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After two days of shadowing each other, the race favourites finally threw down the gauntlet on...
Spain's Alberto Contador (Astana) is looking to be a serious GC Giro d'Italia threat.
After two days of shadowing each other, the race favourites finally threw down the gauntlet on today's 180 kilometre stage to the summit finish of Pescocostanzo. Defending champion Danilo Di Luca is from the area and had indicated days beforehand that he wanted to win, but instead it was his LPR Brakes team-mate and winner of the Giro d'Oro Gabriele Bosisio who triumphed. The 27 year-old won ahead of Bielorussia's Vasil Kiryienka (Tinkoff Credit Systems), Italy's Emanuele Sella (CSF Group Navigare) and Colombia's Félix Rafael Cárdenas (Barloworld).
The Italian was part of a large break which went clear very early in the day and he, Vasil Kiryienka (Tinkoff Credit Systems), Italy's Emanuele Sella (CSF Group Navigare) and Colombia's Félix Rafael Cárdenas (Barloworld) turned the screw on the day's penultimate climb of Pietransieri.
Cárdenas was dropped inside the final ten kilometres, Sella suffered a flat tyre and Bosisio shed Kiryienka to finish 46 seconds clear. Behind, Di Luca, Riccardo Riccò, Leonardo Piepoli (both Saunier Duval - Scott) and 2007 Tour de France champion Alberto Contador (Astana) rocketed clear of the other favourites and finished in that order, with Di Luca and Riccò crossing the line two minutes and four seconds behind Bosisio and the other two three and six seconds back, respectively.
Race leader Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) was dropped on the climb and conceded one minute and 48 seconds to Di Luca, but had enough time in hand to hold on to the maglia rosa. What's more, he extended his lead over Matthias Russ (Gerolsteiner) to nine seconds. The 25 year-old Visconti finished four minutes back from the winner.
"We didn't know that this break would take so much time, it was a surprise for us," said an elated Bosisio after the stage. "When I was in it, Di Luca asked me if my legs were okay. I said yes, so they let me make my race. They were very confident with me today."
He was asked about the fact that he won, thus denying Di Luca the chance to triumph in his local region. Bosisio said that the team's plan changed during the stage and the leader was happy with the final outcome. "It is true that Danilo wanted to win this stage but he has a bigger project, to win the Giro d'Italia," he said. "There was no problem, I had to go in the break this morning. Then Di Luca was to attack in the final of the stage. So we did as we were supposed to do.
"He let me ride for the win and I think he is happy with the result. Also he is satisfied because he realised his form is okay as he rode well. Now I will help him, the Giro is long."
Bosisio, winner of the road race at the Olympic test event in Beijing last summer, was questioned about surging when Sella had a flat. He denied that there was anything unsporting going on. "I didn't know he had a puncture just when I attacked. I was surprised that he wasn't with me, I knew only after the finish that he had a puncture. I don't know who would have won between us if we were together going for the win. We are very different.
"In a race like that, it is important to respect everyone as it is very difficult. Sella is now leader of the King of the Mountains classification - I hope he will win it now and have other satisfactions."
Tour de France champion Alberto Contador rode very strongly, showing that even with limited time to prepare for the race, he is a force to be reckoned with. He went with Di Luca and Riccò and although they got clear of him before the line, he only ended up losing six seconds to the duo. The expectation is that he will grow stronger as the race goes on.
"I didn't feel great, I was dead," he said afterwards. "I went to my limit. Di Luca was very strong. But I have to be happy because this is the first hard stage and my level was higher than I expected coming here. I expected perhaps to do a little less well than I did.
"This result is a good sign, I hope the time trial goes well."
Team-mate Levi Leipheimer finished 18th, 45 seconds behind his team-mate. "That was hard," he told Cyclingnews. "It was tougher day than I expected, with the group getting away. The climbs in the middle were really hard. It was a tough day."
Visconti had hoped to hold onto the race lead and so it turned out. He said he was inspired by the maglia rosa. "I think last year, I would have finished on the Gruppetto on this sort of stage," he admitted. "This year, with this jersey, it was easier to stay there, to be courageous and to do something good.
"Also, I was very tired this morning. My legs were heavy. But then when I saw the people, when I saw my team which was very close to me, I gave more in the last kilometres."
He said that world champion Paolo Bettini was particularly helpful. "He helped me a lot. He was speaking and speaking and speaking all the time, telling me to stay calm because the German rider [Matthias Russ] would not finish with the first riders. He said that he would blow up before I did.
"Bettini was also saying to keep focussed, to go on certain sides to avoid the wind. I hope I will have the possibility to help him win a stage and thus repay him for the help he gave me. It is not the first time - last year, after the World Championships, he helped me win the Coppa Sabatini. He did a lot for me and I hope I can help him in the next days."
The Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli team of former double Giro champion Gilberto Simoni did a lot of the chasing near the end. Visconti denied that a deal had been done. "I didn't look for an alliance, it happened like that because they needed to chase Di Luca," he said. "There was no arrangement with Simoni, it just happened."
Racers crossed the Apennine from east to west and then completed never previously used finish into Abruzzo's Pescocostanzo. The 187 riders are slated for a 180-kilometre romp that will be highlighted by the final 22 kilometres that feature a 9.2-kilometre rise to Pietransieri and the final 2.85-kilometre kick to Pescocostanzo.
The Corsa Rosa left Vasto at 12:09 under cloudy skies. The first eight kilometres were highlighted by failed attacks and counter-attacks, but then Bielorussia's Vasil Kiryienka (Tinkoff Credit Systems), 26 years-old, broke the reins of the gruppo. However, they were quickly mended and he found himself back in the fold three kilometres later.
