José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) won the 13th stage of the Giro d’Italia Friday, finishing just ahead of overall race leader Alberto Contador atop a tough, rain-soaked climb to the finish on Austria’s highest mountain, the Grossglockner.
The 167-kilometer ride from Spilimbergo, Italy, the first of a series of brutal mountain stages that will most certainly decide the final standings of this Giro, gave Contador the opportunity to extend his already comfortable 59-second lead on GC by another two minutes.
Into the clouds
The two climbing specialists moved out of an elite cadre of GC contenders with 10km remaining on the long 20km climb to the top of a cloud shrouded Grossglockner, following a series of attacks triggered by the catch of the final survivors of a 16-man break that marked much of the day’s action.
Rujano, who started the day well out of contention for the overall title (26th at 6:05), struggled to maintain pace on some sections of the climb, but the Venezuelan obviously posed little threat to Contador’s lead and the two settled in to put distance on their pursuers. Contador did not contest the sprint to the line as Rujano repeatedly cast glances over his shoulder to confirm that was, indeed, going to win the stage.
The two finished 1:37 ahead of Ag2r’s John Gadret and Contador now enjoys a lead of 3:09 over Liquigas’ Vincenzo Nibali in the overall standings.
16 on the run
After what many said was the final opportunity for sprinters to shine on Thursday, the expected exodus of top sprint talent saw six riders take a pass on starting Friday’s entry into the Dolomites. Double stage winner Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) joined his leadout man Mark Renshaw, Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre), Danilo Hondo (Lampre), Manuel Belletti (Colnago) and Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) in skipping the start in Spilimbergo. Indeed, the six left the Giro on Thursday in advance of the longest non-rest-day transfer of the three week grand tour.
The remaining 180 riders set off under sunny skies and the usual early attacks were absent as riders worked the kinks out of their legs in anticipation of a day that included major hurdles along the way, including the Passo di Monte Croce Carnico, at 79.6km, which climbed for 10.4km at 4.9 percent; the Iselsbergpass, at 127.5km, averaging 6.5 percent for 8.5km and the final 20km climb to the finish.
It wasn’t until the road turned upward that the day’s break began to take shape at the 50km mark. When the break did form, however, it was substantial. Included in the 16-man break were Pablo Lastras (Movistar), Branislau Samoilau (Movistar), Pieter Weening (Rabobank), Robert Kiserlovski (Astana), Cayetano Sarmiento (Acqua & Sapone), Rafael Valls (Geox-TMC), Alberto Losada (Katusha), Angel Vicioso (Androni Giocattoli), Craig Lewis (HTC-Highroad), Lars Petter (Sky), Andrea Noe (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli), Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM), Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r La Mondiale), Kristof Vandewalle (Quick Step), Cameron Meyer (Garmin-Cervélo), and Alessandro Spezialetti (Lampre-ISD).
While none of the escapees posed much of a threat to Contador’s lead – with Lastras the best ranked on GC at 6:58 out of first – there were others in the peloton not willing to let the break get too much time on the field. Chief among those, was the Euskaltel-Euskadi team of Igor Anton, who may have been in the hunt for a stage win, rather than having a realistic goal of challenging Contador. Whatever the motivation, chase duties fell not to Contador’s Saxo Bank squad, but to the orange-clad Euskaltels, who never let the break get beyond 4:45 ahead.
By the time the break reached the slopes of the Iselsbergpass, the gap was again trimmed to 3:15. Astana’s Kiserlovski went on the attack and left the lead group, building a minute’s advantage over his former companions at the summit of the Austrian climb.
But the peloton continued to nip away at the break’s advantage and that of the lone escapee and when the Astana man hit the base of the day’s final climb, he held only a 40-second lead on the other men in the break and a 2:20 advantage over the peloton.
Remarkably, it was still Euskaltel at the front as the task of reeling in escapees began over the opening 10km of the climb. Kiserlovski was soon pulled back by Sarmiento and Weening, the Rabobank rider who briefly held the maglia rosa earlier in the Giro. The peloton, meanwhile, continued to pull back the remnants of the break and then finally reeled in the two leaders with about 10k to go.
Adding to the advantage
As Weening and Sarmiento conceded to the inevitable, Rujano went on the attack and was quickly joined by Anton and then Lampre’s Michele Scarponi. Contador did not immediately respond, letting some of the chase work fall to Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) and Astana’s Roman Kreuziger. And chase they did, with Contador shadowing their moves.
When the three leaders were pulled back, it was time for Contador to launch his own attack, one that could only be followed by the little Venezuelan, Rujano. Over the ensuing kilometers the two extended their lead, leaving a group of riders once considered to be strong candidates to win the Giro, fighting for third place on the day … and perhaps a step on the podium in Milan, a week from Sunday.
The odds are good, however, that the top step will be occupied by a rider who has won the last five grand tours he’s entered.
- 1. José Rujano Guillen (VEN), Androni Giocattoli, in 4:45:54
- 2. Alberto Contador Velasco (ESP), SaxoBank-Sungard, at 0
- 3. John Gadret (FRA), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 1:27
- 4. Hubert Dupont (FRA), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 1:29
- 5. Igor Anton Hernandez (ESP), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 1:29
- 6. Roman Kreuziger (CZE), Astana, at 1:36
- 7. Michele Scarponi (ITA), Lampre-ISD, at 1:36
- 8. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA), Liquigas-Doimo, at 1:36
- 9. Vasili Kiryienka (BLR), Movistar, at 1:36
- 10. Denis Menchov (RUS), Geox-TMC, at 1:36
- 1. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spain), SaxoBank-Sungard, 49:40:58
- 2. Vincenzo Nibali (Italy), Liquigas-Doimo, at 3:09
- 3. Michele Scarponi (Italy), Lampre-ISD, at 3:16
- 4. David Arroyo Duran (Spain), Movistar, at 3:25
- 5. Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic), Astana, at 3:29
- 6. Kanstantsin Sivtsov (Belarus), HTC-Highroad, at 3:53
- 7. Igor Anton Hernandez (Spain), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 4:02
- 8. John Gadret (France), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 4:06
- 9. Matteo Carrara (Italy), Vacansoleil-DCM, at 4:35
- 10. Hubert Dupont (France), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 4:38