CyclingRevealed's Giro Perspective
Tappa 20, May 27th,
Trento to Aprica, 212 km
Fork in the Road
Go left at the fork in the road out of Bormio and you head up the mighty Stelvio Pass which at 2760m is the highest in Europe. Turn right at that same fork in the road out of Bormio and your journey will lead you up the fantastic Gavia Pass which at 2621m is considered the second highest pass in Europe. A portion of the climb is shown on our front cover this month.
Starting in Trento the race reaches Bormio by first ascending the Passo del Tonale before tackling the Gavia. After plunging down the other side of the Gavia the race takes a left fork out of town to head for one of the toughest climbs in all cycling, the 1854m Passo del Mortirolo. Although not considered a mountain top finish, the final ascent up to Aprica is certainly no picnic.
Giro d'Italia 2006, Stage 20. The route of champions .
We could pause and describe these fearsome climbs but cycling history tells us all we need know. Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali, Charly Gaul, Jacques Anquetil, Andy Hampsten and Marco Pantani are just a few of the great champions to have raced these roads and left their indelible mark with rides that have become legends. To honor Coppi's exploits and memory, the Giro has designated the Gavia as this years “Cima Coppi” and thus it represents the most prestigious climbing prize for the first to reach the top. In 1960 Anquetil became the first Frenchman to win the Giro after a dramatic ride up the Gavia. That story can be found here. Most readers will remember Andy Hampsten's epic ride up the Gavia through a snowstorm in 1988. This exploit helped him seal the first (and to date only) Giro victory by an American. The most recent memories belong to ‘il pirata' and Marco Pantani and fans were to be seen everywhere today scribbling road graffiti and carrying banners and pictures of the great man. A memorial to the 1998 Giro winner was unveiled on the Mortirolo today.
With such a historical pedigree, most of the peloton were probably very aware that they were on roads and riding in the wheel tracks of legends of the sport. It may not have diminished their suffering, but it certainly added a special aura to the experience.
Clear dry weather greeted the bunch as they tackled the first climb of the Passo Del Tonale. En masse they crested the climb and charged straight for the Gavia. A small group escaped and from them yesterday's stage winner Garate attacked and claimed the Cima Coppi by 22secs. Although Garate's ride was impressive, the spectacular scenery, narrow roads, snow and huge crowds on the climb were not witness to a new epic ride.
As the bunch roared down nearly 60kms of downhill to the base of the Mortirolo many were calculating the only real leadership contest of the day. Baliani the GPM mountains jersey holder came over the Gavia over 7 minutes behind Garate who had also gained maximum mountain points on the earlier ascent up the Passo Tonale. The climb of the Mortirolo would decide that race.
Unsurprisingly CSC controlled the peloton along the flat valley roads (with the amazing Voigt providing much of the horsepower) after the main descent from the Gavia. All they needed to do was keep Basso out of trouble and protect his almost impregnable race lead. It was a bit of a stretch; with over 4 minutess separating them, but it was feasible for Simoni to grab the GC second place from Gutierrez. A repeat of yesterday's one-two from Piepoli and Simoni could well crack Gutierrez. The gaps on GC for the next eight places were not quite so large and in theory this set the stage for some very aggressive struggles up the Mortirolo.
With the brooding Mortirolo fast approaching Saunier Duval started to mix in with CSC to drive the tempo. Preparations were under way for Simoni. How different from last year. On the penultimate stage the famous Colle Dello Finestre and two ascents up to Sestriere nearly put paid to Savoldelli's pink jersey. We were treated to some of the most exciting and dramatic racing for years. This year with the GC all but wrapped up we were following the fortunes of the GPM and the “also ran” GC positions. Hardly the stuff worthy of today's course.
Nevertheless the efforts of those at the front of the race should not be overly devalued. With nearly three weeks of very hard racing in their legs they were racing their hearts out. Today would give the winner a victory of considerable prestige.
As soon as the race started climbing Saunier Duval accelerated. Almost impassively Basso followed his team mates as they kept the Saunier Duval boys in check. The bunch started to rapidly fall apart. There were still 12km of 10.3% average (max 18%) of climbing to go. A race of attrition was now set in motion and through the early shady slopes it did not take long. After a kilometer or so come back boy Simoni and Basso were alone in the lead while behind them Gutierrez, Cunego, Savoldelli and the others were riding in one's and two's buried in their own private agonies.
Under blue sky and hot sun Simoni was on a mission while behind them Gutierrez was weaving all over the road trying to limit the damage as he struggled up the relentless climb with Cunego. Over the final kms the tifosi (fans) started to become a real problem. Running alongside the riders flashing cameras, pouring water and generally getting in the way in a very unruly way. Basso and Simoni were not amused while the motor bike TV cameraman and following race officials were in real danger of hitting some of the more crazed tifosi. The scene was Grand Tour pandemonium Italian style.
At the top Basso led over as he and Simoni rode through a sea of humanity. Now a 20km descent followed by the final uphill 10kms to the finish. Gutierrez courageously held the leaders at just over one minute (third on the climb) while Savoldelli dropped further back with every pedal stroke.
“Il falco” literally flew down the climb taking over one and half minutes on Basso/Simoni. In more modest fashion Gutierrez also reduced the gap between him and the leaders but he lost it again on the final climb. With great dignity, as befits Grand Tour champions, Simoni and Basso rode commandingly towards Aprica together until Basso simply rode away on his own with 3kms to go. Rarely had we seen Basso really trying but now he was hunched over his bike with his face contorted in one last display of sheer dominance. On the line he pulled out a picture of his new baby son (born yesterday) to dedicate the win to the little fellow and his wife.
Basso's stage win dedicated to new born son [ Image ©: www.gazzetta.it ]
Gutierrez lost half of his advantage to Simoni but retained his second place. Savoldelli fought well but dropped one place to fifth overall as Cunego moved up to fourth. Meanwhile in the mountain goat department Garate secured the GPM jersey by gaining maximum points on the Tonale and Gavia today.
Next stop, Milan.
When Ivan Basso took the fork in the road in Bormio that led to the final major obstacle of this year's Giro, the Mortirolo, it symbolically represented the direction of Basso's career. He has long promised greatness and now he has taken the route of a Grand Tour Champion. If he achieves his goal to win this years Tour De France also, then he will start to assume his place alongside the greats of the past.
Tomorrow: After starting at the Ghisallo cycle racing museum the Giro survivors reach Milan 140km later. A triumphal entry for Basso and a last gasp effort for the sprinters. Check back for our report and summary of three great weeks.
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