We’re into the second day of a weekend dedicated to that tragic hero Marco Pantani and with the final rest day tomorrow looming large it was always going to be a day of fighting for position before we enter the last week of this race…a week that should now guarantee us some pure attack-filled racing!
Astana’s young Fabio Aru came to life on the final slopes for a classy and much deserved win.
Cadel Evans (BMC) may not have had the ‘bad day’ that we all know he’s capable of but it seems as if he was missing the page of the script where it said how much time Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) would gain in the ITT. So rather than sit back and consolidate his lead he’s going to have to go out and win from the front. Evans is always a much more exciting rider when he does that and Uran has shown that he may be vulnerable.
Today’s stage from Valdengo to Montecampione was pretty much flat all the way but finished with a 20km climb to the summit. It’s a steep incline averaging 8% for the lower slopes with a slight easing of the gradient at 8km to go but then it ramps up again for the final 6km to the finish line. And with Quintana (Movistar) and Pozzivivo (AG2R) matching each other in their climbing ability, it was always a day with the potential to wreak havoc on the GC standings. Here’s how it played out.
Omega Pharma Let Them Go
With just 16km covered, the break of the day managed to snap the elastic and set off up the road. Nine riders slipped the leash and as they pushed the gap out to 1 minute they were joined by three more to form a group that consisted of: Fabio Felline (Trek Factory Racing), Luca Paolini (Katusha), Simon Geschke (Giant Shimano), Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol), Damiano Cunego (Lampre Merida), Andre Fernando Cardoso (Garmin Sharp), Johan Le Bon (FdJ.fr), Daniele Ratto (Cannondale), Maxime Bouet (AG2R), Rodolfo Torres (Colombia), Jackson Rodriguez (Andrioni Giocattoli) and Enrico Barbin (Bardiani-CSF).
Back in the peloton the pace was being set by the team of the Maglia Rosa but they were just keeping it even, not letting the gap get too large but not reeling the escapees in and encouraging others to try their hand.
With 100km to go the gap had pushed out to 7:15 and 15km later it was at 7:30. With the closest rival in the break to the overall being Cunego at 10:32 the reaction was sure to come soon as Uran’s team would want to stop him from getting too far ahead. That said they didn’t want to work too hard as other teams also had their cards to play.
With the break taking the lead out to 10 minutes, and Cunego coming close to leading-on-the-road, the reaction finally came and the bunch began to step up the pace.
Within the next 10km they reduced the lead by 3 minutes and with the smart money saying that the break would need a gap of at least 7 minutes by the start of the climb, the peloton was keeping them well within reach. Omega Pharma was massed around their leader but the teams of BMC, Astana and Cannondale were all being very attentive, and protective, towards their respective overall hopes. With Scinto’s Nero Sottoli-Yellow Fluo team having missed the break they were pushing the peloton along and the gap was continuing to drop. Some of the managers of the smaller teams must be getting desperate as opportunities for stage wins begin to dry up and so they were pushing to bring this gap down.
Into the final 50km and the smaller Italian teams were still driving the bunch along but they were now joined by riders from some of the bigger teams. The gap was under 6 minutes but with the GC teams determined to reach the climb in good positions it had dropped by a further minute within another 10km.
The weather was good and the pace was high and with the riders beginning to scent tomorrow’s rest day, the racing was getting faster. Sticking to the formula of 1 minute/10km the gap was further reduced to just under 4 minutes with 30km left. Another 10km and they would be at the climb and the GC teams were beginning to come to the front of the bunch.
There was a fair bit of speculation as to the motive behind Neri-Sottoli’s tactics as it was difficult to see what their intention was…other than to burn bridges with the teams in the breakaway. The result though was that the average speed had put the race ahead of the best estimate but with the climb fast approaching, the team of Movistar began to take control.
Plan di Montecampione
The climb began as if out of nowhere and the break only had 2:24. The riders had to handle a complete change of pace as they changed down in gear and with an average gradient of over 7%, but rising in places to 12%, it was going to be a long grind to the summit for some.
Adam Hansen was the first rider from the break to make a move and he took Rodriguez and Bouet with him. The break was now disintegrating as riders fought to find a comfortable pace. Evans was in the ideal spot back in the bunch, ready for the action that was sure to come.
As the bunch turned onto the climb some 1:28 behind the break it was clear that they would overcome the escapees very shortly. Up ahead, Hansen had left his companions to make his own way up the climb.
First out of the bunch to sail away was Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing) who was leading the KOM competition but he was soon joined by Zardini and Pirazzi (Bardiani-CSF) and they tried to move away up the mountain. They were holding a slender lead ahead of the peloton while up ahead Hansen was holding the bunch at 1:22.
Cardoso had recovered and had fought his way back to Hansen and the two were looking strong. Cardoso came to the front with 15km to go and was setting the pace. The chasers were clawing the lead duo back but this was being matched by the diminishing bunch behind.
