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Post Stage Analysis

Two For Scarponi
Scarponi takes stage after long break, General Classification unchanged
Tomorrow, Vesuvio

9 Big Photos from Stage 18sirotti

May 28 update: Today's stage followed a predictable pattern for a transition stage, a transition between two significant appointments for the general classification. A huge breakaway containing 25 riders departed after just 17 kilometers of racing. Michele Scarponi and Alessandro Bertolini played the role of provacateurs, making the first attacks of the day. The break soon swelled to include riders from nearly all the teams, and it was clear that they would be allowed to ride. Philip Deignan of Cervélo TestTeam, who crashed during yesterday's stage, joined the break today, but again suffered bad luck. Deignan, Francesco Gavazzi of Lampre-Ngc, and Andrey Zeits of Astana crashed when the breakaway hit a slippery descent during a period of intermittant rain. Fortunately all three proved able to rejoin the break.

With less than 25 kilometers to race, the break held an advantage of approximately 3 minutes, and it was clear that the winner would come from the group. Behind the break, Caisse d'Épargne and AG2R contributed to the chase to protect the general classification positions of David Arroyo and Tadej Valjavec. After passing through 20 kilometers to go, Felix Cardenas of Barloworld and Dmytro Grabovskyy of ISD-Neri tried to split the big breakaway group. Jason McCartney, one of two Saxo Bank riders in the group, covered the move, and it was all back together.

With 15 kilometers to go, Grabovskyy attacked again, and this time managed to create a selection. A lead group of eight riders now formed. It included: Dmitro Grabovskyy of ISD-Neri, Jason McCartney and Lars Bak of Saxo Bank, Michele Scarponi of Diquigiovanni-Androni, Danny Pate of Garmin-Slipstream, Felix Cardenas of Barloworld, Dries Devenyns of Quick Step, and Andrey Zeits of Astana. They quickly built up an advantage of approximately 30 seconds over a chase group driven by Gabriele Bosisio of LPR Brakes.

Inside 10 kilometers to go, Jason McCartney made a bid for freedom from the break. McCartney is not known as a sprinter and no doubt hoped to win solo. Devenyns responded first and the break came back together. Passing over the cobbled road of the Benevento's old city center, the eight rode together through the finish. The truce did not last long. With two riders in the break, Saxo Bank tried a series of attacks. Though none of the attacks proved decisive, Zeits dropped off the back, leaving seven riders to contest the finish.

Inside 2 kilometers to go, Dries Devenyns tried to anticipate the sprint. It nearly worked. McCartney of Saxo Bank shut down the Devenyns move, and a sprint finish became inevitable. Into the final kilometer, McCartney continued to lead into the sprint. Devenyns sat at the back, before making one more effort to win the stage.

Then, Felix Cardenas started his sprint with Danny Pate on his wheel. They quickly overtook Devenyns. Michele Scarponi sat just behind Pate. For a brief moment, it looked as if Garmin-Slipstream would celebrate their first stage win of this Giro Centenario. It was not to be. Scarponi came flying off the wheel of Pate, distancing the American with ease. Scarponi celebrated his second stage win of this Giro and fourth victory of the season that included a stage win and the overall classification at Tirreno-Adriatico. In a photo finish, Cardenas finished second, Pate third.

A breathless Scarponi said after the stage that he knew a break would go today, so he made sure to join the early move. Today's stage win marked Scarponi's first victory from a sprint. Laughing, he said he didn't expect to win today, but was hardly complaining. Diquigiovanni-Androni now has three stage wins in this Giro d'Italia and sports director Gianni Savio was all smiles in Benevento.

Just under 4 minutes later, the main field crossed the line together. Rabobank led the group to the line. There was no sprint from the general classification riders, and the top ten in the overall standings remains unchanged on the eve of the final climbing stage to Vesuvio.

Tomorrow, the Vesuvio.

