CyclingRevealed's Giro '07 Perspective
Tappa 16, May 29th, Agordo to Lienz (Austria), 189 km
Bovine indifference; do these Giro guys race, or what!
Tomorrow the race reaches the much heralded stage 17 which finishes up the greatly feared Monte Zoncolan climb. Bringing the riders to this date with destiny is today's breathtakingly beautiful ride through the mountains of Tyrol from Italy into Austria .
This whole area is one of Mother Nature's ‘master works' with soaring mountains, soft pastures blanketed in rich green grass, steep gorges, mountain rivers, sinuous roads and villages that look like children's toys. On a clear, sunny day the views are beyond description but when the weather closes in and heavy steel grey clouds drop into the valleys, rain or snow masks the world from view.
This Tyrolean region is famous for its music, rustic traditions, skiing, mountain climbing and an abundance of flora and fauna. If you are lucky enough to cycle the roads here the sights and sounds leave indelible memories. Out on the open road cows lazily watch you pass by with bovine indifference as their deep clanging cow bells play the unmistakable song of Tyrol.
When you are immersed in this idyllic setting it is hard to image that war, famine and poverty once ruled this land of mountains and valleys. Napoleon met fierce resistance here when the Austrian innkeeper and patriot, Andreas Hofer, led the rebellion against Napoleon's forces.
It was the development of skiing, and particularly ski tourism, towards the end of the 19 th Century that completely changed the social landscape of the Tyrol. Today affluence permeates the air as tourists now flock to the region in both winter and summer. Bringing the Giro here is a natural extension of the Tyrolean love for outdoor life.
Few riders got in any riding during yesterday's rest day due to heavy rain. With the weather still far from pleasant it was therefore no surprise that the race ambled off at a slow ‘club ride' pace. With just two categorized climbs and then about 40kms of flat roads leading to the finish this was slated be a transitional sprinters day. However in this Giro ‘what should be' rarely is!
Two hours into the race and it was still ‘gruppo compatto' cruising soggily along (at about 25kmph) somewhat like the local cows heading off to the milking shed. The riders were well protected against the elements with rain capes, shoe covers, gloves and warm clothing.
With such miserable weather who can blame the field? Since the 2007 Giro route was announced Stage 17 has been the focal point of the entire three weeks. The Monte Zoncolan (stage finish) climb is barely one car wide in places and with ramps over 20% it is guaranteed to provide a thrilling spectacle with the outcome of the Giro potentially decided within the dark, dank forest. Apart from preserving their energy today, those riders (and their teams) looking at claiming the Maglia Rosa for good will be trying to avoid any accidents in today's wet and treacherous conditions. Let's hope that snow (which is feasible) does not spoil tomorrow's promised epic.
Naturally with such race conditions today the stage was set for the opportunists to have their day. Finally with 70kms to go attacks suddenly accelerated away like fire crackers as the Giro left Italy and entered Austria. A lot of guys wanted to grab this chance for a stage win and it took some time for the shake-out to form into a cohesive break. Happily for the riders the weather was easing off and shoe covers and rain capes were being jettisoned throughout the peloton as the roads dried off.
Thirteen riders had ‘made the difference' after 10kms of explosive riding. Behind them the peloton carefully monitored who was there and, with nobody of critical GC importance, settled in to an acceptable tempo for the final ‘flat' phase to the finish. As always the definition of “flat” roads in the Giro is relative and hopefully the riders had paid close attention to their stage profile maps. For most of us the final 70km run in to Lienz would be considered as a mountain race!
The opportunists were not finished as a chase group of eight riders set off in hot pursuit of the lead group. Then surprisingly Stefano Garzelli attacked to start a big effort to get up front. On Stage 14 Garzelli had achieved a magnificent win into Bergamo but sadly lost his GC hopes the very next day on the climb to the Tre Cime Di Lavaredo where he lost over seventeen minutes.
By the time Garzelli reached the leaders the climbing had disposed of most of the original break and his group now comprised just seven riders with the peloton at 2m 11s with 37kms to go. Clearly from his anguished expression Garzelli, a proud former Giro champion, was out to make amends for his bad day.
The leaders hit the final climb of the day (Bannberg average 4.7%, max 11%) and Garzelli attacked the break. With 27kms to go he summitted alone with the chasers about 20s back and the peloton 5m 57s further back. In the valley it was clear that Garzelli was taking no prisoners as he extended his lead. He threw everything into his effort and with 9kms to go he had 40s on five chasers and about seven minutes on the peloton.
The chasers tried hard, started to close in on Garzelli and then lost it all when they started attacking each other. One minute, three seconds on the five chasers and eight minutes ten seconds on the peloton moved Garzelli way up the GC rankings again (but that was of little interest to him). His goal was to hand himself a thrashing and claim his second stage win. Objective achieved.
Great solo effort by stage winner Stefano Garzelli ( Image © La Gazetta )
While the weather combined with a cautious peloton in advance of tomorrow may have created a lethargic opening to the day's activities, we were eventually treated to yet another fabulous performance. Great champions never lay down and Garzelli provided a great lesson in courage and determination. Meanwhile the GC contenders saved as much energy as possible and treated the actual race today with bovine indifference!
SPECIAL NOTE: In the autumn the mountain cow herds are led to their stables down in the valley on the Almabtrieb (cow train) from the mountain pastures. This once rustic annual event has evolved into a major tourist attraction, focusing on the marketing of local products and as an excuse for a typical Tyrolean beer fest!
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