German takes his first Giro win – Contador wet and rosa
One of the hardest men in modern day cycling, Jens Voigt, has taken his first-ever Giro d'Italia stage win by escaping solo with 36 kilometres remaining in stage 18 – 147 kilometres, ending with two 17.4-kilometres circuits on the parcours to be used for the 2008 World Championships.
The 36 year-old gave Team CSC its first win at the 2008 race when he finished more than a minute ahead of Italians Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) and Gabriele Bosisio (LPR Brakes), all of whom were part of an original 12-man escape that went free around 10 kilometres from the race start in Mendrisio.
"When I went in the escape, I said 'Wow, I am in a good group,'" confided Voigt. "I felt a little small with others there: [Paolo] Bettini, World Champion; Visconti, [former] maglia rosa and Italian Champion, Bossoni, [former] maglia rosa... It was a good group. I tried not to lose morale with such a group.
"I thought to do something before the others. I am not a good sprinter like Bettini or [Daniele] Bennati. My only hope was to attack from long ... Lucky it went well."
Spain's Alberto Contador passed another day in the race leader's maglia rosa. His Astana team helped control the race that was held over mostly wet roads travelling from Switzerland to in Italy's Lombardia region. He finished with the main gruppo at 7'50".
"I don't have enough words to explain the feeling of riding in the maglia rosa here with the fans yelling my name," declared Contador after the finish. He faces two tough mountain stages Friday and Saturday. "Tomorrow will be a very difficult day because everyone will want to attack. I will do everything I can to keep the jersey."
The day was one designed for an escape of riders who would be on the last hunt for glory before the final three specialist stages two high mountain stages and one time trial. The perfect move formed when World Champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) struck out at eight kilometres into the day. He was joined by the 11 other men, who worked well together to stay clear of the gruppo. However, after the race covered the Gran Premio della Montagna (GPM) of Brinzio and headed south for Varese, the escapees started to evaluate each other a little closer as they knew the attacks would soon come.
Voigt quietly bided his time with the others before launching a powerful solo move at near the start of the final two counter-clockwise circuits around Varese.
"Voigt said that he was not riding well in the group, but it was a tactic," said Italian Champion Visconti, who led the race's overall for eight days. "We all know Voigt well; when he gets going you can't stop him. He deserves it."
Visconti helped pull back the move of Simon Spilak (Lampre) before the start of the final circuit and formed a chasing trio with Bosisio and Nocentini, which was at 42 seconds back. Bettini chased with Joaquím Rodríguez (Caisse d'Epargne) and Félix Rafael Cárdenas (Barloworld) 48 seconds back and the gruppo maglia rosa of Contador was over seven minutes back.
Voigt managed himself well over the Montello, holding 43 seconds at the top, to start the final four kilometres of Ronchi with 53 seconds.
"There was one attack after another," Bosisio, winner of stage seven, noted of the escape before Voigt went free. "The riders were looking for placing and not concerned about chasing down Voigt. ... It is too bad, because when we were in three it was going well, better than when we were in bigger group."
Voigt gained an addition 14 seconds on the final four kilometres to win on Via Sacco, his best Giro placing after finishing second to Juan Manuel Gárate in 2006 on the slopes of Passo di San Pellegrino.
Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) led, Bettini, Cárdenas, Alan Pérez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Mauricio Ardila Cano (Rabobank) and Joaquím Rodríguez (Caisse d'Epargne) home at 1'07".
"I went in the escape and my legs were going well," confirmed maglia ciclamino Bennati. "I did not know how the finish would go, but I took some important points for the jersey."
"It went that way today," added Bettini, racing as reigning World Champion on the upcoming Worlds parcours. "He [Voigt - ed.] did well because he won. When he took a gap, we were watching each other. ... He tried to save some in the escape."
Spilak and Nikolai Trusov (Tinkoff Credit Systems) trailed in behind the six, with the gruppo maglia rosa at 7'51" back behind Voigt.
How it unfolded
The race started 15 minutes earlier than yesterday, but 13:30 was still a reasonable time, allowing the riders to sleep in a little and fuel up on espresso in the race village. Yuriy Krivtsov (AG2R La Mondiale) must have had a double shot, as he attacked after only six kilometres. While he was caught almost immediately, his aggression lit the fuse. Current World Champion Paolo Bettini, no doubt feeling at home with the stage starting on the 2009 Worlds course in Mendrisio, Switzerland to the 2008 parcours in Varese, was the next to go. He was soon joined by 11 others and the group continued to build its lead.
Surprisingly in the move was Daniele Bennati, who apparently wanted to avoid another bunch sprint against Cavendish, Greipel and company. The group consisted of Gabriele Bosisio (LPR Brakes), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale), Félix Rafael Cárdenas Ravalo (Barloworld), Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne), Alan Perez Lezaun (Euskaltel - Euskadi), Simon Spilak (Lampre), Bennati, Bettini, Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step), Mauricio Alberto Ardila Cano (Rabobank), Jens Voigt (Team CSC) and Nikolay Trusov (Tinkoff Credit Systems).
With former pink jerseys and stage winnners of this year's Giro in the break, (Bosisio, Bennati and Visconti), this elite group quickly gained ground. After twenty kilometres, their lead was almost two minutes.
Quickly, the group built an even bigger lead and when Bennati took the intermediate sprint in Clivio, the gap was at 5'00. The next sprint was at kilometre 50, in Porto Ceresio. This time, it was Paolo Bettini who crossed the line in first.
In Luino, where the special Expo 2015 sprint was held, it was Bennati again, who was ahead of Perez and Bettini. The gap after 73 kilometres was up to almost six minutes.
The only classified climb of the day came in Brinzio, after 90 kilometres. It was Ardila first over the top, ahead of Rodriguez and Nocentini. Ten kilometres later the break was entering the Worlds course in Varese, with Erik Zabel receiving a bad omen, as he flatted immediately. The gap was 6'15.
Just as one German – Zabel – entered the back end of the peloton, another – Voigt – attacked off the front, with 36 kilometres to go. He attacked one kilometre from the finish line and was facing two complete laps on the course in Varese by himself. The roads were slippery and were just as dangerous as the 11 men behind trying to come to grips with the typical Voigt attack. He quickly extended his lead to half a minute.
Behind, the group couldn't decide who would do the work to reel Voigt in, but Bettini was one of the more active ones. Nocentini and Spilak tried to attack and bridge in separate moves, but were brought back. The gap of Voigt went up to 38 seconds, while the peloton was still over six minutes back.
Eventually, it was Nocentini, Bosisio, Visconti and Ardila Cano, who went after Voigt with less than 20 kilometres to go, but Ardila Cano lost contact as the Italian trio hammered along the course in Varese. They were able to get some time back on Voigt, who now only had 30 seconds on the chasing trio. The Bettini group was a further 23 seconds behind, while the peloton had lost all interest and fell to a 7'30 deficit.
Bosisio dropped his chain on one of the climbs, but was quickly back in the chase group. However, one determined Voigt started to increase his lead again and with 12km to go he had an advantage of 43 seconds.
When the German entered the five kilometres to go banner, he had 52 seconds on the chasers. The Bettini group had split, but eventually it came back together and was some 30 seconds adrift from the Italian trio chasing the German.
Voigt's lead proved enough as he stormed home more than a minute ahead of the chasers with Visconti, Nocentini and Bosisio struggling in, while Bennati won the sprint behind, more than two minutes back. The peloton came in almost eight minutes later, with an active race leader Contador, who participated in the sprint and got second.