Denis Menchov claimed victory in the centenary edition of the Giro in Rome today in the most dramatic of circumstances, recovering from a fall to swap bikes and still seal the win. His only rival for the the general classification, the Italian, Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes) had to settle for second place.
The riders were welcomed to final day of the race on the streets of Rome by warm sunny conditions. Mercifully the Romans made a better job of organising the street closures than the Milanese earlier in the race but the flat but twisty 14km course never looked destined to produce really quick times as 80% of it was run on flagstones rather than tarmac.
It was certainly very technical, and Astana head honcho Johan Bruyneel described the course as a 'joke'. With Menchov the better time triallist and Di Luca arguably the better bike handler the playing field looked fairly even for the top two.
The early pace was set by Ignatas Konovalovas (Cervelo Test Team) who clocked an 18:42, almost matched by Bradley Wiggins (Garmin Slipstream) who finished a second outside the Lithuanian's time and would surely have beaten it had it not been for a stopped team car attending to Matthieu Sprick, who had fallen on the run in to the finish. Boasson-Hagen (Columbia Highroad) (18:49) and Popovych (Astana) (18:53) also managed quick finishes early on.
While Wiggins was out on the course the rain started to come down, making a testing course that much more difficult and adding over two minutes to finishing times. Once the shower stopped and the streets started to dry again the times being posted started to go down once again. Lance Armstrong was blessed with mainly dry streets but was cautious around the tight course, posting a 20:01. Marzio Bruseghin of Lampre was the fifth man to go under the nineteen minute mark.
On a damp course no-one looked like they'd better Konvalovas' time set on dry streets but it was always going to be about the final two rather than the win, and both Menchov (on a TT bike) and Di Luca (on a standard road iron) exploded out of the gate. As spots of rain started to fall again on the course, both men looked to be giving it absolutely everything. Di Luca went through the first checkpoint fastest at 4:18 and Mechov couldn't match him, posting a 4:23. At that point the race looked to be heading for one of its closest ever finish: would it be closer than 1948, when just 11 seconds separated Fiorenzo Magni and Ezio Cecchi in first and second places?
With the rain again making the flagstones treacherous the balance of power seemed to be shifting towards Di Luca, but he began to struggle for pace and his 10:18 at the second checkpoint was bettered by the flying Menchov who went through in 10:04, 14 seconds up on the Italian. From that point onwards it was always slipping away from Di Luca, and he posted a finishing time of 19:27, giving Menchov a target of 19:47 to retain the Maglia Rosa and take the crown.
But a stage that had been dramatic throughout had one final twist: in the last kilometre Menchov slipped on the wet flagstones and looked to have thrown away his chance of the win as he sprawled across the cobbles. However, with the lightning-quick help of his mechanic he executed a perfect bike swap and recovered to finish the 14km course in 19:06, claiming the overall victory by 41 seconds.
So it's had its ups and its downs but Menchov claims the crown in the end and he's a worthy winner, having been pushed every inch of the way by Di Luca. The centenary Giro has had plenty of incident to keep us interested, and indeed we were kept guessing right up to the final kilometre of the final stage. It's been a good advert for the sport (with the exception of the Milan debacle) and a great prelude to the Tour.
One subject which will no doubt continue to eat up the column inches is Lance Armstrong's return, and although he was never going to trouble the podium in this year's Giro it's clear from the interviews that he gave during the race that he wasn't really expecting to: The collarbone break put his preparation back, and his plan was always to peak for the Tour. So how has his race gone? Well the first few major climbs found him out pretty badly, but his performances have improved consistently over the three weeks, and he looked strong in the final week, chasing breaks down and working hard for Leipheimer and the rest of the team - maybe not a role he would have chosen. He appeared to be taking it fairly easy on the last stage but there wasn't much to gain from really going for it, he's not currently in the kind of form that could have scored him a win. Whether he'll find that form in July we'll have to wait and see...
Top 10 Giro d'Italia Stage 21 1) Ignatas Konovalovas (Ltu) Cervelo Test Team 18.42 2) Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream 0.01 3) Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Columbia - Highroad 0.07 4) Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Astana 0.11 5) Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre - N.G.C. 0.16 6) Giovanni Visconti (Ita) ISD 0.18 7) Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quick Step 0.20 8) Maarten Tjallingii (Ned) Rabobank 0.21 9) Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone - Caffe Mokambo 0.23 10) Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 0.24 16) Danilo Di Luca (Ita) LPR Brakes - Farnese Vini 0.45 Top 10 General Classification overall 1) Denis Menchov (Rabobank) 86.03.11 2) Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes - Farnese Vini) 0.41 3) Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) 1.59 4) Carlos Sastre (Cervelo Test Team) 3.46 5) Ivan Basso (Liquigas) 3.59 6) Levi Leipheimer (Astana) 5.28 7) Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone - Caffe Mokambo) 8.43 8) Michael Rogers (Team Columbia - Highroad) 10.01 9) Tadej Valjavec (AG2R La Mondiale) 11.13 10) Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre - N.G.C.) 11.28
Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.