The 2010 Giro d’Italia took a shocking turn Wednesday on its longest stage when an unprecedented group of 54 riders pulled clear from overall leader Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) and second-placed Cadel Evans (BMC), and turned the Giro upside down.
When the dust cleared — or more accurately, when rain jackets were removed and the cold rain was wiped off race numbers — Richie Porte (Saxo Bank), who started the day sixth, leading the young rider classification and sitting 2:26 behind Vinokourov — took over the maglia rosa.
“I still have no idea what happened … but I’ll take it,” Porte told reporters. “Anything can happen in this Giro. My team is stronger than people think. I will fight to defend the pink jersey.”
The huge group eventually whittled down to 40 riders, but the damage was done.
Out-gunned, Astana and BMC – which lost three and two rider,s respectively – tried in vain to chase, but saw the gap grow to 18 minutes. Liquigas moved forward with five riders at a much-reduced GC group, but it was too late.
Russian Evgeny Petrov (Katusha) won the 262km stage, followed by Quick Step’s Dario Cataldo and Cervelo’s Carlos Sastre. Porte was 13th, 21 seconds back.
By the time the GC leaders came across at 12:42 back, the Giro was suddenly a very different race.
Vinokourov sank to 12th at 9:58 and riders like Carlos Sastre (Cervélo) and Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) saw their GC hopes revived. Sastre and Wiggins each started the day around 10 minutes behind the likes of Vinokourov and Evans, yet ended the day more than three minutes ahead of them.
“The story of the Giro changed today,” said Cervélo’s Xavier Tondo, who moved up to fourth overall. “I could not believe what was happening. Everyone worked together to the end. Now a new Giro begins.”
The perfect storm
If the 93rd Giro wasn’t already crazy enough, Wednesday’s marathon march across the rugged mountains of central Italy added an exclamation point to the story.
These barren climbs were the first added to the Giro all the way back in 1904, and the huge differences and uncontrolled racing harkened back to the day when riders could lose five minutes one day and regain 10 the next.
Some suggested that stricter anti-doping controls have created a more even playing field and teams cannot control the field as they could in another era.
Others said simply it was the combination of elements that came together to create the ideal situation for a breakaway to form.
“Everyone knew it would be a big group today, so we wanted to make sure he had our guys in there,” said Saxo Bank sport director Torsten Schmidt. “A lot of teams had a lot of riders and everyone immediately worked together.”
Attacks came right from the gun, with groups forming, being chased, followed by more counter-attacks.
Sastre said it was difficult to follow the action and said he was lucky to make the breakaway.
“There was one group of 20 that was getting away, then a second group formed. Tondo was out there and I was the last one to get across,” Sastre said. “The gaps opened up very fast. We had five, eight, then 10 minutes within 20km.”
Several teams had up to five riders in the group; Caisse d’Epargne had five, Sky, Cervélo, Androni and Omega Pharma-Lotto had four each.
Add 10 days of cold weather, rain, stress, crashes and nerves, and a big group of a lot of shared interests quickly turned into a nightmare for the big GC guns who missed the move.
“Everyone started to work right away. Our goal today was to regain as much time as possible for our GC man,” said Caisse d’Epargne’s Neil Stephens, referring to David Arroyo, who climbed into second overall at 1:42 back. “We could see Saxo Bank, Cervélo and Sky were thinking the same thing, so it really worked out better than we could have imagined.”
That sinking feeling
There was confusion right from the gun. When the attacks came, no one really knew what was going on until it was too late.
“We heard over the radio, there were 20 riders gone. We were waiting for the numbers, then we didn’t get the numbers. Then we heard there was another big group of 40 going,” said Astana sport director Lorenzo Lapage. “We didn’t get the numbers of the big group until they had eight minutes, so that was part of the problem.
When the gap was still hovering at 16 minutes at the day’s Cat. 2 Rocarassa climb midway through the stage, it was obviously something was terribly wrong, at least for riders who missed the break.
BMC had one man in the break – Brent Bookwalter – but sport director John Lelangue soon called him off to fall back to the GC group to help with the chase.
“I knew right away things were going badly,” Lelangue said. “We had Bookwalter in the break, but we called him back because no one was reacting in the chase. We rode the gap down to 12 minutes, then Astana took over.”
With the race riding away, recriminations split the GC group. Everyone looked to Astana, but the team was riddled with a stomach bug passing through the team. Three riders abandoned, leaving Vinokourov with very little help to initiate the chase.
“It’s not easy to make the situation right. If you see the guys at the front helping each other, it’s not easy to bring it back,” Lapage said. “If there are three or four teams working together, but today they left it too late.”
Many wondered why Liquigas didn’t pitch in earlier on the chase. The team covered its bases and had four riders initially in the breakaway, with Robert Kiserlovski and Valerio Agnoli eventually slotting into third and fifth overall. The GC group split on the day’s final second-category climb with 45km to go, leaving only a smaller, 25-rider GC group to chase the 40-plus group still up the road.
“Liquigas came to the front way too late,” Lelangue said. “By the time Liquigas started to pull, there were still 40 guys at the front and only 25 guys in the GC group. There was nothing for us to do.”
Liquigas sport director Roberto Amadio said it was up to Astana and BMC to chase, not Liquigas.
“We had riders in the breakaway. We cannot understand why they let the maglia rosa ride away like that,” Amadio said. “We worked in the end but we didn’t get much help from the others. It was negative day. We worked hard but got nothing back from our efforts.”
Saxo Bank says it’s ready to defend the pink jersey for its young leader.
“This team is very experienced from defending a leader’s jersey. We have riders like Sorensen and Larsson who’ve ridden the Tour and know what it’s like to control the race,” said Saxo Bank’s Schmidt. “We don’t want to say we’re going to win this Giro because that’s not fair to a young rider like Richie. But he’s stronger than people think in the mountains. As we’ve seen, anything can happen in this Giro.”
Others were quietly rejoicing at the unexpected turn of events.
With Saxo Bank ready to carry the race toward Saturday’s first sortie into the mountains, the tables are now turned and teams like Astana, BMC and Liquigas – who started the day in the driver’s seat – suddenly find themselves on the defensive.
“They will have to attack us now,” Sastre said of his rivals. “The final week is very difficult. Everything is suddenly once again possible.”
- Cadel Evans’ BMC had two riders abandon during the stage — Jeff Louder and Mauro Santambrogio. On the bright side the team’s American Brent Bookwalter made the break.
- Astana also lost two riders — a total of ten riders abandoned.
Thursday’s 205km trip from Citta Sant’Angelo to Porto Recanati travels north up the flat Adriatic coast for 100km before heading inland for a loop that ends with a lap and a half of a hilly 24km circuit at Porto Recanati. This stage could be a last one for the sprinters this year. (Related: 2010 Giro d’Italia route).
- 1. Evgeni Petrov (RUS) Team Katusha, 262km in 6:28:29 (40.773kph)
- 2. Dario Cataldo (ITA) Quick Step at 0:05
- 3. Carlos Sastre Candil (ESP) Cervélo TestTeam at 0:05
- 4. Bradley Wiggins (GBR) Team Sky at 0:07
- 5. Alexander Efimkin (RUS) Ag2r La Mondiale at 0:07
- 6. Linus Gerdemann (GER) Milram at 0:07
- 7. Jerome Pineau (FRA) Quick Step at 0:07
- 8. David Arroyo Duran (ESP) Caisse D’Epargne at 0:07
- 9. Xavier Tondo Volpini (ESP) Cervélo TestTeam at 0:07
- 10. Jan Bakelandts (BEL) Omega Pharma-Lotto at 0:07