Read The Jersey Pocket’s first two Giro Rest Day Roundups here and here.
We finished our last round-up with the suggestion that we were heading for new territory on the Giro GC and the middle week of the Corsa Rosa eventually provided that, but not before more familiar fare had been dished up. More rain, more crashes, more cautious riding by the top contenders still intent on saving energy for the savagery of the final week.
With the race now firmly ensconced in the North of the country, Stage 10 from Modena to Salsomaggiore was the quintessential sprinter’s stage – the flattest of the whole Giro and the six man break was duly bought with 10km left to run. Suddenly though it was Sky and BMC who were leading the charge up a last small incline near the finish. As the road levelled Bouhanni was back after another late drift to the rear of the peloton. For once everyone was in the mix. Right up until 700m to go when Tyler Farrar came down causing yet another monster crash as the group approached the final corners. Bouhanni was on the right side of it and looked to capitalise with ex Pink Jersey wearer Mick Matthews, Trek’s Nizzolo, Sky’s Swift and Giant’s Mezgec. The latter two again faded at the death leaving Bouhanni to take his third win of the Giro in front of the others. Cadel Evans, also noticeably at the front yet again at the sharp end, was not affected by the crash just behind him and came home 9th. He immediately grabbed a towel from a soigneur and conducted his post-race press conference with it wrapped around his neck like a security blanket. For all the talk that he would consolidate his position this week, something didn’t quite feel right.
Stage 11 had been talked about as a ‘breakaway’ stage almost as soon as the route was unveiled. With a first pivotal Individual Time Trial the next day, it made sense for an appropriate group be allowed to get away and for the peloton to cruise on behind. Indeed a big group of 14 was allowed to get away but crucially it lacked one team – Androni – and they felt obliged to chase it down, fuelling the peloton’s pace. BMC were not too impressed but the Italian’s ignored the bigger team’s general protests and caught the break well before the end of the day despite yet more crashes which left various members of the peloton with shredded lycra or, in the case of Adriano Malori and Chris Anker Sorensson a dip in a mud filled ditch to go with their road rash. With a quick up and down before the finish there was still time for a couple more twists. First Moreno of Katusha and Arredendo of Trek followed an attack by Tinkoff’s Roche before the tiny Arredendo went away again with the giant Preidler from the Giant-Shimano team. The little and large duo crested the climb first but was one of the chasers, Mick Rogers of Tinkoff, who launched away on the descent and opened up a sizeable gap. The 3x Time Trial World Champion was almost caught at one point on the 25km run-in, his lead dropping to 10sconds before growing to closer to a minute by the end. After a winter to forget, during which he was provisionally suspended for Clenbuterol before cleared by WADA, Rogers continued the amazing run of form for the Australians in the race. It was clearly an emotional victory for the big man from Down Under.
As dawn broke on the Time Trial day so did the heavens. An already technical, lumpy course quickly looked to harder than expected as the clouds opened again. The earlier starters suffered most as conditions worsened and those riders who weren’t threatening the overall took their runs so slowly that occasionally small trains formed. Bt not all went quite so piano; Giant rider Tobias Ludvigsson took a horrific spill on the twisty downhill section, going over the side barriers and lying still, yards away from his bike for a long, long time. Again the emergency support was an awfully time coming but later his team confirmed that his injuries were not too serious.
Diego Ullisi of Lampre stunned watchers and pundits alike with a fast time that stood almost to the end when the favourites took to the course. Whilst Quintana again fell short of expectations it was left to others to fill the gap and shake-up the GC. Pozzovivo, Kelderman and Majka all made top 10 as the GC started to take on a more defined look. Uran, starting just ahead of Cadel Evans, stormed the course though and never looked in trouble as he showed off improved TT skills in the drying conditions to register a surprise stage win and thereby Columbia’s first leaders pink jersey. He beat an off colour Evans back into third place as the Australian again flattered to deceive on a race of truth. Evans seemed a yard short the whole way round the course and on the day he was expected to put time into all his podium rivals he lost more than a minute to Uran and only made small gains on others. OPQS riders also came 5th, 6th and 8th in the TT showing the work that the team have put into training for this discipline but equally noticeable Uran thanked his bike. It’s very unusual for a stage winner to thank his equipment so some recognition should be turned in Specialized’s direction for what Uran clearly feels is a ride-winning machine.
In line with a lot else this Giro, the prediction about how Stage 13 would pan out did not quite go to plan. ‘Bunch sprint’ was the expected order of the day as, with the real mountains now looming very large, the fast men had their last chance for a win until the final day stage in Trieste. Of course there was an early breakaway but no-one believed it would stick. No one except the members of the breakaway itself it seems. The peloton ambled along, confident of catching their prey before the end in Rivarolo Canavese. The break toiled and eeked out a reasonable but not spectacular lead of around three and half minutes. After good work by FdJ.fr earlier the peloton started discussing who should be doing the chasing and the impetus went our for a while. Surely, someone would pick up the pace in time, they all thought. But no one did. They all left it too late and came in 10 seconds back from the three surviving breakaway members who, as well as contesting the day’s podium places amongst themselves, also showed that sometimes, just sometimes, the break wins out. Marco Canolo of the Pro Continental-level Bardiani team took the win – only his 2nd pro victory in a three year career. For his team, this is massive and even if it was their only one of 2014 it would probably justify their whole season.
Stage 14 was already the third Saturday of this Giro but it was still only the first proper mountain stage. A large breakaway of around 20 formed as crashes in the peloton behind saw the retirements of Orica-Greenedges Peter Weening and Sky’s Kanstantin Siutsou, but it was on the slopes of the penultimate Bielmonte climb (with 40km and a first cat summit finish still pending) that the race really began to split wide open. Whilst Pierre Rolland and Ryder Hesjedahl attacked out of the Maglia Rosa group on the lower slopes, up ahead Nicholas Roche attacked from the breakaway to be the first over the top and down the other side followed by small groups all across the mountain side. For once the drama was played out under brighter skies and the race began to look like a Grand Tour instead of an extended set of early season one-dayers.
After re-catching the Irishman, Giant-Shimano’s Alberto Timmer went solo on the final 11km climb with the multiple chasing groups behind holding station. As Rolland and Hedjedal battled in the middle ground Trek FActory’s Racing Julian Arredondo faltered for the first time after initially upping the pace of the Maglia Rosa group. Nairo Quintana, who had put on a spurt to get up alongside the KOM jersey wearer, didn’t want to take up the pace but the pre-race favourite now looked strong for the first time in the whole race after riding in pain for a few days following an earlier tumble. Pink Jersey wearer Uran marked him as their group passed the steepest pasts of the climb with around 4km to go and they let AG2R take up the pacing for their man Pozzovivo. Pozzovivo didn’t hang about for long though; sensing weakness around him he attacked at 3.5km. Quintana, Uran, Belkin’s Wilco Kelderman and Tinkoff’s Rafal Majka followed initially as Evans began an all too familiar slide backwards but then it was only Quintana and Pozzovivo moving ahead alone.
By now there were a number of distinct races going on on the road with breakaway members in-between who were simply forgotten in the melees. Cataldo and Pantano of Colombia were chasing and caught Timmer ahead at the 2km marker. Hesjedal and Rolland were chasing them a further 1km back and it looked as if the win would come from those front three. Somehow Evans had clawed his back up to Uran, who suddenly seemed bereft of teammates and equally bereft of a kick. Back at the front Cataldo put in the first of the final attacks only for Pantano to counter. Timmer came back to them briefly and the three were together again winding it up for the sprint. Catalado looked the smoothest and a Sky win looked to be on the cards. But, almost from nowhere another breakaway member returns to catch them just as Timmer falters once more. It is Enrico Battaglin from Bardiani, team mate to Canolo who took the surprise win the day before. Surely lightning can’t strike twice – even in this latest rain-soaked Giro. Of course it did. Cataldo was in the box seat and took on the sprint but Battaglin came from behind as the Sky rider seemed to hit a wall with less than 10m to go.
Pozzovivo and Qunitana finished just after Hesjedal and Rolland, who came in 2′ 22′” down on the winners with seven others of the breakaway including Roche, Timmer and Lotto’s Tim Wellens crossing before them. Quintana, face as impassive as ever behind his shades, burst for an extra couple of secs over his Italian companion and took back 20 seconds from Evans who still had a little in the tanks at the end. By contrast Uran had nothing left and lost 5 seconds to his older rival when he could not raise the pace in the final straight.
It was a great day’s racing, finally delivering some of the panache and derring-do that we so crave from the mountain stages. The myriad plot lines playing out over the slopes made for compulsive viewing as the very best of the stage racing came to fore; multiple battles being fought by multiple (occasionally overlapping) groups. KOM points, Stage win, GC battles and the simple fight against gravity. Bellissimo!
