By Graham Jones
and Barry Boyce

CyclingRevealed Historians





Giro d'Italia Champions
Living and Dead




CyclingRevealed's Giro '07 Perspective

Tappa 17, May 30th, Lienz (Austria) to Mont Zoncolan, 142 km


Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.
There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
It's easy.
There's nothing you can make that can't be made.
No one you can save that can't be saved.
Nothing you can do but learn how to be in time
It's easy.
All you need is love, all you need is love.

[Beatles, Lennon/McCartney]

Amore, love. Italy loves the Giro. Cycling fans the world over love the Giro. Live streaming video on the web. Huge crowds on the road. The fearsome climb of today's stage, Monte Zoncolan has been talked about ever since the ‘07 Giro route was announced. On the mountain itself it was party central today. Bands, food, drink, huge crowds. The whole of Italy is watching and waiting in festive anticipation. The whole world is watching.

And all of this attention is at a time when cycling is living through perhaps its most dramatic period of drug related revelations. “The experts” are predicting the end of pro-cycling. All is doomed!

I don't think so. Cycling is a beautiful sport and a Grand Tour coursing through spectacular mountain scenery is poetry in motion. The media and the general public are certainly not turning their backs on the Giro. Yesterday's stage winner Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) gave his thoughts after his spectacular stage win; “The people see us suffer and thus they love the sport of cycling. This helps lift the sport over the problems [like Basso and Puerto ]”.

Last year the equivalent stage to todays was the planned ride up to the unsurfaced road of the Plan de Corones. Once again the experts were predicting a catastrophe. How wrong they were. Atrocious weather forced the organizers to eliminate one climb that day and to shorten the finish to avoid the unmade road on the Plan de Corones. But the race went on and as expected the day's breaks were reeled in and it was Basso and Pieopli (who won), finishing alone.

Only 10.1 kilometers long, the Zoncolan gains 1203 meters for an average grade of 11.9% with the steepest pitches going straight up at over 20%. Opening with about a 10% grade the road suddenly rears up to 22% after about 2.5 kms and then levels off to around 15% for about 3kms. Another leg breaker of 20% quickly takes the road onto a 14% section for about 2kms. The rest of the climb is between 7% and 9% with a brief stretch of 18% about 1km before the summit finish. Di Luca had a 34x29 compact chain-set fitted on his bike and triple ring chain-sets were not uncommon around the peloton.

After the horrible weather conditions of the past two days the race today is mercifully blessed with dry (but cool) weather enticing an early break. Interestingly the break of 12 riders included Dario Cioni who was the last escapee to be swept up on the Corones by Piepoli/Basso last year. This year Cioni has 11 companions in his escape group including the tenacious Bettini who has featured in so many breaks for the past two weeks. Another interesting escapee is Yoann Le Boulanger (Bouygues Telecom) who claimed the Cime Coppi a few days ago on the Colle dell'Angello.

On their way to the Zoncolan the race had to tackle the category 2 climb up the Monte Croce di Comelico at km55.9 and then the category 2 climb at Tualis at km116. About 33km into the stage, the Giro left Austria and returned to Italy.

Over the summit of the Tualis Baliani took the mountain points ahead of Cioni. The break itself was now five minutes ahead of the peloton with 30kms to go. Liquigas (for Di Luca) and Saunier Duval (for Simoni) were massed at the front and preparing for the much anticipated show-down on the Zoncolan.

At the base of the climb Bettini was looking good at the head of affairs. Four minutes later the remains of the peloton arrived with just 20 riders. Amazingly Alessandro Petacchi was amongst them and although he dropped back with 8kms to go this was an incredible ride by the big sprinter.

No doubt in an orchestrated progression, Iban Mayo hit the front of the peloton for Saunier Duval as pent up tension sliced through the thin air. With the road now rising ominously up ahead of them, Dario Cioni did not so much attack, as simply ride away from the break. Already at this point Eddy Mazzoleni (2 nd on GC) was struggling to stay with the Di Luca peloton. He was destined to quickly lose that fight.

All eyes left the leaders higher up the mountain and focused on the peloton which had now shrunk to just six riders; Di Luca, Simoni, Piepoli, Ricco, Schleck, Cunego. Next, Ricco cracked and his threat to Schleck's white jersey (best young rider) evaporated.

Simoni accelerated and dropped his companions but Cunego painfully dragged himself and the others back. Six kilometers to go and Cioni was 2m 45s ahead. Simoni went again and all except Di Luca hung on. The road was now awash in tifosi going crazy. The atmosphere was electric.

In his effort to pull back Simoni, Schleck dropped Cunego as the wily Piepoli clung tenaciously to his wheel. Meanwhile Di Luca, in a tremendous show of controlled riding, was not only containing his losses but he was actually pulling back seconds on Simoni and co.

Three kilometers of purgatory to go. Cioni blows and Codol passes him but within minutes Simoni, Piepoli and Schleck pass him to become the head of the race. At the same time Di Luca reconnected with Cunego and they were now only 20s behind the three leaders.

In anticipation of the huge crowds that swarmed all over the mountain it was interesting to see the final couple of kilometers of road lined shoulder-to-shoulder with uniformed Italian Army soldiers. The Giro organizers had long planned this day to be the crowning glory of their great race. Nothing was going to spoil it!

Italian military help control the huge crowds on the Zoncolan ( Image © La Gazetta )

Into the last kilometer Di Luca/Cunego had closed to 16s. But up front the “treachery and old age” of Simoni and Piepoli conquered the “youth and speed” of Schleck with Simoni taking the win from his faithful teammate with Schleck 3rd , five seconds later. Di Luca came in at 31s to close a brilliant ride and Cunego was just 4s behind him.

Stage winner Gilberto Simoni ( Image © La Gazetta )

Di Luca thus survived the day and comfortably (if that's the right word!) retained his Maglia Rosa. Mazzoleni fought bravely but lost his second place (and dropped to 5th on GC) to Schleck who now leads Simoni (3rd) and Cunego (4th).

Again to quote Lennon, Learn how to play the game; Learn how to be in time”; It's easy, all you need is love”. Since his break-through ride in the 2005 Giro (and particularly his ride over the unmade roads of the Colle dello Finestre that year), Danilo Di Luca has really learnt how to play the game, be in time and profess his love for the Giro.

Italy, the Giro, Di LucaAmore!!

A "Killer" on the loose! ( Image © La Gazetta )



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