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Savoldelli in ... Ciclamino?

The points race has gone complely down the tubes. Or actually, the initial distraction from what was shaping up as a bizarre points race has been terminated prematurely.

Normally the battle for la maglia ciclamino works like that in France -- over three weeks of racing, there are enough opportunities for a small cadre of top-end sprinters to monopolize the points race and exclude the riders who compete for glory when the road turns up.

Not so this time. Petacchi's tragic exit has left the points jersey with Robbie McEwen, who stands to hold on to it for a while, with no Boonen or Hushovd or Zabel or O'Grady to pursue him head to head. And if this were the Vanilla 2006 Tour de France parcours, he'd be a shoo-in for green glory in Paris. But McEwen has openly talked of bowing out once he's bagged his stages, and the rest of the pure sprinters will no doubt be dropping like flies, if any of them are crazy enough to try to finish the race.

Now, points are awarded at the end of every stage, not just the sprints. Meanwhile, of the remaining 17 stages, fully nine are serious mountain routes to be contested by the GC studs; seven uphill finishes and two descent finales. Two other stages are time trials. Three more are hilly, along with two easy flat stages and one downhill ride to Milano.

What does all this mean? That Paolo Savoldelli is the odds-on favorite for the points title, if not the overall too. I know I've been a non-stop Falco promoter, I can't help it. But really, the guy already lies second in points, 33 for his prologue win and another seven in in the climb to Namur. He's a shoo-in to score huge points in the ITT and the two mountain stages with downhill finishes. If they give points in the Team Time Trial, put him down for a few more there. He might not win any of the seven (!) uphill finales, but he'll be around for most or all of them. Nobody else figures to gain points in eleven stages. The best you can say is that the mountain goats will have seven stages to themselves, but even there, Savoldelli will be right in the thick of the action.

Oh, and he's well ahead in the intergiro competition, already in blue.