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Team High Road's Mark Cavendish took a belated 23rd birthday celebration with his sprint win over...
Mark Cavendish (High Road)
Team High Road's Mark Cavendish took a belated 23rd birthday celebration with his sprint win over Italy's Daniele Bennati of Team Liquigas in stage 13 of the Giro d'Italia, 177 kilometres from Modena to Cittadella. Spaniard Koldo Fernández (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and German Erik Zabel (Team Milram) finished third and fourth behind the rider from Isle of Man, respectively.
"I was really disappointed yesterday, I showed I was the fastest, but messed up the last corner," declared Cavendish, who was beaten to the line by Bennati by just a few centimetres in Carpi. "Today I woke up and I promised my team, my directors, and I did it."
Like yesterday, Team High Road dominated the final ten kilometres, using Adam Hansen, Tony Martin and then André Greipel. There was a slight upset to the High Road flow when David Millar took the front for Slipstream team-mate Julian Dean with 1500 metres remaining. However, the charge turned over to Milram – Alberto Ongarato and Marco Velo for Erik Zabel – heading into the final corner at 700 metres.
Bennati, winner of three stages so far, marked Zabel and stared his kick at 200 metres when High Road's Greipel made his surge and dropped Cavendish off with 100 metres to go in a picture perfect lead-out. The Manxman took the right side along the barriers, and was able to sneak through to pass Bennati and steal his second win.
The Italian could easily have stayed close to the barriers to prevent Cavendish from getting through, but chose instead to ease over to the left, opening the way for the 23-year-old. "I said thanks as I went past with 100 metres to go," Cavendish revealed. "I have to say again, 'thanks.' It is great sportsmanship and we are able to see who is the fastest."
"If I would have done that I would have risked Cavendish crashing, and I prefer to be correct than to win another stage," explained Bennati. "The sprint was more adapted to Cavendish, who is very explosive. ... I am a little disappointed."
Bennati, who has taken three stage wins in this Giro d'Italia was impressed with the work of his Liquigas team, but suffered some physical issues on the day. "I had a problem with my calf during the stage, however the team worked well today."
Italy's Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) kept the maglia rosa on the eve of the Giro d'Italia's first high-mountain stage; however, he was with a group of classification favourites lost 13 seconds in the finale as a gap was established to the leaders.
Even though the organisers decided to take the time of the stage with three kilometres remaining, there was a group of riders who were dislodged nearly two kilometres earlier. In the group were such classification favourites as Alberto Contador (Astana), Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott), Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Levi Leipheimer (Astana) and Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Scott).
Riders like Andreas Klöden (Astana), Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes) and Gilberto Simoni (Diquigiovanni) advanced in the classification, though the number of seconds could be dwarfed by minutes after tomorrow's mountain top arrival.
"It was another day that was more or less calm, but with a little bit of risk in the finale," Visconti stated after the arrival. He revealed that he will fight to keep the leader's jersey on tomorrow's stage to Pampeago, "We fought and also tomorrow will be another story. It could be the last day for me, but I also think it could be another day for me."
At 12:52 the riders headed off with the knowledge that they would enjoy a flat stage and a good tailwind from the south pushing them along. One rider who couldn't start the day was CSF Group Navigare's Matteo Priamo, who was involved in the crash at the end yesterday. While the others caught up in that incident, including sprinters Erik Zabel (Team Milram) and Mirco Lorenzetto (Lampre), could continue, X-rays revealed that Priamo was another in a long succession of riders who had broken his elbow.
Attacks started very soon after the race had set off, but neither Alan Perez Lezaun (Euskaltel - Euskadi) and Jérémy Roy (Française des Jeux), nor a group with Markel Irizar Aranburu (Euskaltel - Euskadi), Paolo Bossoni (Lampre), Raffaele Illiano (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli), Jens Voigt (Team CSC) and Mikhail Ignatiev (Tinkoff Credit Systems) could get away.
After only 12 kilometres of racing Fabio Sabatini (Team Milram) retired from the race. At kilometre 18, it was again Jérémy Roy (Française des Jeux), who tried to take a flyer with Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre), but to no avail. Yesterday's man of the day, Dionisio Galparsoro Martínez (Euskaltel - Euskadi) also couldn't make a difference, when he tried with Paolo Bossoni (Lampre). They were caught again at kilometre 25.
Next to try was none other than Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes), who went clear with Raffaele Illiano (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli), but sat up after a couple of kilometres. Illiano was also brought back shortly thereafter.
After 35 kilometres, Mickaël Buffaz (Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone) – the leader of the 'Fuga Cervelo' competition for most kilometres in a breakaway – attacked to pad his lead. That looked promising, so Josu Agirre Aseginolaza (Euskaltel - Euskadi) and Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) went after the Frenchman. Bettini stopped his efforts, but the Spaniard caught up with Buffaz.
The two quickly built a nice lead, and after 43 kilometres already had over three minutes on the peloton. The first 45 kilometres were raced in one hour. At kilometre 50, the gap was 4'50, before reaching a lead of 8'24, at kilometre 66. From then on the peloton started to pick up the pace and the gap dropped relatively quickly, helped by a bit of a tailwind.
After 70 kilometres the gap was down to 7'00. And after two hours of racing, with the average at 42 kilometres an hour, the lead was further reduced, to 5'15.
With 75 kilometres to go, race leader Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) suffered a flat tyre, but was quickly back in the bunch. Buffaz took the Expo Milano 2015 sprint of the day in Montagnana. Behind, Bennati took the third spot in the fats charging field.
At the feed zone in Noventa Vicentina, after 109 kilometres, the gap was down to 4'25. After three hours of racing the average was still around 42 km/h. The gap started dropping consistently and when the leaders went under the 40km to go banner, it was down to 3'15. Emanuele Sella (CSF Group Navigare) attacked out of the field, but just to say hello to his family.
With 35km to go the gap was at 2'35 and another five kilometres later it was down to 2'08. From there the leaders consistently lost ground: the gaps fell from 1'45 (km 25), 1'20 (km 20) and then down to a measly 33 seconds at kilometre 15.
With 12 kilometres to go it was time to shake hands for Buffaz and Aseginolaza. Game over. The sprinters' teams moved up to the front. Liquigas led the bunch through the red kite and the finish for the first time. There was another six-kilometre lap to go, giving opportunity to the fast men to check out the finish and making note of the sharp right turn just after the flamme rouge.
For a bit, AG2R went to the front, but soon Adam Hansen of High Road took over again for the white-clad squad with five kilometres remaining. Milram had the pleasure of entering the finishing straight in first, but soon Bennati was near the front and started the sprint. Too bad for the Italian that Cavendish was so strong today, and the Manxman passed to win with a comfortable margin. Koldo Fernandez De Larrea (Euskaltel - Euskadi) and Zabel finished third and fourth, respectively, with Slipstream's Julian Dean in fifth.
Five years ago, Gilberto Simoni took control here before going on to win his second of two Giro d'Italia victories. In fact, the Italian will be back again this year and has named this stage as his target. "I think that my stage is here, Alpe di Pampeago," Simoni noted in a March interview of the 195-kilometre stage that ends with the 7.65-kilometre romp up Pampeago, averaging 9.8% over its 753-metre rise.
"I won there in the past [stage 14, 2003], and then also finished second there behind behind Pantani [stage 19, 1999 - ed.]. I have some good memories, even if there is a lot of strain associated with that climb. To be able to come out and win it would truly be a beautiful thing."
As this is the opening stage of a mountainous weekend, look for the overall contenders to be a little reserved, feeling out their legs, or fire at full force.