Today's stage 18 of the Giro d'Italia was a bit of a low-key affair after the epic struggle yesterday on the Blockhaus. It was great to see American's Danny Pate(Garmin-Slipstream) and Jason McCartney(Saxo Bank) in the breakaway going for the win. However, the focus of the Giro is on Friday's stage 19 and the ascent of the extinct volcano, Monte Vesuvio, which buried Pompei long before there was anything even remotely resembling American Idol.
Monte Vesuvio is most likely Danilo Di Luca's last chance to gain time on his chief(and probably only) rival Denis Menchov who holds a scant 26 second lead over the rider nicknamed 'The Killer'. Menchov is the better time trialist as he proved besting Di Luca in the 61km test in the Cinque Terra by almost two minutes.
If Di Luca cannot shake Menchov then the race will most like be decided before the final time trial. This scenario is reminiscent of one of the most famous moments in Tour de France history when Raymond Poulidor tried to take the yellow jersey off the shoulders of Jacques Anquetil on another extinct volcanic summit, Le Puy de Dome. Di Luca will need at least a minute over Menchov if he is to have a chance of taking the pink jersey off the Russian's shoulders.
There has been a lot of speculation on why Levi Leipheimer hasn't been more of a factor in the race. I spoke with his coach, Max Testa, who pointed out that at the beginning of the season, it was to be Lance Armstrong who was to be the team leader at the Giro. Levi was supposed to be taking it easy in May, resting up after a difficult spring campaign which began way back in February at the Tour of California. When Lance broke his collarbone, Levi was pressed into service and may just be feeling the effects of a very long period at top condition.
I also spoke with Astana Team Director Allain Gallopin about the situation and he also said that Levi was not really focused on this event at the beginning of the season. Gallopin added that to expect better results, Levi needs to make the Giro a priority in his racing program.
Thomas Voeckler (BBox) was in the early breakaway on the stage to the Blockhaus.His group of about nine riders reached a maximum lead of close to three minutes before they reached the base of the climb. Unfortunately, the gap was not big enough and all the escapees were caught and passed in the first 3 miles of the ascent. I asked Voeckler why the break failed. "No one was really motivated to do the work necessary to get a big enough gap to make the break work," said Voeckler. I asked him if it seemed like his companions were only looking for some TV time, "yeah it sure seemed that way," he said.
Below are a number of photos I thought you might find interesting. The first photo is of the electornic scoreboard we use in the press room to keep exact details of how the race is progressing. The time, distance and rider names and number. Pretty cool.
Lance has his own personal photographer, Elizabeth Kreutz who travels with him much of the time. This is a photo of Liz after she spent over seven hours on the back of a motorbike in 100 degree heat(did I mention how hot it was) on Monte Petrano taking photos of the race. Tough job.
Speaking of Lance, the race on the Blockhaus was close to L'Aquila where the devastating 6.8 earthquake leveled much of the town several months ago. The region,Abruzzzo, is recovering and put out the red carpet for Big Tex.
What would a bike race be without podium girls.
Just when you think you have seen everything at a bike race, along come a women riding up a 10% grade in 100 degree heat chatting on her cell phone.
I thought this photo was interesting. Some people use paint, others use chalk, but here is a fan using the local rock (limestone) to write a slogan on the race course.
Danilo Di Luca is from the Abruzzo. He has his own cool Fiat fan car. They would't give me a ride up the hill so I had to keep pedaling my bike.
There was a major, 6.3 on the Richter scale, earthquake in central Italy close to the town of L'Aquila (the Eagle) on Monday. The devastation is huge and the death toll is 250 and climbing. The photos and videos of the tembler and the aftermath are striking. It clearly is a major tragedy.
Why am I writing about this quake? Because one of the classic climbs in all of Italy starts in L'Aquila. The 20-mile, 5000-foot ascent of the Gran Sasso has been a decisive hurdle in many a Giro, most recently, Marco Pantani soloed to a convincing win in 1999. It was a 150-mile stage that took over seven hours and was ridden in cold rain. Fog shrouded the top at 7000 feet above sea level.
What I remember most is that Pantani, who was sponsored by Bianchi bikes, was riding a mysterious all black machine. It had been a tradition since Fausto Coppi in the 1940's that Bianchi's racing machines were painted the legendary 'celeste' color, a sea green shade, but here was 'Il Pirata' on some sort of stealth black steed. It was a few month later that Sky Yager at Bianchi USA informed me that the black bike was indeed a Bianchi. However, Pantani wanted the bike to weigh as little as possible and by eliminating the paint job and just anodizing the aluminum tubes black saved three ounces of weight.
For you history buffs, the top of the Gran Sasso climb is known as Campo Imperatore. It was here in 1943 that Italian partisans hid Benito Mussolini after kidnapping him. The partisans were hoping that with Mussolini out of power, they could kick the Germans out of their country and sue for peace with the Americans and British. After several months in hiding, German commandos crash-landed gliders near Campo Imperatore and rescued 'Il Duce'. The Germans placed Mussolini back in power and the war in Italy continued for another year and a half.
If you ever get to Campo Imperatore you can, for five euros, visit the room in the hotel there that held Mussolini during his captivity with the partisans. In this photo the hotel is the big red building on the left.
Best wishes to all the inhabitants of L'Aquila for the rebuilding and healing which will undoubtedly take years to accomplish. Buona Fortuna!