By Graham Jones
and Barry Boyce

CyclingRevealed Historians




Giro d'Italia Champions
Living and Dead









CyclingRevealed's Giro Perspective

Tappa 21, May 28th, Museo del Ghisallo to Milano, 140 km

The Fat Lady Sings

"The opera ain't over until the Fat Lady sings." So goes the famous expression. And today she was in fine voice as the Giro finished in Milan nearby the most famous opera house in the world, La Scala, built by Giuseppe Piermarini between 1776 and 1778. There are parallels between opera and elite cycle racing, especially in Italy where many of the greatest operas originate.

Traditional opera is performed in two classic modes; “recitive” which is dialogue and plot driven and “aria" in which the movement of the plot often pauses with the music becoming more melodic in character and the singer focusing on one or more topics or emotional affects.

The ebb and flow of a Grand Tour can be said to have both recitive and aria modes. The main dialogue centers on the GC plot and the arias provide focus on moments like emotional stage finishes, dramatic crashes or give fans pause while long stages provide very little action. So now we reflect on Giro 06, a race in five acts.

Act I / Frites, demie's and rain

Like a rat up a drainpipe, Discovery's Paolo Savoldelli opened the show with a blistering 6.2km time trial in Belgium 's Seraing . Symetry or coincidence, but just over one week previously Savoldelli had won the prologue TT at the Tour of Romandie with a similar performance. Then, Cadel Evans and the eventual Romandie GC winner, was 13 th . Now at the Giro Ivan Basso was 13 th to Savoldelli in the opening TT. He too went on to become the overall winner. Lucky 13.

For the next three days we were treated to a classic Belgian ‘aria'; rain, demie's (beer), frites and all. Robbie McEwen blitzed two stages either side of a classic-like day where the race covered ‘Fleche Wallone' country.


After the final stage in Belgium the race entourage decamped by charter jet to enter Italy . A rest day followed to allow the riders to recuperate.

Act II / Mountains and Sea

Warm Italian sun welcomed the riders home as they formed into “chorus lines” to tackle the 38km team time trial on Stage 5. This proved to be the first recital in the war for the GC. CSC dominated even though Basso did not move into the pink jersey. Discovery was a disappointed third and thus defending Giro champion Savoldelli slipped to sixth on GC to start his long and painful journey to Milan .

The GC battle now started in earnest as the race headed south over plains, hills, mountain top finishes and alongside the vacation areas of the Adriatic coast. McEwen sang his third and last Giro aria on Stage 6. Next day a very hilly stage saw a break steal the limelight but there was some serious sorting out going on back in the depleted bunch. On Stage 8 Ivan Basso struck the first killer blow as he rode to a lone win up the Passo Lanciano and with it claimed the pink jersey which he was to retain to Milan . The next two days saw hard and fast racing along the Adriatic coast mostly dominated by riders often seen ambling in long after race winners in the “gruppeto”. Even bit players can get their moments of glory in a Grand tour.


Having reached the Southern most point of the race it was time to head back North. A long flight up to Pontedera is followed by the second, and last, rest day. The Alps and Dolomites await.

Act III / Into the Alps

After their day's rest the field faced the only long individual race of truth in this Giro. Big Jan Ullrich returned to his brilliant winning former self for just one day and scorched around the 50km circuit (which skirted by the famous leaning tower of Pissa) at an incredible 51kmph (32mph). Languishing deep in the bowels of the GC table this performance had little affect on the overall GC race. However maybe this ride sent a strong signal to Basso that maybe things will be different at the Tour this July. Ullrich eventually withdrew from the Giro with a couple of day's to go to rest and prepare for that appointment in France . For the Giro, Basso's TT second place to Ullrich at 28 seconds was far more significant as he started to consolidate his GC lead with sizeable time gaps to all of those behind him.

Next day (Stage 12 to Sestri Levante) the road North travelled along a very hilly route tracing the Mediteranean coast. The conditions were perfect for an adventurous break and that is what transpired as an original 15-man break was reduced to five in the closing phase. Drama ensued as Manuel Sella and Manuele Mori misjudged a sharp curve on a steep descent. Both were lucky to avoid a major catastrophe as they went over crash barriers and down a sharp drop off. As if they were performing in an opera, they both provided an encore performance just a short while later trying to rejoin their former break companions. Once more they escaped injury or damage to their bikes. Amazingly they reconnected with the break just before the finish where Sella even manged to get third behind winner Horrach.

The sun abandoned the race on it's stage 13 journey into the Alpine ski resort of La Thuile. Grim cold and wet conditions could not dampen the brilliance of Ivan Basso and Learnado Piepoli as they left the soggy, miserable field behind them. Piepoli won the day and Basso clearly stamped his superior authority on the GC race yet again.

A transition stage (aria) through Switzerland was next where a small break took the days spoils. The next day (Stage 15) across the plains north of Milan had sprinter written all over it and right on cue “il grillo” Paolo Bettini grabbed it from the seething bunch.

Act IV / Il Dolomiti

Written like a great Verdi opera score, the route through the Dolomites was created to achieve maximum dramatic effect. With the race officially celebrating the 70th anniversary of Gino Bartali's first Giro win, this was a course that would have greatly appealed to the seven time Giro mountain jersey winner.

