By Gregor Brown in Cesena, with additional reporting from Bjorn Haake
After 16 years as a professional, Alessandro Bertolini won his first ever stage in the Giro d'Italia. The 36 year-old Italian, whose main job is to defend Serramenti PVC team leader Gilberto Simoni, was part of a five-man escape that dominated a wet and demanding stage 11 to Cesena in Italy's Emilia Romagna region.
"I had freedom in this stage and the team indicated this yesterday [Tuesday]," said Bertolini. "I am happy that it worked; the team gave me trust, [team manager] Savio and Simoni. The plan was to get into an escape, if maybe Gilberto was solo I would be able to drop back and help him."
In the final kilometre Bertolini accelerated from his two companions, Spain's Pablo Lastras (Caisse d'Epargne) and Italy's Fortunato Baliani (CSF Group Navigare), as the latter crashed with 500 metres remaining due to a lapse in concentration.
The race favourites used the climbs that dotted the 199-kilometre route to test one another, particularly Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes) and local rider Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott). The pair succeeded in distancing some of their rivals, including overall race leader Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step), but in the closing 11.5-kilometre loop of Cesena, hometown of the late Marco Pantani, most of the favourites came back together.
Visconti kept his maglia rosa despite being involved in a crash at 27 kilometres remaining with Levi Leipheimer (Astana), mountain leader Emanuele Sella (CSF Group Navigare), Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Scott) and Christian Pfannberger (Barloworld). The race leader headed to the hospital following the stage to have X-rays on his left elbow and right wrist.
Stage seven winner Gabriele Bosisio (LPR Brakes) moved into the second spot on the GC. In third is the first of the race's expected overall contenders, Tour de France champion Alberto Contador. The riders will face what is expected to be a sprinters' stage on Thursday for stage 12, 172 kilometres from Forlì to Carpi.
"I knew right away that it was an off day," stated an exhausted Visconti. "I was having nausea and stomach problems this morning and that is why I was dropped immediately. I have to thank Bettini and Tonti for pulling so hard for me today." Several hours later, the X-rays showed no broken bones and it was reported that Visconti will start Thursday.
See Cyclingnews' coverage of Stage 11 of the Giro d'Italia.