Di Luca, already waiting at the finish.

Despite going down at nearly 50kmph, while sliding along the deck, Menchov was already getting himself into position to jump back up. He had his bike in his hand before the rear disk had even stopped spinning, but his mechanic was on hand with a spare bike and it was jump back on and a tour saving push to get back into business.

Breaths were held, hearts were pumping and the commentators were going crazy.

Approaching the line the clock was ticking but as he finally made it to the finish, the Rabobank captain still had 41 seconds in hand.

Then, for the second time in 3minutes, the bike was back on the deck, but this time it was no accident.

Screams, pumping of arms, post crash adrenaline and the joy of winning a Giro to go with his two Vuelta wins made the normally mild and reserved Russian erupt with emotion.

Who could have imagined that the final metres of the centenary Giro could have been so heart stopping, and yet by remounting his bike, retaining his lead and claiming the most important Maglia Rosa of the race, Menchov ensured that his exploits in the mountains and his tactics in the final weeks and the stellar work of his Rabobank squad were justly rewarded.

Keep it tuned to PEZ for all of the action from the final throws of the Centenary Giro as well as the post stage analysis and roadside action we’ve been bringing you since the race hit the road back in Venice on May 9.

Stage 21 results
1 Ignatas KONOVALOVAS LTU CTT 18:42 0:00
2 Bradley WIGGINS GBR GRM 18:43 0:01
3 Edvald BOASSON HAGEN NOR THR 18:49 0:07
4 Yaroslav POPOVYCH UKR AST 18:53 0:11
5 Marzio BRUSEGHIN ITA LAM 18:58 0:16
6 Giovanni VISCONTI ITA ISD 19:00 0:18
7 Dries DEVENYNS BEL QST 19:02 0:20
8 TJALLINGII Maarten NED RAB 19:03 0:21
9 GARZELLI Stefano ITA ASA 19:05 0:23
10 MENCHOV Denis RUS RAB 19:06 0:24

Final Overall general Classification
1. Denis Menchov RUS RAB 86:03:11
2. Danilo Di Luca ITA LPR 0:41
3. Franco Pellizotti ITA LIQ 1:59
5 BASSO Ivan ITA LIQ 3:59
7 GARZELLI Stefano ITA ASA 8:43
8 ROGERS Michael AUS THR 10:01
9 VALJAVEC Tadej SLO ALM 11:13
10 BRUSEGHIN Marzio ITA LAM 11:28
12 ARMSTRONG Lance USA AST 15:59
13 SERPA PEREZ Jose Rodolfo COL SDA 16:11
15 POPOVYCH Yaroslav UKR AST 16:15
16 SIUTSOU Kanstantsin BLR THR 19:10
17 MASCIARELLI Francesco ITA ASA 19:10
18 BRAJKOVIC Janez SLO AST 28:07
19 CUNEGO Damiano ITA LAM 28:39
20 BAK Lars Ytting DEN SAX 31:53