Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo) triumphed in stage 15 of the 2010 Giro d’Italia, shedding world champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) in the final 3km of a hellishly mountainous race after a five-man break came to grief on the steeps of the Monte Zoncolan.
Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step), Jackson Rodriguez (Androni Giocattoli), Ludovic Turpin (Ag2r), Guillaume Le Floch (BBox Bouygues Telecom), and Nico Sijmens (Cofidis) had built a lead that reached more than 14 minutes before a relentless chase by Liquigas reeled them in on the final ascent of the 222km race from Mestre to Monte Zoncolan.
Michele Scarponi (Androni) was the first of the GC hopefuls to attack, followed by Basso, Evans and Marco Pinotti (HTC-Columbia). But neither Scarponi nor Pinotti could match Basso or Evans — and when the Zoncolan bit most deeply into the legs, neither could the world champion.
Basso took the victory alone atop the Zoncolan in 6:21:58, claiming his first Giro stage win since 2006, as Evans held on to take second at 1:19. Scarponi took third at 1:32.
“It’s been a marvelous day for me,” said Basso. “The most beautiful since my return to the peloton (in 2008).”
David Arroyo Duran (Caisse d’Epargne) held onto the overall lead despite faltering on the final climb.
Arroyo conceded his days in the pink could are numbered.
“I don’t know about winning the Giro,” the Spaniard said. “There were a lot of time losses today.”
Hopes and dreams
Cervélo’s Carlos Sastre was hoping for big things from the stage.
“It’s a very important stage for me today. I’m a climber and this stage fits my characteristics perfectly,” he said before the start. “If I want to do something in this Giro, this is a great opportunity to try to win a stage. And if I hope to have chances to have the maglia rosa in Verona, today is a big test. I hope the legs respond.”
Evans was hoping for a good day in the saddle, too. On Saturday he took back some of the time he lost in l’Aquila, but he needed more — he started the stage in 10th place overall, 7:26 behind Duran, and with Sastre, Bradley Wiggins (Sky), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) and Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) all ahead of him on GC.
“The legs responded when Liquigas put down their attacks. I was able to recover some of the time I lost in l’Aquila,” said Evans. “Today is going to be another hard day. We’ll see how the legs respond.”
And the man in the maglia rosa, Arroyo Duran, was intent on defense.
“Today the goal is to defend the pink jersey,” he said. “I know it will be very difficult up the Zoncolan and we saw yesterday there are some very strong riders at the front, especially Liquigas. They have to try to take advantage whenever they can. I don’t want too look beyond today. I want to defend the pink jersey today and then take it day-by-day.”
Un percorso difficile
The tough 222km race began in Mestre, near Venice, and ended atop a brutal climb up Monte Zoncolan. The opener was a relatively flat 100km ride toward the Dolomites. Then things gradually turned nasty — three demanding climbs preceded the finale atop the Zoncolan, which has an average gradient of 12 percent and a couple of pitches topping 20 percent.
The four rated climbs:
- The Category 2 Sella Chianzutan, which summited at 143.6km — a 10.9km ascent averaging 5.3 percent, with its steepest parts reaching 9 percent.
- The Category 1 Passo Duron, which summited at 182.8km. Only a 4.3km ascent, but a tough one, with an average grade of 9.8 percent and some portions that hit 18 percent.
- The Category 2 Sella Valcalda, which summited at 202km. The 6.5km ascent had an average grade of 6.2 percent with bits of 12 percent.
- The finishing climb up Monte Zoncolan, which ends at the finish line at 222km Ten kilometers long and rising 1,200 meters, the Zoncolan served up an average grade of 11.9 percent, with some portions reaching a knee-popping 22 percent.
The spiky stage profile encouraged two sprinters — Tyler Farrar (Garmin) and Robbie McEwen (Katusha) — to bid arrivederci to the Giro.
Shortly after the start, that six-man group also said ciao to the bunch, but the hard way — by shooting away early to build a gap of 1:20 by 26km.
The break du jour
The men in the break:
- Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step), 54th at 1:04:49
- Jackson Rodriguez (Androni Giocattoli), 61st at 1:15:33
- Ludovic Turpin (Ag2r), 71st at 1:25:35
- Francesco Reda (Quick Step), 128th at 2:09:36
- Guillaume Le Floch (BBox Bouyges Telecom), 135th at 2:14:53
- Nico Sijmens (Cofidis), 152nd at 2:26:57
It was a group the peloton was happy with. At 32km, the six leaders were 2:10 ahead of the field, and the leash quickly lengthened — to 9:55 at 50km, 11:25 at 60km, and more than 14 minutes at 100km.
Liquigas and Caisse d’Epargne were setting tempo in the field the road began its gradual turn upward. Once over the Sella Chianzutan the break’s advantage began shrinking, to just over nine minutes with 58km to race. Cervélo TestTeam had slotted in behind Liquigas and Caisse d’Epargne, with Saxo Bank hovering nearby.
Fifty kilometers from the finish the leaders clung to eight minutes of their once-considerable advantage as they snaked through the narrow streets of Salino, bound for the ascent of the Passo Duron.
