World champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) outsprinted a select group of contenders on Saturday to win stage 7 of the 2010 Giro d’Italia.
The rainbow jersey hit the pavé in Montalcino with Alexander Vinokourov (Astana), Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and David Arroyo Duran (Caisse d’Epargne), and shelled them all in the final dash to the line.
“It’s a stage that was suited for me and we prepared for well for it,” said Evans. “The course reconnaissance we did paid off.”
Cunego hung on for second, two seconds behind Evans, with Vino’ third in the same time. The Astana man had nothing to complain about, though — his effort on the day put him back in the overall lead.
“This stage was very difficult, the start was very quick,” said Vinokourov. “The harder it is the better it is for me. Maybe this stage ended up being harder than a mountain stage, like what we are expecting tomorrow.”
Behind them, maglia rosa Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) suffered through a very bad day indeed, crashing on a rain-slicked corner before the race even reached the greasy strade bianche and losing more than two minutes on the day.
“I couldn’t avoid (Michele) Scarponi when he crashed. What can you do when that happens?” said Nibali. “I hurt my leg and for a few minutes I could barely move the pedals. Later, with (Ivan) Basso, we rolled together stronger.”
Added Basso: “It was a black day. Three of us fell, Vincenzo, (Valerio) Agnoli and me. Then we just tried to limit the damage. Now we have to change plans. The Giro is still open.”
A very tough day
The 2010 Giro d’Italia’s stage 7 was a tough 220km race from Carrara to Montalcino. The day began with 50km of racing along the Tyrrhenian coast, then turned inland at Pisa and very gradually began to rise toward the day’s first ranked climb at Volterra.
The hilly finale took in two 10km-long stretches of strade bianche, the ordinarily dusty white dirt roads made famous by the Montepaschi Eroica race. Today they were otherwise — slick and slippery, thanks to a spring rain. The second sector was almost entirely uphill and ended only 4.4km from the finish in Montalcino.
Along the way were three rated climbs:
- The Category 3 Volterra, which summits at the 117.7km mark
- The Cat. 3 Passo del Rospatoio, which summits at 184.6km
- The Cat. 2 Poggio Civitella, which summits at 217.6km
It was cloudy at the start in Carrara and raining at the finish in Montalcino, with temps of 14.5 degrees (58 Fahrenheit) and light winds from the north-northwest.
A landslide forced some changes in the course, trimming 2km from the distance and erasing the first KOM. Also reduced was the peloton, which was down to 191 riders after Guillaume Bonnafond (Ag2r La Mondiale), Michele Merlo (Footon-Servetto-Fuji) and Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) withdrew on Friday with injuries from a spate of crashes and Eros Capecchi (Footon-Servetto-Fuji) and Marzio Bruseghin (Caisse d’Epargne) declined to start Saturday’s stage.
A fast start
The race got off to a brisk start, covering 52.5km over the first hour as riders tried and failed to get off the front. A big break finally went, but it contained Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas), third on the overall, and thus its chances were nil. Katusha did the lion’s share of the work to retrieve the escapees.
Next to go were Nicki Sorensen (Saxo Bank) and Rick Flens (Rabobank), who built a lead of just over nine minutes by the 128km mark.
- Sorensen, 128th at 20:53
- Flens, 150th at 24:05
The peloton was content to let them have their moment in the sun, which was conspicuous by its absence.
Katusha clocked back in and with a little help from Lampre began taking time back. With 71km to go, the gap was down to six minutes and falling fast.
A split in the main field saw Carlos Sastre (Cervélo) having another bad day. He was caught in the second group and losing time with 56km to go.
Just as the catch was coming Team Sky’s Dario Cioni attacked on the Cat. 3 Passo del Rospatoio. His time off the front was short, though. Stefano Garzelli’s Acqua e Sapone team led the chase to bring him back.
Nibali hits the deck
With 32km to go Scarponi, race leader Nibali and white jersey Agnoli slid out in a wet corner and the Liquigas team dropped back to pace its main men back. Sastre went down in that pileup, too.
In the confusion Vinokourov, Garzelli and Milram’s Linus Gerdemann and Thomas Rohregger were suddenly off the front with 30km to go. Despite a tradition that frowns on attacking a fallen leader, maglia rosa Nibali was given no quarter — he was quickly more than a minute behind and losing ground as the race hit the first stretch of muddy strade bianche. Sastre was stuck back there with him.
That front group grew in the muck — David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) was there, as were world champ Evans, Filippo Pozzato (Katusha), Cunego, Vladimir Karpets (Katusha), Marco Pinotti (HTC-Columbia) and Jan Bakelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto).
