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The Road Ahead

Stefan Schumacher may have removed his maglia rosa today, but for the short term I still expect Paolo Savoldelli to play a major role in this Giro, possibly even holding the pink jersey more days than whoever eventually seals the win in the closing stages.

On the flip...

Schumacher could be a favorite in Stage 4, another bumpy ride across the roads of the Belgian Classics, and Savoldelli will do well just to be in the pack. However, Stage 5 will end Schumacher's reign almost certainly. However sharp Gerolsteiner looked today, there is nothing in their history to suggest that they can touch CSC or Discovery in the Team Time Trial scheduled for Thursday. Unless Basso and CSC beat Discovery by a half-minute -- not impossible but I'd never make that bet -- then Savoldelli should be back in pink Friday morning. Then, it's a handful of stages down the coast, with a manageable climb to the Passo Lanciano the only real challenge on tap for the top riders, amidst the Giro's only flat stages.

If Savoldelli has the maglia rosa after Lanciano, he might keep it for a while. Following Stage 9 and the rest day, it's a 50km ITT, where Savoldelli will be heavily favored among the GC threats, and maybe even for the stage win. Only five days later, when the roads really start turning up, do Savoldelli's chances start looking grim.

I'm not predicting Savoldelli to win the Giro. Whatever margin he can gain in these early rounds will seem like a pittance compared to the chunks of time at stake in the mountain stages. My point, though, is that his early success sets up a potentially very interesting dynamic, where Il Falco and the masterful Bruyneel could get a grip on the race that will be extremely difficult to break. If Savoldelli gets a couple minutes' lead, it still probably isn't enough, but ... you never know!

Last year it was Discovery's patience while under attack on the road to the Finestre that won the game. This year it could well be CSC's turn to watch the race slowly slip out of their grip, and to test whether they have the same patience to wait for the opportunity they know awaits them, at the race's 11th hour.