Diego UlissiWith the win from Diego Ulissi it took six days, but we got there in the end – the Giro has finally started; no gimmick locations, horrible transfers or rider protests.

Simply hard racing in the beautiful Italian countryside and sunshine at the finish – that’s more like it.

But before we look at Stage Five we have last words on the Stage Four debacle from our resident sage and prophet, Vik.

Diego Ulissi
The Giro is about to get going in Italy. Photo©Fabio Ferrari

He couldn’t be contacted after the stage, retreating to his cave high in the Pentland Hills to ponder the ‘semi-neutralisation’ of the Stage Four due to rain.

He judged thus;

“It was for the best, it follows the trend where we have to consider rider safety first, just like a sportive – which is what these stage races are becoming; sportives and mechanical cycling…

“…Froome looks down at his power meter and they tell him from the car that he can maintain that wattage all the way up to the finish – those power meters and radios should be banned.

“…and I take it we’ll have to do away with Paris-Roubaix, it’s really dangerous?

“…but Bradley will be able to ride the Giro now if they neutralise all of the stages where it rains?

“…on the subject of Brad, he’s in that ‘California Girls’ race and has a new tattoo which looks like…”

As you can see he’s taken Stage Four pretty badly – although he did heap praise on GreenEdge, which is a first for him.

Anyway…

Diego Ulissi
Diego Ulissi. Photo©Gian Mattia D’Alberto

Who’s this Diego Ulissi guy, then?

He first popped up as Italian Novice TT Champion in 2005; within a year he was World Junior Road race Champion – a feat he repeated the following year.

You may think that’s a unique achievement; but it’s not.

In seasons 1992/3 his compatriot, Giuseppe Palumbo achieved exactly the same thing – a junior worlds ‘double.’

It should have marked the start of a long and illustrious palmares – but it didn’t.

Palumbo was a pro for 15 seasons, riding the Giro six times and had three wins as a pro, the GP Gippingen and stages in the Giro Della Liguria and Tour of Wallonia.

A solid pro but if you’d made a prediction on his career prospects after his second junior Worlds win it would probably have anticipated more than three wins in 15 seasons.

The list of junior world champions includes the likes of Roberto Visentini, Greg Lemond, Damiano Cunego and Roman Kreuziger.

But for everyone who ‘makes it big’ there’s a Jeff Evanshine (USA) and a Valentino China (Italy) – who didn’t.

So it’s good to see Ulissi climbing the greasy pole – slowly but surely.

Diego Ulissi
Ulissi has one of the best wins of his career. Photo©Marco Alpozzi

In seasons 2008/9 he scored good U23 wins in Italy, including the Coppa de Grano and GP Commune Guidi; he turned pro with Lampre in 2010.

His first year saw a win in the GP Industria & Commercio – a good start for any neo-pro.

In 2011 he won a Giro stage plus a stage and the GC in the Tour de Slovenie – not World Tour but there are no easy races in Eastern Europe.

The following year there were two stage wins in the Coppi Bartali and another win in the GP Industria & Commercio.

But it was last year when he really began to shine with a stage and the GC in the Coppi Bartali, a stage in the Tour of Poland and then a magnificent late season triptych; Milano-Torino, the Coppa Sabatini and the Giro dell’Emilia.

Those last three performances mark him down as a major talent.

He started this season well with a stage Down Under and won the GP Camaiore – and there may well be other stage wins in this Giro.

He was certainly outstanding in yesterday’s finale against all the big guns.

Diego Ulissi
Michael Matthews and his GreenEdge teammates have defended the lead well. Photo©Gian Mattia D’Alberto

I have to endorse Vik’s praise of GreenEdge, they’ve honoured the race and Matthews dogged defence of that beautiful jersey must be applauded.

The race is taking shape now and it’s apparent that Evans is strong and that Rodriguez has a little ways to go to find form – but Katusha are totally fired up and committed to him.

Quintana and Uran are doing what has to be done – and no more, not with the Gavia, Stelvio and Zoncolan to come in the last week.

Stage Six finishes at the top of Monte Cassino.

Dave, Martin and I have driven past it many times; the stunning, rebuilt Benedictine abbey sits atop the mountain dominating the countryside for miles around.

In 1943 the Allies landed in Salerno and began to fight north through Italy towards Rome but were halted by the Germans along a defensive line which included Cassino as a major observation post and strong point.

The Allies bombed the abbey to oblivion but the structure was so massive and well constructed that the bombing did not have the desired affect and the German paratroops on the mountain top were far from bombed out and broken.

It took tons of bombs, shells, four offensives and thousands of Allied lives to dislodge the dogged Germans in prolonged fighting which was virtually medieval in it’s hand to hand and savage nature.

More than one thousand Allied Polish troops died in the battles, they rest in the Polish Cemetery on the mountain.

Expect Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) to be fully aware of the significance of Cassino to their Motherland.

With thanks to VeloVeritas friend and pundit Ivan for reminding us of the importance of today’s stage finish.

On the memorial in the Polish Cemetery it says:

For our freedom and yours
We soldiers of Poland
Gave
Our soul to God
Our life to the soil of Italy
Our hearts to Poland

Diego Ulissi
The Polish War Cemetry at Monte Cassino.