Kiryienka got clear again at kilometre 14, this time with a large group of riders. By kilometre 21 there were three riders Kiryienka, Gabriele Bosisio (LPR Brakes) and Filippo Savini (CSF Group Navigare) being trailed by 36 others at 25", while the gruppo maglia rosa was at 4'50".
Pablo Lastras (Caisse d'Epargne) and Félix Rafael Cárdenas (Barloworld) bridged to the trio to form a move of five, which 40 seconds over the chase and eight minutes clear kilometre 30 of the main peloton of race leader Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step).
Emanuele Sella (CSF Group Navigare) bridged at kilometre 33 and a counter-attack by Joan Horrach (Caisse d'Epargne), Fortunato Baliani (CSF Group Navigare) and Simon Spilak (Lampre) followed at kilometre 55. A new group was formed with seven members: Sella, Horrach, Baliani, Spilak, Cárdenas, Bosisio and, the original man, Kiryienka.
The race suffered two losses at kilometre 70; Kiryienka's team-mate, Alberto Loddo, and Yauheni Hutarovich (Française des Jeux) abandoned.
With 100 kilometres remaining, in Castelverrino, the seven racers had 4'14" over the trailing 32 and 8'15" over the gruppo maglia rosa being led by Gilberto Simoni's Diquigiovanni team. The second chase group consisted of Daniele Pietropolli (LPR Brakes), Nicolas Rousseau (AG2R La Mondiale), Maxim Iglinsky (Astana), Assan Bazayev (Astana), Steve Cummings (Barloworld), Pablo Lastras (Caisse d'Epargne), José Rujano (Caisse d'Epargne), Yann Huguet (Cofidis), Filippo Savini (CSF Group Navigare), Markel Irizar (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Lilian Jégou (Française des Jeux), Ruslan Ivanov (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli), Volker Ordowski (Gerolsteiner), Kanstantsin Siutsou (High Road), Sylvester Szmyd (Lampre), Dario Cataldo (Liquigas), Andrea Noè (Liquigas), Alexander Efimkin (Quick Step), Juan Manuel Gárate (Quick Step), Theo Eltink (Rabobank), Mauricio Ardila Cano (Rabobank), Iker Camaño (Saunier Duval-Scott), Alessandro Bertolini, Raffaele Illiano (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Silence-Lotto), Danny Pate (Slipstream Chipotle - H30), Jens Voigt (Team CSC), Michael Blaudzun (Team CSC), Sergio Ghisalberti (Team Milram), Alberto Ongarato (Team Milram).
Through the feed-zone in Miranda, kilometre 109, the leaders held 6'20" over the gruppo maglia rosa.
Aitor Galdos (Euskaltel-Euskadi) abandoned the race on the GPM (Gran Premio della Montagna) of Macerone. Patrick Calcagni (Barloworld) followed suit immediately afterwards.
Sella in the mountain leader's maglia verde Cárdenas and Baliani, in that order, led over the Category three GPM of Valico di Macerone. Simon Spilak (Lampre) and Joan Horrach (Caisse d'Epargne) went in crisis over the climb and the race fell under the control of the remaining five, 25" over the duo. The next chase was at 3'00" and the gruppo maglia rosa at 5'00".
Sella and Cárdenas, respectively, led over the GPM Rionero Sannitico. The group of 32 was blown apart on the climb, crossing the top in smaller groups, led by the four of Juan Manuel Gárate (Quick Step), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Silence-Lotto), Kanstantsin Siutsou (High Road) and Sylvester Szmyd (Lampre) at 1'55". The gruppo maglia rosa passed at 6'20" back.
Horrach, Alexander Efimkin (Quick Step) and Mauricio Ardila Cano (Rabobank) worked their way back to the leading chase of four, making seven. At 40 kilometres remaining, the leading five were being chased by seven at 2'55". Astana were leading the main gruppo.
At the start of the GPM of Pietransieri, with 22.7km remaining, the leading five had four minutes on the seven and 5'14" over the Saunier Duval-led gruppo. LPR Brakes took control of the chase with Alessandro Spezialetti; it strung out the group and put race leader Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) into difficulties while picking up the group of seven. Meanwhile, the front group of five looked comfortable.
Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Scott) opened up with 3.5 kilometres to the top of the climb. His move was followed a few moments later by 2007 race winner, Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes), with Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott) in tow. Alberto Contador (Astana) and Joaquím Rodríguez (Caisse d'Epargne) followed. Rodríguez was dropped and four Piepoli, Riccò, Di Luca and Contador crossed the top of the Pietransieri at 2'38" behind the leading four. In that lead group, Baliani had dropped and Sella led over the top.
Cárdenas was dropped in the final nine kilometres, leaving three leaders. Sella had a flat tire and Bossini flew the coup at three kilometres to go. With five kilometres remaining, he had 2'34" on the Riccò chase group.
Vasil Kiryienka (Tinkoff Credit Systems), Emanuele Sella (CSF Group Navigare), Félix Rafael Cárdenas (Barloworld) chased, separately, in that order. Bosisio had the stage wrapped up, 28 seconds on Kiryienka at two kilometres to go.
After four hours and 45 minutes of racing, Como's Gabriele Bosisio came into Pescocostanzo for the race win. Kiryienka, who stared the day's attacks, finished in second at 42". Sella and Cárdenas took third and fourth. Contador let off the accelerator, while Di Luca led home the chase for fifth ahead of Riccò and Piepoli at 2'30".
Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step), who remains the race leader, finished four minutes back in the maglia rosa.
The Corsa Rosa returns in stage eight to Tivoli, the land were Belgium's Roger De Vlaeminck ruled in 1975. After an early climb, the Forca d'Acero, the stage will descend and hit some hard, unclassified climbs. The last four-thousand metres will rise slightly to make for a slow and painful day's end. It is another stage for a punchy rider, like Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) or Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott).