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It should have been the dramatic high point of a relentlessly difficult and exciting Giro. Instead, Wednesday's stage 17 of the Giro was sabotaged by bad weather and served only as the umpteenth illustration of Ivan Basso's total command over this race with four stages to go.
Basso allowed Leonardo Piepoli to edge ahead of him and take his second stage of the race on a frozen Passo della Furcia on Wednesday, but the most significant development of the day had come three hours earlier. That was when the race jury announced that the eagerly-anticipated final five kilometres of stage 17 had been cut from the route due to inclement weather. The Passo delle Erbe, the 30km climb due to precede the final ascent to Plan de Corones, had already been scratched from the route earlier in the stage.
This left Basso and his would-be challengers facing a stage only slightly reduced in distance but radically watered down in terms of difficulty. But even reduced to 11km, the final climb was still long and steep enough to cost Paolo Savoldelli the third place he held on general classification. Gilberto Simoni now occupies that position despite having lost ground to Jos Enrique Gutierrez in the race for second place behind Basso.
Gutierrez finished today's stage in third place, just 15 seconds behind Basso and Piepoli. Behind him, Franco Pellizotti's fortunes continued to contrast starkly with those of Liquigas team-mate Danilo Di Luca: Pellizotti finished fourth to move up to fifth overall; Di Luca came in 40th to slide to 13th. "I was riding well today and when I saw Basso's group up the road, I just maintained my pace and caught them. Then they attacked again and I got dropped, but I'm looking forward to the big stages this weekend," Pellizotti said.
But the most contentious issue this evening remained the course change itself. Few questioned the wisdom of the decision, but some raised eyebrows at how it was made. Paolo Bettini said that Giro chief Angelo Zomegnan had "shown himself to be an exceptional person by listening to the peloton" but claimed that race director Mauro Vegni had accused the riders of shirking when they aired concerns about the weather conditions this morning. "Vegni said 'You cyclists never want to ride'," Bettini told journalists at the finish-line.
While not as severe as Vegni, CSC boss Bjarne Riis didn't sympathise with Bettini and his negotiating tactics. "The riders should keep quiet and do what their directeur sportifs tell them," Riis commented. "We trust the UCI and the race directors to make the right decision. If the riders get involved, there's a danger that they'll manipulate the situation because all of the teams have different interests."
Riis was more sanguine about Basso's lead 5-43 on general classification, admitting that "only crashes or illness can stop Ivan winning now." Reflecting on yet another disappointing day for Basso's rivals, the Dane admitted "Ivan is riding to a Tour de France standard and the others simply are not."
1 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) Saunier Duval-Prodir 121km in 3.21.26 (34.25kph)
2 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC
3 Jos Enrique Gutierrez (Spa) Phonak 0.15
4 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas 0.19
5 Julio Alberto Perez Cuapio (Mex) Panaria 0.28
6 John Gadret (Fra) Ag2r 0.37
7 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre 0.41
8 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saunier Duval 0.48
9 Sergio Ghisalberti (Ita) Milram 0.58
10 Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Liberty Seguros
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