A relatively short day of 110km greeted the riders today, with nice sunny skies to shepherd them along. However the sting in the tail was the 20km ascent of the Category 2 Mercogliano which lead to the finish. Not enough to greatly upset the apple cart for the GC riders, but certainly an early test of the legs to see which contenders came with the goods.
Giovanni Visconti (Franese Vini) , Matteo Montaguti (AG2R), Federico Canuti (Colnago), Jerome Pineau (Quickstep) and Lars Bak (HTC-Highroad) jumped away with about 80km left to go, and rolled over the first of two Cat 3 climbs, the Serra della Strada, intact, as did the peloton. Hoogerland of Vacansoleil bridged up like a motor car a little later, celebrating his birthday in style. Happy Birthday, Mr. Hoogerland!
20km to go and the break was blasting through Avellino, with Hoogerland driving the pace for the other riders approaching the Intermediate Sprint here (at 89km). The Sprint went uncontested in favor of maintaining the ryhthm of the break.
The group surged along behind, chasing with Acqua e Sapone leading the charge with minimal help from just a few other teams. All thoughts were clearly on the grinding summit finish ahead.
Hoogerland had had enough of the other lads, and made a dig with 16km to go, and the 6 man break became 4 as Visconti and Pineau said “no thanks” and sat up after spending most of the day off the front. Jonny seems to have decided to give himself a nice birthday present – cracking the legs of his break mates.
14km to go, the gap had dropped to 30”, despite Hoogerland’s best efforts to keep the break alive. The real GC guys – and as of now there were still a lot of them very close on time this early in the race – were all jockeying to begin the climb in a prime position. The gap had lost another 10” in 1km, down to 21”. Some riders had thought to give it a go and bridge up to the break, and a few riders floated in no man’s land, but the peloton was being driven on by the teams of the GC contenders.
Meanwhile the autobus began to form off the back with most of the workers. Visconti joined them, after most of the day off the front.
12.5km to go, the steepest 10% part of the climb began, and the gap was a mere 11”. Soon the fireworks would start.
Lars Bak (HTC) decided for some camera time for the sponsor and attacked the break, powering his big self away. This move certainly wouldn’t last but it sure looked good. Meanwhile, more and more guys were being shed from the rear of the field as the climb progressed. The whittling had begun in earnest.
Liquigas drove on behind as they approached the 11km to go mark, Weening sat tucked in behind them, devoid of teammates, still clad in the pink jersey. They swept up Hoogerland, leaving Bak as the lone man out front.
De Clercq looked to have the win wrapped up in the final kilometer…
10km to go the field let up momentarily and Omega Pharma Lotto sent De Greef ahead, and a Radioshack rider and a Katusha rider tried to bridge. Mikael Cherel of AG2R bridged to the small group just dangling in front of the group and went clear, looking fairly good. At this point though the group was powering along well enough, letting all these small moves hang out and fry. Cherel got swamped as Radioshack’s Ivan Rovny tried a dig. It didn’t matter. He was doomed, as was Bak, who we’d forgotten about but as he came back into view it was obvious he was 100% cooked.
The group was still being driven on by the Acqua e Sapone team, who at 7km to go ate up the breakaway that never really was with Rovny. Colnago-CSF’s Rossi gave a little dig, Rovny tried to counter it, and they were summarily swept up. Omega Pharma Lotto again went clear with Bart de Clercq, who managed an actual gap for a moment.
This climb, while difficult, wasn’t going to drastically affect the GC contenders, but it was dooming many others as the main group continued to shrink as they lazily chased De Clercq. Weening was hanging in there.
Michele Scarponi’s sprint brought the leaders right up to De Clercq though…
5km to go, De Clercq was still motoring as best he could with 25”, as Movistar moved a rider to the front of the group to assist in the chase, clearly pitching in for Arroyo. The pacemaking was steady, but De Clerg eked out another few ticks to extend his lead to 33” with under 4km to go!
Androni-Giacatolli sent Ochoa off the front as De Clercq’s break was becoming officially dangerous. The chase didn’t ramp up, none of the GC guys made any moves, so Colnago CSF had Stefano Pirazzi attempt a bridge up to Rodriguez. He made it, then went right over the top of him.
De Clercq took it – but barely – what a great win for the first year pro!
De Clercq hit the 2km to go banner, he was looking really good for a stage win! His shoulders were beginning to swing a little bit as he was clearly running out of gas but throwing everything into it. Pirazzi was chasing with everything he had, but the field was nipping at his heels. Lampre had come to the front and they were drilling it now for the group. Under the 1km to go, De Clercq had a nice buffer still, Lampre still was driving the pace behind. Scarponi took over- just flying – Nibali was on his wheel and they were closing down on De Clercq like a freight train, but De Clercq managed to just stay ahead for the win by mere centimeters as Scarponi and Nibali came roaring past just over the line. What an effort for the Belgian and what a result!
Pieter Weening hung in the group to preserve pink for another day. But the tip of the cap of the day has to go to Bert de Clercq of Omega-Pharma Lotto, who was jubilant on the podium receiving his stage win accolades.
1. Bart De Clercq (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 2:54:47
2. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre – ISD
3. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Pro Team Astana
4. Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone
5. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
6. Joaquнm Rodrнguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team
7. Josй Rujano Guillen (Ven) Androni Giocattoli
8. Dario Cataldo (Ita) Quickstep Cycling Team
9. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard
10. Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Team Garmin-Cervelo
1. Pieter Weening (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 23:09:59
2. Kanstantsin Sivtsov (Blr) HTC-Highroad 0:00:02
3. Marco Pinotti (Ita) HTC-Highroad
4. Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:00:05
5. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre – ISD 0:00:14
6. Pablo Lastras Garcia (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:22
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:24
8. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:28
9. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:00:30
10. Jose Rodolfo Serpa Perez (Col) Androni Giocattoli 0:00:33