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Post Stage Analysis

Stage 5 post-race analysis - No Place to Hide: Denis Menchov Wins on the Alpe di Siusi
Danilo Diluca Wears Pink

Ivan Basso drove the pace on the top half of Alpe di Siusi
9 Big Photos from Stage 5sirotti

May 13 update: The high mountains have a way of stripping away the façade of bravado and separating the strong from the hopeful. As expected, today's final climb, the 25 kilometer Alpe di Siusi, created a selection among the riders for the general classification, though perhaps not a decisive one. Stage races are often a battle of inches, each incremental advance adding up to final victory. So it was with today's race, as a few riders dropped out of contention for the general classification, but many remain very closely matched indeed.

At the base of the final climb of the day, an early break dating from the Passo Rolle, still held on, just 2:00 up the road. Thomas Voeckler of Bbox Bouygues, Eros Capecchi of Fuji-Servetto, Giovanni Visconti of ISD-Neri, José Serpa and Carlos José Ochoa of Diquigiovanni-Androni, Francesco Gavazzi, and Daniele Pietropolli of LPR Brakes comprised today's early - and doomed - breakaway. The two riders for Diquigiovanni-Androni were looking for mountain points (Ochoa took the points on the Passo Rolle), but their presence in the break also took the pressure off the team to help with the pace-making in the main field. As the break hit the Alpe di Siusi, Gavazzi slipped off the back, leaving the five to continue without him. Grimacing and fighting his bike, Thomas Voeckler yo-yo'ed off the back of the break several times. Always the character is M. Voeckler.

Behind the break, Liquigas-Doimo, the team of Ivan Basso and Franco Pellizotti, went to work on the front of the main field. All of the race favorites remained in the group, including the maglia rosa, Thomas Lövkvist of Columbia-High Road. The numbers began to dwindle steadily, beginning with the sprinters calling "grupetto" at the back. With 19 kilometers to ride, Basso and Pellizotti could count four team-mates for help, and Kjell Carlstrom set tempo in the early kilometers.

After approximately 2 kilometers of climbing, the climb flattened out. Liquigas-Doimo kept up their relentless pace through the approximately 5 kilometers of false flat. The break still held just over a minute in hand, but their days were clearly numbered. Just as the hard climbing re-started, at approximately 10 kilometers to go, the Liquigas-Doimo led group of favorites caught the break. Immediately, a counter-attack came from Barloworld's Giampaolo Cheula. Dries Devenyns of QuickStep joined him, but their attack proved no match for the Liquigas tempo. Pedaling squares, Cheula slipped back into the main field, and soon, out the back.

Inside 8 kilometers to go, Sywester Szmyd of Liquigas steadily turned the screws as the gradient steepened. Suffering ensued. Former Giro winner Stefano Garzelli could not hold the pace, and dropped off the back. At 6 kilometers to go, the gradient steepened up to 9%, but still Szmyd, the gregario deluxe for Ivan Basso, continued his torrid pace. The 2004 Giro winner, Damiano Cunego, also found the tempo too much, and dropped off the back just outside 5 kilometers to the finish. In a nasty bit of irony, Cunego and Szymd were team-mates at Lampre-Ngc last season. Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong dropped off, too, and rode his own tempo to the line with three team-mates.

Just outside 4 kilometers to go, Ivan Basso decided to take matters in hand. Basso does not have the attacking speed of Diluca, but he can ride a hard, sustained tempo in the high mountains. Basso's effort was enough to distance his team-mate and co-captain Franco Pellizotti and local boy Gilberto Simoni. Inside 4 kilometers to go, only seven riders remained at the front: Basso, PInk Jersey Lövkvist, Chris Horner, Levi Leipheimer, Carlos Sastre, and Denis Menchov. Still, Basso rode a furious tempo on the front.

Inside the final kilometer, Diluca took over the pace-making, hoping to gain the 2 seconds he needed to take over the race lead. Carlos Sastre then made an early bid to take the stage win. The Spanish rider, who won last year's Tour de France, had sat quietly at the back of the group on the way up the climb. A seasoned grand tour rider, Sastre never wastes a pedal stroke. Russian Denis Menchov quickly jumped on Sastre's move, making the catch, and redoubling his speed. Glued to Menchov's wheel, Diluca tried to come around, but could not match the strength of the Russian. Still, Diluca gained enough time on the road and with the time bonus to take over the race lead of Lövkvist, who finished in third 5 seconds behind, in a brilliant display of defiance. Menchov wins his first ever Giro stage, today, on the Alpe di Siusi.

