Hello and welcome back. After yesterday's nice quiet sprint stage, we are heading back up to the mountains today!
We have five, count 'em, five, climbs today. None of them really major but some of them have quite steep sections, and the final climb up to the finish line is really going to put some hurt into a lot of people. So hang around for the fun and games.
As of km 27, we had a large escape group with a lead of 4:35. The group consists of: Guillame Bonnafond (Ag2r), Giampaolo Cheula (Barloworld), Christopher Froome (Barloworld), Vasili Kiryienka (Caisse d'Epargne), Philip Deignan (Cervelo), Simon Gerrans (Cervelo), Giovanni Visconti (ISD), Andriy Grivko (ISD), Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre), Francesco Reda (Quick Step), Rubens Bertaglioti (Diquigiovanni), Evgeny Petrov (Katusha), Martin Müller (Milram) and Eduard Vorganov (Xacobeo).
They got away early, at km 12.
40km remaining from 172km
The day's first climb came at km 40.4, the Passo della Collina. It is 777 metres high, and the riders went up 678 of them over 12.6 km. The average gradient was 5.4%, with a max of 8%.
The break went over it in this order: Grivko ahead of Visconti and Bonnafond.
There were five non-starters today: Steve Chainel (Bbox), Cameron Meyer (Garmin), Mark Cavendish (Columbia), Mark Renshaw (Columbia) and Filippo Pozzato (Katusha).
The break group today was no surprise, the question is whether they can make it through to the end.
One thing is for sure, the top dogs, who are all in the peloton, will all be keeping a very close eye on one another. They are all so close together that only a few seconds could make a difference.
The finale today, with that nasty closing climb, is the finish used in the one-day race Giro dell'Emilia. And who won that race last year? Danilo Di Luca. Who would love to win and claim those 20 bonus seconds? Danilo Di Luca.
We are floating along here in the blimp, but having problems looking down at the race. We really do need new glasses..... But as soon as we can see something, we will update you on the race situation.
The race started today in Campi Bisenzio, whose claim to fame is that it is where the internal combustion engine was built for the first time by Felice Matteucci and Eugenio Barsanti.
70km remaining from 172km
The group is holding onto a a relatively steady lead of 4:30.
Happy Birthday today to Giampaolo Cheula of Barloworld, who is turning 30 out there in the escape group today.
The second climb is the Valico di Mediano, km 77. This one's a little higher, 888 metres, with the peloton climbing 569 metres in 14.7 km. The average gradient is only 3.9% but the maximum is 12%.
Everyone is on the climb now, with LPR leading the peloton up. The gap has dropped slightly, to 3:50.
77km remaining from 172km
And the group is over the top, with Grivko ahead of Visconti and Bonnafond. Hm, that sounds familiar to us.
And now the peloton crosses the summit, at 3:52. They aren't going to let this group really get away.
Let's start taking a look at some of our break participants. Bonnafond is a 21-year-old first year pro. The French youngster rides for Ag2r. When he was younger he was a stand-out at both basketball and cycling.
Cheula, as we said, turns 30 today. The Italian turned pro in 2001 with Mapei-Quick Step, and rode with Vini Caldiroli from 2003 to 2004, before joining Barloworld. He won the Peace Race in 2006. Last year he won the GP Nobili Rubinetterie – Borgomanero.
And we have the first to withdraw from today's stage: Jelle Vanendert of Silence-Lotto.
86km remaining from 172km
LPR continues to lead the chase. Interesting that LPR is doing the work for second-placed Danilo Di Luca, instead of Rabobank doing it for leader Denis Menchov.
90km remaining from 172km
Ian Stannard of ISD has "kissed the pavement", so to speak.
There aren't many more chances for a sprinter here at the Giro, so the dominant sprinter has said ciao and left the race to prepare for the Tour de France. Columbia team manager Rolf Aldag explains why yesterday was Mark Cavendish's last stage. "He has had a very successful couple of weeks at the Giro, but he is still young and he has a long career ahead of him. He has already raced 55 days this year and it is our view that the best thing for Mark is to take some recovery now before the Tour."
