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Post Stage Analysis

Menchov Goes Big: Menchov takes stage win and jersey, still an open Giro

9 Big Photos from Stage 12sirotti

Russian Denis Menchov of Rabobank won the long time trial of the Giro Centenario and took the overall lead in the general classification. Today marked Menchov's second stage win of this year's Giro d'Italia, after he won the mountain stage finishing at the Alpe di Siusi. Menchov becomes the first Russian to wear the Pink Jersey since Pavel Tonkov twelve years ago. The general classification remains close, with Danilo Diluca of LPR Brakes sitting 34 seconds behind Menchov. Levi Leipheimer of Astana is currently third at 40 seconds down. With over a week of riding to go, including three mountain top finishes, this Giro Centenario remains an open race.

For much of the day, Stefano Garzelli Acqua e Sapone held the fastest time of the day. Garzelli, who won the Giro d'Italia in 2000, fell out of contention for the general classification on the Alpe di Siusi, but clearly brought good form to this Giro. He has tried on several occasions for stage wins, and currently leads the mountains classification. For a while today, it looked like he would take out a big stage win in Cinque Terre.

As the general classification riders passed through the time checks, Garzelli's time held. American Levi Leipheimer offered the first serious challenge to the Italian, passing through the first time check on the Passo Bracco 40 seconds ahead of Garzelli's time. Leipheimer continued to hold his advantage through the time check at Levanto. At the top of the Passo Termine, the final climb of the day, Leipheimer rode 30 seconds ahead of Garzelli's time.

But behind Leipheimer, Menchov rode a scorching pace. Over the Passo Bracco, Menchov had an 18 second advantage over Leipheimer and nearly a minute on Garzelli. Though Menchov lost some of his advantage on the technical descent off the Bracco, he more than made up for it on the Passo Termine. Summiting the final climb of the day, Menchov surpassed the American's time by 34 seconds. With only a descent and short climb to the finish, it was clear that Menchov had ridden to the stage victory. The Rabobank rider dedicated his victory to Pedro Horillo, his team-mate who crashed badly on the descent off the Culmine di San Pietro.

Still, there remained the battle for the Maglia Rosa, and as race leader, Danilo Diluca started last. The race leader went well on the Passo Bracco and railed the technical descent. Bike handling is one of Diluca's great strengths and he showed it on the twisty roads to Cinque Terre. Through the second time check, Diluca trailed Menchov by 46 seconds, which gave him a 20 second lead in the general classification. But on the final climb of the day the Passo Termine, Diluca began to tire. As he summited the climb, Diluca trailed Menchov by 1:46, which put the Russian in Pink by about 20 seconds. (I was told there would be no math.) Despite taking every possible risk on the final descent, Diluca could not match the huge ride by the talented Russian.

Diluca now sits 34 seconds behind Menchov in the general classification, and certainly remains in the race for the general classification. After the stage, Diluca said that he will try to win the Pink Jersey back "as soon as possible." Saturday's stage finish in San Luca should suit his style, and he may indeed take the race lead back right then and there. Diluca was "content" with his ride, saying "I have defended very well." "Everything is possible, the Giro begins again today," concluded the crafty rider from LPR Brakes.

American Levi Leipheimer of Astana is also well-placed in the general classification after his strong ride today. The American finished second on the stage just 20 seconds behind Menchov. Like the Russian, Leipheimer gained his advantage on the climbs, especially the steep Passo Termine. The Astana rider is now 40 seconds behind Menchov in the general classification. Leipheimer rode well in the first week's mountain stages and can count on strong team support as the Giro heads towards its hilly finale.

For the other general classification riders, the way to victory is now more complicated. In the House of Liquigas, Franco Pellizotti rode better than pre-race favorite Ivan Basso today. Pellizotti is now fourth in the general classification, two minutes behind Menchov. Basso, meanwhile, had an ordinary day, and now sits seventh at three minutes. Both Pellizotti and Basso will look to the next round of mountains to go on the attack.

By all accounts, the two Liquigas-Doimo riders have a friendly relationship and have no trouble sharing team leadership responsibilities. Pellizotti explained after the stage that the two riders entered the Giro as equals: "It was always you journalists who said that Basso was the captain." In Roma, they will sort out who wins, but for now, the two Italians will ride together in the hope of winning the Giro for their team. Pellizotti said he would continue to try to win, as he has brought very good form to this year's race. "The Giro is still long," he concluded. For his part, Basso was resigned to his result which he said was "not exceptional." The Italian, known for his climbing, promised to attack on the summit finishes still to come in the third week. The Giro is long, indeed.

