Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Stage 17: Chieti to Blockhaus 83 km.

Italy Rising...

(Results and replays at www.universalsports.com)

Instead of settling on a traditional course for the 100th Anniversary Giro d’Italia, race organizers decided to throw an unpredictable route at the peloton and it has led to one of the most dynamic grand tours in years. Today’s stage up to the WWII German munitions dump at Blockhaus was yet another bizarre route that shook up the top ten and let some old lions show they still had some roar.

The shortest grand tour open road stage in more than twenty years started as a flat coast route for 30 km., followed by rolling foothills for 30 kilometers then culminated with a horrid 23 km. ascent to the summit at Blockhaus. Although the Giro hadn’t visited the peak since the 60’s, Belgian cycling fans know it as the blastoff point for their country’s most storied athlete, Eddy Merckx. Merckx, who won more than 500 of the 1500 races he entered (exact figures are in dispute) including five Maglia Rosas, won his first pro race on this mountain peak.

But today’s win was a celebration of Italian cycling. Up until Blockhaus, team Liquigas was still debating who was their team captain, Ivan Basso or Franco Pellizotti. But Pellizotti laid down the gauntled when he broke away from the GC contenders just a few kilometers into the climb. Surprisingly, the only taker on the challenge was 38-year-old Lance Armstrong. Astana manager Johann Bruyneel let the 7-time tour winner leave his duties as first lieutenant to Levi Leipheimer and follow Pellizotti up the mountain. Armstrong showed flashes of his old mountain-devouring self as he pulled to within eight seconds of the Italian. Then age and conditioning showed in Armstrong’s legs and he was forced to slide back to the chase group – and then fall away from that group too.

Armstrong made a charge, but couldn't hold off the young guard.

As Pellizotti continued storming the German fortress, the Giro leaders, Menchov (RUS – Rabobank) and Di Luca (ITA – LPR Brakes) forged a comeback assisted by cagey veterans, Basso and 2000 Giro champ, Stefano Garzelli (ITA – Aqua e Sapone). Armstrong fell back in a group with stage 16 winner Carlos Sastre (ESP – Cervelo) and 2004 Giro winner Damiano Cunego (ITA – Lampre).

Pellizotti never slowed taking his greatest victory and moving up to the podium spot with only three days left to ride. Di Luca took a few seconds off of Menchov, but the rest of the challengers fell by the wayside on the last two kilometers of the climb. Leipheimer managed to regain the Armstrong group at the line, but his dream of a third grand tour podium are over. The big loser on the day was Sastre who dropped off the podium and is now two seconds off Basso and a minute and a half down from Pellizotti.

Pellizotti's heroic climb should assure himself of a podium in Rome.

With Tomorrow and Saturday’s stages set for sprint finishes, that leaves only the climb to Vesuvius on Friday and the dinky time trial in Rome on Sunday to sort out whether it will be Menchov holding on to his lead or Di Luca raging a comeback in front of the Tiofosi.

(Images Universal Sports screen shots)

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