PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
The toughest day of racing so far in this year's Giro d'Italia ended in victory for Cofidis's Rik Verbrugghe at the end of the longest stage of the race. The Belgian, who finished ninth in the 2002 Giro, has seldom hit those heights since, but produced a courageous ride to hang on up the seemingly endless final climb in Saltara as the main favourites closed in behind.
Verbrugghe was so spent when he crossed the line that there didn't appear to be any victory celebration at all, just the hint of a smile as he weaved into the finish area and was hastily grabbed by a Cofidis soigneur. Verbrugghe made his solo break just five kilometres from the finish as the advantage held by a five-man lead group also containing Juan Manuel Garate (Quick Step), Victor Hugo Pe¤a (Phonak), Manuele Mori (Saunier Duval) and Patxi Vila (Lampre) was being rapidly closed down. All the other four riders were caught before the finish.
While Verbrugghe was still being helped away, the race's likely contenders were taking the opportunity to test seriously each other for the first time. Two climbs before the steep haul up to the finish, a frighteningly fast pace was set by Damiano Cunego's Lampre team, notably by Marzio Bruseghin, Tadej Valjavec and Sylvester Szymd.
Of the main contenders Liquigas's Danilo Di Luca struggled the most, falling back on the climb of Monte delle Cesane with 40km remaining, and failing to stop a repeat performance on the two smaller climbs close to the finish, which both featured very steep ramps.
Looking significantly better than Di Luca were prologue winner Paolo Savoldelli, who took 12 very useful bonus seconds for second place, Ivan Basso, who came in three seconds down on Savoldelli, and Gilberto Simoni, who was just behind Basso. Cunego, though, slipped away slightly in the final few hundred metres, coming in six seconds down on Savoldelli after all of his team's hard work. In the end, Di Luca lost 20 seconds to the Discovery Channel team leader.
The overall lead was always likely to slip from the grasp of T-Mobile sprinter Olaf Pollack on such a finish, but the German team hung on to it as seventh place for Serhiy Honchar proved just enough for him to retake the maglia rosa after losing it for a day to his team-mate. There was more good news for the T-Mobile as Jan Ullrich stayed with the pace for most of the day, and came in just 1-03 down and right on the wheel of Jos Rujano, another of the day's big losers.
Tomorrow the stakes increase even further for the overall contenders with the first summit finish on the Passo Lanciano. This is in Di Luca's backyard and is one of his training roads, so he won't lack for roadside support. But on today's performance it looks like the Liquigas leader may have erred in putting all of his focus this year on the Giro.
Stage 7, Cesena-Saltara
1 Rik Verbrugghe (Bel) Cofidis 236km in 6.42.15 (35.20kph)
2 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel 0.14
3 Luca Mazzanti (Ita) Panaria
4 Jos Enrique Gutierrez (Spa) Phonak
5 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 0.16
6 Ivan Basso (Ita) CSC
7 Serhiy Honchar (Ukr) T-Mobile
8 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saunier Duval
9 Laurent Lefvre (Fra) Bouygues Telecom 0.20
10 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Liberty Seguros
11 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre
17 Tom Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel 0.29
22 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas 0.34
1 Serhiy Honchar (Ukr) T-Mobile 27.37.07
2 Savoldelli 0.06
3 Basso 0.11
4 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile 0.32
5 Rebellin 0.54
6 Jos Luis Rubiera (Spa) Discovery Channel 0.56
7 Danielson 0.57
8 Gutierrez 1.03
9 Di Luca 1.07
10 Jens Voigt (Ger) CSC 1.09
11 Cunego 1.21
20 Simoni 1.56
22 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile 2.07
PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM