CyclingRevealed's Giro '07 Perspective
Tappa 15, May 27th, Trento to Tre Cime Di Lavaredo, 184 km
A Sea of Humanity
Some years ago while touring the region I stayed at a small farm house high up amongst these pristine mountain pastures. Each morning the lady of the house served a hearty breakfast made from fresh farm produce. Her husband, who was into his 80's, was nowhere to be seen. Apparently he was out of the house by about 4:30AM every single day to watch over his animals and then spend hours wandering around his mountains. This had been his habit for decades.
Visitors to the high mountain regions of Europe discover warm and kindly people very much in harmony with the stunning scenery surrounding them. Houses and farms are immaculately manicured with flowers in bright profusion everywhere. Today tourism, both winter and summer, brings considerable prosperity.
It was not always this way. Prior to the 20th Century poverty and hunger was the primary state of the mountain peoples of the Alps and Dolomites. Most locals rarely ventured beyond their own valley as the roads were no more than crude tracks used mainly by animals foraging for food.
During the 18th and 19th Centuries peasant children were taken from these mountain areas to work on the farms and in the factories in South West Germany (Schwaben Land, now called Baden- Württemberg). These “Schwaben Kinder” were purchased by farmers and factory owners and as cruel as it was, they saved most of them from a premature death from starvation in their poverty struck villages.
The marches of children across the mountains were not done in small groups, but were large, organised groups of several thousand children, taken over the snow covered mountains often still dressed in rags. It was not uncommon for five and six-year-old children to be taken. Usually their guide was a priest, who was also responsible for ensuring the children had a warm stable to sleep in. This ‘slave trade' was not abolished until 1921 when new laws in Germany outlawed the practice.
Today the race enters the Dolomites with a series of incredible climbs. The Tre Cime di Lavaredo are the most famous of the peaks in this region as they stand out from the scree like the sails of a stone ship. The highest of these peaks, the Cima Grande, is 2998m high. Bordering on Austria and Switzerland , the northern mountain areas of Italy have much in common with their neighbors. In fact the Tyrolean peoples, regardless of which side of the national border they reside, almost consider themselves one nation. On the Italian side many visitors are startled to find that the German language is used as much as Italian. When the locals talk of the Drie Zinnen they are using the German name for the Tre Cime.
Today the Giro had the Tre Cime (or Drie Zinnen) as its goal but before reaching the final gut wrenching 7.2km climb (average 7.6% with pitches up to 20%) of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo to the finish line, the race had to cross the:
Passo San Pellegrino (km 81.2 to 93.0, average 6.4%, max 14%)
Passo Giau (km 135.7 to 145.5, 9.4%, 14%)
Passo Tre Croci (km 162.1 to 170.1, 7.2%, 12%)
Surely after the tremendously hard racing of the past few days we could not expect another great day. As it turned out the day was not great – it was epic!!
Twenty kilometers into the race 22 riders had formed a solid break. By the time that they crested the Passo San Pellegrino they had almost four minutes on the Maglia Rosa group. But between the two groups a chase group containing Leonardo Piepoli and Riccardo Riccò (both Saunier Duval), Julio Pérez (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare) and Ivan Parra (Cofidis) had formed. Together these riders formed the most formidable climbers of this Giro. Had Simoni sent his two boys up there as a potential spring board for later in the race?
The Piepoli ‘gruppeto' caught the original break and their elevated pace started to shred the larger group to pieces. On the ascent up the Passo Giau the lead group was trimming down dramatically while the chase group was lagging at 3m 15s. Second on GC, Marzio Bruseghin was blown out of the chase group and this probably finished his hopes of a podium finish in Milan.
The breakaway as it played out [ Image ©: www.gazzetta.it ]
Momentarily relieving the drama was Julio Pérez who spotted the famous devil character seen at most of the big races. Pérez grabbed the devils three pronged fork and poked Piepoli in the rear end with it! By now the riders could have done with a little heat from hell as icy rain was falling and snow had been reported at the finish. Capes and warmer clothes were quickly donned for the frigid descent from the Passo Giau as the now four leaders led the Di Luca group by 2m 28s. Yesterday's winner, Stefano Garzelli, was having a bad day and was already 7m 57s back.
On the descent from the Passo Giau Savoldelli lived up to his nickname (the falcon) and simply flew away from the Di Luca group. The only person able to stay with him was teammate Eddy Mazzoleni. Together they made quick work of scooping up the remnants of the break left in the wake of the Piepoli group.
While the four mountain goats up front headed up the penultimate climb, the Passo Tre Croci, Mazzoleni rode away from Savoldelli who was suffering like a dog. Amazingly Mazzoleni started to close in on the leaders and in so doing opened up a wider gap on the Di Luca group. In fact as the Tre Cime climb started Di Luca was 4m 36s behind the lead group as Mazzoleni was closing in on the leaders at 1m 24s. At this point in the race Mazzoleni was ‘virtual Maglia Rosa'.
Di Luca used a massive effort to hold onto the Maglia Rosa [ Image ©: www.gazzetta.it ]
As the final climb started Riccò attacked hard. Parra pulled him back with Piepoli happily on his wheel. Behind them Mazzoleni was starting to rock all over his bike but even so was maintaining his pace.
Stage winner Riccardo Ricco [ Image ©: www.gazzetta.it ]
Now it was open season on Di Luca as first Cunego attacked. They soon got him back. Simoni and Schleck were taunting Di Luca who finally got as ‘mad as hell' and gunned it. For a while Simoni held him at about 100m with Schleck just behind him.
The race was now into the final kilometers as chaos broke loose. The tifosi were all over the road and going ballistic. The leaders and the chasers were having a tough time weaving between these crazed spectators and doing their best to avoid being pushed which would earn them potentially race losing time penalties.
For a while it looked as though we were going to witness a four man sprint finish until Pérez cracked and then the two Saunier Duval riders gave Parra the old one-two for Riccò to take the prize.
Just like yesterday, Di Luca used the same tactic to limit his losses. He had conserved as much energy as possible for the final kms. where he blitzed it and closed down much of Mazzoleni's advantage.
Di Luca saved his jersey and now Eddy Mazzoleni is second at 1m 50s. Schleck is third at 2m 56s and Simoni moved up to fourth (at 3m 19s) with Cunego now fifth at 3m 23s
Drug scandals, what drug scandals? All we saw today was epic bike racing as the riders suffered over monster climbs while surfing through a sea of humanity!
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