Liquigas regained the momentum at the Giro d’Italia in Saturday’s 208km 14th stage, with Vincenzo Nibali taking an impressive solo victory and Ivan Basso riding to second as the Italian squad put the peloton on notice it means business in the final week.
Cadel Evans (BMC) and Michele Scarponi (Androni) fought bravely to stay with the Liquigas duo up the grueling Monte Grappa climb and proved they’re up to the task to fight for the podium in another wild day at the 93rd Giro.
Riders such as Carlos Sastre (Cervélo) and Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) lost time, but moved up on GC as some of the riders clogging the top of the GC thanks to Wednesday’s big breakaway faded up the grinding, 18.9km Monte Grappa climb.
The Liquigas onslaught also meant the end of Richie Porte’s run in pink.
The Saxo Bank youngster fought gamely, with a lot of help from teammate Chris-Anker Sorensen, but in the end ceded the pink tunic to Spanish gregario David Arroyo (Caisse d’Epargne) and slipped to second at 39 seconds.
Liquigas drops the hammer
Sunny skies and warmer temperatures returned to the Giro after two weeks of rain, wind and cold. The attacks came from the gun, with a relatively big group of 25 riders being quickly squelched by Liquigas.
At 35km the day’s main five-man move had formed, with local rider Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) leading the charge. The maximum gap was 7:42 at 70km and Alessandro Bisolti (Colnago-CSF) was the last man standing out of the break before succumbing to the GC accelerations midway up Monte Grappa.
Liquigas rode a near-perfect stage and blew apart the Giro in Saturday’s first push into the mountains of northern Italy. The squad set a hard tempo to soften up the peloton before Nibali and Basso took over in the final half of the long, grueling climb.
They dropped everyone, except Evans (BMC) and Scarponi (Androni), before Nibali dropped like a rock on the technical, 25km descent and soloed it home on 15km of flats to claim victory, 23 seconds ahead of the Basso trio; 1:34 ahead of the chasing Alexander Vinokourov (Astana); 2:25 ahead of Carlos Sastre (Cervélo) and a group of 10.
“I am really enjoying this moment. I wasn’t expected to race this Giro and now I have a wonderful victory. It’s a great day for me and for Liquigas,” Nibali said. “This really gives the team a lot of morale. After losing a lot of time on the stage to l’Aquila, we did not lose hope. I am a bit of a descending specialist, so I knew I would have a good chance if I could get away. It was my decision to attack.”
It was a boon for Liquigas, who has been taking heat for letting Wednesday’s big breakaway gain so much time and nearly put the podium out of reach.
With still a week to go in racing, Liquigas wanted to regain the initiative and prove they’re up to the task of controlling the Giro, and winning it.
“We’re regaining the pulse in this Giro today. The stage to l’Aquila knocked us all back a little bit. Vinokourov had the jersey that day and we expected them to defend the jersey more than they did. That stage made it a new Giro and we had to change our plans,” said Liquigas sport director Stefano Zannata. “Now we have to keep doing what we did today. Nibali was impressive today and we have both options with him and Basso still alive in the GC.”
The question now for Liquigas is who to back, Nibali or Basso? With the victory and the time bonuses that came with it, Nibali climbed to eighth at 6:51 back, and Basso slotted into 11th at 7:43 back.
Nibali and Basso say they’re working together and not torn by rivalry within the squad. Basso did most of the work on the upper part of the climb to gap the chasing Vinokourov and Sastre, and letting Nibali take his chance at stage victory.
Basso will likely have his chances in Sunday’s stage at Monte Zoncolan, a brutally steep climb that should suit him better than the explosive Nibali. For now, the 25-year-old Nibali is happy to enjoy his first career stage victory.
“I spent a lot of energy today and tomorrow is even harder stage to Zoncolan. The last week of this Giro will decide everything,” he said. “We’ll have to see how I react in the third week. This is only my second time doing a Giro, so I am already very pleased to have won a stage. If the legs are good, I will go for it.”
Arroyo snatches pink
There were two battles in on the climb up Monte Grappa, one of the longest and hardest in this year’s Giro.
Behind the leading quartet, there was a real dogfight for the pink jersey. Arroyo and Porte found themselves each in two chase groups and the maglia rosa was up for grabs. At one point on the flats to Asolo, Porte nearly regained the virtual leader’s jersey.
In the end, Arroyo had just enough advantage to become the first Spanish rider since Alberto Contador in 2008 to wear the pink jersey.
“Today is a very special day for me. Most of my career, I’ve been in the service of others. Today the team was working 100 percent for me and I didn’t want to let them down,” Arroyo said. “This maglia rosa is the biggest thing that’s happened in my career. Today the main goal was to get the maglia rosa and we achieved that. We’ll try to keep the jersey as long as we can. We’ve seen that there are some very strong riders here, but we’ll fight to the end.”
Some observers believed that Arroyo had such a head-start on the GC favorites that he could climb his way to victory, but Saturday’s time differences revealed that Arroyo might not have enough.
The four leaders Saturday whacked 2:25 off his lead and Nibali moved to within seven minutes of Arroyo’s lead.
Even his Caisse d’Epargne manager Eusebio Unzue doesn’t believe his rider can fend off the attacks in the closing week.
“We did well to play with the difference today to get the pink jersey. We could see today that Nibali, Evans, Scarponi and Basso are the strongest and they are the candidates for overall victory,” Unzue said. “David is a brilliant worker, but he is a second-line rider fighting against the first-class captains. Of course, we will fight, but I see the winner coming from behind us.”
Unzue said the jersey was especially important for the team, which had not captured the pink jersey since Miguel Indurain held it in 1994 while riding with Banesto.
Riders moved up and down the GC, but nothing is settled yet. Sastre and Vinokourov are still factors, but neither could stay with the Liquigas accelerations. Vinokourov rode alone over the final 40km after Sastre was scared off the wet descent and waited for the chase group to pull through.
Sastre slotted into sixth and his Cervélo teammate Xaiver Tondo climbed to third. Despite losing time, Sastre called the stage a success.
“It was an important day for me and I tried to save the stage in the best manner possible,” Sastre said. “I wasn’t 100 percent up the climb, but I was close to the best, and that gives me a lot of motivation looking ahead to the coming stages. The descent was very dangerous and I knew that there was a group coming from behind. We didn’t lose too much time and anything’s possible in the final week.”
Things should be even more settled with Sunday’s summit finale atop Monte Zoncolan, but if this Giro continues with its unexpected twists and turns, who knows what will happen.
- 1. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Liquigas-Doimo
- 2. Ivan Basso (ITA) Liquigas-Doimo at 0:23
- 3. Michele Scarponi (ITA) Androni Giocattoli-Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni at 0:23
- 4. Cadel Evans (AUS) BMC Racing Team at 0:23
- 5. Alexandre Vinokourov (KAZ) Astana at 1:34
- 6. Branislau Samoilau (BLR) Quick Step at 2:25
- 7. Bauke Mollema (NED) Rabobank Cycling Team at 2:25
- 8. Damiano Cunego (ITA) Lampre-Farnese Vini at 2:25
- 9. Linus Gerdemann (GER) Milram at 2:25
- 10. Marco Pinotti (ITA) HTC-Columbia at 2:25