Italian Marco Pantani, the leader of the Giro, gave a maestro's demonstration of climbing when he won Stage 15 up into Oropa. In 1993, this climb was memorable because of the problems that the great Spaniard encountered here. In 1999, it was the climb where only Laurent Jalabert could compete and then only for a time. Marco Pantani even lost 30 seconds on the lower slopes due to mechanical problems with his chain and derailleur.
With the 10.5 kms climb in front of him, Pantani was at the back of the main group after he got going again. He didn't panic. Observers pointed out the difference between the Italian's calm approach and the panic that German Jan Ullrich displayed last year on the plateau de Beille in the Tour of France where he blew himself and his teammates up after puncturing.
Instead, Pantani set about regaining the ground with tempo and was given a fantastic reception by the crowd lining the climb. After several kms he caught Ivan Gotti and then proceeded to chase the group of Roberto Heras, Nicola Miceli and Laurent Jalabert. Jalabert had driven the climb hoping to win the stage.
With 3 kms to go before the summit finish, Jalabert looked over his shoulders and saw Pantani coming. It seemed that he knew his fate there and then. Second place was going to be his as Pantani stormed past. At the end, Jalabert confessed that: "Pantani is too strong!"
But Jalabert worked hard to limit the damage knowing that there was still one more ITT to come. He lost only 21 seconds and is now 2.10 down on GC in third place. The ITT on Wednesday comes before more climbing however.
The Oropa (1144m) climb cost a lot of riders time. Italian Paolo Savoldelli (2nd on GC) was a victim as was 1997 Giro winner Ivan Gotti was more than 2 minutes down. Oscar Cameninzind, who already lost a lot of time the day before lost another minute today but Spaniard Jose Maria Jimenez lost around 6 and Alex Zulle lost 8. Zulle has withdrawn from the Giro as planned and has used the race to date to help him come back from his long suspension.
Pantani said afterwards: "I was especially aiming to take time out of my adversaries, and I was not particularly thinking about winning the stage."