Back in Sicilia, we previewed the favorites to wear the Pink Shirt in Milano. Where are they now? And who still holds a chance at the pink? Read on, my friends, read on.
Alberto Contador. Sits first, so pretty in pink. He said in an interview today that he is surprised by the enthusiasm of the tifosi. Having never raced in Italy before, he could not have known the deep respect and passion that Italian fans have for talented bike racers, whatever their nationality. Contador is making friends, and steadily riding toward victory in Milano. The tifosi might prefer a local winner, but they will not cry to have the Tour winner honor their race. At the outset, I could not think of a reason he could not win this Giro. I still can't.
Riccardo Ricco. Second, .44. The Ego came into the Giro after an erratic season. Can a Cobra change his spots? He has shown flashes of brilliance, and two stage wins attest to his ambition, if not his form. He made a big move on the Fideia, climbing in the drops a la Pantani. It was lovely while it lasted. The problem is, it didn't last. And for all his flamboyance and smacktalk, the Ego hasn't succeeded in distancing himself from the others. Without Peeps to pilot him, Ricco looks a little lost in these mountain stages. Simoni lies just 40 seconds behind, while Contador quietly rides away. Ricco needs a big ride in the mountains, a big attack that not only looks pretty but actually succeeds. Will he go on the Gavia? May fortune favor the foolish.
Gibo Simoni. Third in GC, 1.21. Il Vecchio has ridden himself into third on GC with vintage, consistent climbing. His crono in Urbino must rank among his best efforts against the watch, as he found a physical-psychological equilibrium, whatever that means. Simoni is riding well, and is not afraid to grab the race by the throat and give it a good shake. At this point, he rides without pressure. He has nothing left to prove. With two hard mountain stages to go, he is not out of the game yet. But it will take something special to take back the time he needs before Milano. That 23 km time trial is not long enough to make huge time gaps, but the supah climbah will need time in hand in Aprica. Whether or not he succeeds, here's hoping he brings good legs to the finale, and goes out with the fearless, attacking style of his best days. If he finishes on the podium, it will rank as his nineth Giro podium. Quite a career, indeed.
Marzio Bruseghin. 4th, 2.00. Bruse received mention in the pre-race chatter as a dark horse favorite to ride high in the standings. I believe I gave him a good shot at a top ten. Riding so long in support of Cunego, Bruse has never shown us just what he can do. So much so, that he has only three professional wins to his credit: the Oropa time trial of last year, this year's time trial at Urbino, and the Italian national time trial championship. If you're only going to win three races, well, those aren't half bad at all. Currently fourth in GC, he is riding the Giro of his life. Can he defend through the next round of mountains? Certainly he will hope so, but he may well wish by Milano that the final time trial had a few more kilometers.
Franco Pellizotti. 5th, 2.05. Save Ferris! has promised to keep attacking all the way to Milano. So far, he is riding brilliantly in this Giro, attacking on the Giau, and winning today at Plan de Corones, surely the most important result of his career. A fifth place finish in Milano would be a career best, but Pellizotti plainly has higher ambitions. He's no genius against the watch, so if he wants to win, it will have to be in the mountains. With a strong team to help, he might have a chance. An alliance with Diluca would help both their causes, if Diluca finds his legs. "A top five finish would be great for Pellizotti, a win is probably too much to ask," reads the preview. I see no reason to change my mind.
Danilo Diluca. 6th, 2.18. Il Killer says he lacks the legs of last year, and in this he is correct. His best Giro finishes have come after racing hard all Spring, which a little trouble with the law prevented this season. To plagiarize brazenly from David Cassani, Diluca has more grinta than legs in this Giro. That won't stop him from trying something in the coming mountain stages. He's not afraid to to gamble, as we saw when he went up the road with Simoni and Rujano on the Col de Finestre, a move that might well have overturned the classification. Diluca will not likely win this Giro, but he may yet have a hand in deciding who does.
Denis Menchov. 7th, 2.47. Menchov has shown his strong, consistent side in this Giro. He can climb well and time trial well. At least, until the Plan de Corones, where he too showed more grinta than legs. Plainly, he does not appreciate 24% gradients. But then, who does? It will be a reach for him to make the podium here, though he clearly has form. Like Bruse, he will be wishing for a few more kilometers against the watch in Milano.
Emmanuel Sella. 8th, 4.25. Ricco has had an erratic season; Sella has had an erratic career. So erratic that he did not make the favorites list, and really, one never knows quite what he will do next. His previous Giro stage win came in 2004 in Cesena on a long solo break. Lovely win, really. But after that came nothing until this Giro. He's been called the "moral victor" of this Giro by some in the press, which is laying it on a little thick. Certainly, those who have won back-to-back mountain stages in the Giro are few and far between (Ivan Parra is the most recent, Pantani, the next), but the faves gave Sella a plenty long leash. Will they have cause to regret that decision? Probably not. Sella's days of running wild through the mountains of Italy are almost certainly at an end. He may well make a useful ally for someone who'd like to go on a long pink jersey-chasing adventure like Simoni or Save Ferris!, but it seems unlikely he will rise too much higher in the classification.
Vincenzo Nibali. 11th, 7.02. His GC hopes came to an end on the Pompeago where he slipped down the classification. His attack after the Giau, which forced the pace in the gruppo Contador, demonstrated both his talent and his class. He'll ride as gregario to Save Ferris! this year, as he has plenty of time yet in his career to find his legs. The high mountains remain his nemesis, one he will have to defeat if he wants someday to win the Giro. If he can hold a top ten finish in GC this year along the way, it would be a lovely souvenir.
Paolo Savoldelli. 17th, 14.28. Though he has won the Giro twice in his career, equaling Simoni as it happens, he has not the legs of a GC contender this time around. He'll ride for Diluca, and perhaps snatch a stage when the race enters his native Bergamo. Maybe he will give us a show on the Mortirolo, also, for as Ivan Basso well knows, that descent is plenty worthy of il Falco's talents. In the main, this is a relatively anonymous Giro for Savoldelli.
Klodie. 13th, 8.44. Collective wisdom here at the Cafe called this Giro a race for the climbers, and so it has proven for Klodie as the wheels came off in the Dolomiti. A win at the Tour of Romandie and a lovely ride in the chrono at Urbino suggested Klodie had the form to cause trouble for the locals. Not so, said the Dolomiti, and Klodie now sits 8.44 down on his team mate Contador. No pink shirt for Klodie, but perhaps a time trial win in Milano will ease the sting.
Levi. 20th, 16.41. With Contador and Levi back together again, it looked like this Giro could turn into a re-run of last year's Tour. Again, not so, said the Dolomiti. An experienced rider, Levi has likely held a little something in reserve the last few days once he knew that his own chances were finished. Contador will certainly be hoping that Levi has done so, since he will need a little help from his friends come the Gavia. If Levi has form, though, where was he on the Giau?
Vladimir Karpets. Is he even in this race?
J.Mauricio Soler Dnf. A crash took him out of the race. At home, preparing for the Giro di Francia.Full GC