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Giro06 St.10: Liquigas Pulls A Fast One!

A tough rolling stage leading into the final Rest Day provided ample opportunities for soldiers of fortune. Will a break manage to go the distance or will the favorites duke it out on the fast, twisty slopes of the finishing 1.5k hill, which hits up to a mean 10%?

Today’s 10th Stage was the final day in the South of Italy, tomorrow’s Rest Day will see the riders transfer North…to the mountains. It was another hot one in the south, 27C, and it was straight to attacking for the opportunists from the start in Termoli.

The final 2/3 of today’s stage was a constant up and down slog with some significant climbing thrown in to spice things up.

Whadya Have To Do To Get A Break?
It was quite the effort for the break to go today – the field covered 50k in the first hour. Robbie McEwen tried his hand early on in a healthy-sized group of 20, which was brought back over the course of 20k, then it was stage-winner Verbrugghe who had a dig, still nothing. Finally, around 55k into the race the big break went, and it was a biggie, containing 16 riders. This break rode out to a solid two minute gap by the first climb at around 70k.

Five More Make It 21
Four riders attacked the field at the base of the climb and made it across in quick order – the crucial moment in the stage: Wegelius, Pellizotti (both Liquigas), Pinotti (Saunier Duval), and Efimkin (Caisse-d’Epargne). Sven Krauss (Gerolsteiner) realized that the race was going up the road, so he too attacked the field and rolled across all by his lonesome. With the five late editions, the break closed its doors to any newcomers and rode out to a solid lead.

800 Meters Up From The Coast
The break started the main climb of the day with nearly 6 minutes on the group, but lost half of that on the 12k ascent of over 800 meters from the coast to the plateau above. The quick drop in the gap was due entirely to Damiano Cunego’s Lampre-Fondital team, which drove the pace all the way up the climb and beyond. Apparently, Cunego fancied his chances at the steep uphill finish in Peschici.

The large break of 21 managed to go the distance today.

After the climb of the Monte S.Angelo the break began to lose cohesion, as riders began to fear what seemed to be an imminent catch by the rumbling peloton. Fortunately for the break, the constant attacking of the riders in the break kept the speed up very nicely. The break was also helped by the incredibly twisty, and winding road atop the plateau in the Foresta Umbra. There was just no piece of straight road where the peloton could really get a handle on things and reel the break in.

Axel Merckx Gives It A Go
With a little over 20k to go, the race hit the big descent to the coast from the plateau above. Attacks from the break searching for stage win glory were flying everywhere, and at this point, the life of the break seemed secure – nearly 3 minutes. Benoit Joachim (Discovery) had a good dig to no avail, but it wasn’t until 15k to go that the right rider at the right time went: Phonak’s Axel Merckx.

Merckx attacked on the long, technical descent and managed to roll out to a nice little gap. As the descent began to level in the final 10k, Merckx had a tenuous 11 second lead over a Liquigas-driven break, as Charly Wegelius rode himself inside out to keep Merckx from riding away.

Behind, Cunego was flogging his Lampre-Fondital troops at the front, but they kept losing time – what was a 2:50 gap ballooned to over 3 minutes.

Axel Merckx gave it a helluva go with 15k to go, but was caught inside the final 200 meters.

Liquigas’ Evil Plan
It was around this time when it became very apparent that the break was going to stay away, that the implications of Liquigas’ sweet move became clear: Franco Pellizotti was going to get a three-minute bonus by getting into the break and it sticking – he would leapfrog into at the very minimum the Top 10, stacking the Top 12 with three Liquigas riders: Pellizotti, Noe, and Di Luca.

Start The Nail-Biting
Heading to the final climb, Merckx had kept his tiny little gap even and looked to have a chance, but it was going to be oh so close. He passed the Ultimo Chilometro and looked good, but the climb progressively got steeper and the break behind kept going faster, driven hard by Efimkin of Caisse D’Epargne. Merckx looked solid the whole time, driving in his saddle, his face locked in a horrid grimace, but he kept driving hard. The final kilometer took what seemed many minutes, but what probably seemed hours for poor Axel Merckx. Coming into the final straight, Merckx gave it one last hard dig to stay away, but the sprint opening behind him over the final 200 uphill meters swallowed him up.

