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After a week of mainly shadow boxing among the leading contenders, the 89th Giro d'Italia came alive with a bang today as Ivan Basso rode away from his rivals on the final climb to the summit of the Passo Lanciano to take the stage and with it the leader's pink jersey. Basso finished a very significant 30 seconds ahead of Damiano Cunego, but greater damage was done to the chances of several other contenders - Gilberto Simoni came in seventh at 1-15, Jos Rujano ninth at 1-50, local hero Danilo Di Luca came in 1-33 down, while Discovery's Paolo Savoldelli lost a huge 2-20.
As race leader Serhiy Honchar trailed in just behind Savoldelli, Basso was quickly confirmed as the new race leader, and his advantage his already large after just the first of five summit finishes. Phonak's Jos Enrique Gutierrez is second overall at 1-34, with Cunego third at 1-48. The Lampre rider was hoping to be no more than three and a half minutes down on Basso and Savoldelli after the Pontedera time trial this coming Thursday, which will require some effort by 'the Little Prince'. Basso now has well over two minutes in hand on Savoldelli and Di Luca, and more than three on Simoni.
While the race is by no means over, Basso and his CSC team have struck a notable psychological blow. Although the Italian and his CSC guard looked strong as they came onto the Lanciano, there was initially no indication of the damage they were about to inflict. A group of 14 riders had spent most of the stage away, but only Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre) and Sylvain Calzati (Ag2r) were still clear on the early slopes of the 12km-long final climb.
Saunier Duval and Liquigas did most of the pace-making early on, with Di Luca keen to make a good impression in front of his fans on a mountain he trains on. Basso then sent two team-mates to the front of the line, which quickly began to stretch and thin out. Honchar slipped back, as did Tom Danielson, and the two leaders were caught and dropped.
When Basso sent Carlos Sastre to the front, the carnage increased. Rujano fell back, then, surprisingly, the hitherto strong-looking Savoldelli. With 5km to go, Di Luca fell away, as Rujano made his way back up and attacked the leaders in typically frenetic style. Gradually, though, Sastre pulled Basso's group up to the Venezuelan.
As they reached Rujano, Cunego made his move, only to find Basso with him. With 4km left, Basso pushed on hard, and Cunego went the way of everyone else. As the CSC leader forged on upwards through the trees, he quickly overturned his deficit on Savoldelli, then on race leader Honchar, and still continued to press for all the time he could gain. Savoldelli's raised eyebrows as he crossed the line told the story. Basso had gained more than anyone was expecting, and his rivals must now hope that he's peaked too early.
Based on what we've seen, however, in the last two editions of the Tour de France, that does seem very unlikely.
Stage 8, Civitanova Marche-Passo Lanciano
1 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC 171km in 4.04.19 (41.99kph)
2 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre 0.30
3 Jos Enrique Gutierrez (Spa) Phonak
4 Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Liberty Seguros 0.45
5 Luca Mazzanti (Ita) Panaria 1.09
6 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) Saunier Duval 1.15
7 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saunier Duval
8 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas 1.32
9 Jos Rujano (Ven) Selle Italia 1.50
10 Julio Alberto Perez Cuapio (Mex) Panaria 1.52
15 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel 2.20
18 Tom Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel 2.25
19 Serhiy Honchar (Ukr) T-Mobile 2.34
95 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile 16.04
1 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC 31.41.17
2 Gutierrez 1.34
3 Cunego 1.48
4 Savoldelli 2.35
5 Honchar 2.43
6 Di Luca 2.48
7 Simoni 3.20
8 Caruso 3.23
9 Danielson 3.31
10 Jos Luis Rubiera (Spa) Discovery Channel 3.39
20 Rujano 5.32
56 Ullrich 18.20
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