Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp) won stage 11 of the Giro d’Italia on Wednesday in Vajont.
Daniel Oss (BMC Racing) was second, just over a minute back. Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox) was third, almost three minutes in arrears.
“Our plan had changed because Ryder [Hesjedal] had a bad day. Today we started racing different. Today’s plan was to get in the breakaway,” said Navardauskas.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) defended his overall lead.
Big breakaway makes for relaxed racing for maglia rosa
An intermediate mountain stage ending with the Cat. 2 climb to Erto e Casso, the 182-kilometer leg was mostly downhill over the first 60 kilometers and the peloton stayed intact. Shortly after the road started to point to the sky, 83km into the day, a breakaway began to form.
Twenty riders were part of the group: Navardauskas, Oss, and Pirazzi, Salvatore Puccio (Sky), Paul Martens (Blanco), Danilo Di Luca (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Serge Pauwels (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Evgeny Petrov (Saxo-Tinkoff), Jackson Rodriguez (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela), Juanjo Cobo (Movistar), Vladimir Gusev (Katusha), Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEdge), Frederik Veuchelen (Vacansoleil-DCM), Guillaume Bonnafond (Ag2r La Mondiale), Leonardo Duque (Colombia), Patrick Gretsch (Argos-Shimano), Johan Le Bon (FDJ), and Cayetano José Sarmiento (Cannondale).
“Everyone could see that there was a good chance of a breakaway forming today,” said Navardauskas. “That’s why it took so long for the breakaway to form. The first part of the stage was on a descent and into a headwind, so it was difficult to open a gap. When we hit the long climb, the racing changed. The breakaway formed and everyone knew it would get away. The best guy in the general classification was 10 minutes down, so the contenders could took it easy in view of the big stages that are approaching.”
The escapees were able to stay together up the grinding Cat. 2 Sella Ciampigotto, whose summit lie at the 120.4km mark, but a fast and technical descent followed and Gretsch jumped ahead.
Gretsch showed off his strong descending skills as he made his way to the base of the final climb, staying in the tuck position with his hands inside the brake hoods while straddling the top tube of his bike.
Navardauskas and Daniel Oss left the escape as well and caught Gretsch with 17.5km to go. He struggled to keep pace and six kilometers later, Gretsch cracked and fell back.
The Lithuanian and Italian worked together on the lower reaches of the climb, but Navardauskas soon started testing Oss.
“While he was leading, I tried to see how he was feeling,” said Navardauskas. “I accelerated a couple of times to see how he would respond, and I saw that I had better legs. I made one attack, then a harder one, and then I saw I was alone.”
The Garmin man was out on his own with 5km to go, nothing but rising tarmac and tifosi in front of him.
“I was expecting the attack,” said Oss. “When we were together, I thought about the victory.”
On the first day he was allowed to attack, the strongman, a stage winner at the Tour de Romandie earlier this month, headed for the win. Behind the peloton, Hesjedal, who lost more than 20 minutes on Tuesday, celebrated with Garmin director Charly Wegelius.
Danilo Di Luca (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) attacked the chase group, but couldn’t hold them off on the upper reaches of the climb.
Navardauskas crossed the line, with Oss following 1:08 later.
“We have not had any luck lately. The goal this morning was to get a result,” said Navardauskas. “We wanted to show what we are champions. I had free time and it suited me. The day was long, but it ends well. Hesjedal is a true champion and a very endearing guy. I’m sure he’s happy for me, like all of my teammates.”
Oss waved to spectators as he cross the line.
“I am happy with this second,” he said. “Navardauskas was very strong, he deserved victory.”
Pirazzi countered Di Luca and won a group sprint for third to extend his lead in the mountains classification.
“The jersey of best climber? I seek to defend it to the end,” said Pirazzi. “I am especially wary of [Jackson] Rodriguez and the Colombians.”
Behind the breakaway, the maglia rosa group rode toward the finish without much urgency. Beñat Intxausti (Movistar) launched a late move to take some time on the GC group, but Nibali, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), and Sky teammates Rigoberto Urán and Bradley Wiggins each finished with the group, 5:41 behind the stage winner.
Nibali, the 2010 Vuelta a España champion, was happy to take a break for much of the stage after a relentless finale on Tuesday that saw him take time on a number of GC riders.
“It isn’t the first time I’ve done this. When I won the Vuelta, it was very difficult and I had to fight to the end to win it,” he said. “Here, I’m taking it day by day. The road is long, and there is stiff opposition. Urán looks strong, and [Michele] Scarponi tested himself a bit on the final climb, although the gradient wasn’t really enough to thin out the group. But the team worked very well all stage. We had everything under control. [Paolo] Tiralongo has recovered from his bronchitis, although [Fabio] Aru is still very young and will need more time.”
Scarponi and Intxausti did force ibali and Evans to pay attention late, but in the end, the time lost to the Spaniard was negligible.
“Today was not so important for the general classification,” Evans said, “but there is always having to pay attention in the final there for GC. Most of all, I’m happy for Daniel Oss. It’s good to have his chance in his first Giro as an Italian.”
The Giro d’Italia continues Thursday with the 12th stage, from Longarone to Treviso. At just 134 kilometers, the leg should produce a rare bunch sprint in this 96th Giro.