Hmmm... that DiLuca kid is looking pretty good, ain't he? I'm sure glad I had him as one of my favorites.
Yes, DiLuca won the stage today and took over the Maglia Rosa (yes, pink jersey) again. His poor teammate Gasparotto was involved in a large crash (one of several on the day) and lost enough time to make it possible for DiLuca to be pretty in pink.
The stage finished on a climb that was much tougher, Category 1, than a lot of people thought it would be (including me). DiLuca won the very same stage back in 2001, so it was even more special to win today and retake the leader's jersey. In second place was new Italian hero Ricardo Ricco of Saunier-Duval and third was Damiano Cunego of Lampre-Fondital (who also won on this stage the last time it was used). Surpisingly strong finishes were had by Garzelli in 5th and Dave Zabriskie in 10th. I'm impressed with Garzelli for hanging on to finish so well, but Zabriskie showed a set of climbing legs that must be scaring a few folks. Known as a TT specialist, Dave Z isn't known as well for his climbing. That said, if he's turning into a better climber, that must scare a few folks- kind of puts him in the category of "contender" suddenly.
The race was animated early, and for hours, by Pavel Brutt of Tinkoff again. Brutt had a few companions along for the ride, but it was once again Brutt who made the race exciting. You just gotta love these gutsy Russian riders who just lay it all on the line. I know I do anyway.
When the race hit the tough climb, it was Saunier-Duval that lit things on fire, setting a brutal pace, along with Liquigas. With about 9km remaining, Julio Perez of Mexico and Ceramica-Panaria tried to slip away on the closing section of the climb... only to pop with about 800m to go to the line. Perez is a three time stage winner of the Giro, so it is not surprising he took a shot today... expect him to try again when the road gets really steep.
Alas, it was DiLuca who sprinted to the win from a select lead group. Thanks to the hard work of his strong team, he was able to propel himself over the line first and with enough time to retake the lead in the race. Not bad.
The crashes on the day did change the face of the race a bit. This year, in the absence of a clear favorite in the race, the field seems to be a bit more "squirrelly" than in years past. See, without a clear "patron" in the race, many riders and teams feel that they can win the race. Suddenly, everybody is a contender and everybody is fighting for their place on the road... which menas a lot more crashes. It is more common for the Tour de France to be marred with multiple crashes this early in the race- people fighting for every inch of road and every little second. The Giro is usually a bit saner in the opening stages- remember the old days of people complaining that the Giro was practically "boring" in the first week or two? Not anymore. The Giro is now as competitive as the Tour. I've always loved the Giro- even before Hampsten won in 1988- so it is great to see its stature rising. The bummer is that it brings the same level of nervousness and chaos that has been such a plague of the Tour. Let's hope that things mellow out a little so that the crashes drop off a bit.
Tomorrow looks like an easier stage, perfect for the sprinter's teams or lucky escapees (Pavel Brutt?). It doesn't look like the course is terribly difficult or particularly technical, so maybe the crashes will be at a minimum... maybe. Expect riders who can break from a small group or a long shot break to look for the win. If it is even remotely close though, look for the sprinters to be whipping the backs of their leadout teams to bring back the break/s and set things up for a elbow-banging good time! Me? My money is on Petacchi (if it comes to a sprint). Otherwise, I'd look for a small group to get away and then a solo rider to jump from that small group as the sprinters chase it down... but that's just me.