100km remaining from 172km
Stannard has now caught up with the peloton again following his crash. The gap is 3:35 up to the lead group.
The other Barloworld rider in the break group is Christopher Froome. The 24 year old was born in Nairobi, Kenya, but has ridden under a British licence since 2008. He started out as a mountain biker but then turned to the road. Froome turned pro in 2007 with Konica Minolta and joined Barloworld last year.
Keep an eye on Levi Leipheimer, who will attack at some point yet to come in the Giro. We just don't know when, and neither does he. "I keep saying it, but it’s day by day and kilometer by kilometer," Leipheimer told the AP. "If I feel good enough, I will attack, I promise you."
105km remaining from 172km
We have Rifornimento, or the feeding zone, at Vergato from km. 103-106. It has a population of nearly 6000 and is 42 km from Bologna.
And that is where the break group is now, with a lead of 3:38.
Müller is now having trouble keeping up with the lead group.
Vasili Kiryienka of Caisse d'Epargne is 27 years old. The Byelorussian rode for Tinkoff for two seasons before joining his current team this year. He has won numerous time trial titles, does well on the track and is in his third year of making an impression on the road. He won a stage in last year's Giro.
The sun is shining again today and we see lots of open jerseys.
It looks like Menchov is wearing new shorts today, with a pink patch replacing the orange patch. Looks a little better, we think. Somehow pink and orange don't really go so well together.
110km remaining from 172km
The gap is back up to exactly four minutes.
LPR continues to do the lead work, as they all head up the next climb. That is the Valico di Tole at km 117. It is another Category Two,747 metres high. The field will ride 14.6km to climb 542 metres. The average gradient is 3,7%, with a maximum of 8%.
Philip Deignan is a 25 year old Irishman. He rode for Ag2r for four years before joining the new Cervélo team in 2009. This is his third Grand Tour, having ridden the Giro last year and the Vuelta in 2007.
Müller is definitely out of the lead group as the group sprints for the mountain points. Once more, Grivko was ahead of Visconti, but this time Deignan was third.
Milram's Björn Schröder was one of the men of the day yesterday, spending 158 kilometres ahead of the field. At first part of a three-man escape group, he continued on his own when the others were caught, but eventually he too was caught by the peloton with only 5 km to go. "Of course it hurt, but it was fun," he noted on radsport-news.com.
His teammate Müller just crossed the mountaintop, 2:45 behind the group.
Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Slipstream is right up there in the mass sprints, but hasn't yet been first across the line. DS Matt White said, "A stage win would have been nice, but we’re still a young team. We may have fallen a bit short of today’s goal but it wasn’t for a lack of commitment! There’s still a lot of racing to be had here and for the rest of the season."
Simon Gerrans of Australia, 29, rode for Ag2r from 2005-2007, and then spent a year at Credit Agricole before coming to Cervélo. He won the Tour Down Under in 2006 and won a stage of the Tour de France last year. This year he brought in top ten finishes in Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
We have had several mails asking where is this that or the other rider. Except for the break group, everyone is still together in the peloton.
Niels Hansen wrote in to say the thinks the break will make it through to the finish line. "The only team interested in catching up is LPR, and they know they will need all their strength in the next five days and will likely stay put. Both Rabobank and Astana knows, that their GC contenders can follow Di Luca on the last climb but not beat him in the sprint, so they rather see the bonus seconds go to someone else."
"But as a Dane I have to say (or shout): WHERE IS SAXO BANK???" Well, they are somewhere there in the peloton but we must honestly say we haven't really seen much of them today. Or for the whole Giro, for that matter.
132km remaining from 172km
Only 40 km to go to the finish line in Bologna.
Bologna! What do we think of? Food, what else! And not that pink lunch meat Americans love to put on their fluffy white bread. Yuck! But real food like Sauce Bolognese and famous pasta dishes like tortellini and tagliatelle.
Yes, Menchov definitely has pink on his pants instead of orange. Plus pink helmet, gloves and socks!
3:52 is the gap as the peloton passes under the 35 km to go banner.
