There were high hopes going in to Saturdays stage 14, day one of the high mountains the peloton and fans alike were expectant. Interesting then it was when we woke to find the Italian Sun had disappeared and been replaced by wind, rain and sleet. From tan lines the day before, to winter gloves the next. It was no secret that for several of the main favourites, this was hell on earth. None more so than Domenico Pozzovivo, who is said to 'not like the cold, not like the rain, and not like going down hill'. Lucky for him though much of the stage was fowl, the weather subsided for the start of the final climb and before that the descents were so dangerous and slippy with the wet that much of the peloton were travelling at a speed favourable to Pozzovivo.
Like Pozzo, Jose Rujano too is no fan of miserable weather and technical descents, so on the penultimate climb he attacked from the bunch to get a head start on the down-hill, followed by Damiano Cunego who took it easier on the climb knowing that his superior descending skills would catch Rujano on the descent, as did the rest of the bunch. Back together on the final climb Rujano attacked again, but it was a weak effort and he would later lose time on the stage.
Meanwhile breakaway companions Andrey Amador (Movistar) and Jan Barta (NetApp) battled it out for the stage victory. Barta had spent much of the second half of the race out on his own until the descent, where he looked physically frightened and took it so easy he was overhauled by Amador who simply rode away. Barta caught him to contest the sprint but it wasn't to be. Amador took the win, Barta though put in a remarkable shift for the small German NetApp outfit. Chapeau to him.
Meawhile Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin) had jumped from the front of the favourites and ridden them all off of his wheel with ease, dropping pink jersey wearer, Joaquim Rodriguez in the process. Eventually the favourites would finish not to far behind in a small group with one notable exception. Roman Kreuziger clearly wasn't having the best of days as he was dropped from the bunch in the final kilometres, leaving his own loyal domestique Paolo Tiralongo to finish ahead of him. Had Kreuziger shown his hand, was he out of contention?
With Hesjedal now in Pink, Rodriguez and Kreuziger had already vowed to take revenge. Basso and his Liquigas team were also facing criticism. So far Liquigas had controlled the pace on almost every stage of the race, and continued to do so, though many have taken offence to such 'negative' tactics. Basso is certainly not an 'out of the saddle' type climber, he likes to put himself and his team on the front to drill the pace at a constant rhythm to try and wear his opponents down - all very well, but he needs to get some time back somewhere, if he wants to win this Giro, he needs to do more than control the pace. However Sundays stage started in much the same vein, Liquigas, on the front, controlling the pace.
Aside from the fight for pink though, Sunday's stage was to create a hero in the form of Farnese-vini rider Matteo Rabottini (pictured above). Rabottini jumped from the bunch after a mere 30km of racing and would stay out in front for the remain 150km. When all of the Liquigas riders had finally took their turn to bury themselves on the front, leaving just Ivan Basso on his own with 3km to go, Michele Scarponi (Lampre) decided it was his turn to attack, fruitless, Joaquim Rodriguez decided to have a go back and eventually rode away from the favourites swallowing up the small break-away groups up ahead in the process which led to the real heart in the mouth moment of the day. With a mere 400metres remaining of Matteo Rabottini's 150km solo effort, Rodriguez had him in his sights - with 150metres to go Rodriguez caught Rabottini and continued to ride straight past him, my heart sank along with just about every cycling fan in the world, surely Rabottini wouldn't lose this in the final metres after such a valiant effort in a day-long solo ride? After much screaming at the television however, Rabottini scraped together whatever was left in the tank and managed to undertake Rodriguez on the final corner, metre from the finish line...hand's aloft, a fantastic and extremely well deserved victory. Where professional cyclist find that extra power after such a gruelling day in the saddle I will never know.
With Joaquim Rodriguez's second place came the pink jersey back from the shoulders of Ryder Hesjedal, but now several of the favourites had shown their cards and gaps were appearing. Rigoberto Uran and Pozzovivo rolled in 2 minute down, a lot of time to be losing at this stage of the race. Pozzo may recover in the high mountains this week but I think Uran's race may be over. After a long solo effort chasing Rabottini, Damiano Cunego lost a lot of time also and the little Jose Rujano really struggled today, finishing a whole 4 minutes down, now 8 minutes back overall. His race is over.
The Top 15 looks like this:
|1||Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team||65:11:07|
|2||Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Barracuda||0:00:30|
|3||Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale||0:01:22|
|4||Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team||0:01:26|
|5||Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Astana Pro Team||0:01:27|
|6||Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD||0:01:36|
|7||Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team||0:01:42|
|8||Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Sky Procycling||0:01:55|
|9||Dario Cataldo (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quickstep||0:02:12|
|10||Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat||0:02:13|
|11||Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling||0:02:56|
|12||Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team||0:03:16|
|13||Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox||0:03:17|
|14||Johann Tschopp (Swi) BMC Racing Team||0:03:24|
|15||John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|