Despite the predictions of Lampre’s leaders, it’s Paolo Savoldelli and Ivan Basso who take charge at
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Lampre-Caffita duo Gilberto Simoni and Damiano Cunego predicted attacks on today’s first big mountain stage of the Giro, but it is not likely that either of them were thinking that they would be among the main losers once the main moves of the day had been played out. Although Simoni did manage the leap up the standings he had been hoping for, he was not able to stay with Paolo Savoldelli and Ivan Basso on the final climb to the Zoldo Alto, where the Discovery Channel rider won a closely fought sprint for the stage win, but the CSC team leader received ample compensation in the shape of his first ever pink jersey.
Ironically, the first serious attack from the maglia rosa group was launched by Simoni on the extremely tough Duran climb that preceded the ascent to Zoldo Alto. It was more of a tester than a full-on attempt to get clear, but it was enough to see Cunego slip out of contention after Basso, Savoldelli, race leader Danilo Di Luca and a number of others had responded.
For a while no one seemed to know what to do with Cunego and also Stefano Garzelli absent, and there was a great deal of looking around and half-hearted pace-making. Eventually, Basso, going very much against his instincts up to now, went to the front and started to set a fierce pace. Riders fell away from the Basso-led front group until only Simoni remained as they went over the top of the Duran.
Savoldelli and the plucky Di Luca were not far behind, though, and the Discovery rider displayed his famed descending skills to their fullest extent. The drop from the Duran led straight onto the final climb, and Savoldelli was on his own with a gap of 200 metres as Basso, Simoni and Di Luca started to climb towards the finish.
Basso made a huge effort to get back up to Savoldelli, and this saw off Di Luca for the last time. Simoni too was struggling. The 2003 race winner kept falling back and then forcing himself back up to the two leaders, but eventually slipped back for good as well.
The two leaders had shared the pace-making in an effort to see off Di Luca and Simoni, but with Basso doing the lion’s share of it. The CSC rider kept pushing all the way to the line to gain as much time on those dropped as he could, but somehow found the strength to make Savoldelli work very hard for his third stage win at the Giro.
Simoni finished 21 seconds behind them to jump to fourth place overall behind Di Luca, but Lampre now need a major rethink if one of their stars – and surely it now has to be Simoni – can hang on to the Giro title.
The outstanding performance behind this group was delivered by 25-year-old Davitamon-Lotto rider Wim van Huffel, who came in sixth just a couple of minutes down on the leaders. This is his first season with a major team and clearly he’s much more than the Classics rider he has been billed as.
Friday’s stage to Rovereto features the climb of the San Pellegrino pass, but that comes early in the day and from there it is a pretty straightforward run down to the finish. It should at least give Lampre time to collect themselves, with Cunego, who finished six minutes down, admitting that he feels relieved to have been released from the immense pressure that has been placed on him.
Stage 11, Marostica-Zoldo Alto
1 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel 150km in 4.13.43 (35.47kph)
2 Ivan Basso (Ita) CSC
3 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Lampre-Caffita 0.21
4 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 1.01
5 Daniel Atienza (Spa) Cofidis 1.50
6 Wim van Huffel (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto 2.03
7 Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Crdit Agricole
8 Serhiy Honchar (Ukr) Domina Vacanze
9 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Liberty Seguros 2.17
10 Jos Rujano (Ven) Selle Italia 2.19
17 Dario Cioni (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 3.55
27 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Caffita 6.02
32 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi
45 Charly Wegelius (GB) Liquigas-Bianchi 6.26
159 Bradley Wiggins (GB) Crdit Agricole 32.05
1 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC 49.05.20
2 Savoldelli 0.18
3 Di Luca 1.04
4 Simoni 2.27
5 Honchar 3.45
6 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 4.34
7 Scarponi 4.48
8 Cioni 5.25
9 Emanuele Sella (Ita) Panaria 5.58
10 Markus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner 6.10
16 Cunego 7.20
17 Garzelli 7.40
58 Wegelius 28.00
133 Wiggins 1.08.38