Pounding up the Passo
Liquigas really lit it up heading onto the lower slopes of the Passo Duron, with Ivan Basso sitting third wheel and the break’s advantage trimmed to 6:50. The break was suffering — Reda was the first popped and dropped — but race leader Arroyo Duran was hanging tough in the chase.
Evans was isolated in the rapidly dwindling GC group, without teammates. Xavier Tondo (Cervélo), Vinokourov, Dan Martin (Garmin-Transitions) and Stefano Garzelli (Acqua e Sapone) were there, too. Tondo was unwell and having a bad day, though; he was at the back of the 20-man group and struggling.
With 40km to go the break’s margin was under six minutes. As Turpin led the escapees over the Passo Duron and onto the fast, winding descent they had conceded another minute to the pursuit, which had shed Tondo and Wiggins.
With 30km to race the gap was holding steady at 4:50. Reda was chasing his erstwhile break-mates at about a minute back, while Tondo, Wiggins, Vladimir Karpets (Katusha), Gilberto Simoni (Lampre), and Matt Lloyd (Omega Pharma-Lotto) fought to get back on terms with the maglia rosa group.
Calm before the storm
The peloton seemed to pause to catch its collective breath with 25km to race as the break approached the Cat. 2 Sella Valcalda. Then Liquigas put five riders on the front and lined the bunch out once more. Reda was still in no-man’s land, about two minutes behind the break.
In just a few short kilometers the leaders had shed 45 seconds as Liquigas drove the chase. With 22km to race their advantage had dipped under the four-minute mark and the summit was still 2km up the road.
The GC group swept up Reda and drove forward. The break took a lead of just three minutes over the Sella Valcalda, with Turpin summiting first. The Monte Zoncolan awaited.
The final ascent
The five escapees clung to an advantage of three minutes and change as they reached the foot of the climb, at the edge of Ovaro, with 10km to race. Le Floch was first to fade out of the break as the course tipped skyward.
The gap was plummeting on the Zoncolan, to 2:23 with 8.5km to race. Evans and Basso were vigilant near the front of the GC group, while Sastre was bringing up the rear.
With 7.5km to go the gap was under two minutes. Then Scarponi accelerated, Basso, Evans and Marco Pinotti (HTC-Columbia) followed, and the GC group was shattered.
Pinotti couldn’t match the others’ pace and fell back. The maglia rosa was unable to follow the accelerations and in short order was a minute off the chasing threesome.
Ahead, the break was practically grinding to a halt on the Zocolan. With 6.5km to go their advantage was just 1:15 and falling.
Vino’, Nibali, Garzelli and John Gadret (Ag2r La Mondiale) were reeling in Pinotti as Evans, Basso and Scarponi closed in on the fading break. Sastre, meanwhile, was fighting his way back to Arroyo.
And then Basso attacked and Evans followed, driving forward on the narrow lane lined three deep on each side with raving tifosi. Scarponi was distanced.
Basso was in the saddle spinning while Evans stood, punching the pedals. They swept up the remains of the disintegrating break. Just 5.5km remained.
Basso accelerated once again, briefly gapping Evans, but the rainbow jersey fought his way back up to the Liquigas captain. Behind, Scarponi was on his own. Vino’ was a half minute behind, Damiano Cunego (Lampre) a further eight seconds in arrears and Sastre nearly 90 seconds off the pace. Arroyo was hanging on at 1:10, fighting to keep hold of the maglia rosa.
Cunego found a little something extra in his legs and passed Vinokourov. But Evans and Basso were still well up the road, riding side by side with 4km to the finish.
Then Basso punched it once again and this time shed the world champion for good. With 2km to go Evans was 47 seconds behind and shedding seconds with a resurgent Scarponi closing in on him.
Evans was nearly a minute behind, out of the saddle and throwing his bike from side to side, as he approached the final kilometer. Ahead, Basso was spinning through a sea of screaming fans.
The Liquigas captain crossed the line alone, with Evans second and Scarponi third. Cunego fought his way into fourth at 1:58 with Vino’ fifth at 2:26.
And Arroyo Duran (Caisse d’Epargne) crossed at 3:51 — losing time to Basso, Evans and the others, but good enough to hold onto the maglia rosa for another day.
Basso had praise for the world champion.
“He’s a great champion, one of the most tenacious riders I know,” he said. “He’s hard to beat and he’ll be hard to beat till the end.”
Monday is a well earned rest day for the Giro d’Italia, but with four more summit finishes coming up in the final six days, most of the riders will probably spend the time anxious about what lies ahead.
Tuesday’s Plan de Corones uphill time trial is only 12.9km long, but the one time it has been included in the Giro, in 2008, stage winner Pellizotti took 40:26 to complete the brutal climb. That’s an average speed of just 19.142 kph, which gives an idea of its steepness. (Related: The 2010 Giro d’Italia stages)
- 1. Basso (LIQ) 6:21:58
- 2. Evans (BMC), at 1:19
- 3. Scarponi (AND), at 1:31
- 4. Cunego (LAM), at 1:58
- 5. Vinokourov (AST), at 2:26