There aren't many kms left to go but they include two climbs and an intermediate sprint.
To return to our favourite topic of food, pork is a big thing here – ever hear of Prosciutto? And then there is Ragu, a thick rich tomato and pork sauce just waiting to be poured over pasta.
142km remaining from 172km
30 km still to go for the lead group, with the next climb coming in only seven km.
This region has been nicknamed "La Grassa" which means, bluntly, the fat. And if we stay here much longer we will definitely fit that description.
The escape group is now approaching the penultimate climb. And their lead has now dropped to under three minutes.
Climb number four is the Category Three Mongardino. It is only 352 metres high, with the guys taking 2.1km to go up 135 metres. So what, you ask? Well, it is short but steep: an average gradient of 6.4% with a max of 12%.
147km remaining from 172km
The group hits the next km banner. Let's see how much their lead has dwindled this time.
Deignan jumps out of the group and heads up to the mountain top. Does he just want the points or will he try to stay away?
The gap to the peloton is about 1:30. Deignan is not really very far ahead. But meanwhile, Visconti is having trouble hanging on to the group.
Deignan has a handful of other riders with him now, and surprisingly it looks like Grivko has fallen out of the group.
150km remaining from 172km
One LPR helper is ahead of Di Luca in the peloton, with Menchov tight on his heels.
The peloton comes to the mountain ranking banner with the gap at 1:44.
Froome took the mountain points ahead of Bertgalioti and Petrov. And Visconti has been caught by the peloton.
The pink jersey was never endangered by this break group. The highest ranked rider was Froome, who is over 14 minutes down.
Di Luca now has two helpers, as LPR continues to lead the chase.
They managed to squeeze a TV intermediate sprint in here at km. 156.3.
The gap is now less than a minute.
Kiryienka took the sprint, followed by Vorgonov, and we don't know who was third.
There is less than 20 km to go today, but Lance Armstrong goes back to the team car and loads up on water bottles for his teammates. No problem though, the limit has been cut back to 10 km today.
Menchov and his accompanying teammate are sharing a water bottle.
The gap has grown to about two minutes, let's make that 2:13.
160km remaining from 172km
12 km and two minutes..... can they survive? And with that nasty finishing climb staring them in the face?
Acqua & Sapone has taken over the lead work now from LPR.
And now we see a Rabobank at the head of the charge, with Liquigas coming up on the left.
Menchov empties a water bottle and tosses it in someone's front yard. Actually their front courtyard.
Gavazzi leads the first group as they head through downtown Bologna.
Who are the famous sporting sons of Bologna? Pierluigi Collini, the famous bald football referee, well-known to Europeans who follow that "other" sport. And skier Alberto Tomba, who won three Olympic gold medals and two World championships in the various slalom events in the 1990s.
Grivko takes off out of the lead group.
Wow, the Liquigas rider leading the peloton just got an involuntary shower. A fan emptied his water bottle in the rider's face. No doubt he meant it nicely, but the riders just don't appreciate it.
The chasing field is really speeding along now. Grivko starts ascending.
170km remaining from 172km
About 1:28 for Grivko over the chasing peloton.
But the group of favourites isn't really doing anything. No one is willing to go for it.
Whoa, hard going here.....
Grivko is no longer in the lead, now it is Gerrans and Froome.
171km remaining from 172km
Gerrans pulls away slightly. This is VERY hard going here.
Looks like it evens out a bit right at the 1 km marker, but it was very steep coming up to it. There are supposed to be sections of 16-20%.
Gerrans has a big lead now.
Di Luca, Garzelli, Menchov., all together.
Leipheimer can't keep up with the Di Luca group.
Gerrans is still not at the finish line, this is a long steep way.
But now the Australian takes his first Giro stage win!
There won't be any bonus seconds for the favourites today. Bertaglioti took second place and someone else from the break took third.
Di Luca and his group came in at 1:04 down, while Leipheimer lost three seconds, coming in at 1:07.
There are more mountains tomorrow, and do we mean more..... Drop by and visit us again, and thanks for reading along today.