Talk about a race that had it all... beautiful scenery, mass carnage, GC riders in flight -- what more could you ask? Let's see who's smiling and frowning tonight.
Do the TV audiences in Europe get fired up for the early stages? If so, they're seeing an awful lot of lime and navy, mixed somehow with pink. And white. Anybody not horrified by their kit design has to be forming a positive impression of the sponsor.
Danilo DiLuca: Winner, with caveats
Drew's earlier comment sounds right: "He said before the Giro started that he would like to podium, but would also go for as many stages as possible. While not saying it, I think he knows that anything higher than 3rd might be more than he can deliver. So why not shoot for stages at the same time and see how he's looking after 2 weeks?"
He's not racing like a true overall contender, but that may be more because he -- unlike Simoni and Cunego -- set his peak for the Ardennes, where he was flat out great in both body and spirit. Did he trade in his longshot Giro chances for winning LBL? If so, that works for me.
Vincenzo Nibali: Winner!
He was a pre-race favorite for the maglia bianca despite the early stages... and yet he's up slightly on Andy Schleck and nearly a minute on Riccò, before hitting the more favorable terrain. Granted there's a long way to go, he could easily blow up or be asked to kill his chances towing DiLuca around, but this is a fine start. And all because I dropped him from my VDS team at the last minute.
While we're on Leakygas, talking out of my patootie here, but I wonder if there isn't a slight southern strategy going on. DiLuca (Abruzzi) and Nibali (Sicilia) are both from the Mezzogiorno (southern Italy, literally "midday" since the sun is due south then). The north-south thing is among the most prominent of Italy's many deep internal divisions. Italian Cycling, meanwhile, has long been predominantly a northern enterprise. So while playing to the South would be a bit frivolous as a team strategy, it's not unreasonable to suspect that DiLuca and Nibali have an extra gear as the race rolls through Mezzogiorno.
Ceramica Panaria: Slight Loser
Now let's be clear -- Julio Perez Cuapio made a valiant attack, and the team is better off for it. And if Perez couldn't finish the job, well, this was never a climb for the featherweights. I only rate CP down because they came close to having a really good day, and ultimately missed out.
Paolo Bettini: Loser
Not through any fault of his own, the day's biggest victim has to the Il Grillo, whose crash aggravated the ribcage injury he suffered in Tirreno-Adriatico. That he finished 5.00 back is testimony to his grit. He will almost certainly press on gamely as the race moves toward his home region in a couple days. But there's no way he gets to Milano with the pack, let alone the maglia ciclamino, if he can't breathe.
Paolo Savoldelli: Loser?
Il Falco coughed up another 34 seconds today, including that much to Cunego and half that to Simoni, his two main rivals. That isn't much, for a race which will be separating out riders by the minutes soon. But this was a stage where he should have been banking some time for later, when he'll be struggling to hang with the frontrunners. Moreover, he was racing in Romandie like a guy on form, trying to win, unlike Simoni who was (then and still now) taking it easy to peak in the Dolomites. Maybe he got slightly hurt and will be OK. But he looks to me like a rider on the downslope, and for once it's not something that favors him.
Update [2007-5-16 14:28:54 by chris]: More nominees in the comments...