If there was ever any doubt that Ivan Basso is the closest thing cycling can currently offer to a ne
Basso romped to his third stage win of the race and with it extended what can now be considered his margin of overall victory in Giro to over nine minutes. But it was the manner of the victory which invited comparisons with Armstrong. Basso was well aware that when Gilberto Simoni likened him to an “extra-terrestrial” in Aprica this evening it wasn’t intended to flatter him – just as French newspaper L’Equipe wasn’t praising Armstrong when it used to claim the American was “on another planet”. Simoni was incensed that Basso had dropped him 4km from the finish-line in Aprica after the two had moved clear on the Mortirolo. Basso was reluctant to dwell on the matter tonight, but his eyes narrowed visibly as he heard Simoni accuse him of betrayal in a post-race interview. Meanwhile, Simoni was left ruing not only Basso’s tactics but also Jose Gutierrez’s astounding resilience. The Spaniard crossed the line 1-34 behind Simoni but easily secured his second-place overall on general classification. Basso will nonetheless claim overall victory tomorrow by 9-18 – the biggest margin in a Giro since Vittorio Adorni’s 11-26 in 1965. Simoni will wrap up third-place (11-59 from Basso), Damiano Cunego fourth (18-16) and Paolo Savoldelli fifth (19-22). As widely predicted, Basso and Simoni made their decisive move on the Mortirolo – at 12.8km long and climbing at 10.3 per cent the most feared climb of the Giro. A blistering acceleration from Basso finally dislodged Jose Gutierrez and Damiano Cunego from a group already whittled down to five men after three kilometres of the Mortirolo. Leonardo Piepoli also dropped back as Simoni strained to stay in Basso’s slipstream. Basso and Simoni remained together on the descent off the Mortirolo while, behind, Paolo Savoldelli made a vain last-ditch bid to save his fourth-place overall. Savoldelli, known as the Falcon by virtue of his descending skills, would gain around half a minute on Cunego on the 17km-drop off the Mortirolo. Simoni and Basso dovetailed perfectly for 10km as the road crept up towards the finish-line in Aprica. While Simoni looked the more tired, it seemed likely that Basso would gift the veteran climber his first stage win of the Giro. That illusion ended when a subtle acceleration from Basso was enough to take him clear with 4km to go. A dejected Simoni would eventually trail home 1-17 after Basso. The first significant attack of the day had come beyond the summit of the Passo del Tonale from Sylvain Calzati and Marzio Bruseghin. They were later joined by Jose Luis Rubiera, before another flurry of counter-attacks on the 2618m Passo del Gavia – the Cima Coppi of this year’s Giro. Jose Serpa had notably tried to offset his Selle Italia team’s disappointment at Wladimir Belli’s exit from the Giro with a short-lived attack in sight of the Gavia summit. Serpa was soon swallowed up by a CSC-driven peloton in the valley between the Gavia and the Mortirolo. Belli had called a halt to his Giro and also his career 57km into today’s 211km stage. The 35 year-old Selle Italia rider had been lying 9th on general classification overnight, but eventually had to yield to the muscle spasms in his left thigh which had blighted him for almost a week. Belli told procycling on Thursday that he intended to call it quits after the Giro through “lack of motivation to carry on”. Asked about his future career, the Swiss-born Italian revealed that he has been collaborating with designers of a new, cycling-related fitness device set to be unveiled next week. Belli was three times a top ten finisher at the Giro and placed ninth at the 1999 Tour de France. Basso’s glory days may of course be only just beginning. Tomorrow’s 140km stage from the Museo del Ghisallo to Milan will be a victory procession which perhaps only Simoni will begrudge the man who has dominated this Giro from start to finish.