Today marked the 10th stage of this year’s 3,525 kilometer (2190+ mile), 21-stage Giro d’Italia. Some of the great racing so far will not soon be forgotten, but unfortunately this year’s 94th edition of the race may be most remembered for the horrible tragedy that befell one of its up-and-coming stars on Monday’s stage 3. Here’s a brief recap of what’s come about so far.
Stage 1, Saturday 7 May, 19.3 km – Team Time Trial
Team RadioShack surprised (some would say amazed) the experts who predicted they would likely finish 7th or 8th at best. On a course of medium difficulty with some tight turns and reaccelerations, this team chock-full of very good individual time trialists showed the depth of its bench and how well they work together coming in second place behind HTC-Highroad. If not for Ivan Rovny’s (RUS) crash early on (switching to his street bike for the rest of the ride), and the dropping of Cardoso along the way, instead of finishing second, Robbie McEwen (AUS) would have been wearing the coveted Maglia Rosa, as he crossed the finish line first for the team, just 10 seconds off the pace. A great performance by The Shack!
Stage 2, Sunday, 8 May, 244 km – Long Flat Sprinters’ Stage
The longest stage of this year’s race amounted to a marathon leading up to a textbook bunch sprint. RadioShack’s Robbie McEwen was right in the mix finishing 8th on the day. Lampre’s Alessandro Petacchi (ITL) took the stage in a controversial finish with HTC-Highroad’s Mark Cavendish (GBR) angrily contesting the finish saying that Petacchi didn’t hold his line, purposely blocking him out. The officials weren’t buying it, so Cavendish had to settle for 2nd place, and a nice consolation prize, he ended up in the pink jersey on the day in the overall General Classification. Because of the exceptional TTT effort, The Shack had 7 riders still in the top 13 at this point.
Stage 3, Monday, 9 May 173 km – Tragedy Strikes
Everything about this stage will always be overshadowed by the horrible event that took place on the descent of the day’s first climb, the Passo del Bocco, when Leopard-Trek’s 26-year old Belgium sprinter Wouter Weylandt died succumbing to head injuries after a terrible crash. Team RadioShack’s Manual Cardoso (POR) was following close behind and saw the whole thing, and was later deposed by authorities in his hotel. Manual said that it appeared Wouter was looking over his shoulder to see if there were other riders he might pair up with to catch back onto the peloton, when, at high-speed (perhaps 70-80 kmh) his left pedal caught a low stone wall catapulting him across the road only to hit hard against the other side. Though local medical staff were on the scene in seconds and performed CPR for some 40 minutes prior to a medevac to the hospital, the coroner’s later report said that he likely died instantly from the massive injuries. The whole cycling world was shocked and expressed their heartfelt condolences to his young wife, who is 5 months pregnant. From Lance Armstrong to Johan Bruyneel, to rival coaches and riders there were emails, twitters, blog articles, and interviews done in an effort to provide comforting words to Wouter’s Weylandt’s family and many friends. In a fitting response, the Giro organizers stated that the bib number Wouter was wearing, number 108, will never be issued again at the Giro d’Italia.
Stage 4, Tuesday, 10 May, 216 km – A Slow Pedaling Memorial
Race Director Angelo Zomegnen announced after yesterday’s death that the race organizers would honor whatever actions the riders felt appropriate as a memorial tribute to Wouter Weylandt. The riders decided that they would essentially neutralize the stage by pedaling en masse at an average speed of 25 kmh all day, allowing each team to take a turn at the front, and at the finish, allow Leopard-Trek to pedal across the line 8 men abreast, in what air force pilots would recognize as a “missing-man” formation, but with one exception. Most in the peloton knew that Tyler Farrar was Wouter’s closest friend and he had been devastated by his death. So Tyler was asked to finish along with the Leopard-Trek team and take the symbolic victory. Tyler was so emotionally distraught that he would likely have not even ridden on the day had he not felt responsible to pay his respects. He crossed the finish line broken and crying, and immediately withdrew from the race and flew home.
Stage 5, Wednesday, 11 May, 191 km – Dirt Roads Take Their Toll
With several sections of hardpan gravel roads in the day’s route, punctures and crashes were the order of the day. Seems like everyone changed a wheel or a bike before it was over. Rabobank’s Pieter Weening (NED) ended up soloing to victory with a well-timed dig in the final kilometers on the stage which had an uphill finish reminiscent of his big win in the 2005 Tour de France when he just nipped our very own Andreas Klöden (GER) who was then riding for the powerhouse Team Telekom.
