I don't even remember what stage I left off on, but I think it was on Petecchi's 4th stage win after the race exited the mountains. Since then, DiLuca held off a series of challenges to his lead and managed to retain the maglia rosa all the way to Milano for the biggest win of his career and the one that many had predicted for him many years ago. Danilo withstood challenges of all sorts, including a merciless onslaught from the Saunier-Duval team, full of aggressive climbers like Simoni, Pieopoli and Ricco. All those who though Danilo would fail, assumed it would be in the mountains... but that never happened. Saturday's time trial was his final test and he passed it with flying colors and even enjoyed the moment enough to begin celebrating a little bit a day before the finish today, pumping his fists in sheer joy as he finished his time trial. Paolo Salvodelli managed to win that final time trial and salvage a bit of pride in the race. Still, Paolo echoed the comments of most on the race this year and admitted that DiLuca was simply the best rider of this year's race and a worthy winner. Even Simoni, who's not known for his gracious nature, admitted that DiLuca could not be beaten by their hardest efforts. Danilo simply rode smarter and with more drive than any other rider this year and his win is the product of that drive and desire- great job Danilo!
The race provided a great look at Andy Schleck as well. Schleck, in his first ever grand tour, managed to finish on the podium, in second place. Not a bad way to start your grand tour career. It's a fairly sure sign that the lanky youngster is bound for a great career in the 3 week races. It will be very interesting to see just how far this gifted rider can go.
This Giro also saw the return to dominance of Alessandro Petacchi. Ale Jet crashed in the Giro last year and broke his knee cap. His recovery and return to racing since then has been fraught with setbacks and disillusion. 5 stage wins will get you feeling a bit better though. Today, in the final stage of the Giro, Petacchi managed that fifth win in fine form. True, he didn't have too many other sprinters to deal with, but it shows his improving form and strong determination that he even finished the race at all. It will interesting to see if he's able to rest enough to take a win or more at the Tour de France next month.
There were other highlights of the race, like the amazing climbing talent of Piepoli this year, or the two gutsy wins by Garzelli... or even the constant aggression of the Tinkoff team (I still wish they'd gotten a stage win). But, for me, the sheer passion with which the race took place was all I needed. In the wake of so many terrible drug scandals, it was more than a little welcome to see some great racing and a very deserving winner. Cycling is still, for me, the most wonderful sporting spectacle- the pain, the beauty, the tactics, the battle of wits and brawn over 3 weeks in a grand tour... it's poetry of human spirit. I am still in a funk when it comes to European professional racing, but my love for the sport and the racing itself is still as strong as ever.
Just a few more weeks until the Tour!