Pellizotti Rules The Day
Franco Pellizotti came to the fore early in the sprint and won it easily over Efimkin and Sergey Yakovlev (Liberty Seguros). The only question remaining was: how much time would Pellizotti get, and how far up the classification would he move? Pellizotti started the day 23rd overall, 5:48 behind Ivan Basso…

Franco Pellizotti nabbed his first ever stage win at the Giro as well as a chunk of minutes to jump to 4th Overall.

A few minutes later, the Lampre driven field roared onto the climb. Cunego’s team set an incredibly fast pace up the climb, but the pace was impossible to hold, and the Kid ended up with no teammates over the last 500 meters. It was at this point that CSC finally came to the front, after riding a perfect race – letting Lampre ride itself into the ground. Jens Voigt rode the closing meters of the race in his normal hard manner, with Ivan Basso glued to his wheel. Paolo Bettini sprinted the field for what might have been 20th, just to show everyone how special he is, or maybe it was for that last money spot, or something like that.

A Huge Jump From 23rd To 4th
On the line, the field crossed 3:23 behind Pellizotti, that, coupled with Pellizotti’s time bonus for 1st Place catapulted the Liquigas rider to FOURTH Place, moving to only 2.05 behind Basso. Now that was a quality move by Liquigas. Wegelius rode himself into the ground throughout the day trying to keep the break together for Pellizotti, not only for the win, but for the move up GC he was set to make.

The genius of the move becomes even more apparent whn you look at what’s to come tomorrow: nothing. Pellizotti has a Rest Day to recover from the day’s efforts and prepare himself for the hard fact that he’ll probably lose every second he gained in today’s stage in the Pontedera TT on Thursday.

Rider Comments Thanks to Michele Tomasi

Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas-Bianchi): “I understood that we might have a chance when we gained around 5-6 minutes on the peloton. I must thank my teammate Wegelius who did an incredible ride today to help me to get back in the front group. I knew the finale, because Di Luca explained it very well to me, he also told me the gear to use. So, when we were there, I kept Merckx very close, at a few meters, and when we were close to the finish line, I sprinted and caught him easily, as I felt good today. Now it’s good to be back in the overall as well, so…let’s see how it will go! In Liquigas our main man is Di Luca, but to have 2 guys ahead is good, no?”

Ivan Basso (CSC): “It has been a tough day and we knew it would be so. I want to send my compliments to Pellizotti as he’s my friend, and I’m glad he won a stage. Today we didn’t worry about the escape and we were fine with it, but in the end it was hard. The descent was a little bit dangerous because there was some dirt on the road. Now there’ll be a rest day and we’ll be back racing with the time trial. I hope to be good there, and I’m expecting some guys like Rogers, Honchar and also Ullrich to ride for the victory. We’ll see.”

Axel Merckx (Phonak): “I’m disappointed but…that’s racing! You can’t do everything! I attacked on the downhill, because I’m good there and because I knew I didn’t have any chance by waiting for a sprint. Unluckily they caught me very close to the finish line. I’m really tired after this tough stage and unfortunately I don’t think there’ll be a chance in the next stages. I’m very sad.”

Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas): “It has been another hard day, and I’m really glad with Pellizotti’s victory, because now it will help me and my team relax more. That’s really good. Now there’ll be a time trial, but I’m not worried at all. I’ll do my best.”

Stage 10 Results
1 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas 4.39.47
2 Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) Caisse d’Epargne
3 Sergey Yakovlev (Kaz) Liberty 0.02
4 Herbert Dupont (Fra) AG2r
5 Theo Eltink (Ned) Rabobank 0.03
Field followed 3.23 later…

General Classification Heading Into The Final Rest Day
1 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC 39.29.40
2 Josй E. Gutierrez Cataluna (Spa) Phonak Hearing Systems 1.34
3 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Fondital 1.48
4 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas 2.05
5 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 2.35
6 Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile Team 2.43
7 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas 2.48
8 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saunier Duval-Prodir 3.20
9 Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Liberty Seguros-Wьrth Team 3.23
10 Tom Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 3.31

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