Behind the front group, the field blew apart, and riders finished in groups of ones and twos. Gilberto Simoni, Franco Pellizotti and Juan Mauricio Soler finished together, 47 seconds down. The top finisher for Garmin-Slipstream, Bradley Wiggins, finished 1.46 down. Wiggins is showing some good form this Giro in the mountains so far.

Catching up with the General Classification

Though happy to pull on the Maglia Rosa of race leader, Danilo Diluca is not celebrating too soon. He believes this Giro will be very difficult to win. "We were all there at the front, and that shows that it will be very difficult to win this Giro," he said after the stage. Diluca believes he has the same form as 2007, when he last won the Giro. "I am going to try to hang on to this jersey, then we will see who succeeds at the crono [at Cinque Terre]," Diluca explained. He named today's stage winner Denis Menchov as a dangerous rival, saying that the Russian is "the most difficult rider to drop, as he is well prepared and the course suits him."

Ivan Basso showed today that he is also clearly on form. Franco Pellizotti, who began the race as co-captain, will likely ride in Basso's service, adding to the overall strength of the Liquigas-Doimo team. But Basso will need to attack if he wants to win. His steady turning of the screws on the mountain passes will not gain him the time he needs to wear pink in Roma. Still, today was quite the show of force, a sign that the 2006 Giro d'Italia winner is back on form and ranks among the favorites for the overall victory. Basso is currently 6th in the general classification, 1.06 behind Diluca.

American Levi Leipheimer, who finished comfortably in the front group called the final climb of the day very hard. Interviewed after the stage, a breathless Leipheimer marveled at the speed of Menchov and Diluca at the finish. "Diluca and Menchov, they go so fast. I can't jump like Diluca, he is very explosive," commented the American, who has previously finished on the podium at the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España. Leipheimer also noted the strength of Ivan Basso, who led the group of favorites for much of the final climb. Liepheimer is currently 4th in the general classification 43 seconds behind Danilo Diluca. His team-mate, American Chris Horner who also finished with the front group, is 8th at 1.17 in the general classification.

As for Lance Armstrong, he told Alessandro De Stefano that he is still riding into form. He called the Alpe di Siusi "a hard climb," and said he was "very tired." He rode his own tempo, and tried to limit his losses. "Two minutes, or three, it's okay. The first half is not my half, I have to ride into the race," he explained. "I can't expect to be at the front," the seven-time Tour winner concluded. Armstrong currently sits 22nd in the general classification, at 3.34. Three team-mates escorted him to the finish of the final climb of the day.

It was also a rough day for Damiano Cunego, who won the Giro in 2004. The Italian dropped off the group of favorites relatively early, and conceded 2.39 at the finish. Cunego currently sits 21st, 3.39 down, in the general classification, and faces a difficult battle if he wants to finish on the podium in Roma. The mountains should be Cunego's choice terrain, but today, he suffered a "giorno no" on the final climb of the Alpe di Siusi and fell rapidly down the standings. Che delusione, what disappointment. He will hope for brighter days in the coming stages.

Other Jerseys. Diluca also leads the mountains classification, though Menchov will wear the jersey tomorrow. Alessandro Petacchi still holds the points lead, but Diluca is closing fast, just 3 points behind. In the young riders classification, Thomas Lövkvist leads Kevin Seeldrayers of Quick-Step by 2.44.

Looking Forward: Breakaway Time

Tomorrow's stage 6 covers mountainous terrain and crosses into Austria. I would expect a breakaway including riders who aren't involved in the battle for the general classification to go early, perhaps on the climb to the Felbertauern tunnel, which is long, but not especially hard. The final climb of the day, the Hochkrimml is a "real climb," but it likely comes too far from the finish to put it in play for the general classification. The finish comes after the descent from the Hochkrimml, and is flat at the line.

After previewing the course today, Paolo Bettini, now retired, called the final climb too difficult for the sprinters. As a result, the general classification teams will carry the burden of controling this stage. With some riders already more than 10 minutes down in the overall standings, it should be easy enough to allow the right break to go up the road. Look for the smaller teams without general classification riders to have a go. ISD-Neri, Fuji-Servetto, Garmin-Slipstream, Bbox Bouygues, and Acqua e Saponi are all likely candidates here.

This stage is also a good opportunity for the riders chasing the King of the Mountains classification to ride the break and scoop up the points on the Felbertauern and the Hochkrimml. Carlos José Ochoa of Diquigiovanni-Androni took the points today on the Passo Rolle, and might be a likely candidate to ride the break again tomorrow.