Sitting between Pellizotti and Basso in fifth place in the general classification is the quiet climber Carlos Sastre. Though not a specialist in the crono by any means, Sastre finished on same time with Ivan Basso and is now 2:52 behind Menchov in the general classification. Sastre said before the Giro that he hoped to stand on the podium in Roma, and that goal looks within reach, though he will have to overtake Pellizotti and dislodge Leipheimer, Diluca, or Menchov from their current spots at the top of the classification. No easy task. Sastre can look forward to three mountain top finishes and the hard climbing finish at San Luca on Saturday. Can he outclimb the top four in the general classification? Well, I suppose that's why they hold bike races. Certainly, Sastre is on very good form in this Giro, and we can expect him to attack as soon as the road turns up. If Sastre succeeds in his goal, he will have achieved podium placings in all three grand tours.

Australian Michael Rogers began the day third in the general classification, 1:33 behind Diluca and 13 seconds behind Menchov. Though a three-time world champion in the crono, Rogers suffered badly today on the road to Cinque Terre. The Australian has often struggled with the day-to-day demands of stage racing. By this point in the race, the ability to recover is crucial to success, and for Rogers, the hard stages of the first week added up to a giorno no today. Rogers remains sixth, 2:59 behind Menchov, and looks good to hold a top ten position in the general classification.

Looking further down the general classification, we find a reshuffling of the cards. Gilberto Simoni found the hilly course to his liking today and moved up to eighth in the general classification. The time trial specialist from Lampre-Ngc Marzio Bruseghin, meanwhile, moved up to ninth. Though not one of the great rides of the day, his performance left Bruseghin satisfied. He called the course very hard, especially due to its length. Bruseghin will look forward to the flat crono in Roma, which should better suit his characteristics. David Arroyo of Caisse d'Épargne dropped to eleventh, and will dream of the mountains to come.

Rounding out the top ten, Thomas Lövkvist of Columbia-High Road found it rough going today, and finished five minutes behind Menchov on the stage. The Swedish time trial champion never seemed to find his rhythm on the hilly course. Still, he sits in the top ten in this Giro and remains the leader in the young rider's classification. Kevin Seeldrayers, the nearest challenger for the white jersey, lags 4:42 behind him. Lövkvist will need to ride well in the third week, because Seeldrayers is best known for his climbing ability. There could yet be a battle between the two young riders before the Giro reaches Roma.

Tomorrow, the Giro bids Adio to the Ligurian coast and heads into the cycling mad region of Toscana. There is one climb early in the stage, as the course crosses the coastal mountains on its way to the interior. It should be a day for the sprinters, though there will be tired legs after today's adventures. A motivated breakaway could succeed tomorrow, but another round of the Sprinter Show is more likely. Mark Cavendish and Alessandro Petacchi are tied with two stages each, while American Tyler Farrar is keeping them under pressure. Perhaps the American will finally have his day of podium kisses. Vedriamo!

For more details about tomorrow's course, please turn the page.

Course Preview

Stage 12: Sestri Levante – Riomaggiore Crono
Date: Thursday, 21 May
Distance: 60.6 km.
Terrain:Hilly, with two technical descents.
GC Importance:Potentially decisive.
Cinque Terre Recon Photosjered gruber
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Stage 12 Time-Trial Start Order and Times

Live Coverage

Passo del Bracco 15.8km, 604m, avg. 3.8%, max. 8%
Passo del Termine 8.8km, 537m, avg. 6.1%, max. 10%

This 60.6 kilometer time trial covers one of the most difficult crono courses in recent memory. The Giro organizers use the word “torment” in their description of its difficulties. The course follows the bumpy Ligurian coastline from Sestri Levante to Riomaggiore. Cut into the side of the cliffs, the road follows the curves of the creased coastline where sheer cliffs drop down to the ocean. The red-roofed seaside towns cling barnacle-like to the steep hillsides terraced with vineyards. Beautiful country, pure and simple.

After his first look at the course back in January, Ivan Basso called it “a very difficult crono.” “It inspires fear,” he confided to Gazzetta dello Sport. There is very little space on this up-and-down course to recover. The riders will always be under pressure. “In my life, I have never seen a course so demanding,” concluded the Liquigas captain.

I don’t like to throw around the word epic lightly, and typically time trial courses don’t inspire a great deal of awe. But in truth, this stage has all the ingredients for an epic: eye-candy scenery, ridiculously difficult racing, and a potentially decisive moment for the general classification.

Profile Details. As time trial courses go, this one is a doozy. Constantly climbing and descending, there are few flat kilometers to rest the legs, not that anyone is planning to rest during this potentially decisive crono. It is uphill almost from the start ramp, and the first climb of the day starts at kilometer 3.

The Passo del Bracco lasts 15.8 kilometers, and represents a quarter of this time trial. Everyone will want to get a good start here. The average gradient is 3.8%. In this case, the average gradient misleads. The climb stair-steps, alternating sections of 1-2 percent with steeper ramps between 6 and 6.5 percent. The maximum gradient hits 8% and comes early in the climb at kilometer 2.5. The final 3 kilometers are relatively light, between 2 and 4 percent. The riders will receive their first intermediate time check at the top of the climb. From the summit of the Passo del Bracco, there remains 40 kilometers to ride.

After summiting the Passo del Bracco, the riders face 7.5 kilometers of uphill false flat. Coming as it does directly after the climb, this section will not tickle. The astute rider will go carefully, as misjudging the effort here could have disastrous consequences. Detonating in the early kilometers of a long crono is never a good idea. This section of road is also exposed to the wind, which will only make it more difficult. At kilometer 26.1 begins a steep, technical descent, which lasts 8.5 kilometers. This descent will reward the good bike handlers, and may offer a chance for the non-specialists to regain some ground. A second time check comes at the bottom of the descent.

The climbing begins again almost immediately. The Passo del Termine lasts 8 kilometers and gains 537 meters. It is noticeably steeper than the Passo del Bracco, with an average gradient of 6.1%. The maximum is a nasty 10%, which hits about 5.5 kilometers into the climb. The Passo del Termine begins innocently enough with a 2 percent gradient. Then, the climb begins its stair-stepping progress upward, alternating between 8% and 4.5% gradients. The final kilometer is approximately 5%. The third intermediate time check comes at the top of the climb. After pre-riding the course, Damiano Cunego named the Passo del Termine as the more difficult as the two climbs, because it comes later in the course and it is much steeper than the Bracco.

From the summit of the Passo del Termine, there remains 16 kilometers to ride to the finish. After a short 3 kilometer descent, the riders face five flat kilometers. Then, after a short rampy descent and climb combo, the course drops more than 200 meters in just under 3 kilometers. The good descenders will enjoy this section, which Ivan Basso described as “truly dangerous.” The final kilometer in Riomaggiore is flat, one of the only flat kilometers on this long crono course.

Tactics Talk. At the Giro presentation, Danilo Diluca called this stage a “gift” for Lance Armstrong. But others are not so sure that the specialists necessarily have an edge here. After previewing the course, Damiano Cunego commented that he believed that the hilly course with its technical roads offers a chance for the non-specialists and climbers, too. The 2004 Giro winner has said that he may reach for the road bike for this stage, rather than using his time trial rig. Ivan Basso has also worked with his sponsor Cannondale to set up a the right bike set-up for the extreme conditions of this time trial. Certainly, this course will reward bike handling, as the roads are narrow, twisty, and the descents are steep and twisty. Fabian Cancellara with his big power and his acrobatic bike handling skills should ride well here.

This stage may blow up the general classification completely, and the Giro organizers have taken a big risk in placing such a long difficult time trial during the second week. The time gaps could be huge, especially if a headwind blows up. The most recent grand tour crono approaching this length came during the third week of the 2001 Tour de France. On that occasion, Lance Armstrong beat Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano by 1.24 and Jan Ullrich by 1.39. The fifth placed rider finished 2.30 down, and tenth place around 3.00 minutes. The 2001 course was mostly flat and suited to the specialists, though, and the time gaps on this more difficult course could be significantly larger.

The climbs and technical descents on this Giro course make it a wildcard of a stage. A bad day on this crono will all but end the hopes of a general classification rider, and a good day could win the whole burrito. Still, there remain two huge mountain-top finishes and several hard climbing stages before the Giro reaches Roma. The climbers may yet have the last word.

The start area in Sestri Levante

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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