How Do You Solve A Problem Like DiLuca?

May 29 2009

I think Cyclingnews had it right with their photo caption snafu (preserved at left) on today’s Stage 19 write-up. Carlos Sastre once again put time into everyone on a mountaintop finish, but it was essentially a sideshow. The Spaniard needed to plan on being a little less far down for a late-race surge to work, and even then, he might have found himself more closely marked.

The efforts of Pellizotti (who will henceforth be referred to as “Zaza” on this blog—as much for Joey as Gabor) have also benefited from the close battle between Menchov and DiLuca. Perhaps if his team car hadn’t been hijacked by an offer-caffeinated bonobo around Stage 3, and an alliance with Basso had been better forged, he might have a shot, but right now, this race belongs to one of two men.

And for Dennis Menchov, that’s a problem. I cannot imagine a rider I’d want to be 18 seconds ahead of less in the final stages of a Grand Tour than Danilo DiLuca. With the TT into Milan still looming, I think the Rabobank man would almost be more comfortable it were the Italian in the maglia rosa right now. DiLuca would be forced to rest up, his LPR team would have the burden of controlling the race, and all the Russian would need to do is put back 1.2 seconds/kilometer in a discipline at which he excels.

But with Menchov in the lead, its Rabobank that must control the pace, and DiLuca, 18 seconds down from the lead, but over a minute ahead of third, has incentive and insurance for whatever crazy maneuvers he can think of in tomorrow’s stage. Rabo might look into forming an allegiance with the sprinters teams to keep things together—except that DiLuca’s LPR team also represents the best sprinter still in the Giro.

Let’s recap DiLuca’s exploits. In Stage 10‘s unconventional finish, the Killer flashed the brilliant panache of a one-day racer to put ten seconds and a stage winner’s bonus on the field. In Stage 3, he was mixing it up with the bunch sprinters in the final K, and in Stage 4, he showed as long as the stage is steep at the end, he’s still the best around. Tomorrow’s stage is an unconventional finish, that could be for bunch sprinters but is steep at the end. It makes me want to overnight a bottle of Xanax to the Rabobank team’s hotel.

You might think, given his crushing victory in Stage 12 that the final ITT into Rome would be an insurance policy for Menchov. But 14.4 twisting, narrow, cobblestoned kilometers are hardly what a TT specialist wants to see. A single blown corner, a flat tire, heck, even grabbing too much brake could cost the Russian seconds, and possibly an entire Grand Tour. Let’s not forget, the last Grand Tour decided by a few ticks of the clock concluded with a “too-short-to-matter” time trial as well.

Whatever happens, I’m pumped for it. Grand Tours that are close in the final days are a rare thing—and the opportunity to watch them live is even rarer.

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