Sanchez (BMC) had now come to the front to cover for Evans as the chasers up ahead had caught and passed Cunego as they sought to close in on the leaders. The chase group of three was only sitting 14 seconds ahead of the bunch but Sanchez was bringing the Maglia Rosa group up the climb.
The other riders from the original break had now recovered back to the leaders with Torres and Felline joining up. Torres went straight through but was soon reeled in as Cardoso went again. The big Australian though was soon back on his wheel as riders came and went up the climb.
With this action up ahead, the Arredondo group was closing in to 22 seconds as Omega now took up the running in what was left of the main bunch. Felline appeared to lose contact but it soon became clear that he was waiting for Arredondo so that he could act as his guardian.
The bridge was made and Felline kept driving and Hansen was soon dropped as the pure climbers took over. Eventually Felline cracked and it was down to Cardoso and Arredondo but the bunch was only 20 seconds back with Rolland and Pozzovivo looking as if they were itching to attack.
Just as the organizers had planned, this stage was shaping up to be a great tribute to Pantani. Arredondo was doing his best to ride to the finish but with 10km to go it was looking as if the Portuguese climber couldn’t hang on. The main contenders were massing just behind and surely just waiting to take their chance.
Deignan (Sky) attacked out of the bunch and soon passed Zardini as he looked to catch the leaders. Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) was leading the bunch but the Irish Sky rider was soon up to the leading pair. He wasn’t hanging around and went right past them. As Arredondo and Cardoso were caught by the Rogers-led bunch, Deignan was holding a slim lead. Other riders such as Basso and Hesjedal were slipping out the back of the rapidly diminishing bunch.
The group was now almost entirely made up of GC riders with the exception of Rogers who was burying himself for Majka as Deignan had only 15 seconds advantage. The Irishman was now on the slight easing of the gradient at 7km to go but the group behind looked as if they were still watching and waiting. Basso and Hesjedal had made it back but it would prove temporary for Basso as he soon slipped away again.
Attack, Attack, Attack
First to go was Rolland (Europcar) as he attacked the GC group but Uran and Evans went with him as everyone scrambled behind. Evans was fighting his bike but the stronger rider looked to be Uran as the group came back together. You never can tell with Evans as he was next to go but again they all came back together.
Rolland went again and this time Uran let him go as the Frenchman went in search of the Irish leader. Again the leaders were watching each other as up ahead Rolland had joined up with Deignan. And now Quintana stretched his legs but again was brought back. Fabio Aru (Astana) now took his turn as everyone tried to chase him. Evans began to lose ground to Uran as he and Quintana joined up to Aru. Duarte (Colombia) was in there too.
Deignan was blown and Rolland was leading with Aru and Uran with Quintana making it on. Aru attacked again and rode clear of the field as Quintana attacked behind. Rolland went with him as Duarte stayed with a struggling Uran. Duarte though wasn’t content to sit there and went away from Uran and was soon up to Quintana and Rolland.
Aru was fighting for the finish as Quintana went behind but Rolland and Duarte fought their way back to him. Uran was losing precious seconds behind, as was Evans.
Around the final corner and Fabio Aru took the win with Duarte counter-attacking Quintana and Rolland to take second with the Colombian rider finishing third and the Frenchman fourth. Uran came in 15 seconds behind Quintana but ahead of the group that contained Evans and Pozzovivo.
Fabio Aru moved into the position of a GC contender today and will take a massive boost from the knowledge that traditionally the winner here goes on to take the overall Giro victory.
What a day to make his move and a fitting tribute to Marco Pantani.
Keep it Pez for all the latest news.
Results: Giro d’Italia 2014 Stage 15
1. ARU Fabio ITA AST 5:33:06 0:00 10″
2. DUARTE AREVALO Fabio Andres COL COL 5:33:27 0:21 6″
3. QUINTANA Nairo COL MOV 5:33:28 0:22 4″
4. ROLLAND Pierre FRA EUC 5:33:28 0:22
5. URAN URAN Rigoberto COL OPQ 5:33:48 0:42
6. MAJKA Rafal POL TCS 5:34:03 0:57
7. PELLIZOTTI Franco ITA AND 5:34:14 1:08
8. MORENO FERNANDEZ Daniel ESP KAT 5:34:14 1:08
9. HESJEDAL Ryder CAN GRS 5:34:19 1:13
10. EVANS Cadel AUS BMC 5:34:19 1:13
GC After Stage 15
1. URAN URAN Rigoberto COL OPQ 63:26:39 0:00
2. EVANS Cadel AUS BMC 63:27:42 1:03
3. MAJKA Rafal POL TCS 63:28:29 1:50
4. ARU Fabio ITA AST 63:29:03 2:24
5. QUINTANA Nairo COL MOV 63:29:19 2:40
6. POZZOVIVO Domenico ITA ALM 63:29:21 2:42
7. KELDERMAN Wilco NED BEL 63:29:43 3:04
8. ROLLAND Pierre FRA EUC 63:31:26 4:47
9. KISERLOVSKI Robert CRO TFR 63:32:23 5:44
10. POELS Wouter NED OPQ 63:33:11 6:32