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Philippe Gilbert wins 2009 Giro d’Italia stage 20; Denis Menchov holds lead

By Andrew Hood

2009 Giro d'Italia, stage 20: Silence-Lotto's Philippe Gilbert scores a victory for the team, which had been shut out thus far.

2009 Giro d’Italia, stage 20: Silence-Lotto’s Philippe Gilbert scores a victory for the team, which had been shut out thus far.

Photo: Graham Watson

Philippe Gilbert finally notched a stage win for the Silence-Lotto squad on Saturday, sprinting to victory in the 20th stage of the centenary Giro d’Italia.

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes) continued their battle over the maglia rosa, but the cagey Russian held onto the race lead — actually padding it with two bonus seconds poached from his rival at an intermediate sprint going into Sunday’s finale, a 14.4km time trial through the streets of Rome.

Saturday’s transitional stage, a 203km ride from Naples to Anagni, began just 3 meters above sea level and covered a mostly flat route, running north along the coast from Naples before heading inland for an 18.2km circuit with two passages of a Cat. 3 climb to the finish line in ancient Anagni.

As usual, a break went early — this one contained Pablo Lastras Garcia (Caisse d’Epargne); Felix Rafael Cardenas (Barloworld); Angel Gomez Gomez (Fuji-Servetto); Guillaume Bonnafond (AG2R La Mondiale); Francesco De Bonis (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni); Ben Swift (Team Katusha); Anders Lund (Team Saxo Bank); and Robert Forster (Team Milram).

2009 Giro d’Italia

Stage 20: Naples to Anagni
203km (126.1 miles)
Stage winner: Philippe Gilbert (Silence-Lotto) in 4:30:07
Stage winner’s average speed: 45.1 kph (28.0 mph)
GC leader: Denis Menchov (Rabobank)
Points jersey: Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes)
Climber’s jersey: Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone)
Team GC leader: Astana
Best young rider: Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step)
Most aggressive: Gilbert
Previous stage winners/GC leaders:
Stage 1: Team Columbia-Highroad/Cavendish
Stage 2: Petacchi/Cavendish
Stage 3: Petacchi/Petacchi
Stage 4: Di Luca/Lovkvist
Stage 5: Menchov/Di Luca
Stage 6: Scarponi/Di Luca
Stage 7: Boasson Hagen/Di Luca
Stage 8: Sivtsov/Di Luca
Stage 9: Cavendish/Di Luca
Stage 10: Di Luca/Di Luca
Stage 11: Cavendish/Di Luca
Stage 12: Menchov/Menchov
Stage 13: Cavendish/Menchov
Stage 14: Gerrans/Menchov
Stage 15: Bertagnolli/Menchov
Stage 16: Sastre/Menchov
Stage 17: Pellizotti/Menchov
Stage 18: Scarponi/Menchov
Stage 19: Garzelli/Menchov
Up next:
The 2009 Giro’s final stage, a 14.4km individual time trial through the streets of Rome. It’s a tricky course, and the forecast is for wind and a chance of rain; race leader Menchov is considered the better time trialist, but the technical nature of the course may favor the ever-ambitious Di Luca. And Astana’s Lance Armstrong is said to be interested in trying to prove something in this final stage of the centenary Giro.

With Columbia-Highroad and Di Luca’s LPR team setting tempo the break never got more than three or four minutes. Crashes along the way took out Matthieu Sprick (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and David Lopez Garcia (Caisse D’epargne). Sprick got back on, but Lopez Garcia did not; he was taken via ambulance to a hospital in Volturno.

At 78km, the break’s lead had been trimmed to 2:40 with LPR and Liquigas chasing. The advantage ballooned briefly after the feed zone, then began shrinking rapidly under pressure from LPR.

Some 60km from the line the hares held less than a minute on the hounds, and 10km later it was all over — gruppo compatto.

Menchov outfoxes the Killer
LPR then drilled it for Di Luca going into the intermediate sprint in Frosinone, at 175.7km. True to form, Menchov affixed himself to the Killer’s wheel — then attacked, going after the maximum bonus himself. He didn’t get it — LPR’s Alessandro Petacchi crossed first — but the race leader took second, good for a two-second bonus, while Di Luca had to content himself with third.

2009 Giro d'Italia, stage 20: A heavy crash took David Lopez Garcia (Caisse d'Epargne) out of the race.

2009 Giro d’Italia, stage 20: A heavy crash took David Lopez Garcia (Caisse d’Epargne) out of the race.

Photo: Graham Watson

“I don’t like to fight for the bonus sprints, I prefer to fight for real time,” Menchov said. “But if someone creates a war, you have to fight the war.”

All the hubbub briefly gave rise to another break — Stefano Garzelli (Acqua e Sapone), Pavel Brutt (Katusha), Markus Fothen (Milram) and Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas). Garzelli and Agnoli didn’t last long, but the other two soldiered along without them, taking a 20-second advantage by the 165km mark.

ISD and Silence-Lotto began contributing to the chase, thinking in terms of Oscar Gatto, Andriy Grivko and Gilbert, as the two leaders pegged their margin at about 40 seconds. That was as good as it got, and less than 5km from their first trip across the finish line in Anagni the bunch gobbled them up.

On the ascent to the line Liquigas’ Sylvester Szymd came to the front and put the pressure on, splitting the bunch and leading a small group over the line to begin the final circuit.

A late break nearly makes it
With 15km to go a three-man break formed — Paolo Tiralongo (Lampre-N.G.C.) and Bartosz Huzarski (ISD), chased and eventually caught by Anthony Charteau (Caisse d’Epargne). Columbia-Highroad, Quick Step and Saxo Bank headed the pursuit some 12 seconds back.

Marco Pinotti (Columbia-Highroad) leapt from the chase and bridged to the leading trio. As the quartet hit the flats with 10km to race the gap was holding steady at about a dozen seconds.

2009 Giro d'Italia, stage 20: Pavel Brutt (Katusha) and Markus Fothen (Milram)  made it into a late break.

2009 Giro d’Italia, stage 20: Pavel Brutt (Katusha) and Markus Fothen (Milram) made it into a late break.

Photo: Graham Watson

The leaders padded their advantage to 23 seconds with less than 8km to go, pedaling at 55 km/h. Five kilometers from the line they had stretched the leash to 28 seconds, and LPR sent some fresh legs to the front in the form of Alessandro Spezialetti.

The four were trading pulls as they began the final 2.7km climb, but with 3km to race the gap began plummeting. Petacchi had taken over the chasing duties for team leader Di Luca.

Two kilometers from the line it was all over, and a bonus battle between the overall leaders seemed in the cards. Menchov was parked on Di Luca’s wheel — and then Gilbert shot away. Yaroslav Popovych (Astana) followed, with Thomas Voelcker (Bbox Bouygues Telecom).

Popo’ couldn’t match the other two, and Gilbert drilled it again with 500 meters to go. Voecker chased valiantly, but it was not to be — the Belgian took the win, followed two seconds later by Voeckler with Garzelli third at seven seconds.

2009 Giro d'Italia, stage 20: Anthony Charteau (Caisse d'Epargne) and Marco Pinotti (Columbia) took a hand in the late action.

2009 Giro d’Italia, stage 20: Anthony Charteau (Caisse d’Epargne) and Marco Pinotti (Columbia) took a hand in the late action.

Photo: Graham Watson

The maglia rosa group rolled in some 15 seconds later, the final overall apparently predetermined with a single stage remaining.

Final day showdown
The centenary edition of the Giro ends Sunday with a nail-biting finale in a worthy backdrop to conclude three weeks of gritty racing.

Adding to the final-day drama will be a highly technical, 26-turn urban course across cobblestones, around traffic circles and past some of the iconic features of Rome such as the Roman Forum, the Vatican and the Castel Sant Angelo before finishing with a half-lap around the Colliseum.

Throw in a 40-percent chance of rain and a slender 20-second gap dividing Menchov and Di Luca, and the Giro’s 100th birthday party couldn’t end on a better note.

“I can be calm, because I know I am strong, but the Giro is not over until you cross the finish line,” said Menchov, who called Astana’s Levi Leipheimer the favorite for victory. “Tomorrow, I will ride, stay focused, and it will be not be a quiet walk. The gap is very small, and it’s important to stay focused till the final line.”

2009 Giro d'Italia, stage 20: Some long-overdue bubbly for Gilbert and Silence-Lotto.

2009 Giro d’Italia, stage 20: Some long-overdue bubbly for Gilbert and Silence-Lotto.

Photo: Graham Watson

Di Luca, meanwhile, started to lay the groundwork for accepting second place. He knows that Menchov will start not only with a 20-second head start, but as a proven better time trialist.

“If I finish second in this Giro, I can be proud because I fought every kilometer of this race. I was already thinking yesterday after the Vesuvio stage that I will not win this Giro,” he said. “This Giro had a very high level and we can all be proud.

“Tomorrow, anything can happen, the differences are small, it’s a special course, very technical, but Menchov has shown he is strong. I had him on the ropes a little at Blockhaus, but he was able to recover and defended well at Vesuvio.”

Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), third at 1:43, realizes that, barring disaster, he will likely reach his first podium in a three-week grand tour. Last year, he missed the podium by just two seconds to Marzio Bruseghin in the final-day time trial in Milano.

While he admits he has almost no chance of catching Di Luca, he’s 1:01 ahead of fourth-place Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam), and is hopeful of not getting passed again.

2009 Giro d'Italia, stage 20: Denis Menchov (Rabobank) is an old hand at the champagne spray.

2009 Giro d’Italia, stage 20: Denis Menchov (Rabobank) is an old hand at the champagne spray.

Photo: Graham Watson

Sastre, meanwhile, is content with two stage victories despite falling short of his pre-Giro goal of attaining the top-3 podium.

“I have a bittersweet taste. I came here with a very different intention to what finally I was able to achieve,” the defending Tour champion said. “These two stage victories compensate for this little emptiness that I leave behind for not being on the podium of this Giro.”

Others will vie for the stage victory, such as Pinotti and Edvald Boasson-Hagen (Columbia-Highroad), Dave Zabriskie and Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream) and Lance Armstrong and Leipheimer (Astana).