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“This has been a very strange Giro.” — Phil Liggett
It’s been such fun, watching dopers, has-beens and thugs pile out of the Giro like clowns out of a Volkswagen, or maybe a Fiat, in some David Lynch remake of a Marx Brothers flick with Chico playing all the parts.
A conspiracy buff might have seen Marco Pantani’s fine Italian hand behind all of this, sprinkling a little Peruvian marching powder over Gilberto Simoni’s müesli, squirting a touch of Probenecid into Stefano Garzelli’s water bottle, and telling Francesco Casagrande some whopper about John Freddy Garcia calling his momma a ho’. But that theory went poof when Il Pirata himself jumped ship with the sniffles, after the organizers started timing him with a calendar.
Meanwhile, erstwhile mountain biker Cadel Evans found himself wearing the pink on his chest instead of in his cheeks, in just his first grand tour — indeed, in his first stage race of any duration — and some dyed-in-the-wool-jersey roadies were getting their bibs in a bunch over the sheer effrontery of it all. Even the Lion King deigned to growl at such presumption.
“Look who’s leading this Giro. Who are they?” sniffed Mario Cipollini during a press conference after winning Tuesday’s stage, recalling the halcyon days of yore when Miguel “Mr. Excitement” Indurain ruled the peloton.
“I can remember Hamilton, he was a worker for Armstrong. Evans, he is from another world, from Australia and a mountain biker. I’ve seen him descend. He has problems on the bike descending.”
Well, shucks. SuperMario may be a Ferrari in a sprint, but he has his own problems on the bike ascending, if I recall correctly. So what if Cadel descends more erratically than a blind mountain crosser with two flats and a bee in his helmet, and Tyler Hamilton falls down more often than a one-legged Boston Mick on St. Patrick’s Day? I notice that they were sitting one and three overall the very next day, despite their many obvious shortcomings, and that most of the bad noise was coming from behind them, like flatulence.
And then came Thursday. Dario Frigo faded like a cheap paint job, losing more ground in less time than any Italian hopeful since Benito Mussolini in the Tour of North Africa. Just as Cadel hit the wall, Tyler tried to hang a Tex Armstrong knockout punch on him and all the other contenders, but his legs were doing a Roberto Duran (“No más, no más”).
All of a sudden, instead of watching “Attack of the Clowns,” we were seeing an actual bike race — no pompous pronouncements, no patron, just plenty of dreamers in a spaghetti-Western barroom brawl, all of them wearing the same expression my face adopts on any gradient more severe than a parking-lot speed bump.
Even the king of the mountains, Julio Perez Cuapio, who ordinarily climbs with a grin like a monkey on meth’, looked as though he was enjoying himself about as much as seventy-something Edward G. Robinson pedaling the battery charger in “Soylent Green” when Pavel Tonkov dropped him like an empty GU packet.
“You’ll get a heart attack,” Charlton Heston warned.
“I should be so lucky,” Eddie G retorted. “I’ve pedaled this thing halfway around the world.”
So has everybody else who’s still in this longest of the three big tours this year, and foremost among them at present is Paolo Savoldelli, who came out of nowhere to put the wood to Tyler in the final kilometers of Thursday’s seven-plus-hour mountain stage, snatching the maglia rosa from Cadel en route. He celebrated by hosing down the startled podium girls with champagne on Thursday, but seemed too pooped to even uncork the bottle at Friday’s post-race ceremonies.
The OLN gang noted that Savoldelli seemed less than ecstatic to be standing on the podium again, wearing the Big Shirt, and indeed “The Falcon” looked more like a chicken with its head on the block, awaiting the ax, with all the buoyancy, confidence and optimism of a Texas death-row inmate.
Hey, why not? He’s got a long time trial on Saturday, Pietro Caucchioli’s breathing down his jersey collar, and if Tyler remembers to pack his race legs for the day’s work, a 90-second head start might not be enough for Il Falco to stay Il Duce when the Giro rolls into Milano on Sunday.
Finally, some drama that doesn’t involve cops and chemicals. This is the way the Giro should end, in a three-way race against the clock, with nowhere to hide. Me, I’m pulling for Tyler, a class act who credits his teammates for their labors on his behalf, doesn’t talk smack about his rivals, and keeps getting back onto that abraded saddle, no matter how many times he falls off of it.
But like Phil said on Friday, it’s been a very strange Giro — and it ain’t over yet.
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