(Live Giro streaming and results can be found at http://www.universalsports.com/)
Di Luca shews away an aggressive Tiofosi
Quite simply, it was the most brutal stage in professional cycling in decades. The 60.6 kilometer individual time trial, nearly 30 kilometers of which was climbing, left the world’s greatest aerobic athletes in a shambles at the finish line in Riomaggiori, the southernmost village of the Italian Rivera’s stunning Cinque Terre region.
And at the end of all that effort, nothing was settled. The winner, Russian Denis Menchov (Rabobank), squeezed out a 20 second win over American Levi Leipheimer (Astana) and took enough time out of Italian crowd favorite Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes) to wrestle the Maglia Rosa off his shoulders. But the result in the overall Giro is that Menchov holds only 34 seconds on Di Luca and 40 on Leipheimer.
The real story of the day was what this marathon solo effort did to the field. Most grand-tour time trials are won in under an hour, but this atrocious test was won in one hour and 34 minutes. Each cyclist dished out maximum effort fifty percent longer than what they train for. This time trial was so long it actually had a feed zone. Normally riders don’t want to lift their head up during these tests, let alone sit back and eat. The riders, who leave the starting block individually at two-minute intervals, were bunched up in groups of three and four as they trudged up the second climb at 46 km. The last place finisher of a major time trial is rarely more than eight minutes back. The slowest rider today, Italian Oscar Gato (ISD), finished almost 18 minutes behind Menchov. The general rule in cycling is that a rider is eliminated if he is more than ten percent slower than the winner. If Giro officials hold to that standard, 92 of the remaining 186 riders would be eliminated.
What are left for the decimated field are nine stages over the next ten days, four of which cover significant mountains. Of the three teams in contention, Leipheimer’s Astana team has by far the best climbers including none other than Lance Armstrong. Armstrong finished a disappointing 16th in today’s time trial, a discipline he would have relished in his days as the world’s greatest cyclist. Now, out of contention, he would like nothing better than to lead Leipheimer to victory. Team Astana, which is supported by the Kazakhstan tourism board, has not paid its riders in more than two months. The riders are wearing the jerseys, but all ‘Astana’ decals have been removed. Rumor around the Giro is that the team will emerge on the last day as ‘Team Livestrong’ sponsored by Armstrong’s cancer foundation. A pink jersey on Leipheimer in Rome would be as sweet as any of his seven yellow jerseys.
Leipheimer and Menchov may have been the only two happy riders after the most brutal time trial in years.
But Menchov, would love to add a Giro title to his two Vuelta a España wins and Di Luca has no short motivation for driving home a second Maglia Rosa in three years. In the end it could all come down to either the Stage 19 mountaintop finish on Vesuvius or two days later in the tiny 26 km time trial finishing at the gates of the Coliseum on the Giro’s final day.
(Images are Universal Sports screenshots)