Cunego tried a dig, and Gerdemann marked him. They briefly took a small gap, but it all came back together on the second sector of strade bianche.
It was a very select group of contenders that began the ascent of the Poggio Civitella. The hapless Nibali and teammate Ivan Basso were 1:40 back in a chase group.
Vino’ opens fire
Vino’ attacked on the Poggio Civitella and Evans went after him. The Astana captain and the rainbow jersey traded pace on the rain-slicked ascent as the lead group crumbled under the pressure. Cunego was leading the chase a handful of seconds back with Garzelli on his wheel. Arroyo Duran followed with Pinotti and John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale), and it was a seven-man lead group with a dozen kilometers to race.
With 10km to go a chase group had formed a half-minute back. Nibali and Basso, meanwhile, had caught up to Pozzato, who had fallen out of the lead group. The maglia rosa clearly had decided his day was done and was towing Basso rather than the other way around.
Up front, Vino’ went again on the steep gravel road, and once again Evans marked him. This time the two took a sizable gap over the others, save Arroyo, who bridged the gap. The trio quickly had a dozen seconds on four chasers — Garzelli, Cunego, Pinotti and Gadret — with 6km to race.
Arroyo was doing no work, bringing up the rear as Evans and Vinokourov concentrated on taking time. The world champ led the way off the dirt and onto the pavement. Five kilometers to go.
The final kilometers
Cunego bridged to the leaders, trailed by Pinotti and Garzelli, and Vino’ took the front. He punched it again on the wet roads, but Duran caught back on, and it was a four-man lead group driving the descent to the finish.
Cunego attacked through a hairpin that Evans overcooked only to be caught again. Evans led the way into the final kilometer, which added the insult of pavé to the insult of rain and wet gravel.
Then, with Cunego on his wheel, the world champion accelerated and no one could match him. As Evans shot across the line — the first reigning world champion to win a stage of the Giro since Moreno Argentin in 1987 and the 10th Australian to do it — he pointed to the rainbow stripes on his mud-stained jersey. The Lampre man held on to take second with Vinokourov third.
When the times were calculated, Vinokourov was back in the maglia rosa, with Evans second at 1:12. Millar was third at 1:29.
“It will be better to have a big gap over the climbers, but I will try to defend this jersey day after day,” said Vinokourov. “But, if my legs are good then I have no reason to be worried. Today was hard, I handled it well. I have always liked the climbs, like Terminillo. If my legs are there, I don’t think there will be a problem.”
Evans, meanwhile, sounded equally confident.
“I think second is a good position to be in right now,” Evans said. “Today was important but there are still many more mountains and decisive stages to come. We’ll see tomorrow how the first true mountain stage goes. There’s a long way to go before Verona.”
Among the big losers on the day were Pozzato, who crossed himself as he finished some four minutes down, and Sastre, who conceded nearly five and a half minutes.
“Today’s stage was truly difficult,” he said. “At first, things looked like they were going more or less OK, but the crash came just before the gravel sector. The crash caused some pain and later I had to change the bike because I couldn’t change the gears. I couldn’t change the bike until we got through the first gravel sector because it took a while for the car to get through.
“We were able to return to the (Nibali) group but later near the finish line, with about 8km to go, I suffered an amazing ‘bonk.’ If I hadn’t been accompanied by Xavi Tondo, who did an impressive job, it could have been much worse.”
Sunday’s 189km stage from Chianciano to Monte Terminillo has plenty of significant uphills and steep descents, but all the focus will be on the Giro’s first mountaintop finish at Monte Terminillo. The 15km, 8-percent climb is extremely tough. (Related: 2010 Giro d’Italia route).
- The BMC squad was well prepared for what proved to be a horrific stage, the worst director John Lelangue had seen in 20 years in the sport. “Winning the day wasn’t really the plan this morning, but there was a time bonus, so that helped,” Lelangue said. “I’m really proud of all the guys and the staff, who worked hard to prepare everything for today. We changed Cadel’s BMC at 120 km (as planned) to make sure we had good Easton wheels and we had people stationed on the dirt roads with another spare BMC and wheels.”
- 1. Cadel Evans (AUS) BMC Racing Team, 5:13:37
- 2. Damiano Cunego (ITA) Lampre-Farnese Vini at 0:02
- 3. Alexandre Vinokourov (KAZ) Astana at 0:02
- 4. Marco Pinotti (ITA) HTC-Columbia at 0:06
- 5. David Arroyo Duran (ESP) Caisse D’Epargne at 0:12