Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) won the final mountain test of the Giro d’Italia on Saturday.
Rogers and Francesco Bongiorno (Bardiani-CSF) were off the front on the final steeps of the 167km stage that ended with the Monte Zoncolan, and looked set to duel for the stage win, when an overzealous fan gave Bongiorno a wobbly push that forced the rider to unclip just as Rogers made an acceleration.
“I had to put a foot down and lost 20 meters,” said Bongiorno. “With the change of rhythm, it was over.”
Set free in part through interference, Rogers found himself battling unruly fans on the way to his stage victory, shouting at them and slapping a few away.
But he drove on through the mob and finally made it to the line, taking his second stage win of the 2014 Giro. Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli) crossed second on the day, 38 seconds down, while the hapless Bongiorno hung on for third at 49 seconds.
“It was such a hard climb and I was battling myself at a number of times. But on the final bit of the slope when I was riding with Bongiorno, I believed it was possible to pull it through, and when I discovered I was alone, there was no other way to go but head down, full speed,” said Rogers.
“I’m really honored to win here on this legendary climb in these fantastic surroundings. We knew this was our final chance of winning and we pulled it off.”
American Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing) made the most of his day in the breakaway with a fifth-place finish on Monte Zoncolan. Bookwalter overcame stomach problems and low energy at the start to join a 20-man breakaway early in the 167-kilometer stage.
“I found myself in a good move and actually started riding into it and feeling better on the climb,” he said. “They kept us on a pretty short leash for a long time and then it opened up and I thought maybe we had a chance to stay away going into the last climb.”
Bookwalter’s finish was a season best and his best in a grand tour stage since a runner-up placing on the Stage 1 individual time trial of the 2010 Giro d’Italia. “I knew the (Zoncolan) climb from the last time,” he said. “It is so hard. If you go over your limit, there is no coming back. So I just rode my own tempo and went as hard as I could.” Bookwalter finished 1:37 behind Rogers.
Nearly five minutes behind Rogers, race leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and runner-up Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) marked each other on the final ascent, riding side by side before the race leader gassed it a bit to hit the line first.
Quintana retains the pink jersey by 3:07 over Urah, with Fabio Aru (Astana) third at 4:04.
Sunday’s final stage is a flat 172km leg from Gemona del Friuli to Trieste. Eight laps of an urban circuit in Trieste, will lower the curtain on the 2014 Giro, and Quintana’s first grand tour victory.
“Some tears did come to my eyes when I got onto the podium,” Quintana said. “I’m really happy. I’m about to clinch a really important goal in my life, about to win in such a beautiful place, with all the fans, as well as Italians, Colombians… as from other parts of the world – I’m just super proud. We’ve got this 99 percent sealed now. There’s just the last stage left tomorrow, which we know is relatively flat, and as we saw today, the team is also really strong. We hope to round off this excellent Giro confirming the results and raising our arms through the last finish line.
“Zoncolan was pretty demanding, ‘impegnativo’, as they say here,” he continued. “The pace was high all these days and the riders came really tired into the last climb. We’re happy with this success, all of us into the team. In the end of the first week and the beginning of the second, I was very much ill, frightened that I couldn’t fulfill expectations, I went through some ‘transition’ stages and struggled a bit, but I did my best to recover and my body is now OK. We’ve got the maglia rosa on our shoulders and a pretty large gap over second place. I’m content.”
Likewise, Uran said he was content with his second consecutive runner-up spot at the Giro in as many years.
“I am really happy with this second place,” Uran said. “I think Omega Pharma-Quick Step, as a team, had a great Giro, and I’m satisfied with my spot on the podium. I think we took all the chances we could on the road and did what we had to do, so I am happy. I am also happy for the management, staff, and sponsors of this team. This is historic. It’s the first grand tour podium in the history of the team. I hope it is just the first of many podiums. We will see what can happen and we will fight for it. But tonight, it is time to celebrate what we did at this Giro with the team and then we will enjoy the final stage tomorrow.”