After almost three weeks of talking and racing, the Giro d?Italia will almost certainly be decided in the next two days in the final mountain stages in the Italian Alps.
Alberto Contador (Astana) has a 41 second lead on Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval) and 1-21 on Gilberto Simoni (Diquigiovanni) but the two Italians are promising to attack on the uphill finish to Monte Pora on Friday and then if that does not work, make one last desperate attack on the Passo Gavia and the Passo del Mortirolo on Saturday.
Contador tested his sprint finish in Varese on Thursday as he finished more than seven minutes behind stage winner Jens Voigt (CSC) and made it clear he will sprint against Ricco for the 20-second time bonus and may even attack to gain more time instead of just defending his pink jersey.
?I?m not afraid of the final mountain stages. They will be hard but the mountains are my terrain,? Contador said.
?My rivals will try and attack me, they have to, but I?ll try and take advantage and gain more time.?
?Simoni could attack early on the first big climb of the stage. I?ll wait and see if I go with him, I don?t have to chase him immediately. We?ll see what the situation in the race is and how many team mates are with me.?
?Ricco is fast in a sprint and will be up there but so will I. I don?t want to lose any time on the uphill finish and so will also have a go in the sprint.?
RICCO READY TO ATTACK DESPITE COUGH
Ricco claims he has struggled to sleep in the last few nights due to his cough but promised he would try something.
?The 140km we did in the rain haven?t done anything to help my bronchitis, in fact it seems to be getting worse and worse,? Ricco said.
?However, I don?t want to use it as an excuse because Friday will be the big day of the Giro even if the Mortirolo could also cause some big changes.”
Ricco: Ready for the attack, cough or not
?People keep telling me that Contador is in great shape because the rain has got rid of all the pollen in the air and that helps the allergies he?s supposed to have. Everything seems to be going against me but obviously I?m not going to give up.?
I can?t say what I?m going to do but I know that we?ve got to do something, the time for mind games is over. Whoever has got the legs has to go on the attack on Friday and Saturday. If the stages are aggressive it?ll be better for me. Contador?s team will have to control things and so if we all attack them, we?ve got more chance of isolating Contador and make him more vulnerable.?
Friday?s 228km 19th stage starts in Legnano west of Milan and ends at Monte Pora at an altitude of 1453 metres. In between is the Passo del Vivione which climbs up to 1828 metres. It is 19.8km long and ends with a final five kilometers at 9.5%.
It could be the ideal place to attack Contador because the remaining 50km are in the rolling hills before the 6.4km climb (at 6.8%) up to the finish at Monte Pora.
Saturday?s 224km 20th stage is more suited to long-range, last chance attacks. The stage starts in Rovetta and ends in Tirano near Sondrio after climbing the Passo Gavia ?the highest climb in this year?s Giro at 2618 metres, and the steep Passo del Mortirolo. The final 24km are downhill either helping Contador or setting up a dramatic pursuit match all the way to the finish.
GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: STAGE REPORTS
Stage 18: Voigt wins Giro d’Italia ‘Worlds’ stage in Varese
Stage 17: Cav gifts Greipel the stage
Stage 16: Pellizotti wins mountain time trial
Stage 15: Sella strikes again in the mountains
Stage 14: Sella wins first Giro mountains stage
Stage 13: Easy victory for super-fast Cavendish
Stage 12: Bennati gets photo finish verdict over Cavendish
Stage 11: Bertolini wins hilly stage
Stage 10: Bruseghin wins Giro d’Italia time trial
Stage nine: Cavendish misses out in sprint
Stage eight: Ricco wins again
Stage seven: Di Luca, Ricco and Contador gain time on rivals
Stage six: Italians clean up
Stage five: Millar denied by snapped chain
Stage four: Cavendish wins
Stage three: Bennati romps home
Stage two: Ricco wins Giro d’Italia second stage
Stage one TTT: Slipstream wins Giro team time trial
GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: NEWS
Six Brits finish mountain time trial [stage 16]
Cavendish disappointed after missing out in Giro sprint
Can Cavendish win the Giro today? [stage 12]
Aggressive Cummings comes away empty handed [stage six]
Millar speaks out after missing out in Giro [stage five]
Reaction to Cavendish’s Giro stage win
Cav hits back at Pozzato’s snipe
Cavendish: This is my biggest win [stage four]
Millar celebrates Slipstream Giro d’Italia success
Bettini looking for final Giro glory
Astana’s troubled build-up to the Giro
Petacchi banned for Salbutamol positive
Yates and Astana make last minute rush to Giro
GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: PHOTOS
Giro d’Italia 2008: Photo gallery, week three – new photos added daily
Giro d’Italia 2008: Photo gallery, week two – new photos added daily
Giro d’Italia 2008: Photo gallery, week one.
GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: FEATURES
Five days to go, what’s in store?
Giro d’Italia 2008: Rest day review (May 27)
Cycling Weekly’s all-time list of British pro winners
Giro d’Italia 2008: Rest day review (May 19)
Rest day 1: How the favourites are doing
Giro Britannia part two: From rule Britannia to cruel Britannia
Tuesday Comment (May 13): Why Cavendish is a bona fide world-class star
Giro Britannia: how the Brits are doing in Italy
Giro d’Italia 2008 preview
Giro d’Italia 2008: who will win?
Giro d’Italia 2008: The British are coming
Giro d’Italia on Eurosport: TV schedule