Tomorrow's stage offers the final opportunity for the climbers to take time in the general classification before the time trial in Roma. The final climb up the Vesuvio lasts 13 kilometers and has an average gradient of 7.4%. It also includes some nasty steep sections of 12% gradient.

When he previewed the Vesuvio climb, Ivan Basso called this final climbing stage "spectacular and difficult." Not only is the final climb difficult tomorrow, but also the early kilometers of the course which follows the jumbled topography of the storied Amalfi coast. "The entire course is constantly climbing, and it will make a difficult test for our legs, especially after 18 days of racing," noted Basso. The Italian, currently fourth in the general classification, expects atttacks on the Vesuvio.

Filippo Pozzato also previewed the Vesuvio stage, though he is no longer riding this Giro. After riding the climb Pozzato said, "The climb is more difficult than I had been told." "We will need to use a 23 or a 25, especially at the beginning," he explained. Pozzato predicted that the Vesuvio could prove to be the decisive stage of the Giro Centenario.

Certainly, we can expect Danilo Diluca and his LPR Brakes team to do everything possible to take back the 26 seconds that separate Diluca from the maglia rosa. Diluca has said that he wants at least 30 seconds of advantage over Menchov before the crono in Roma, so he will need to take a minute away from the Russian on the Vesuvio.

Ivan Basso has also promised to attack on the Vesuvio, and the Liquigas-Doimo rider is hoping to win a stage. His team-mate Franco Pellizotti, meanwhile, will try to defend the podium position he won Wednesday on the slopes of the Blockhaus. Roberto Amadio, the sports director for Liquigas-Doimo, promised that his team would attack tomorrow. The team has played a two-captain strategy in this Giro, and the team has so far won a stage and occupies 3rd and 4th in the general classification. No doubt Basso, a former Giro winner, would like to finish higher than fourth in Roma. Basso is also only 2 seconds ahead of fifth placed Carlos Sastre.

For his part, Carlos Sastre, who sits 1:30 off the podium, will hope to recover from his bad day on the Blockhaus, where he lost his podium position to Pellizotti. The Vesuvio is Sastre's kind of terrain, and the longer stage should suit him better than the fast and furious run-in to the Blockhaus. Will he have the legs for one more attack? Vediamo.

Clip and Save! GC Cheat Sheet

1. Denis Menchov
2. Danilo Diluca 0:26
3. Franco Pellizotti 2:00
4. Ivan Basso 3:28
5. Carlos Sastre 3:30
6. Levi Leipheimer 4:32
7. Michael Rogers 7:05
8. Stefano Garzelli 8:03
9. Tadej Valjavec 9:58
10. Marzio Bruseghin 10:33

For a detailed preview of the course and final climb, please turn the page.

Course Preview

Stage 18: Sulmona - Benevento
Date: Thursday, 28 May
Distance: 182 km.
Terrain: Hilly, then rolling. Breakaway country.
GC Importance: None.

Piano delle Cinque Miglia 15.4km, 708m, avg. 4.6%, max. 9%

The Giro travels into the interior today and begins in Sulmona 60 kilometers from the Adriatic coast. Situated in a prehistoric riverbed, Sulmona sits in the shadow of the Maiella mountain range which stands east of the city and hosted the finish of stage 17. From the start, the course heads south, tracing a wandering path through the Appenino that avoids significant climbing. There is an early climb over the Piano delle Cinque Miglia, then it’s a bumpy ride to the finish. The stage ends in the city of Benevento in Campania. There is a brief circuit in Benevento.

The start city of Sulmona traces its history to antiquity and legend has it that the city bears the name of a companion to Aneas. The Roman poet Ovid, best known for Metamorphosis, was born in Sulmona. This is earthquake country, and in 1706, much of the city, then known as the “Sienna of Abruzzo,” was destroyed. Nearly 1/4 of the population was killed in the disaster. Some important buildings from antiquity and the middle ages nonetheless survived, including a Roman aqueduct.