I’m heading to Sicily tomorrow (Sunday) for a week of family holiday and trying to follow the Italian commentary of the climax to the race. Internet connection permitting I will have added in my thoughts on tomorrow’s finish as the race ascends to the hallowed summit of Plan di Montecampione. Much mention has been made of Marco Pantani in the race this year and the Stage 15 course pays homage to his race winning move there in 1998 on his way to the Giro/Tour Double. Perhaps this is time for Quintana to shine..
Extra Extra! Stage 15 update!
If the Italians can’t have an overall winner in pink in Trieste this time next week, then it’s a safe bet that that the stage win they would most crave for a countryman would be this one. The Plan di Montecampione holds a special place in Italian cycling folklore, more so perhaps than the more famous climbs of the Passo del Stelvio, Gavia or Zoncolan, all of which feature later in this years edition. The tree-lined climb up to the Montecampione is where Pantani sealed his ’98 Giro and is a key part of the homage to him that this edition of the race has sought to become.
Having travelled to Italy myself on this day I missed all of the build-up that the 217km stage might have offered before the crucial last 15km. By the time I reached my holiday villa in Sicily and found Rai 3’s coverage, Lotto’s Adam Hansen and Garmin’s Andre Cardoso were already leading on the lower slopes of the Montecampione. The Maglia Rosa group were 21″ behind with Blue jersey (I still can’t used to this) KOM leader Arredondo bridging up to the front pair.
There was still a lot of action ahead though, as my 3 pages of notes for the next 10miles can attest. Arredondo – so strong at the beginnings of climbs – caught them quickly enough and took Cardozo on with him to test the resolve of Uran and the others. All the GC contenders were still in the thinning chase group who doggedly stuck together almost to the catch, which took place at 9km. Sky, freed from the shackles of overall contention, chanced their arm again: this time it was Ireland’s Philip Deignan who slipped away in a familiar, high cadence style that won him 26″ by the 6km remaining mark.
Behind Deignan, the twenty strong group holding all the main players, started to probe and press the pace. Arredondo soon paid for his earlier efforts whilst Ryder Hesjedal and Ivan Basso also cannot hold the pace which Mick Rogers begins to lay down for his team mate Rafal Majka. Suddenly the group is 14 strong and Deignan’s hard-fought lead begins to tumble fast.
Pierre Rolland makes a slight feint at 5km, a move which which animates Uran, who goes on to make the break that the Frenchman could not quite make stick. Evans, Majka and a much stronger looking Nairo Quintana follow the pink jersey, who eases off once the damage has been done and lets Evans sweat on the front for a while again. The former winners’ pace isn’t enough for Rolland though as he goes again at 4km, taking Colombian Duarte with him as he swiftly catches Deignan.
Astana’s Italian rider Fabian Aru, who has clearly been biding his time in the Uran group, makes his move at 3km prompting a change of pace which, initially, Uran seems most able to match. Quintana waits a little longer, regaining with contact with Uran just as he and Aru catch Rolland and Deignan but whilst they then pause in the regroupement Aru strikes alone for the win.
Quintana, looking well recovered from the injury and cold which affected his first couple of weeks in the race, finally attacks with 1.7km remaining as he looks to start to regain his time losses. Rolland goes with him. Evans has momentarily disappeared from sight and when a moto camera drops back to find him, he is suffering mightily, working like a dog on the front of a group of the young pretenders Keldermann, Majka as well as Pozzovivo, fighting to save his Giro.
Ahead Quintana half springs at 900m trying to catch Aru but he is still lacking the explosive force we saw in 2013 and though he drops his French companion Rolland, he cannot catch the flying Italian. Aru takes an emotional home win and is already fielding questions from the media about Pantani by the time Quintana crosses 22″ later. After Rolland and Duarte cross, Uran comes in ceding just 20″ to Quintana. Evans loses another 32″ to Uran and immediately seeks comfort in his security neck towel/blanket.
At the end of the day Uran had consolidated his lead overall, regaining the minute lead over Evans that he had after the time trial. Aru lay in fourth place 2’24” adrift but Quintana had risen again, up to fifth and now just 2’40 back on his countryman Uran. With the hardest climbing yet come he once again looked like the contender that we all expected before the race.