Cool-hand Paolo poised in pink

The Italian press may not think much of his Discovery Channel team but Paolo Savoldelli is confident

The Italian press may not think much of his Discovery Channel team but Paolo Savoldelli is confident
PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM

Paolo Savoldelli is one cool cat. Baby-faced Savoldelli barely cracked a smile on the winner's podium after pipping CSC's Ivan Basso at the line to win stage 11 despite the fact it was his first stage victory since the 2001 Tour de Romandy.

Of course, he won that little race in Italy called the Giro d'Italia, but he did that without winning a stage or anything resembling a team (Remember Index-Alexia?). Now poised for overall victory with just five days left to ride to Milan, Il Falco is putting on his best poker face.

"The pressure is not on me to win," a matter-of-fact Savoldelli told a dozen of Italy's best cycling scribes on Tuesday's final rest day. "Basso and Cunego are the ones who came here with the pressure to win. I feel as strong as I was in 2002. I am tranquill."

The man from Bergamo holds the maglia rosa by the slenderest of margins, some 25 seconds to the ever-surprising Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas-Bianchi) and 1-48 to two-time champion Gilberto Simoni (Lampre-Caffita). Savoldelli shrugged off events on Sunday when he couldn't follow the attacking Simoni, Di Luca and Juan Manuel Garate (Saunier Duval) on the Passo di Foscagno at the tail-end of the 210km epic over the Stelvio.

"I had some cramps, which is something normal after a stage that long and difficult," he said. "It's been awhile since I've raced this long, but I will say it again; I keep feeling better and better."

The 32 year old knows three decisive stages nestled around Turin will decide the fate of the 88th Giro. With Di Luca and Simoni breathing down his neck, nothing's assured until Sunday's finale in Milan, but he's sounding confident despite not really wanting to.

"Those are the two I rate as the biggest threats," Savoldelli continued. "Di Luca is pedaling the best right now, which is surprising considering he's been going strong since the spring Classics. Simoni is a climber and this is a climber's course, so he demands respect because he's such an experienced rider who knows what it takes to win the Giro."

Savoldelli defended his beleaguered boys in blue at Discovery Channel, who are getting a lot of flack from the Italian media as being unworthy of the 2002 Giro champion. Discovery might not have brought a powerhouse team on par with what Lance Armstrong sees at the Tour de France or even Roberto Heras received during the Vuelta a Espa¤a, but Savoldelli insists his Disco boys are doing work where it's not seen.

"I've got a great team on the flats. We had Danielson, who was very strong after winning the Tour de Georgia and was sure to help me in the mountains, but he had a problem with his knee," he continued. "This team is motivated to help me, but of course once you get to the steepest climbs, it's simply every man for himself."

Savoldelli admitted the early demise of Basso's chances count as a point against him. Had Basso not blown up, CSC manager Bjarne Riis would have marshaled his formidable troops at the front of the peloton, providing Savoldelli with some refuge. As it stands now, Savoldelli will be admittedly outgunned against Lampre-Caffita and Liquigas-Bianchi in the decisive final shoot-out.

"I know the attacks will come," he said. "But I have the benefit of being in the lead and they have to attack me. The big card in my favour is the Turin time trial. I always do well in the final time trial of a three-week tour and I think I will be able to make up some time."
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