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Giro: Stage 12-20

The is one of the best grand tour races I've seen in recent memory, up there with Roberto Heras winning the 2003 Vuelta on the penultimate mountain time trail stage and Armstrong surviving against Ullrich to win his fifth Tour. Unlike those other two US Postal/Discovery Channel team victories, Savoldelli won this one without the team's big guns. Either not believing that Savoldelli would have a shot at the overall win, or wanting to save their riders for the Tour de France tune up, Discovery didn't send any climbers other than Tom Danielson (who dropped out early with knee problems) to help out. This meant that on climb after climb Savoldelli was isolated, while Basso and Simoni were well-supported. Eventually Basso would crack, but the one-two punch of Cunego and Simoni and Lampre repeatedly damaged Savoldelli's lead on the final mountain stages.

This year's Giro was about flipped expectations: * The strongest rider, Ivan Basso, cracked with a stomach ailment, after putting in an impressive performance to get the leader's jersey. * Savoldelli, who didn't come into the Giro at the top of his form, got to up his expectations on a daily basis. * A great rider that no one expected to contend for the overall, Danilo Di Luca, continued to surprise by putting in a fight for a podium finish, winning multiple stages, and otherwise carrying his Pro Tour leader's jersey well. * Reversing their roles yet again, last year's Giro winner, Damian Cunego, was once again in the role of lieutenant to two-time Giro winner Simoni.

Stage 12

Not much to summarize with the sprinter stages. They're a lot like basketball, put perhaps worse, as the first 5 hours of racing really don't matter. It's all about the last five minutes/kilometers. The Fassa train lead Petacchi out, and McEwen couldn't really disrupt it, so Petacchi mashed his way to victory.

Stage 13

basso stage 13The battle for the overall lead is heating up. After Basso had looked so strong in stage 11, it was Savoldelli's turn to do some damage.

sav stage 13The Simoni and Cunego tag team put in a good attack on the final climb, one that Savoldelli was able to follow but Basso was not. Savoldelli proceeded to drop Simoni, solo-ing up the final climb a minute and eight seconds ahead of Basso. This was more than enough to switch the pink jersey over to Basso, who was suffering from a stomach ailment that put a huge dent into his threatening form.

The stage victory went to Selle Italia Ivan Parra. After helping his teammate Rujano further lockup the mountains jersey, he made his own attack for the stage win. Di Luca was surprisingly strong, putting in enough time on Basso to slip into third place, only three seconds out of second.

Stage 14

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s14 summitWow. The 25km Stelvio climb will now be famous for completing eliminating Basso from competition. Even by the end of this stage, I couldn't believe that Basso cracked so catastrophically. Stage 13 was bad for him, but all riders have a bad day or so, and you expect them to fight back the next day. Whatever was ailing Basso the previous day in his stomach, though, was in full force today. It didn't help that the climbs for this stage were epic, taking the riders through snow-covered peaks and wet roads, with riders grabbing extra jackets at the summit top for the chilly descent. The final nail in the coffin for Basso was the sight of Bjarne Riis, outside his car at the summit, taking the time to bundle up Basso in extra jackets.

14attackWith his biggest competitor eliminated, Savoldelli remained strong in the face of an attack by Simoni and Di Luca. The two riders made it over the summit of the final climb first, and not even "Il Falco" Savoldelli's storied descending skills could pull back the advantage. As Ivan Parra zoomed into town to repeat the previous day's victory, Di Luca, Simoni, and Garate continued their charge and were able to knock almost a half a minute off of Savoldelli's lead.

Selle Italia had the best day overall. In addition to the stage win, the climb up the Stelvio made Rujano's King of the Mountains lead insurmountable.

Stage 15

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Stage 15 was a relatively brief excursion, as the Italian riders staged enough of a protest to get the first part of the stage -- a rain/snow soaked mountain descent -- removed from the course. With many riders physically ill from the previous stages in the cold, this was probably a good move by the race officials to keep the riders in the race.

Petacchi had an easy sprint at the line to claim his third stage win.

Stage 16

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I didn't really bother watching this stage. The course layout didn't offer much in terms of the overall race, and the riders were still probably looking to recuperate. The notable news item was that a French rider won the stage -- the first to do so in 6 years. Le Mevel was part of a breakaway that no one wanted to chase down, crossing the line 22 minutes ahead of the peloton.

Stage 17

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basso attacksBasso was no longer a marked man, which was perhaps to his advantage for this stage. He and teammate Schleck were part of a breakaway group with 29km to go. He was able to shake his fellow attackers on the final climb, and no one came close to challenging his stage victory.

Behind Basso, the overall race contenders duked it out. Simoni attacked and Savoldelli wasn't able to follow. Simoni ended up putting 50 seconds into Savoldelli's lead (reducing it to 58 seconds), but there was good mixed in with the bad as Di Luca was dropped and lost just over a minute on Savoldelli.

Stage 18

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zabriskie stars stripesEveryone knew that Savoldelli would be able to pad his lead over Simoni in this time trial stage, the only question was how much. Everyone also knew that David Zabriskie (who was now wearing his stars-and-stripes US national champion jersey) would post a great time.

The big surprise was Basso. After Zabriskie yet-again posted the time to beat for the day, Basso came in ahead of his teammate to add an impressive time trial win on top of the previous day's victory. With such a performance, Savoldelli really had to be thanking his lucky stars that Basso fell ill, because it was clear would have been the man to beat otherwise.

Stage 19

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19dirtStage 19 was a nail-biter. Simoni, Di Luca, and Rujano (2-3-4 in the overall classification) launched a strong attack on the penultimate climb, which was more of a "goat track" as one rider put it rather than a real road. Climbing up the dirt and gravel road, Simoni managed to put in enough time (two and a half minutes) at the summit of the climb to become the virtual race leader. There was also a 20' time bonus awaiting whoever crossed the finish line first.

falco"Il Falco" Savoldelli used his greatest skill -- going down, rather than up -- to mount a counter-attack. On the descent he gobbled up riders between him and the breakaway, creating a formidible chase group. By the bottom of the descent, Savoldelli had lopped off 28 seconds of the advantage, which put him back into the pink jersey heading into the final climb.


[rujano simoni[19rs]Meanwhile, the lead group of Di Luca, Simoni, and Rujano was having difficulties. Di Luca cramped on the descent and was dropped, which would put Rujano, not him, on the podium in Milan. Simoni was at his limit as well, and effectively conceded the race to Rujano by sitting up and spraying a water bottle over his own head. With Simoni and Di Luca cracked, Savoldelli's overall win became much more certain, and all that was left was to see whether or not Rujano's attack would put enough time into Simoni to vault Rujano into second place.

Rujano claimed the stage, to go along with his mountain jersey and his teammate Parra's two stage wins, which made for a great Giro for the wildcard-selected Selle Italia team. He did not, however, put in enough time into Simoni. Simoni took his digs at Rujano's victory, pointing out that it was him and Di Luca that did all the work on initial attack up the penultimate climb, which left Rujano with plenty of energy with which to attack in the end.

Hey -- Savoldelli's starting to show some more emotion on the podium. The guy can show emotion after all. I guess he was just didn't want to celebrate too early.

sav drinks

Stage 20

Petacchi won easily, blah blah. I find the ceremonial stages rather boring, and from all the wrap-up footage I think the networks do too. A bunch of riders, including Zabriskie, put in half-hearted attacks, but it really was about Fassa taking advantage of the fact that there was really no one for them to have to compete with.

victory

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