Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval) turned Saturday?s expected transfer stage of the Giro d?Italia into a battlefield with a determined attack with Paolo Savoldelli (Astana), Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) and five other riders.
Garzelli won the stage by catching and passing Simoni in the final metres in Bergamo but Simoni finished 38 seconds ahead of race leader Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and had them deeply worried for most of the stage.
Thanks to the 12-second time bonus, Simoni moved up three places in the overall standings and is now fifth at 2:42. Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre) is still second overall at 55 seconds, with Andy Schleck (CSC) at 1:57.
The battle began on the Passo San Marco near the tip of Lake Como. Bettini, Garzelli and other riders were already in the break and then Simoni and the others dived down the descent behind Savoldelli. Di Luca and Cunego stayed in the main bunch but two groups formed up front and sparked a long pursuit match all the way to the finish.
Simoni attacked on the short climb to Bergamo Alto and got a gap on Garzelli and Bettini. He seemed to have done enough to win and deserved it but Garzelli caught in the finishing straight and passed him to win.
Garzelli was sorry to have jumped past Simoni in the final metres but was happy to have won the stage.
?I?m very happy because I haven?t won a Giro stage since 2004. I didn?t think I?d catch Simoni but I dived into the final corner and came out fast enough to get up to him,? he said.
?It was a hard stage and we revolutionised our team strategy to try and win but it was worth it. I risked my neck ten times on the descent following Paolo Savoldelli but my team mate Massimo Codol is a great descender and also worked hard on the flat roads before the finish.?
Simoni accused a television motorbike for helping Garzelli catch him but was enthusiastic about the big mountain stage on his home roads. To help recover for the key stage in the Dolomites, Simoni and Saunier Duval team mates Riccardo Ricco and Leonardo Piepoli took a private helicopter to Trento. The other riders were forced to make the long transfer go by team bus.
?It?s a tough and very hard stage in the Dolomites and will be very important,? Simoni said.
?The Passo di Giau and the small climb near the Misurina Lake are tough and then there is the uphill finish to Tre Cime di Lavaredo. I hope I can ride well because it?s very close to my home and I know the climbs like the back of my hand. I don?t think Di Luca will sleep easy tonight.?
Di Luca admitted that Simoni is now his main rival in the three-week race.
?Simoni is still two and half minutes behind overall but he?s the man to beat in the Giro because he?s always strong in the last week of the Giro and can climb very well,? he said.
?The stage to Tre Cime di Lavaredo is the hardest of the whole Giro and I?d be happy to lose just 30 seconds to Simoni at the finish. To win the Giro I need a two-minute lead before the tough mountain top finish at Monte Zoncolan and then final time trial to Verona.?
The 184km stage to Tre Cime di Lavaredo includes the climbs of San Pellegrino, the Passo di Giau, the Passo di Tre Croci and then the final 7km climb to the finish at Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
GIRO D’ITALIA: STAGE 14 RESULTS
1 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone 192km in 4.58.34
2 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saunier Duval – Prodir
3 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quickstep – Innergetic
4 Fortunato Baliani (Ita) Ceramica Panaria – Navigare
5 Eddy Mazzoleni (Ita) Astana
6 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Astana 0.03
7 Ivan Ramiro Parra Pinto (Col) Cofidis
8 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas 0.38
9 Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval – Prodir
10 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre – Fondital
25 Charles Wegelius (GBr) Liquigas at 23-53
98 Steve Cummings (GBr) Discovery Channnel at 20-32
OVERALL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 14
1 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas 62.10.40
2 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre – Fondital 0.55
3 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team CSC 1.57
4 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre – Fondital 2.40
5 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saunier Duval – Prodir 2.42
6 Francisco Javier Vila Errandonea (Spa) Lampre – Fondital 2.44
7 David Arroyo Duran (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 2.51
8 Evgeni Petrov (Rus) Tinkoff Credit System 3.11
9 Eddy Mazzoleni (Ita) Astana 3.15
10 Emanuele Sella (Ita) Ceramica Panaria – Navigare 3.52
31 Charles Wegelius (GBr) Liquigas at 26-08
112 Steve Cummings (GBr) Discovery Channnel at 1-38-20