Work in Sports
Captain and champion
Garzelli claims Giro d'Italia title
Posted: Wednesday June 07, 2000 01:59 PM
MILAN, Italy (AP) -- Stefano Garzelli, the "Gregario" (captain aide) who changed into champion, on Sunday captured the Giro d'Italia beating fellow Italian Francesco Casagrande by 1-minute and 27 seconds at the end of the three-week cycling marathon.Garzelli, a teammate and top aide of Mercatone Uno captain-star Marco Pantani, scored the most prestigious victory in his four-year pro career as he took over the role of team leader when Pantani slipped behind in the initial uphill legs.
Pantani, returning from a self-imposed, one-year layoff following his disqualification in last year's Giro, finished nearly one hour behind the teammate as he started in the Italian event with the declared goal to prepare for this summer's Tour of France that he already won in 1998.
Garzelli's victory, ahead of three other unheralded Italians, touched off suggestions of a low-key Giro, missing the high notes in the spectacular uphill stages.
Pantani's feats on the Alps, in the Giro that he won in 1998 and in the 1999 edition that he was dominating until he was banned for failing a blood test, touched off a nationwide craze. Italy's largest sport daily Gazzetta dello Sport, which is the main sponsor of the race, dubbed Garzelli as a newly-born star and emphasized that the Giro reflected the good and the bad of the present international cycling.
However, such stars as Jan Ulrich, 1999 Tour of France winner Lance Armstrong, French veteran Laurent Jalabert and world road champion Oscar Freire did not start in the Giro to prepare for the French race.
Garzelli, a 26-year old from the northern province of Varese, came into the limelight in the second half of the Giro, keeping the pace of the best climbers -- Casagrande and Gilberto Simoni -- in the tough uphill stages which ended at Abetone, Val Gardena and Bormio.
Only 25 seconds behind Casagrande at the start of Saturday's crucial uphill time trial from Briancon to Sestriere, Garzelli beat Casagrande by nearly two minutes to clinch the pink jersey of overall leader and the 83rd edition of Italy's most prestigious cycling race.
"It's a dream coming true, I still can't believe it," Garzelli said at the awarding ceremony. "I must thank Marco [Pantani] for the advice and the help he gave me in the most difficult moments of the race."
Casagrande, who led the race for 12 consecutive legs, trailed Garzelli throughout Saturday's time trial and said he was mentally exhausted in the decisive day.
The 29-year-old captain of Vini Caldirola, who was shooting for his first Giro triumph, promised he will win the Italian race "within the next two years."
Casagrande, current leader of the world standings, said Garzelli had the advantage of starting lowly regarded.
"He kept hiding most of the race, and came out on the right day," Casagrande said.
Sunday's last stage from Turin to Milan was by tradition a parade leg for the race leader.
Mariano Piccoli, of the Lampre team, eventually won a five-way all-Italian sprint ahead of Saeco's Giuseppe Calcaterra at the finish line in Milan.
The main group, with Garzelli and Casagrande, finished a few seconds behind.
Piccoli completed the 189-kilometer (117.1-mile) distance in four hours, 44 minutes, 12 seconds.
Garzelli, who had scored his only previous highlight victory in the 1998 Tour of Switzerland, ended the Giro with a single stage victory at Prato Nevoso last Thursday and a boosted popularity.
Other top finishers overall included Simoni, third with a gap of 1:33, and Andrera Noe, fourth 4:58 behind.
Russian Pavel Tonkov, a Giro winner in 1996, was the first non-Italian finisher in fifth place with Colombian Hernan Buenahora coming next.
Ivan Gotti, last year's Giro winner, ended more than 30 minutes behind Garzelli.Pantani had a single day of glory when he placed second to Paolo Lanfranchi in Friday's stage through the Agnello and Izoard passes, at Briancon, France.
"I believe Garzelli was the strongest of the field, and deserved victory," Pantani said of the teammate.