Johann Tschopp (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) won Saturday’s 20th stage of the Giro d’Italia, a remarkably difficult 178km race from Bormio to a summit finish atop the Pass del Tonale.
Tschopp was part of a huge break that went away on the first big obstacle of a long day in the saddle, the Category 1 Forcola di Livigno, which summited at 72.8km. He followed an attack by Gilbert Simoni on the Passo di Gavia, then rocketed away on the dangerous descent to the foot of the Tonale, starting the final climb alone.
World champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team), launched a last-ditch attack in the final 3km of the Tonale, hoping to overhaul Tschopp for the stage win, but he left it too late. The rainbow jersey faltered in the final kilometer and the Bbox rider soloed across the line first.
Evans hung on for second, with race leader Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo) third.
“I didn’t take too many risks on the descent, but I wanted to keep a margin if I could,” said Tschopp. “I gave everything on the final climb. I heard the attacks were coming from the GC favorites, so I was happy that I had enough to win. Winning a stage in the Giro is the biggest victory for me.”
As for Basso, he was not yet ready to claim the overall victory despite there being only one stage left.
“The Giro is not won yet. Today was a big step toward victory and I have even widened my margin to (David) Arroyo, but I will not breathe easy until I cross the line in Verona,” he said. “I should have enough to hold off Arroyo, but anything can happen until the final kilometer — just look at (Denis) Menchov in last year’s Giro.”
How it began
The tough stage featured more than 4,200 meters (14,000 feet) of climbing. It opened with a 123km loop into Switzerland, climbing the 18km, 7-percent Forcola di Livigno and two lesser peaks before returning to Bormio. Then came the monstrous Passo di Gavia – the scene of Andy Hampsten’s epic ride through a blizzard in 1988. The 24.9km, 5.6-percent Gavia was followed by a long descent and finally a summit finish on the Passo del Tonale, an 11km climb that averages 5.7 percent.
The organizers had been concerned about the weather and avalanche risk, and were considering rerouting the race around the Gavia, which had snow 2 meters deep at roadside. They finally decided to stick with the original plan and race over the Gavia, this year’s Cima Coppi — the special designation given to the Giro’s highest climb. The Gavia tops out at 2,618 meters above sea level.
The day included five major climbs:
- The Category 1 Forcola di Livigno, which summits at 72.8km;
- The Category 1 Passo di Eira, which summits at km 93.6;
- The Category 3 Passo di Foscagno, which summits at 100.5km
- The Cima Coppi Passo di Gavia, which summits at 148.8km (or 29.2km from the finish;
- The finishing climb to the top of the Passo del Tonale at 178km.
Evans, sitting fifth at four minutes back, was feeling off his game and less than optimistic about his chances with two stages left.
“I am not as strong as I was at the start of the Giro. I know why, but I won’t say. Halfway through the Giro I’ve had problems, but I will only speak about it in Verona,” he said.
“I have to be realistic. Liquigas and Basso are very strong. There’s very little chance to do anything, we saw that on the Mortirolo stage. There’s very little to do. Liquigas is stronger than me, my teammates were gone before the final climb and they had five of them. I just have to try to recover and make the best out of the situation and think about the Tour.”
David Arroyo (Caisse d’Epargne), who lost the maglia rosa on Friday’s stage and was sitting second overall at 51 seconds, was still hoping to finish on the podium. The descent of the Gavia was a hairy one, and he proved on Friday that he was a much better descender than Basso.
“I lost the pink jersey, but I haven’t lost hope. It was likely that I was going to lose the jersey yesterday, because Basso is riding intelligently, he has a strong team and he’s also very strong,” he said.
“When I made it to the bottom of the Mortirolo, I thought it would be possible to lose time but still keep the jersey. I didn’t find the help that I expected from the others in my group. They didn’t seem to have the fight, or mind that the race was riding away from them. I will fight to the very end in this Giro. The podium is still possible.”
Breaks come and go
Andre Grivko (Astana) jumped early, a solo move that went nowhere. Then he got into a big break that included Pieter Weening (Rabobank) and Daniel Martin (Garmin-Transitions). At 40km the escapees had a minute on the peloton.
But as the road tilted upward they were all retrieved save Martin, who clung to a 30-second advantage as a 20-rider chase formed up behind him. He, too, was pulled back on the lower slopes of the Forcola, some 57km into the stage.
