After a large breakaway of 19 riders tried to form but eventually splintered, Matteo Rabottini and Jerome Pineau were joined by Lars Bak and the three spent most of the day away, until Bak saw fit to let the others continue as a duo. Their lead hovered as high as 10 minutes at one point but the teams behind were keeping the gap measurable. The factor of note was the weather….rainy, cold, miserable.
As the gap began to fall toward the end of the race, the rain perhaps helped a tumble that took down several riders, and ultimately saw Craig Lewis (HTC) abandon the race after needing medical attention. Word came down later the young American had broken his leg in the pile up. Marco Pinotti (HTC) had also abandoned. Rough day for that squad.
The riders out front held only 35 seconds ahead of the Katusha led peloton which was being driven on by Di Luca. That lead was slowly chewed up and soon the duo out front were swept up. The Katusha boys kept the pressure on at the front, riding a high tempo.
The sun broke through and shined brightly over the rain soaked roads as Katusha still poured on the pace. The rooster tails from rear wheels glinted in the sunlight.
Garzelli was cooked from his earlier efforts and lived to fight another day, sliding off the back with 10km left to go. The oldest man in the race was clearly thinking about tomorrow, as well as paying for earlier efforts.
As the climb began in earnest, the roads turned mostly dry. The riders had to like that after today’s rainy slog. Katusha still drove it on but it was whittling down just a bit. Some riders had to have tomorrow on the brain. Others well out of the hunt were thinking just of Milan and finishing the Giro.
This cat 3 climb wasn’t too terribly steep, but the pace at the front was damning more and more riders out the back. The top GC riders were all in the bunch, watching each other. The peloton had cut down to maybe 25 riders or so at the front of the race.
Astana threw the first punch as Tiralongo attacked. Katusha ramped up the tempo a bit in chase and closed down the Italian’s move. In through a tunnel the group disappeared, and when the emerged on the other side, Tiralongo of Astana had again left the group. This time the chase didn’t come so spritely as the GC top riders were content to watch each other.
Under th 5km to go banner, Tiralongo had nice gap, maybe about 15 seconds or so. Saxo Bank/Sungard were on the front, lazily chasing in the hardest part of the climb.
Paulo Tiralongo really had his pain face on, driving himself to the limit to keep his advantage and steal this stage win. At 3km he had 22 seconds, and still no moves from the explosive riders in what was left of the peloton behind. Could the Italian hold them off? Would anyone attack? This kind of finish just had Joachim Rodriguez of Katusha written all over it.
Hubert DuPont of AG2R slipped away on the left side of the group with a hard dig. Rodriguez went with DuPont, then quickly countered him. The Frenchman dangled and tried to hook on to the Spaniard’s wheel but the efforts proved futile. Rodriguez was quickly eating into Tiralongo’s lead, but the Italian was still putting everything he had into the move, lurching about with his teeth gritted.
In the group behind, Contador jumped away from the group as well. But the Nibali, Scarponi, Gadret trio rolled up to him….and Gadret jumped them all in pursuit of Rodriguez and Tiralongo.
Contador jumped hard again, and caught and passed Gadret. He went over Rodriguez like he was standing still next. He had Tiralongo in his sites now and quickly lined up alongside him. A word was exchanged, and Contador took to the front, but didn’t drop the Italian. The other GC riders chased behind, but Contador was easily making tempo holding his slight advantage, with Tiralongo on his wheel.
Tiralongo came around his former teammate in the final 100 meters, and Contador just kept checking his shoulder to see where his GC rivals were, effectively gifting the stage to the Italian. The Astana rider gave his best war face with an emphatic two-armed salute.
Contador’s dominance is still omnipresent. If this is his Tour de France “warm up”, the rest of the riders headed for France have to be quaking in their boots.
1 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Pro Team Astana 5:26:27
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:06
4 John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
5 Joaquнm Rodrнguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team
6 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
7 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre – ISD
8 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC