CyclingRevealed's Giro Perspective
Tappa 14, May 21st, Aosta to Domodossola, 224 km
Crossroads of History
For millennia the Val d'Aosta was one of the main access routes through the Alps linking North and South Europe . Hannibal marched his elephants through here in the 3rd century BC. Generations of Roman legions trudged through, building roads and bridges that are still visible today. For centuries, an unending stream of pilgrims trekked through on their way to Rome, braving impossible snows, exhausting altitudes and the exorbitant tolls levied by local lords. More recently, Napoleon and his armies swept through the region on their way to victory at Marengo.
This once busy crossroads to history changed forever when the Mont Blanc Tunnel and the Great St. Bernard Tunnel were built. Consequently the Val d'Aosta became a quiet backwater loved today for its peace, beautiful scenery and great skiing. Today the Giro left Aosta and trudged its way up the long grinding climb to the San Bernardo Tunnel and into Switzerland . After a not too demanding route along the Rhône Valley to Brig in Switzerland , the peloton again turned south and to head back into Italy and the finish in Domodossola by way of a 20 km long grind averaging 6.6% over the Sempione Pass (Simplon Pass in English). Once over the top it was 46km of mostly downhill to the finish.
Many had been predicting that today would be a transition stage and perhaps for the GC it turned out that way. Eleven riders escaped about 30km into the race and that was it. Without any real GC threats in the lead group CSC was happy to let the break stay out there. After yesterday's extremely tough stage finish, and the thought of the very serious climbing that is coming during next week, not only CSC but many of the top teams were content to have an easy “rest” day.
To write today off as unimportant is to ignore the big picture. As a Grand Tour with Pro Tour status, a stage win can have a huge impact on a rider's career along with the benefits it brings his team. So while the GC contenders are playing to one strategy others are plotting for glory elsewhere. Within stage races there are always several ‘races within the race' and in today's break there was some very serious racing going on. Both Panaria and Phonak had two riders in the break. This strength in numbers would have the respective team DS's expecting their riders to work together and secure the win. In the closing km's Luis Laverde (Col) Ceramica Panaria-Navigare and Francisco Perez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears managed to eek out a seven second advantage on the line with Laverde outsmarting his challenger for the win. Afterwards the magnitude of Laverde's victory was clear in his post race comment “It was a beautiful win today, the best of my career." Things would not be so happy in the Phonak camp as their two riders in the break only managed 9th and 10th and this would be greatly frowned on by their DS as a great opportunity wasted.
Luis Laverde (Col) Ceramica Panaria-Navigare and Francisco Perez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears [ Image ©: www.gazzetta.it ]
For anyone thinking that today was slow, relaxing and boring consider this. On the descent down the Sempione Pass the break and then later the peloton were clocked at 100kmph (62mph). With riders all around you this can hardly be thought of as relaxing! Also for those fans looking at the big picture today's spectacular Alpine ‘chocolate box' scenery with snow capped mountains would have been enjoyed for its breathtaking natural beauty. Few sports enjoy such a backdrop as the drama of the contest is played out.
Tomorrow: for 182kms the race sweeps south of Milan across the flat plains from Mergozzo to Brescia . This will be the last hurrah for many of the sprinters. Check back for our report.
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