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Down to the Wire in the Dolomites

Rather than the Winners/Losers format, let's go in reverse order and handicap the remaining chances for the Final Five... well, Six; the only guys left fighting for something at this Giro. Oh, and a couple of days ago I predicted the final time trial wouldn't really give an opening to the time triallists. Again, you get what you pay for here.

6. Riccardo Riccò

Yesterday's stage win, including time bonuses (surely why Piepoli let him go first) pulled Riccò within 43 seconds of the maglia blanca, probably the second most coveted prize of this Giro (with the green jersey an afterthought and the points completely salted away). Problems for Riccò include the fact that Schleck is riding for himself, while Riccò presumably will be rolling up his sleeves for Simoni Wednesday on the ride to Monte Zoncolan. Also Schleck is a time triallist of some note. But the Zoncolan can make up minutes, not just seconds, so Riccò is not done.

5. Damiano Cunego

At 3.23 back, he's not out of the picture, and in the Versus coverage Phil and Paul commented that he was having an excellent Giro. Ah, sure, if you still think of him as being in the development phase of his career. But Cunego came here to win and drew upon all of Lampre's resources to do so. Yet in each stage, he's shown the kind of vulnerability that gives me no confidence that he'll suddenly fly away on the Zoncolan. Both weekend stages included moments in the finale where Danilo DiLuca hit the gas to limit time losses, after doing much of the work from a defensive position. You'd think DiLuca would have been suffering, but when he's hit the gas, it's been Cunego who has not been able to follow. He might yet claw his way onto the podium, but more likely the only thing he will have accomplished at this Giro is destroying both of my VDS teams. But I'm not bitter.

4. Gilberto Simoni

Again, given the Zoncolan's slope, his 3.19 deficit might be a mere trifle, if he can somehow crack DiLuca. But I am tempted to stick a fork in him. Only once has he managed to put DiLuca on the defensive; otherwise, in every other stage of this race, it's been Advantage: Killer. Moreover, at no time has Simoni had the strength to defeat DiLuca head to head. Instead, he's relied on the mettle of his team, whose strategy has been to use the early part of each mountain stage to smash Liquigas, isolate DiLuca, and try to make him race defensively. It worked once, but only once. And the road to Zoncolan isn't very hard, so isolating DiLuca will be nearly impossible. Simoni will have to hope that he can attack and fly away on the final ascent.

3. Andy Schleck

His battle is with Riccò primarily, Andy hasn't shown much inclination to seek the pink, and I don't think he'd get it anyway. He has even less help than DiLuca, and has generally managed to do little more than follow.

2. Eddy Mazzoleni

Ivan Basso's brother-in-law-to-be is really the only guy within striking distance of DiLuca at this point, and I say that primarily because he can ride a time trial. What a shocker a Mazzoleni victory would be. He rode like a limpet over the Alps, earning his share of scorn for his tactics... as he should; Savoldelli had already released him from his charge, so Mazzoleni can't claim he wasn't allowed to work. Also, Mazzoleni's climbing ability makes him something less than the man of the race, to say the least. While his escape yesterday was clever enough, DiLuca gobbled up half of his 4' advantage in a few km, and might have completely neutralized the effort if the course were one or two km longer. I really don't like Mazzoleni's chances on the Zoncolan, and if he can't improve his current deficit (1.51), he shouldn't have a shot in the time trial of catching DiLuca.

1. Danilo DiLuca

What more is there to say? Despite this being his first legitimate shot at winning a Grand Tour, DiLuca has ridden like il Patrone, attacking and defending authoritatively, even without a teammate in sight. Even people who aren't unabashed fans like me must be appreciating what he's done so far, right? This has been an old-school effort... and hopefully an old-school win.