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While the big loser this weekend at the Giro was clearly Ivan Basso, the big winners were a trio of Spanish-speaking riders who were almost consistently at or near the front of the race. Colombian Ivan Parra took centre stage with his two victories, while Spaniard Juan Manuel Garate and Venezuelan Jos Rujano both leapt into the top five overall.
Parra's double was the biggest story. "If someone had said to me at the start of the Giro that I would win two stages, I would have responded that they were either mad or drunk. Nobody did say that, but here I am with two stage wins," said the 29-year-old Colombian. "What is happening is like a dream, but I'm keeping my feet on the floor even if they are starting to compare me with my brother Fabio and Lucho Herrera. I know that I am a long way from matching their achievements."
But while Parra has taken most of the glory, Garate and Rujano have taken substantial amounts of time to emerge as realistic contenders for the maglia rosa. The pocket-sized Rujano might have his focus on the mountains competition he currently leads, but the Venezuelan won't find he is given as much leeway now by the overall contenders after gaining more than six minutes on race leader Paolo Savoldelli in two days. He is now just 2-18 down in fifth place.
Former Lampre pro Garate regained most of his previous losses as well, recouping four and a half minutes over the course of the weekend to end it 2-11 down on Savoldelli. Tenth last year at the Giro and fourth in 2002 during that five-year stint with Lampre, Garate had two very different stages over the weekend from the tactical point of view.
"Yesterday I didn't attack from a long way out like I had on Saturday," the Saunier Duval rider told AS. "Instead I stuck with the main contenders. I felt good from the start, but I could see on the Stelvio that Basso was suffering. I said to [Lampre's] Patxi Vila: 'That guy's going to lose 20 minutes.' In the end it was a lot more."
The Spaniard's hope is to finish on the podium, but admits that he has to be realistic about his chances. "I am battling for the podium with Gilberto Simoni, who's won the Giro twice, with Paolo Savoldelli, who has won it once, and with Danilo Di Luca, who is the best rider in the world this year."
The weekend was less good for another Spaniard, Joseba Beloki, who abandoned during Saturday's stage saying that he was "spent". Beloki told Marca that "from the very beginning of the race I've had problems. I couldn't hide how miserable I was feeling. Now it's back home to recuperate and prepare for the Tour de France."
Liberty Seguros team boss Manolo Saiz cast doubt over Beloki's Tour participation, however. "There's little time left before the Tour and he will have to push himself over those weeks to be in form. It's possible that he will ride the Tour of Switzerland to see how he is for the Tour."
Beloki's difficulties, though, pale when compared to those of Davitamon-Lotto's Mauricio Ardila, who discovered on Saturday that his step-father had been shot and killed in Colombia. Ardila, whose natural father died when he was 12, stayed in the race on Sunday.
PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM