MONTE ZONCOLAN, Italy (VN) – The Giro d’Italia is always a little bit crazy, but Saturday’s run up to Monte Zoncolan was a stretch even by Giro standards.
Not only was the Crostis climb removed from the Giro in a controversial, late-hour decision that angered race director Angelo Zomegnan, the new route was later disrupted by angry protesters.
Giro officials had re-routed the stage over the second-category Tualis climb with about 25km to go, but fans who had camped out overnight on the Crostis went down to the nearby Tualis climb intent on showing their frustration.
Reports came through to race officials that fans were intent on blocking the road, so officials quickly adjusted the route and bypassed the Tualis climb entirely. The official distance went from 210km with Crostis, to 190km with Tualis, down to the final distance of 170km.
“We know these things can happen at the last moment. I can the organizer’s fear of the coming upon the people on the climb, protest,” Bjarne Riis told reporters at the finish. “The organizer erred on the side of caution, rightly so. It was still a stage with a lot of climbing. They need to reflect on this for the future.”
Riders had no clue that the new climb was reduced until the call was made with 50km to go in the stage. Christophe Le-Mével (Garmin-Cervélo) said he was wondering when the Zoncolan was going to start and then suddenly they were on it. “That’s the Giro – it is crazy like that,” he said.
Riders are already grumbling about the long transfers at the Giro. One team bus driver said their squad has already covered 4,500km in the first two weeks of the race. After riding up the Zoncolan, riders were facing a two-hour drive to the start of Sunday’s stage.
To make matters worse, fans and journalists got stuck at the top of the Zoncolan summit when lightning prompted officials to close down the ski chairlift. Everyone had to make the long walk down in the rain.
Rivals waving white flag
Alberto Contador padded his lead to Vincenzo Nibali by 11 seconds, but took major gains against his ever-exasperated rivals. Contador carved more than one minute out of Michele Scarponi and Denis Menchov and more than three minutes on Roman Kreuziger and last year’s runner-up David Arroyo.
Pink jersey rivals seem to be waving the white flag following another demonstration by Contador in the Giro’s mountains.
Nibali says the only hope now is that if Contador has a bad day.
“Now it looks like Contador is unbeatable,” Nibali said. “The fatigue is adding up, so maybe even Alberto will get tired and have a bad day. That’s the only chance we’ll have on trying to gain time on him.”
Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), who admitted he’s not having the Giro that he wanted, said there’s no stopping Contador.
“There’s no magic pill to stop him. It will only be him who can lose the Giro now, only if he enters a crisis,” Rodríguez said. “Maybe there’s a chance to win a stage in the final week, but Contador has the GC under control.”
Arroyo, who slipped to 10th at 7:29 back, said the Zoncolan is a beast he cannot master.
“This is the third time that I’ve climbed Zoncolan and it always kicks my butt,” Arroyo said. “It’s a climb that I need more time to find my rhythm. When Purito attacked, I could quickly see I was not having a good day. At the Giro, things can turned around real fast. We have to look ahead because there’s still a lot of Giro left.
Contador’s bike switch
Alberto Contador once again stopped to switch bikes ahead of a decisive summit finish. With about 50km to go, Contador slowed down, rolled behind the Saxo Bank lead car and quickly swapped frames. Saxo Bank mechanic Faustino Muñoz told VeloNews the switch was for a “slightly lighter” frame for the final climb up Zoncolan. Contador rode a 34×32 up the Zoncolan, which allowed him to keep a high cadence on the ramps as steep as 22 percent.
Contador also switched bikes in a similar situation on the Mount Etna. When asked by VeloNews why Contador switched bikes, Riis said it was for “safety reasons,” saying that Contador rode wider tires with slightly less pressure to make for a smoother, more secure ride over bumpy cobblestones through the Sicilian villages and roads made slick by volcanic ash.
Boos for Contador?
Fans were booing near the finish line as Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) wrapped up the stage, but it was unclear if they were booing him or expressing their discontent that the Monte Crostis stage was eliminated from the stage.
Three riders abandoned during Saturday’s stage, including Andrea Noé (the peloton’s oldest rider at 42), Francesco Chicchi (who admitted to taking pulls up Mount Etna) and Rafael Walls. Ten riders were gone after Friday’s stage, including sprinters Mark Cavendish, Alessandro Petacchi, Manuel Belletti. Some 173 riders remain in the 94th Giro.
• 16km: Crash involving Ardila (Geox), Agnoli (Liquigas), Marangoni (Liquigas) and Righi (Lampre); Marangoni was treated for cuts to his left knee, Righi with cuts to his left calf.
• 87km: Crash “without consequence” involving last year’s runner-up David Arroyo (Movistar).
• 130km: Laurent Didier (Saxo Bank) suffered cuts to his left elbow
Sport directors Marc Wauters (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Luca Scinto (Farnese Vini) were both fined 200 Swiss francs each for “not respecting the instructions of the commissaires.”