Stefano Garzelli (Acqua e Sapone) spun his way up hard-packed gravel roads to the spectacular summit at Plan de Corones to claim a surprise Giro d’Italia stage victory ahead of a dogfight for the GC favorites on Tuesday.
Garzelli stopped the clock in 41 minutes, 28 seconds (18.7kph) on the knee-busting route with ramps as steep as 24 percent to claim his first Giro stage victory since 2007.
“It’s incredible to win today. This is one of the mythic stages at the Giro, I still cannot believe I won,” said Garzelli, who rode a 34×28 low gear. “I tried to spin in my easiest gears to recover a little bit in the hardest parts. When I saw my time, I thought someone would beat it.”
No one could. Garzelli started in the third and final wave, so all the top riders rode under similar conditions as a strong wind kicked up in the afternoon.
The GC contenders were fighting to gain time on stubborn Spanish rider David Arroyo (Caisse d’Epargne), who stopped the clock at 2:16 in 16th, but retained the pink jersey.
Arroyo leads Ivan Basso (Liquigas), who climbed into second at 2:27 back. Tasmanian sensation Ritchie Porte (Saxo Bank) also rode well, slotting into third on GC at 2:36 back.
Cadel Evans (BMC) rode to second on the stage at 42 seconds back, gained 28 seconds on archrival Basso and moved into fourth at 3:09 back. Carlos Sastre (Cervélo) ceded more ground and slipped to fifth at 4:36 back.
Garzelli surprises the faves
Conditions were optimal for what’s one of cycling’s most dramatic, if somewhat gimmicky stages. The 12.9km course climbed the Passo Furcia before turning onto incredibly steep gravel roads. Bulldozers compacted the white gravel to give the riders decent traction up the grueling ramps.
Like Garzelli, most riders rode with 34×28, though some wished they had another gear or two.
Garzelli had already given up on his GC hopes after losing time at Monte Grappa and was saving his legs for a shot at victory later this week. He didn’t expect his win would come up Corones.
“When I saw I had the fastest split, I decided to push hard on the final sector to give it my all. I honestly didn’t think I would win,” said Garzelli, a Giro winner back in 2000. “My GC hopes were shattered by a crash and the stage to L’Aquila. By the time we got to Monte Grappa, I didn’t feel my best. I rode as easy as possible at Zoncolan hoping to have better legs against the top GC riders who are riding full-gas now.”
An early fast time of Sylvester Szmyd (Liquigas) fell in the third and final wave of riders, with his time holding on for 15th at 2:12 slower.
Garzelli was the only rider to best 42 minutes, though his mark was off Franco Pellizotti’s winning time of 40:26 in 2008 when the stage was held for the first time.
Evans was a pre-stage favorite, but could only come with 42 seconds of the veteran Garzelli. John Gadret (Ag2r-La Mondiale) was third at 54 seconds slower.
Sastre struggled early and slid backwards with each kilometer, giving back 2:16 on a day when he needed a strong ride to confirm his podium hopes.
“I thought I had good sensations in the legs, but the clock was saying something else,” Sastre said. “We’ll see how the last week goes, because I always say the Giro is never over until the final stage. But it’s obvious that others are stronger than me here.”
Porte rode well to stop the clock for 17th at 2:17 back to tighten his grip on the young rider’s white jersey, now 6:21 ahead of Robert Kiserlovski (Liquigas), whose job now will be to help Basso try to win the overall.
Arroyo not fading away
Arroyo is proving just as stubborn as some feared he would be. The Spanish climber only lost 1:06 to Basso, a result that’s giving him renewed confidence with five stages to go.
“Today was an important milestone. We lost about the amount of time we calculated, between 1 minute and 1:30, so now we can move forward with a new mindset,” he said. “We kept the maglia rosa. Talk of winning the Giro is big words, but why not dream of the podium? I will keep fighting until the end.”
The scrappy Arroyo did well up Corones, with a strategy of starting a little easier and saving his legs for the final 5km. Sport director Neil Stephens was seen running behind him in the final kilometer to give encouragement.
Arroyo says he doesn’t know climbs such as the Mortirolo and the Gavia, which loom in the final showdown in the Italian Alps, but said that the longer, steadier climbs suit his style better than the short, more explosive climbs such as Zoncolan and Corones.
Basso took heart from Tuesday’s stage, knowing that he has two battles on his hands if he wants to win the Giro. The first is to take the jersey away from Arroyo, and the second is to fend off challenges from Evans.
“On balance, it’s a positive stage. I lost a little time to Evans, but I took time on Arroyo and Sastre, so I moved up on GC,” said Basso, who moved up from third at 3:33 to second at 2:27. “I have a lot of respect for all my adversaries. There are still four or five riders who can win this Giro.”
Liquigas will be able to count on a superior team in the final five stages. Caisse d’Epargne is strong, but Evans could quickly become isolated on early climbs as BMC only has four remaining riders.
Evans was able to extract some time on Basso and moved up to fourth, now 3:09 back.
“There was a different feeling on the gravel so maybe my mountain bike background helped a little bit today. The final stages are going to be very hard. Ivan looks strong, but we will race with the strategy of trying to win the Giro,” Evans said. “We can hope he has a bad day because he’s been pushing very hard. This Giro will be decided until the final day.”
Wednesday’s 17th stage looks like, on paper at least, a good stage for a breakaway. But so far the only thing predictable about this Giro so far is that it is completely unpredictable. No one expected Garzelli to win Tuesday, so the two moderate climbs on tap for Wednesday could very well deliver another surprise.
- Svein Tuft didn’t wear his Canadian national time trial jersey during the stage and the UCI fined Garmin-Transitions 2,500 Swiss francs (about $2,000). That could buy a few new jerseys.
- Matthew Lloyd (Omega Pharma-Lotto) retained the King of the Mountains jersey, but just. He now leads Ivan Basso (Liquigas) and Cadel Evans (BMC) by just four points, 29-25. With some monster climbs ahead of him, Lloyd will need to sneak into another breakaway if he has hopes of carrying it to Verona.
Wednesday’s stage 17, 173 km from Brunico to Pejo Terme is a relatively easy mountain stage. The day’s only categorized climb, the Passo delle Palade (18.8km at 6.6 percent), is more than 66km from the stage end at Pejo Terme — and though this is technically a summit finish, the average grade is less than 5 percent for most of the last 10km. A day for the breakaway riders. (Related: 2010 Giro d’Italia route).
- 1. Garzelli (ASA), at 41:28
- 2. Evans (BMC), at 42:10
- 3. Gadret (ALM), at 42:22
- 4. Nibali (LIQ), at 42:29
- 5. Scarponi (AND), at 42:35
- 6. Basso (LIQ), at 42:38
- 7. Uran (GCE), at 43:04
- 8. Vinokourov (AST), at 43:05
- 9. Cataldo (QST), at 43:09
- 10. Petrov (KAT), at 43:14