The curtain went up and facing the peloton was the dramatic Monte Bondone where fifty years ago Charly Gaul (the ‘Angel of the Mountains') etched his name into history with a dramatic Giro stage win. Starting from way back in 11 th on GC, Gaul hit the mountain hard as a snowstorm raged around the riders. He reached the top alone to win the stage and take the race lead which he then held to Milan . That day 46 of the remaining 89 starters abandoned.

This year the weather was not as brutal as that fateful in 1956. However it seemed that Basso had borrowed Gaul 's angels wings for the day. With 6km to go only Simoni remained with him. With shades of the “Armstrong look” Basso glanced across at Simoni and then simply rode away. He crossed the line looking serene and smiling gently without the slightest hint of the day's race effort on his face. Huge gaps had opened up on GC and although there were still many more mountains to climb, Basso looked unassailable.

For months the next day's stage (17) had been anticipated with great trepidation and glee (depending upon your viewpoint). The mountain top finish up to the Plan de Corones was to be on unmade roads and included 24% ramps. Mother Nature rained on the show with incredibly miserable weather. Heavy rain in the valleys and snow/rain atop the Plan de Corones forced the race organizers to move the finish lower down the mountain and out of the freezing fog.

For race fans the much hyped grand crescendo was gone but regardless it was still a terrific day of racing over very mountainous roads. Once more Piepoli and Basso played the lead roles with Piepoli claiming his second stage win as Basso rode calmly in on his wheel. Behind them the Spanish Phonak rider Gutierrez hung tough for third at 15 seconds. All through the Giro Gutierrez earned the respect and support of the Italian fans. He eventually finished second to Basso on GC.

Stage 18 was largely a transitional day with a small break stealing the stage but not affecting the GC. Unfortunately this day (May 25 th ) will go down in cycling infamy as the day that Manolo Saiz (Liberty Seguros DS) and several others were arrested in Spain on drug related charges. The next day Liberty Seguros announced their withdrawal from the team sponsorship (but their remaining team riders stayed in the Giro). Initial observations indicate that the case could become much bigger and more notorious than the 1998 Festina affair.

Four major ascents culminating in a mountain top finish up the Passo Di San Pellegrino (1918m) were the backdrop for Stage 19. Aggressive racing spread the surviving cast of characters all over the place. The two leading ‘aria' performers were Jaun Manuel Garate (Quick.Step), who won from the brilliant and surprising flatlands powerhouse Jens Voigt (CSC). Basso and a resurgent Simoni rode in together 2min 15secs behind the two winners as the GC time gaps yawned even wider.

The final day in the mountains (Stage 20) was a masterpiece including the Passo Gavia at 2618m (and this years ‘Cima Coppi') and the much feared Passo Del Mortirolo considered by many as the toughest climb in cycling.

For this final part of the act Mother Nature put on her best show with blue sky, brilliant sun, green mountain pastures, spring flowers and pristine snow capped peaks. For it's part the colorful peloton put on a great show. And once again Basso was the star act. On the lower slopes of the Mortirolo powerful attacks were kept in check by Basso's CSC team. Within 2kms the front end of the bunch was in tatters as Basso with Simoni for company again rode away on their own. The two reached the final 10km ascent to Aprica and for a while it looked as though it might be Simoni's day. With 3km to go the unstoppable Basso simply powered away. On the line he pulled out a photo of his new born son (born the previous day) to demonstrate emotion worthy of an Italian opera.

Act V / The Fat Lady Sings – Giro Magnifico!

The final scene was played out over flat roads finishing with eleven 4.8km laps in Milan . As has become tradition, the GC leaders team entered the final laps at the head of the peloton. The triumphal procession soon turned into a high speed drag race with just one major jersey still up for grabs. Paolo Bettini was fourth in the final sprint, behind Gerolsteiner's Robert Forster, and thus finally laid claim to the Points Jersey from the previous holder, Basso.

Gerolsteiner's Robert Forster in Milan [ Image ©: ]

Ivan Basso was head and shoulders above everyone else in this Giro. He showed no weakness and he was supported by an incredibly powerful and well disciplined team. Basso's calm and often smiling demanour reminds one of Miguel Indurain. A great time trialist and with the power to keep pace with the best climbers. But also it is clear that Basso (and his team) have learned much from riding against Armstrong in recent Tours . So often CSC looked like Discovery at the Tour. Right up to the last kms in Milan they were in their habitual formation driving an infernal pace and carefully protecting their leader who at no time over the previous weeks was ever isolated.

The Podium: (L to R) 3rd Gilberto Simoni, 1st Ivan Basso, 2nd Jose E. Gutierrez [ Image ©: ]

Cycling has been tremendously fortunate throughout it's history. As one great champion retires another seems to take his place. In single day races Tom Boonen is firmly establishing his place amongst the greats. With Armstrong gone it now looks as though Ivan Basso is stepping into the Grand Tour center stage. The Tour is just about one month away. If Basso delivers the win that he is targetting then he too will be establishing his place amongst the greats. His rapidly growing legion of fans eagerly anticipate the first Italian Giro – Tour double since Marco Pantani in 1998.

To all of our CyclingRevealed readers, we truly appreciate you tuning in. Keep us as your homepage.



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