On a much lighter note, Sulmona is known for producing sugared almonds, called Confetti. Built into fanciful shapes, the candy serves as a festive gift for birthdays, weddings, and other celebrations. Fertile soil surrounds the city and Sulmona enjoys a rich harvest of wine and corn. The Giro has frequently visited Sulmono. Ezio Corlaita, Giovanni Brunero, and Alfredo Binda are among the riders who have celebrated victory in Sulmona.

Benevento hosts the finish of this year’s stage, and lies almost directly south of Sulmona. Looking west from the city, a series of mountain peaks form a semi-circle. These are not huge mountains, averaging approximately 1300 meters above sea level. One of the more prominent peaks, the Taburno Camposauro, stands watch over the city from the northwest. The city itself sits in undulating terrain along the Calore Irpino and Sabato rivers. Elevations within the city range from 80 to 415 meters above sea level, and it’s rarely flat. Fearing bad luck, the Romans changed the name of the city from Malevento (Male means bad in Italian) to its current name, Benevento.

Benevento has hosted the Giro on a number of occasions. In 2002, Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen celebrated victory in Benevento. Looking further back, Giuseppe Saronni won a stage here in 1978. A 1973 stage saw a sprint among Roger De Vlaeminck, Felice Gimondi, and Eddy Merckx, three of the giants of their era. During the sprint, approximately 200 meters from the finish, a dog ran onto the course and into the middle of the field. Surprisingly neither the dog nor the riders suffered injury. De Vlaeminck won the stage. A massive crash interrupted the sprint into Benevento in 1971, and Ercole Gualazzini emerged from the wreckage to win. We will hope for better luck this time around.

Profile Details. The stage begins with a climb, which is a bit unkind after the serious climbing of the previous stages. After a few short kilometers of flat riding, the road turns up and riders will climb the Piano delle Cinque Miglia. Mountains classification points are available at the summit.

The Piano delle Cinque Miglia climbs for 15.4 kilometers at an average gradient of 4.6%. The maximum gradient is a manageable 9%. It isn’t one of the steep climbs, or relatively speaking, especially difficult. Coming this late in the race and after the hard day on the Blockhaus, though, it will sting the legs. The climb tops out at 1277 meters above sea level. From the summit, there remains 160 kilometers of racing. Any breakaway that forms on the climb will have to work hard to earn a victory in Benevento.

The climb reaches a plateau, and approximately 9 kilometers of slightly descending terrain follows the summit of the climb. A short descent is followed by another short climb, which summits at kilometer 53. Then the riders descend just over 600 meters to the valley floor.

The race traces a path through the Appenino over terrain twisted and pulled by unseen tectonic forces. From kilometer 80 to the finish, constant small climbs interrupt the rhythm. This is breakaway country, and it won’t be easy for any team to chase here. Between kilometers 80 and 100, there are three short climbs. Then comes 20 kilometers of false flat descending. Another bump pops up at kilometer 121. The climbs never gain much more than 100 meters in elevation. From kilometer 145 to 160, the course flattens out. Then, it’s a bumpy run-in to the finish.

With 20 kilometers to go, it’s all up and down to the finish. The stage ends with a 9 kilometer circuit with one climb. The climb isn’t especially difficult, but might invite a motivated rider to attack. The finish is uphill. Assuming a break survives to this point, this is perfect terrain for a small group to fight out the stage win. Look for a fast finisher to win from a small group in Benevento.

Tactics Talk. This stage falls between two big mountain top finishes. The teams of the general classification riders will be happy to let a break go early. The opening climb is likely too severe for the sprinters to take much interest in this one, and the constant up and down character of the course favors the escape over the chase. A sprint finish is always possible, but at this point of the race, deep in the third week, a successful breakaway is more likely. Look for some teams and riders who haven’t found much success in this Giro to go on the attack in an effort to grab some television time and a possible stage win.

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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