Stage 6, Thursday, 12 May, 216 km – Popovych Strong In a Long Break
Early in the day, Team RadioShack’s Yuroslav Popovych (UKR) joined 4 other riders to form a good solid break that stayed away from the peloton almost all day, at several points looking like they just might pull off a victory gaining as much as 6 minutes on the chasing riders. But in the end, the fast pace zapped the breaker’s legs and the sprinter’s teams hunted them down. It came down to a sprint finish between Lampre’s Alessandro Petacchi (ITA) and Movistar’s Francisco Ventoso (ESP). Petacchi quit pedaling at the finish just as he was clearly going to pass Ventoso for the win. This allowed Ventoso to take the stage. In later interviews, Petacchi explained that his legs just quit on him, but many onlookers suspected more than fatigue in the odd-looking manner and timing of his coast to the finish.
Stage 7, Friday, 13 May – Finally a Mountain Stage
On this most superstitious of days, thankfully nothing really bad happened other than someone putting 2 big climbs between the riders and the finish line, giving everyone a good look, finally, at who came to climb at this year’s Giro. It almost appeared that the favorites were so intent on marking each other, worrying about not losing time to a key rival and not getting the leader’s pink jersey too early in the race, that they let things slip away. But don’t tell that to the winner, Omega Pharma-Lotto’s Bart De Clercq (BEL) who beat all the bigger-named favorites with a convincing dig near the finish that no one seemed capable of matching. He deserved the win.
Stage 8, Saturday, 14 May – 217 km – Climbers Surprise Sprinters
Though predicted to be a sprinter’s finish, there was a pretty fair uphill ramp towards the end of the route that fit well into the plans of Farnese Vini’s Oscar Gatto (ITA) who launched ahead of the pack and built a good gap at the close of the stage. Saxo Bank’s Alberto Contador (ESP) saw an opportunity to jump away too, and no one else could really respond with the pace they were setting. Alberto never did catch Gatto, who had too big of a lead, but he came close, in a preview of what would come on the next day. Team RadioShack’s top rider for the race Tiago Machado (POR) was in 36th place at this point, 3:40 behind the leader, but continuing to ride hard and maintaining time gaps.
Stage 9, Sunday, 15 May – 169 km – Popo Breaks Again, Contador Erupts
RadioShack’s irrepressible Yuroslav Popovych once again took his chances in a breakaway that took some time forming but consisted of 9 credible riders with serious credentials (a former Maglia Rosa wearer and some former big stage winners). They stayed out for most of the day, but the peloton took them seriously and watched their progress. They were allowed almost a 5-minute gap probably because teams were counting on the severe climbs up the actively erupting Mount Etna to do their chase work for them in the end and bring them back to the fold – as indeed was the case. Androni’s José Rujano (VEN), a pure climber, got a good dig forward toward the finish, but Saxo Bank’s Alberto Contador (ESP) jammed on the pedals and showed that he came here not just to contest this year’s Giro, but to win it. He took the stage convincingly and with two time trials yet to go and 6 more mountain stages, all playing to Alberto’s strengths; he’s now the current favorite to be wearing pink come May 29th. With a decision looming that might once again keep him from racing in another Tour de France, he’ll likely be pulling out all the stops here in Italy.
Stage 10, Tuesday, 17 May – 159 km – RadioShack’s Beppu Out Front All Day
This last recap could also be titled, Cavendish’s revenge, but to that in a minute. Team RadioShack’s Japanese champion Fumiyuki Beppu was easily the strongest rider in a 3-man break that stayed away all day during a flat, shoreline stage. He beat the bunch on the only ranked climb of the day, and followed that up by out sprinting them for the bonus points and dollars attached to the intermediate sprint at 97.9 kms on the course. But once again, the sprinters teams, smelling perhaps their last chance at a pure sprint stage in this race, kept the breakaway dangling on a string. They swallowed them with about 11.9 kms to go, and the sprint competition was on. RadioShack had a couple of riders well placed, but in the end, it was the well honed sprinter’s teams with practiced lead-out riders and sprint specialists that amped the pace and controlled the action. At the finish, Cavendish stayed glued to Petacchi, and whipped past going away at the line, convincingly outgunning the man he claimed took victory from him on stage two.
Once again, The Shack’s Tiago Machado (POR) minimized any damage by getting the same finishing time as the winner on Stage 10, coming in 32nd among a tightly bunched stream of riders that saw no time difference all the way back to the 147th rider. Tiago is now in 36th place, 8:34 off the pace. Unfortunately, Robbie McEwen came over yesterday’s climbs too far back in time to continue, so he was unable to contest today’s sprint and is now out of the race.
There will still be some great racing at this year’s Giro. Watch for Team RadioShack to continue to go for stage victories with some breakaway fireworks and some great individual time trial performances. There are still 11 more exciting stages to contest before this monument of the cycling grand tours is in the record books. Hope you’ve found a TV channel that carries the action in your part of the world. You’d hate to miss this!
By George Hurst, staff writer