By Graham Jones
and Barry Boyce

CyclingRevealed Historians






CyclingRevealed's Giro Perspective

Tappa 11, May 18th, Pontedera, Individual Time Trial, 50 km

Roman Holiday

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck on their Vespa in the classic romantic comedy ‘Roman Holiday', 1953.

One of the great classic movie images of all time is of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck cruising around the Coliseum in Rome on a Vespa scooter. With Hepburn's arms around Peck's waist, the carefree picture of the two of them in ‘Roman Holiday' captured the easy going days of post war Europe .

Today the Giro recognizes yet another anniversary (after the coal and steel workers in Belgium and Gino Bartali's first Giro win) with the 60 th anniversary of the first Vespa. The Piaggio company based in Pontedera first introduced the Vespa in 1946 and within ten years it had become an icon of the era and had sold over one million units. I owned one of these scooters (which I fitted with a bike rack!) back in the 1960's and by then they were one of the most common sights on the road. The Piaggio company (now controlled by the Immsi holding company) is still an important manufacturer of motorcycles and scooters.

For the Giro, today is certainly no ‘Roman Holiday'. The race of truth today is dedicated to Gino Bartali and covers a gently rolling course to suit the power rider time trial specialist. Even though he does not figure in the GC standings, this could well be a day for Jan Ullrich to crank up his big powerful motor, take the stage win and show that he is on track for the Tour.

The real race interest however will focus on the current GC top ten. Basso, Gutierrez, Gonchar and Savoldelli are our favorites for the TT with Basso probably out to show who is boss this year with a commanding performance.

With just over half the riders finished Jan Ullrich came storming in having covered the 50 km at 32 mph! This time put him at a level way above everyone else thus far. This broadside sent a clear signal to Ivan Basso that he is almost ready for the Tour.

After Ullrich there were 53 riders left to see if they could top his time. Di Luca was caught, Cunego was caught, Simoni rode like a regular club rider and Rujano was a lot worse still. The mighty were falling one by one. Of the pre-race favorites only Savoldelli was meeting expectations and at the halfway mark he already had 3 mins on Cunego.

Meanwhile Basso was riding a measured effort going through the 28km time check in 10th place with Gonchar and Gutierrez close on his heels. Ullrich's effort was looking increasingly unassailable as the favorites were washed away. However like “Der Kaiser”, Basso turned the after burners on for the ride home. Astoundingly Basso caught Cunego for five minutes coming into the finishing straight. An amazing performance but not good enough to beat Ullrich who took the day by 28 seconds over Basso.

Stage winner Jan Ullrich [ Image ©: ]

After the ‘race of truth' the stark reality was that Simoni, Cunego, Di Luca and company were not just beaten, it was more like a massacre. José Gutierrez (Phonak), Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) and Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery) however all rode extremely strongly to keep Basso within striking distance. But the most impressive performance today must be that of Tom Danielson (Discovery) who was 11th in the TT and now lies in 5 th place on GC just one place behind his team leader Savoldelli.

Much is being made of the incredibly hard mountain stages coming up in the next week. With a buffer of 2 min 48 secs over second placed Gutierrez and considerably more over everyone else, the Giro is now Basso's to lose. Phonak and Discovery are probably the only two teams left with a real chance and they really have their work cut out to beat the CSC juggernaut. For them and everyone else it will take Charly Gaul or Federico Bahamontes type escapes over the high passes to put in the time gaps to rob Basso of his pink jersey.

Although he won today, Ullrich is so far back on GC that the pink jersey is not his goal. Clearly he is coming back to his best and Basso and his CSC team must be worrying about the Tour. While Basso can keep relatively close to Ullrich in the TT, can the German stay with Basso in the mountains? So while the Giro GC war rages in the coming week, Ullrich will be honing his climbing form in preparation for July.

The average Vespa would have had trouble keeping pace with Jan Ullrich today! The GC carnage meted out by Basso ensured that for many of the big hopefuls today was no "Roman Holiday".

Tomorrow: the lull before the storm (in the Alps). The road from Livorno to Sestri Levante is mostly flat but a 15 km climb just 20 km from the finish could eliminate the pure sprinters. Check back for our report.

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