The new lead group included:
- Marco Pinotti (HTC-Columbia), 10th at 13:40
- Damiano Cunego (Lampre), 11th at 15:23
- Hubert Dupont (Ag2r La Mondiale), 21st at 42:00
- Pieter Weening (Rabobank), 23rd at 52:22
- Evgeni Petrov (Katusha), 29th at 1:01:54
- José Serpa (Androni), 31st at 1:05:34
- Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), 34rd at 1:07:58
- Laurent Didier (Saxo Bank), 36th at 1:41:11
- Johann Tschopp (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), 42nd at 1:33:30
- Daniel Martin (Garmin-Transitions), 54th at 1:48:43
- Francesco Failli (Aqua e Sapone), 56th at 1:51:47
- Xabier Zandio (Caisse d’Epargne), 58th at 1:56:07
- Daniele Righi (Lampre), 68th at 2:07:42
- Matt Lloyd (Omega Pharma-Lotto), 69th at 2:09:14
- David Moncoutié (Cofidis), 75th at 2:19:37
- Cameron Wurf (Androni), 80th at 2:31:01
- Gorazd Stangelj (Astana), 93rd at 2:42:00
- Danilo Wyss (Cervélo TestTeam), 99th at 2:53:24
- Julien Fouchard (Cofidis), 121st at 3:19:08
- Stefano Pirazzi (Colnago-CSF), 138th at 3:43:00
Gilberto Simoni (Lampre) was chasing, trying to latch on about 30 seconds back; he would eventually make it. Meanwhile, Stefano Garzelli (Acqua e Sapone), who crashed on Friday’s descent of the Mortirolo, abandoned the Giro at 59km, citing injuries to his right knee and hip.
At 65km Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam) had bridged up to the lead group, which was shedding riders — among the casualties were Righi, Failli , Fouchard, Martin and Wurf. Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) also bridged to the break but flatted and was forced to chase back on.
“It was the only chance we had and that’s why we bet with everything early on. After winning the Tour and finishing on podiums, it was worth the risk,” said Sastre, who slipped to eighth overall. “We didn’t get much out of the effort because we couldn’t find much collaboration in the group. I am still happy to have tried and fought to the very end of this Giro.”
The reduced break took a lead of 1:40 over the Forcola di Livigno. As Liquigas led the GC group containing the maglia rosa over the Passo di Eira at 93.6km the gap was down to 1:07, with 84km to race.
Pirazzi attacked the break on the Passo di Foscagno and summited alone. Lloyd popped out briefly, too, but only to take the second-place KOM points. Basso was leading that competition, too, but with Lloyd up front and scoring points he was quickly the mountains leader on the road.
On the descent of the Foscagno Pirazzi built a lead of about 40 seconds over the Sastre group, which in turn held about a minute over the GC group. With 46km to go he had extended his advantage, to 1:20 over the Sastre group and 2:20 on the maglia rosa group.
Up the Gavia
The Sastre group began coming apart on the Gavia. Vinokourov was still there, as were Lloyd, Moncoutie, Simoni and Pinotti. Vino’ was turning the screws and Pirazzi was just 14 seconds up the road. The GC group was about 1:15 back and all the usual suspects were present and accounted for — Basso and teammate Vincenzo Nibali, Richie Porte (Saxo Bank), Evans, Michele Scarponi (Androni) and Arroyo.
As Pirazzi’s solo effort came to an end, Vino’, Tschopp, Simoni, Moncoutie, Pinotti and Sastre moved ahead of the others on the Gavia. The Astana man suffered another mechanical and had to chase back up to the leaders with 36km to race.
Then Simoni attacked, clearly after the 5,000-euro Cimo Coppi prize in this, his final Giro. Tschopp went with him, then rode the Lampre rider off his wheel with about 5km to the summit.
But Simoni fought back, regaining the Bbox rider about 3km from the summit and the two traded pace up the ascent, which looked like a bobsled run with the huge snowbanks lining either side of the road. The tifosi used them as impromptu billboards for graffiti.
Vino’, Sastre, Pinotti and Lloyd were still chasing about 40 seconds back, and a half-minute behind them, the GC group was down to about 20 riders, four of them Liquigassers — Basso and three teammates.
Tschopp won the battle for the Cima Coppi prize and began the long, cold, treacherous descent to the foot of the day’s final obstacle — the climb to the top of the Passo del Tonale at 178km, 11km of up averaging 5.7 percent. The Sastre-Vino’ group summited 38 seconds later with the GC group following at 1:18.
“This is a bike race, and no one ever gave me gifts in cycling,” he said afterward. “Why should I let Simoni win? It was a big thing to pass the Cima Coppi first. I knew he is an important cyclist, who has won many races. But I am here to race the Giro.”
Down, down, down — and then up
The descent was wet, winding and dangerous, with riders reaching speeds of 75kph — so much so that organizers rigged nets on some of the trickiest corners to catch anyone rocketing off the road. If Arroyo was planning an attack on the downhill, he was waiting for the lower slopes, where conditions were slightly better.
