PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
The mountains are looming, so today's stage across the flatlands from Ravenna to Rossano Veneto was probably the last chance for a few days for the sprinters to have centre stage. If so, they served up a superb finish, with Robbie McEwen beating Alessandro Petacchi by a tyre's width for his third stage win. Stuary O'Grady and Erik Zabel were within a metre or so as well in what was certainly the tightest sprint of the race so far.
It came at the end of an incident-filled day that started with the riders on a go-slow in protest at what they felt was a dangerous finishing circuit in Rossano Veneto. Gilberto Simoni, Marco Pinotti and Guido Trentin led the protests, and race director Mauro Vegni responded by declaring the race neutralised once it reached the finishing circuit. This meant the race would still be contested as normal, but that splits that occurred on the circuit would not be taken into account at the finish.
As that incident was cleared up, news came through of a foot of snow falling on the Passo dello Stelvio, the main feature of Sunday's stage. Although the forecast for the next few days is good, the Giro's organisers are already preparing an alternative route via the Passo del Fuorn, slightly to the north and 600 metres lower than the Stelvio.
While Selle Italia's Raffaele Illiano got into his stride with a lone effort through rain showers blowing across the Veneto, news also came through of a road accident involving Cofidis team doctor David Riabi, who was involved in a head-on collision with a truck while driving to the finish. Riabi had to be cut from the wreckage of his car and was given a blood transfusion at the scene, but isn't in a life-threatening condition.
Back at the race, Illiano was reeled in 30km from home, and Cofidis kept the pace high at the front of the bunch. At one point this worked against Ivan Basso, who went down the wrong side of a road junction and ended up on a grass traffic island. Delayed by the incident, Basso was eventually helped back into the pack with the help of all of his team-mates.
The three laps of the finishing straight proved just as dicey as the riders had imagined. Fassa Bortolo attempted to take control of the closing kilometres in their usual fashion, but never really had a total grip. Rival lines kept forming alongside theirs as other teams persisted with the tactic of not allowing Fassa to dominate coming into finishes.
Petacchi's team seemed to have sorted themselves out in the final kilometre. But when the last man peeled away and Petacchi began his sprint McEwen was right on his wheel. The Australian moved up quickly on the Italian's right, and both threw their bikes at the line. Neither celebrated, but the photo finish quickly revealed McEwen had sneaked the win.
Thursday's stage takes the race over the Cereda and Duran climbs, before finishing at the Zoldo Alto ski resort. Damiano Cunego and Gilberto Simoni have promised to attack, so Basso will have to make sure he stays on course.
Stage 10, Ravenna-Rossano Veneto
1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 201.6km in 5.29.21 (36.73kph)
2 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Fassa Bortolo
3 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis
4 Erik Zabel (Ger) T-Mobile
5 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step
6 Isaac Galvez (Spa) Illes Balears
7 Robert Forster (Ger) Gerolsteiner
8 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Quick Step
9 Aurlien Clerc (Swi) Phonak
10 Mirco Lorenzetto (Ita) Domina Vacanze
1 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 44.51.40
2 Ivan Basso (Ita) CSC 0.09
3 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel 0.35
4 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Caffita 1.15
5 Dario Cioni (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 1.27
6 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 1.35
7 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 1.38
8 Serhiy Honchar (Ukr) Domina Vacanze 1.39
9 Markus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner 2.10
10 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Lampre-Caffita 2.11
PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM