Bart De Clercq (Omega Pharma-Lotto) took advantage of a well-timed attack on the final climb of the seventh stage of the Giro d’Italia and held on to take the win, but only just barely.
After riding on his own for most of the final 10km of a 17.km climb to the finish atop the Montevergine di Mercogliano, De Clercq was forced to sprint to the line as a hard-charging peloton, led by Lampre-ISD’s Michele Scarponi, nearly denied the tiring Belgian a victory.
Rabobank’s Pieter Weening kept his hold on the maglia rosa, with only small changes among the top five on GC.
Scarponi, among a small list of favorites to win the Giro, expressed frustration that he couldn’t quite seal the deal at the line, finishing a few meters behind the day’s winner.
“Baahh, it’s a shame not to win the stage,” Scarponi said. “The team worked hard to keep me in good position. The Belgian was just strong enough, so congratulations to him. At least this shows the legs are good.”
Short stage, with a kicker
Riders had a chance to sleep in on Friday as the day’s 110-kilometer stage allowed for a later-than-usual start time. While remarkably short for a grand tour road stage, the ride from Maddaloni to Montevergine di Mercogliano saved the best for last, with a long 17.1-kilometer climb to the finish. While a formidable distance, the winding road to the line averaged only five percent, meaning that many of the pre-race favorites – including Saxo Bank’s Alberto Contador – were playing their cards close to their respective chests.
As per usual, a break formed early in the stage, after a series of attacks from those hoping to gain some advantage as the road headed for the hills.
A five-man group managed to gain time on the peloton, slipping ahead at the 11km mark. Italian champion Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) was joined by Lars Ytting Bak (HTC-Highroad), Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step), Federico Canuti (Colnago-CSF) and Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r). The quintet eventually managed only to build up an advantage of about five minutes before an attentive peloton began to slowly reel in the break.
With two climbs ahead and 53km to the finish, their advantage had already been narrowed to 2:30 and the proximity of the break prompted more than a few riders to try their luck at bridging the gap. After a series of attacks from a peloton controlled by Stefano Garzelli’s Acqua e Sapone squad, it was Belgian Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) who finally managed to slip away from the main field.
The 27-year-old, who was celebrating his birthday on Friday, chased and eventually caught the five escapees with 25km remaining, just a few kilometers from the start of the climb. Indeed, the birthday boy must have been feeling good, because even after chasing on his own for 25km, he immediately attacked up reaching the leading quintet.
Hoogerland’s move was quickly countered, but the Vacansoleil rider stayed at the front of the group and drove the break on to the lower slopes of the Montevergine di Mercogliano. But by that time, the peloton had trimmed the escapees advantage to just around one minute.
Again, the proximity of the break prompted a number of riders to try and bridge the gap, as members of the lead group began to slip back into the grasp of the peloton. De Clercq gave it a shot and caught and passed several earlier attackers and finally the lone survivor of the break, Bak.
Behind him, the GC favorites were keeping a close eye on one another, with only cautious attacks coming from some on the relatively moderate five-percent grade to the finish. Indeed, Contador, the Giro’s big favorite, stayed tucked in the field and did not commit any of his Saxo Bank teammates to the task of setting tempo on the climb.
It wasn’t until the final few kilometers that Scarponi’s Lampre squad and Garzelli’s Acqua e Sapone crew increased the tempo to the point that De Clercq’s win was put in doubt. As the lone Belgian negotiated the final few hundred meters, the peloton came roaring around the final turn and an exhausted De Clercq was forced to put in one final surge to protect his win. He made it, but only just barely.
Weening, meanwhile, was able to keep pace with the group and preserved his hold on the maglia rosa for another day.
Garzelli said he found the ride to the finish to be a perfect venue to test his climbing legs as the Giro’s more mountainous stages loom ahead.
“It’s a stage that I like. The team did great work to try to control the breakaways,” Garzelli noted. “I hope to win a stage this year. I know that the GC is perhaps too far to reach. I am still enoying racing my bike.”
Scarponi climbed two places into fifth in the overall standings, 14 seconds behind Weening, who holds a two-second cushion over HTC duo of Kanstantsin Sivtsov and Marco Pinotti, with GRM’s Christophe Le Mevel five seconds away in fourth. Contador is in ninth at 30 seconds.
Sprinters are favored again in Saturday’s eighth stage, a 217km race from Sapri to Tropea.
- 1. Bart De Clercq (BEL), Omega Pharma-Lotto , 2:54:47
- 2. Michele Scarponi (ITA), Lampre-ISD, s.t.
- 3. Roman Kreuziger (CZE), Astana, s.t.
- 4. Stefano Garzelli (ITA), Acqua & Sapone-Caffe Mokambo, s.t.
- 5. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA), Liquigas-Doimo, s.t.
- 1. Pieter Weening (Nl), Rabobank Cycling Team , at
- 2. Kanstantsin Sivtsov (Blr), HTC-Highroad, at 2
- 3. Marco Pinotti (I), HTC-Highroad, at 2
- 4. Christophe Le Mevel (F), Garmin-Cervelo, at 5
- 5. Michele Scarponi (I), Lampre-ISD, at 14