CyclingRevealed's Giro '07 Perspective
Tappa 18, May 31st, Udine to Riese Pio X, 203 km
A Town Called X... ?
Today's stage is in stark contrast to those of the past week. The road sweeps from east to west across the pan-flat plains north of Venice . It is an area rich in history, much of which is very tragic. The area has always been a strategic crossroads for the Balkan States in the East and the Russian and Austro-German States to the north. In recent times both World War I and World War II visited the region.
In 1915 the Germans occupied this area which they called Küstenland. Italian troops finally regained the territory from the Germans and Serb/Yugoslav troops and integrated it into the ‘kingdom' of Italy . It was at this time that the provinces of Trieste , Pola and Udine were created. Being just 40kms from the Yugoslav (now Slovenian) border Udine became a hub for numerous refugees attempting to keep ahead of the war. In one famous and catastrophic incident the flood of refugees were shelled from behind as they tried to flee from Udine.
In 1945 Udine again became a crossroads for a mass of humanity trying to escape Stalin's and Tito's forces. Adding to the complexity of the situation there were also thousands of Jews from Eastern Europe streaming down through Austria trying to reach the coast and ships to carry them to Palestine.
Today's goal is the small city of Riese Pio X . To anyone not speaking Italian this seems a strange name for a town. Normally the town is referred to simply as Riese but in fact its full name is paying homage to its most famous son, Giuseppe Sarto (1835 – 1914), who became Pope Pius X. (When translated into English ‘Pio X' means Pious 10th ). In a place with such a proud religious heritage it was interesting to see today that, as they awaited the arrival of the Giro, the townspeople unvieled a new memorial to Fausto Coppi. Coppi was not at all a religious person and so in a place where a former Pope was born it would have seemed more appropriate to unveil a memorial to Coppi's great rival Bartali. Gino Bartali, due to his intense religious convictions, was known as “Gino the Pious”!
Based on Petacchi's surprise appearance with the Di Luca peloton at the base of yesterday's monster finishing climb up the Zoncolan, it is clear that he is on very good form. Also on form is the World Champion Paolo Bettini who has featured in numerous breaks throughout this Giro. Both of these riders were be itching to win today in what would almost certainly be a bunch sprint.
The day took on the expected form when extensive skirmishes took place early in the race as small groups tried to form a break. It was not until about 75kms that an escape had solidified with about 1m 30s advantage. Naturally there was a Tinkoff man there, Mikhail Ignatiev, along with Addy Engels (Quickstep-Innergetic), Maxim Gourov (Astana), Patxi Vila (Lampre-Fondital), Franck Renier (Bouygues Telecom), Eric Berthou (Caisse d'Epargne) and Pedro Horrillo (Rabobank). In the bunch we saw a rare sight with Danilo Di Luca, resplendent in his pink outfit, actually smiling! He is obviously more relaxed and confident in his ability to reach Milan victorious.
Despite tremendous efforts to ward off the peloton, the remnants of the break were reeled in after 161km of freedom. The sprinters took control but the high speed chaos resulted in a crash with 800m to go. Petacchi avoided the mess and powered home to his fourth stage win in this Giro (he now has 23 Giro stage wins to his credit).
With the bunch finishing ‘en masse' (or maybe more like ‘en mess'!) there was no change to the GC standings. For the locals it was a day for cycling. They now have a new monument to Coppi and Ale-Jet honored Riese Pio X with one of his power finishes.
Stage winner Alessandro Petacchi ( Image © La Gazetta )
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