Discovery Channel Team Report
In the last chance to distance himself from his rivals prior to tomorrow's decisive final mountain stage of the Tour of Italy, Discovery Channel?s Paolo Savoldelli finished fourth in today's 34 kilometer stage 18 time trial and now leads the race by over two minutes with two stages remaining. Savoldelli, the race leader since stage 13 six days ago, finished 23 seconds behind CSC's Ivan Basso, who won his second consecutive stage. Vladimir Karpets of Illes Balears finished second in the stage, at nine seconds, while stage eight time trial winner Dave Zabriskie, also of CSC, placed third, at 20 seconds.
In the overall classification, Savoldelli gained 1:11 on his closest pursuer, Gilberto Simoni of Lampre, extending his lead from 58 seconds to 2:09. Third placed Jose Rujano of Selle Italia lost 1:36 to fall to three minutes back while former race leader Danilo Di Luca doubled his 1:36 deficit to fall 3:08 behind.
"I think today's stage meant a lot for Paolo," said Discovery Channel team sports manager Johan Bruyneel, speaking from his home in Spain. "My guess was he needed to take a minimum of one minute from Simoni and he did even better. I think it's a good sign for tomorrow. Even in the most difficult part of the stage, he was faster than Simoni. It's definitely good for his confidence going into tomorrow. Having a 2:09 lead is great, but it's going to be hard tomorrow. It's a very tough stage and the second to last climb is just terrible. He will have to be conservative and if he gets in trouble, he will have to keep his own pace. I'm excited for him. After yesterday (where Simoni gained 42 seconds on Savoldelli), I didn't think he would be in this position, but to take 1:11 out of Simoni today means Paolo's not finished and he has something left. It was huge for his morale."
Tomorrow's final mountain stage, 190 kms in length, takes the peloton up the climb of Sestriere twice but also includes the Colle della Finestre. The climb is 18.5 km with an average grade of 9.2% with the final 7.9 km on a gravel road.
"I'm convinced the Giro will be decided on the Colle delle Finestre climb," Savoldelli told Reuters. "It's the hardest climb of the stage, most suitable for attacks, and it is where time gaps will open. It's up to Simoni and Rujano to attack me if they want to win the Giro. I'll ride on the defensive as I always do and try to lose as little time as possible."
?He's feeling confident and isn't nervous," Bruyneel said of Savoldelli. "He said he's where he wants to be and now it just depends on his legs for tomorrow. One thing he said was his biggest victory has already been achieved - and that's back to bring a super bike rider after two years of a lot of problems. Being on this level again is his biggest victory and everything else is a bonus. That's a good sign for tomorrow. He's not one to panic - it's Simoni that has to be nervous."
The team's assistant sports manager Sean Yates echoed Bruyneel's stance. "He's quietly confident," Yates said of Savoldelli. "Barring disaster, it (the lead) should be enough. He's in a good position. The way it's panning out, Basso will try and win again tomorrow so they (CSC) will do a hard tempo on the climbs and then it should be every man for himself in the last 30 kms. Simoni is a strong climber and Paolo isn't a pure climber like him. It's normal Paolo would expect to lose a bit of time on the climbs but he also knew he could pull some back in the time trial."
In the race's three time trials - totaling 80.1 kms including the opening 1.1 km prologue - Savoldelli has gained 3:26 on Simoni, 6:07 on Rujano, 2:26 on Di Luca and 2:29 on fifth placed Juan Garate of Saunier Duval, who trails Savoldelli by 3:13.
"He has to make hay while the sun shines," Yates added. "Simoni is a specialist in the mountains but when it all adds up, it's better to be a strong time trial rider and a reasonable climber than a super climber and a weak time trialist."
The 88th Giro then finishes Sunday with a 119 km stage to Milan.
Click here for complete stage 18 results and overall rankings.