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Giro d'Italia: On the scene at Stage 16

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I arrived in the start town for the Plan de Corones time trial at about 1:30 pm yesterday, just in time for a break in the action.  The first 100 riders had gone off before 1:30, then there was a break until 3:00, to allow the early riders to finish and ride back down.

After having my lunch -- a sandwich scavenged from the breakfast fixings at my hotel -- I headed up to the start area to watch the top 52 riders take off.  It was interesting to watch the different ways in which the riders used the last minutes before their start times.

Bettini showed up well before his start time, and just hung out.  He chatted with other riders, joked with the cops, posed for a picture with a one of the motorcycle drivers, and just generally seemed to be having a fine time.

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Leipheimer and Kloden seemed relaxed, just sitting on the chairs in the bike-weighing tent until it was time for their starts.  Others seemed like cats on a hot tin roof.  Di Luca, in particular, wasn't still for a second.  After having his bike weighed, he rode up and down the road behind the start area until just before his start.

I mostly stayed near the bike weigh-in tent, since every rider had to appear there at least once.  The bikes had to weigh at least 6.8 kilos, and most seemed to come in at around 7.1.  The Navigare Colnagos were heavier, around 7.4, and Simoni, Valjavek, and Contador had very light bikes, all in the 6.8 to 6.9 range.  One rider Van Den Broeck, had a bike that was too light, 6.74 kilos.  He had waited until just a few minutes before his start time to weigh in, so  it was a frantic few minutes for the team mechanics to work something out.  Someone ran in from the follow car with another Ridley, which weighed in at 7.4.  Too heavy; they weren't happy with that.  Someone did something to the saddle of the original bike, then they weighed it again, but it was still too light.  Then they switched out the rear wheel.  Now the bike weighed 7.4, but it was too late to do anything else.  In the start house, they were blowing a whistle to signal that Van Den Broeck's start time was fast approaching, so he just had to grab the bike and go.

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Simoni, like Di Luca, rode up and down the road until just before his start time.  When he finally came it to have his bike weighed, he consulted briefly with one of the officials doing the weighing, then hurried back toward his follow car, calling, "Lucho, Lucho!," and motioning for someone to come.  A guy ran in, cut the plastic bands attaching Simoni's race number to the bike frame, and removed the number.  After Gibo left for the start house, I asked the official if the number on the bike was not necessary, and he said that in a time trial, only the number on the rider's back is required.

I headed around to the front of hte start house to see the last few riders start.  Simoni looked serene in the start house, acknowledging the cheers of the tifosi with a beatific smile.

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Here he is taking off:

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Di Luca looked calm, but did not smile.  (Does he ever?)  Contador looked the most nervous.  He crossed himself three or four times in quick succession, and fiddled with the sleeves of his skin suit, and when he was given the ok to start, he took off like he'd been shot out of a cannon.

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I'd run into Bob from Cycleto.com earlier, and after Contador started, we went in search of a tv to watch the rest of the race.  Bob spotted some Saunier Duval mechanics watching a tv that was mounted on the back of their truck, so we joined them.

It was another good day for Gibo, which I'm always happy to see.  This morning, it was reported in La Gazzetta that Reinhold Messner, a son of the Dolomites and the greatest mountaineer of all time, was at the stage start yesterday, in the morning.  He's quoted as saying, "I can't say that I have a favorite champion [in the Giro], but every good mountain man appreciates Simoni as one of our own."

          Susie Hartigan for Podium Cafe