Course Preview

Stage 5: San Martino di Castrozza-Alpe di Siusi
Date: Wednesday, 13 May
Distance: 125 km.
Terrain: Mountainous. Mountain-top finish!
GC Importance: Another chance for the climbers. The stage is short, but bad legs could spell doom for a GC hopeful in terrain like this.

Passo Rolle 8.2km, 474m, avg. gradient 5.8%, max. 9%
Alpe di Siusi 25km, 1513m, avg. gradient 6.1%, max. 11%

Another day of climbing awaits the bunch for Stage 5, the second day in the mountains. The course travels through Trentino and the South Tirol regions, in the far North of Italy near the borders with Austria and Switzerland. This is ski town and vineyard country in the main. The terrain is mountainous, with deep glacier cut valleys, thickly forested mountainsides, and all around the crenellated peaks of the Italian Alps.

The Dolomiti stages come early in the race this year, and it is unlikely that these stages will decide the Giro. But certainly, they will matter. A bad day in the high mountains may not end the hopes of a rider hoping to wear the maglia rosa in Roma, but it will complicate his chances significantly.

Profile Details. The profile for Stage 5 traces out a lopsided grin, with a short climb, long descent, and long finishing climb. The stage begins where the previous day left off in the ski town of San Martino di Castrozza. The riders face a rude awakening: it’s an uphill start over the Passo Rolle.

Passo Rolle. The total elevation at the peak is 1972 meters. On either side of the Passo stand the serrated peaks of the Cimon della Pala at 3186 meters in elevation and the Vezzana at 3192. The Passo Rolle lasts 8.2 kilometers, climbs 474 meters, and has an average gradient of 5.8%. The maximum gradient is 9%. Just another day in the Dolomiti.

After crossing the summit of the Passo Rolle, the riders will enjoy the lengthy descent, assuming the weather is good. The course follows a mostly downhill trace for the next 70 kilometers, through the alpine forests of Trentino’s high mountains. The Paneveggio natural park covers the upper slopes of the descent near Bellamonte and Predazzo. This also is the neighborhood of some Italy’s most storied climbs, including the Alpe di Pampeago, used in last year’s Giro and the recent Giro del Trentino.

The course follows the drainage lines carved into the mountainsides by the melting snows down into the Val d’Adige. The course reaches its lowest point outside Ora at kilometer 65. The course follows the valley floor, until less than ten kilometers later, a short 200 meter climb interrupts the tranquility. The summit lies just outside vineyard town of Appiano at kilometer 80.

After one last short descent, an uphill false flat covers the next 14 kilometers, and passes through the city of Bolzano in the South Tirol region. Surrounded by mountains, Bolzano sits at the junction of the Talvera and Isarco rivers. Ten kilometers later, the riders will reach the base of the Alpe di Siusi, the stage’s massive 25 kilometer finishing climb.

Alpe di Siusi. This climb is a nasty piece of work: 25km, 1513 meters of elevation gain, 6.1% average gradient, 11% maximum gradient. From Prato all’Isarco, the climb gets off to a steep start: The first 7.5 km have an average gradient of 7.2%. There follows 7 kilometers of much more relaxing road. Rising just 2.1%, this stretch will feel almost flat, and might give a few riders the chance to rejoin the field. Enjoy it while it lasts.

With 10 km to go, the climb ramps up to 7.1%, and the final five kilometers of the stage average 8.1 percent. The maximum gradient of 11% is conveniently located inside the final 3 kilometers, the perfect launch-pad for the pure climbers.

From the top of the Alpe di Siusi spreads out a panorama of mountain peaks, including the Marmolada, the Gruppo del Sella, and the Sassolungo. Enjoy the view, because after finishing on the Alpe di Siusi, the Giro Centenario leaves the Dolomiti behind. This year’s course makes only a brief visit to the “montagne rosa,” the scene of so much Giro history.

Tactics Talk. There isn’t much to say about the tactics of a stage like this. A climber will win this stage. The non-climbers will suffer what they must, and dream of brighter days. Expect Gilberto Simoni and his Diquigiovanni-Androni team to ride aggressively here, since the race passes near his home region of Trentino and into his favorite terrain, the high mountains. It’s possible that the GC teams will allow a break to go up the road for the stage win, but certainly there will be a battle among the big stars on the final climb.

Also see,
Giro '09 Preview: Stage 5 Alpe di Siusipezcyclingnews
Gavia (updates to this preview will be made during the race and especially the day before the stage with current analysis)

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