Tschopp held a lead of some 20 seconds over Simoni, Sastre and the others, while the GC group descended cautiously in one long line. With 15km to go he had extended his advantage to a minute over Simoni and 2:13 over the maglia rosa group.
Vinokourov, Righi and Vladimir Karpets (Katusha) swept up Simoni as Tschopp began the final climb alone. Simoni couldn’t stick the pace once the road rose and dropped back, leaving a Vino’-powered trio about a minute behind Tschopp.
Sastre and Pinotti were working together about 30 seconds behind the first chase. And a further 10 seconds in arrears, the peloton was beginning to climb without urgency, Arroyo having held his fire on the descent.
Vino’ kicked it up a notch, but failed to shed his companions. Behind, the GC group swept up Simoni. Tschopp soldiered along alone.
And then Vino’ attacked once more. Karpets couldn’t follow, but Righi could, and it was a two-man chase after Tschopp, just a minute up the road. The maglia rosa was 1:50 behind the leader.
With 5km to go Vino’ had clipped just a few seconds off the deficit, with Righi parked on his wheel. The Basso group followed at 1:40, swallowing up Sastre in the process.
The final kilometers
Evans attacked with some 3km to go, quickly taking 10 seconds on the Basso group, which was down to a half-dozen riders, among them Basso, Nibali, Arroyo and Scarponi. They shot past Vino’, all save Arroyo, who couldn’t hold the pace.
Tschopp hit the final kilometer with a surging Evans just 36 seconds behind. It would be close — but not close enough. The world champ faltered in the final meters and Tschoop hung on to win in 5:26:47 with Evans second at 17 seconds. Basso took third a further seven seconds behind with Scarponi fourth in the same time.
“I attacked because I was trying to win the stage. I couldn’t get Tschopp, so he won, well, that’s cycling,” said Evans. “I saw Sastre and Vinokourov attack early, but today I was thinking more about recovering. I hope to have good legs tomorrow to try to win the time trial.”
As for Basso, he called the stage “truly a difficult day” and praised his teammates for their hard work.
“My team did a great job to keep me protected. It was nervous when Vinokourov and Sastre were attacking, but our plan was to stay together so I would not be isolated.” —VeloNews European correspondent Andrew Hood contributed to this report.
- 1. Johann Tschopp (SUI) BBox Bouygues Telecom, 5:26:47
- 2. Cadel Evans (AUS) BMC Racing Team at 0:16
- 3. Ivan Basso (ITA) Liquigas-Doimo at 0:25
- 4. Michele Scarponi (ITA) Androni Giocattoli-Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni at 0:25
- 5. David Arroyo Duran (ESP) Caisse D’Epargne at 0:41
- 6. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Liquigas-Doimo at 0:43
- 7. John Gadret (FRA) Ag2r La Mondiale at 0:48
- 8. Bauke Mollema (NED) Rabobank Cycling Team at 0:50
- 9. Daniele Righi (ITA) Lampre-Farnese Vini at 0:57
- 10. Vasil Kiryienka (BLR) Caisse D’Epargne at 1:02
- 11. Alexandre Vinokourov (KAZ) Astana at 1:26
- 12. Thomas Voeckler (FRA) BBox Bouygues Telecom at 1:39
- 13. Damiano Cunego (ITA) Lampre-Farnese Vini at 1:39
- 14. Steven Kruijswijk (NED) Rabobank Cycling Team at 1:39
- 15. Cayetano Sarmiento (COL) Acqua & Sapone-Caffe Mokambo at 1:39
- 16. Robert Kiserlovski (CRO) Liquigas-Doimo at 1:39
- 17. Marco Pinotti (ITA) HTC-Columbia at 1:39
- 18. Yury Trofimov (RUS) BBox Bouygues Telecom at 1:42
- 19. Richie Porte (AUS) Team Saxo Bank at 1:42
- 20. Charles Wegelius (GBR) Omega Pharma-Lotto at 2:13
- 21. Daniel Moreno (ESP) Omega Pharma-Lotto at 2:13
- 22. Vladimir Karpets (RUS) Team Katusha at 2:23
- 23. Alexander Efimkin (RUS) Ag2r La Mondiale at 2:48
- 24. Hubert Dupont (FRA) Ag2r La Mondiale at 2:50
- 25. Anders Lund (DEN) Team Saxo Bank at 2:53
- 1. Ivan Basso (I), Liquigas-Doimo
- 2. David Arroyo Duran (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 1:15
- 3. Francesco Nibali (I), Liquigas-Doimo, at 2:56
- 4. Michele Scarponi (I), Androni, at 2:57
- 5. Cadel Evans (Aus), BMC, at 3:47