Second win in as many days for Bardiani-CSF
The summit finish at Oropa was the first of a weekend doubleheader recalling two of the late Marco Pantani's victories but for Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani-CSF), stage 14 of the Giro d'Italia marked a more recent and personal anniversary.
On the equivalent stage 12 months ago - also, incidentally, a mountain leg in Piedmont, to Bardonecchia - Battaglin crashed after 25 kilometres and was forced out of the Giro, spending almost a week in hospital after suffering broken ribs and a collapsed lung in the incident.
One year on, Battaglin's day ended with a bouquet atop the podium after he pulled off an improbable victory at Oropa, his second stage win at the Giro after his finisseur's triumph at Serra San Bruno in 2013. "That fall last year gave me a lot of determination," Battaglin said afterwards. "It was this very day of the Giro last year, in fact. I fell then and today I've won, so it's a kind of revenge."
Touted as a coming force in the one-day Classics since his amateur days at Zalf-Fior - "I think I'm best suited to the Ardennes but my dream race is Milan-San Remo," he explained - Battaglin could hardly have expected to triumph on the first Alpine stage of the Giro. Indeed, he wasn't even designated by Bardiani-CSF manager Roberto Reverberi to enter the day's early break, a 21-man move that ghosted clear in the first kilometre.
"I attacked at the start, not quite as a joke, but as if to say, ‘let's go,'" Battaglin said. "I wasn't the man told to go in the break, that should have been Edoardo Zardini, but I had a go. I've been climbing well recently and it worked out."
Handed their day passes from the Omega Pharma-QuickStep team of maglia rosa Rigoberto Uran, the escapees hit Biella at the foot of the final climb to Oropa with a lead of five minutes over the peloton. Once on the cobbled lower slopes, however, the break fragmented under the initial impetus of Albert Timmer (Giant-Shimano) and Battaglin was among those left behind.
The 24-year-old found his rhythm as the climb progressed, however, and he slowly clawed his way back up towards the front group, which now contained Dario Cataldo (Sky) and Jarlinson Pantano (Colombia). By the road flattened out slightly with two kilometres remaining, Battaglin was within sight of the leaders and he summoned up the strength to haul himself back into contention.
"I was dropped by the strongest guys at the base of the climb but I caught my second wind with two kilometres to go, and then I just went all out in the last kilometre," said Battaglin, who caught Cataldo and Pantano 800 metres from the line. Understandably, given the general fatigue, his winning sprint was a matter of keeping a big gear turning over rather than a sparata of the kind he fired at Serra San Bruno last year.
"When I got back on I had to catch my breath because I had gone full on to get there," he said. "I lost a bit of ground when the sprint started but then I saw that the other two were fading. I came past them in a big gear and I was able to keep going to the line."
Battaglin's victory came just a day after his friend, teammate and fellow Veneto native Marco Canola claimed a canny win at Rivarolo Canavese. "It was a motivation because we're good friends," Battaglin said. "And they were both unexpected wins. Nobody thought a break would stay clear yesterday and then I wasn't the favourite to win out of that break today."
The Giro set off from Belfast without Italian cycling's biggest name - Vincenzo Nibali - and following another disappointing spring classics campaign from Italian riders, but the younger generation's displays thus far have buoyed local spirits. Thanks to Battaglin, Canola and Diego Ulissi, the home nation's running tally stands at four stage victories, while another young professional - Fabio Aru - lies in 7th place overall.
"Italian cycling has suffered in recent years, especially in the underage categories, but the generation of riders born in 1989 and 1990 is starting to show its quality," said Battaglin, who - like Italian riders of every vintage from time immemorial - will spend the second half of his season battling for a place in the national team at the world championships.
"I think the Worlds course this year suits me and I hope I'm in the team but it's a long way to go and I still have a lot to do," he said. "I struggled in
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