Gonchar back in pink after Giro's longest day
Belgian Rik Verbrugghe (Cofidis) scored a surprise stage win today in the longest leg of the Giro d'Italia, 236 km between Cesena and Saltara. Attacking the lead break of five with just five kilometres to go and the peloton chasing at 40 seconds, Verbrugghe opened up a gap that was enough to carry him to the finish. Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) led the peloton up the final climb to eventually take second, 14 seconds behind the Belgian, while Luca Mazzanti (Panaria) was third. Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) lost a couple of seconds to Savoldelli, but still regained the leader's jersey from his teammate Olaf Pollack.
Most of the top favourites looked strong enough today, but Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) was in trouble on several of the climbs. He will have to recover well to limit the damage on tomorrow's tougher mountain top finish in Maielletta.
The stage was easily the hardest of the Giro so far, and it was dominated by numerous breakaways and crashes. The first break to succeed consisted of Sylvain Calzati (AG2R) and Staf Scheirlinckx (Cofidis), who went away after 24 km and built a massive 17'48 lead by km 94. But a 30 man chase group formed behind at that point, which gradually whittled down to eight: Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), Rik Verbrugghe (Cofidis, le Credit par Telephone), Francisco J. Vila Errandonea (Lampre-Fondital), Serguei Yakovlev (Liberty Seguros-Würth Team), Victor Hugo Pena Grisales (Phonak Hearing Systems), Juan Manuel Garate (Quick Step-Innergetic), Manuele Mori (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile Team). The group hauled back Scheirlinckx with 71 km to go. He then worked for his teammate Verbrugghe, until he was spent.
On the climb of Monte delle Cesane, the lead group reduced to just Verbrugghe, Vila, Pena, Mori and Garate. They managed to stay clear of the peloton almost until the finish, as the Lampre-Fondital led chase tried to set it up for Cunego. But Verbrugghe was too strong today: he attacked the break, which was absorbed by the hard charging bunch in the final 500m, and won the stage.
See also: Stage 7 full results, report & photos and .