PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
MONTE BONDONE - Gilberto Simoni took another important step towards victory in the Giro d'Italia this afternoon. that is in the Giro of the mere mortals, the Giro in which Ivan Basso is but a pink-tinted irrelevance out of sight and out of reach of the 165 riders left in the field.
Yes, Tuesday's summit finish on Monte Bondone served up yet more evidence of Basso's crushing superiority. "Ivan the Terrible" as the Italian press has now predictably dubbed him took his second stage victory of the Giro by an emphatic margin of 1-26 from Simoni. Basso now leads the Giro by 5-24 from Spain's Jose Gutierrez - enough for the CSC captain's main rivals to agree almost unanimously that Basso's overall victory is now a formality.
Simoni said this evening that "Basso can do whatever he wants[...] I tried to attack him but it was useless". Simoni now lies fourth on general classification, 4-10 down on Gutierrez but just 17 seconds from Paolo Savoldelli. Today was another difficult day for the defending champion, who again complained of breathing problems after finishing 12th at 3-27 from Basso.
Damiano Cunego and Danilo di Luca fared even worse. Cunego, again a pale shadow of the champion of 2004, laboured home 4-37 after Basso in 24th position. Di Luca was only 15 seconds quicker. While they were all floundering, Basso continued his majestic ascent up the 17km Bondone.
Eight kilometres from the line, Simoni moved onto Piepoli's wheel and commanded his team-mate to accelerate; the aim was to distance Gutierrez and perhaps also to persuade Basso to let the old dog have his day. But Basso cruised into Simoni's slipstream, stayed with him for just over a kilometre, then pulled away like a train leaving a station. "We tried to attack him but it was useless," Simoni said ruefully this evening. "If we hadn't attacked, maybe we would have been able to stay with him until the summit, but I didn't want to let him have it all his own way. You have to gamble..."
Some suggested that Basso might have bowed to sentiment and licensed a Simoni victory on the Saunier Duval rider's "home mountain". But with Basso adamant that his pink jersey won't be safe until Saturday night, that was never likely to happen. "I'm not a rider who wins a lot, so when I get the chance I have to take it," Basso said. "Winning a stage in the pink jersey doesn't happen every day. Maybe if it had been the last mountain stage and I had the general classification wrapped up, I could have given the stage win as a present. But the Giro's not over..."
This evening, Basso's team manager Bjarne Riis echoed his team leader, calling today's stage a "summit finish but not a real mountain stage". "So far we've had two summit finishes but no mountain stages - stages with several climbs[...] We've seen in the past that the suspense at the Giro lasts right up until the end. We've seen riders in the pink jersey blow apart on the last couple of mountain stages."
1 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC 180km in 4.51.30 (34.58kph)
2 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saunier Duval 1.26
3 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) Saunier Duval 1.37
4 Jos Enrique Gutierrez (Spa) Phonak
5 John Gadret (Fra) Ag2r 2.40
6 Julio Alberto Perez Cuapio (Mex) Panaria 2.45
7 Wladimir Belli (Ita) Selle Italia 3.12
8 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas 3.25
9 Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Liberty Seguros 3.27
10 David Lopez (Spa) Euskaltel