The three-week run of the Italian soap opera — the Giro d' Italia — ended on Sunday.
Casual viewers will note that Italian Paolo Savoldelli of Discovery Channel's Pro Cycling Team won the overall race, and Alessandro Petacchi took the final 74-mile stage from Albese con Cassano to Milan.
But there's another aspect to three-week bicycle race across Italy. When OLN commentator Bob Roll, himself a former Euro cyclist, spoke at the Seattle bike show this winter, he talked about how these Grand Tours are like mini-soap operas. “As the Wheel Turns” certainly filled the bill this year.
For instance, Lampre-Caffita started the race with two former Giro winners — Damiano Cunego and Gilberto Simoni – but neither was the team designated leader. It would just work itself out on the road. (It did. Simoni took control on the mountains and worked himself up to second place.)
In an early sprint, Paolo Bettini sends Baden Cooke crashing into the barriers at the finish line. At first Bettini says nothing happened, then he says his chain slipped. Bettini's win is DQ'ed that day. He retains the leader's pink jersey and in protest he pours out the champagne on the podium, instead of spraying the crowd. Bettini and Cooke stop talking to each other.
Sprinter Alessandro Petacchi, known as the Ale-Jet, brings his Fassa Bortolo team to the Giro to lead him into sprint wins. (He won 9 last year.) Bettini and Robbie McEwen use his team better, as they beat him to the line. In one finish, his lead-out group drives head-long into the barricades. The team finally gets it right, and Petacchi picks up four victories, including the final one.
CSC's Ivan Basso, who arrived as a favorite to win the Giro, holds onto the pink jersey for two days, but suffers a debilitating stomach ailment on the mountainous 13th and 14th stages. In two days he drops to 36th place, 39 minutes behind the leader. With his eyes on the Tour de France, Basso stays in the race and goes on to win a mountainous stage a week later followed by the individual time trial.
Danilo Di Luca wins an early stage which catapults him into the pink jersey for five days. He loses it to Basso, but is never far from the top. In the penultimate stage, Di Luca leads Simoni and Jose Rujano Guillen up and over the monster Colle della Finestre, a 12-mile, 9.2% climb that ends in five miles of gravel. Di Luca's efforts put Simoni in the pink jersery for awhile, but also causes him to cramp up on the downhill. He never catches up again, and finishes in fourth overall, just missing a podium finish.
Although Lance Armstrong sits out the Giro to prepare for the Tour de France, he pays a surprise visit to the Disco team. He warns Savoldelli not to take the pink jersey too soon. Savoldelli, who's won this race in 2002, takes the pink 7 days from the finish and hangs on to the end. Savoldelli does it without much help from the Discovery team, which is absent from the front on all the major climbs.
Just for the record, Savoldelli wins his second Giro; two-time winner Simoni finishes 28 seconds behind in second place; Rujano Guillen finishes 45 seconds behind in third. Just off the podium is Di Luca, two minutes and 42 second behind the winner.
Over at the very informative Tour de France 2005 site, not the “official site” but a blog with lots of racing news, it's noted that the ProTour “kicked the race up a notch,” as participation by all 20 teams “led to one of the most exciting and competitive Italian tours of the last 10 years.” I'd have to agree. I just wish the race had been broadcast daily on OLN as in previous years.