CyclingRevealed's Giro 06 Perspective
Tappa 17, May 24th, Termeno to Plan de Corones, 158 km
When the Giro marketing geniuses came up with the idea to include the unmade climb of the Colle dello Finestre last year the announcement was greeted with incredulity. Replicating the dire pre-race dialogue that Desgrange created almost a 100 years before them, the Giro organizers basked for months in excited attention. The story of the very first Tour de France passage through the Pyrenees became legend after eventual race winner Octave Lapize climbing up the Aubisque, spat out bitter words to race officials: “Vous etes des assassins” ( you are assassins/murderers).
1948 TdF. Bobet leads Bartali near Aix-les-Bains. Such conditions were not unusual in the mountains during the first half of the 20th Century
Last year before the Giro journalists, riders, team management and members of the general public visited the Finestre and sent back photos and reports predicting that it would be impossible for a modern peloton to ascend the steep muddy quagmire. Like moths to a flame, race fans all over the world were riveted to the race on the big day. Not only did the race get over the climb but the race itself was one of the most exciting in years. For the Giro organizers the Finestre day was an unqualified marketing success. And marketing success translates into achieving the targeted goal - economic success.
Obviously a touch of retro racing creates huge spectator appeal and for Giro 2006 the unmade road of the Plan de Corones is the big talking point. The Giro marketing assassins are on a roll! Again reports and photographs have populated the media for months. A sure fire catastrophe awaits the race while race fans await with unbridled anticipation. Once more the Giro marketing formula is delivering much to the delight of the organizers and sponsors. However this year the Giro has upped the challenge by creating one of the toughest weeks of climbing racing anywhere for many years. The Plan de Corones is just one of the tasty morsels!
Unfortunately the big day arrived with foul weather and rider protests (some probably echoing Lapize's words ( assassins!) . Reports of wet snow on the final stretch of the Plan de Corones caused so much consternation that the organization agreed to shorten the stage by eliminating the Passo Della Erbe climb (1987m) to reduce the stage to about 121kms. However the organizers were working in real time after the race finally got under way to leave the decision about the actual finish to the last moment. With the final section of the Plan de Corones finishing on a questionable road surface, and including ramps of 24%, rider safety was the foremost concern.
As the huge bell at the top of the foggy and snowy Plan de Corones tolled its mournful chime to warn one and all of the bad conditions, it seemed that no climber was going to be given the chance to earn their angels wings today. While the safety and health of the riders is a serious matter we cannot help but remember Charly Gaul's epic ride through a blizzard in the 1956 Giro or Andy Hampsten's epic ride up the Passo Gavia, also through a blizzard, in the 1988 Giro. If Gino Bartali were still with us he would no doubt deliver a very caustic observation to the situation saying something along the lines that today's peloton is soft and that (as 7 times Giro mountains winner) he would be ashamed to avoid a little snow.
A very large number of race fans had gathered along the slopes of the finishing climb, wrapped up in winter snow clothing and trying to keep their faces away from the driving rain and snow. Their hoped for reward was to see a race that will long be remembered in cycling history.
Snow on the Plan de Corones [ Image ©: www.gazzetta.it ]
Regardless of the weather conditions and probably heated discussions going on between the organizers and race team management, two hardy souls made an early bid for victory.
Benoit Poilvet (Credit Agricole) and Dario Cioni (Liquigas) splashed their way through the cold and wet hoping that the bunch would be too demoralized by the conditions to hunt them down. But this was the Giro with too much at stake. After yesterday's ride where Gilberto Simoni showed good emerging form with his second place, he had his Saunier Duval team driving the chase at the front. It looked like he was planning an assault up to the finish in his quest to finish on the final GC podium.
Meanwhile the organizers decided to eliminate the final 5kms of the climb. At least the work to relocate the finish line and temporary finish line structures and the need for the crowds to trudge downhill gave the frozen masses some exercise to help keep them warm. Down in the valley the rain was pouring on the luckless bunch while their team DS's, inside their warm and dry cars, were no doubt pouring over the race route details to recalculate tactics for the day.
Entering the approaches to the final climb spectacular mountain scenery, deep gorges and fast moving torrents greeted the peloton as it wound it's saturated self towards the break. Poilvet and Cioni did not give up but despite a spirited fight they were swamped by the peloton with about 7km to go as the steep climb up to Plan de Corones started. Riders with serious intentions today started to shed their wet weather clothing to eliminate unnecessary weight while at the back of the bunch riders were dropping back in droves.
With his huge lead on GC, Basso did not have to worry about anybody knowing that he could easily stay with his closest adversaries. But with just 17 seconds separating Savoldelli and Simoni for third and fourth it was a different story. This turned out to be no contest as Savoldelli slipped miserably back from the lead group and lost his third place on GC.
As has been his way throughout this Giro, Basso sat right at the front of the race as it headed up towards the snow line. The Mexican rider Perez Cuapio, who was the great climbing revelation a couple of Giro's ago, was now forcing the pace. Only Basso, Gutierrez and Piepoli could follow. Pellizotti reconnected as Gutierrez was unhitched.
Piepoli attacked and only Basso could follow. On well made road Piepoli claimed his second stage win with Basso on his heels. Gutierrez hung tough and got third at 15secs.
Stage winner Piepoli with Basso close behind [ Image ©: www.gazzetta.it ]
To the disappointment of many, the much anticipated race over unmade roads did not materialize. However the Giro marketing specialists should still be greatly satisfied with the outcome. Every rider today was a hero to finish in such atrocious conditions. Hopefully the weather will be kinder over the next three mountain stages.
Gaul and Hampsten would have loved to be able to take their epic Giro victories in such mild weather conditions! While Lapize would be pleased that the marketing assassins did not get their way today. But Bartali would be “ashamed” of our soft modern world!!
Tomorrow: the single biggest challenge facing the riders now is their health. The peloton has had to endure some awful weather in this Giro. Avoiding colds, chills and the flu is paramount. Stage 18 from Sillian in Austria to Gemona Del Fruili is 227km long with the first 80kms in Austria. Hilly but not overly mountainous, this challenging stage will benefit a strong break. Let's hope that the weather is kinder. Check back here for our report.
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