Welcome back to another beautiful day of the Giro d'Italia. We're ready to live another day of the 'dolce vita' while our intrepid peloton suffers through another painful stage with a huge mountain finish.
It is the last chance for our GC contenders to gain big time, and one great day could make or break someone's Giro!
We didn't see the normal attacks straight out of the gate today. Perhaps the guys are a little bit tired after yesterday's fast stage. They averaged nearly 45kph which, for the end of three weeks of extremely hard racing, is pretty impressive.
We did see two riders go clear at km 16, and they were immediately given plenty of leeway. Mauro Facci (Quick Step) and Yuriy Krivtsov (AG2R La Mondiale) established an immediate and substantial lead.
All 171 riders who finished yesterday's stage were present and accounted for at the start in Avellino today. Yesterday Quick Step lost Davide Malacarne.
The Italian not only crashed, but fell ill. "I've tried gritting my teeth to make it to Rome," he explained. "Unfortunately I can't continue this race in my condition. In addition to the pain as a result of the fall I also have come down with a fever that has debilitated me."
38km remaining from 164km
Our two leaders are heading up a climb which is quite substantial yet didn't warrant a category by the race organizers. It climbs over 400m in elevation which, after 18 stages of aggressive racing, is pretty painful.
We suppose this is why the peloton has allowed the leaders to gain six minutes!
Our maglia rosa, Denis Menchov, and his close runner-up Danilo Di Luca aren't going to be at all threatened by the presence of these two riders up the road. Facci is the best placed on GC a whopping 2 hours 44 minutes behind. The top riders could easily take in a three course dinner at one of the region's fine restaurants and still get to the line without losing their place on GC.
Facci will pretty much have the Fuga Cervelo classification sewn up after today's stage. He leads with 418 points - 104 better than Milram's Bjorn Schroeder.
Whether or not these two riders stay clear will depend on Danilo Di Luca's LPR Brakes team. With Di Luca only 26 seconds behind on GC, the race could come down to the 20 second sprint bonus on the line. They'll be interested in making sure Di Luca has a chance to win the stage and take those seconds.
The Rabobank team, however, will likely hope that the two can stay clear and steal those maximum bonus seconds away so that Di Luca won't have a chance to nab them. This should allow them to take a back seat to the chasing - which we're sure they'll welcome after all the work they've done since Menchov took that pink jersey.
44km remaining from 164km
Cresting the valico Costapiana, our leaders have indeed continued to put time into the bunch. 7'00 is the gap at the moment as they enjoy another one of the Giro's fabulous descents.
Once the leaders get to the bottom of this descent they'll face undulating terrain which gives little opportunity to rest. The hills will keep getting bigger and bigger until km 95 when they start up the first classified climb, the Picco Sant'Angelo.
The riders will crest the Picco Sant'Angelo at km 101, then we'll surely see the peloton give chase as they head toward the explosive (literally) peak of Monte Vesuvio.
Vesuvio is not only a dangerous peak for our GC contenders today, but it is also a threat to the general populace. It's an active volcano with a history of violent eruptions.
Most famously, it wiped out Pompeii in 79AD. The last time a serious eruption occurred was in 1944. Since then, the population within danger from this behemoth has grown to three million.
54km remaining from 164km
The leaders are still enjoying more than six minutes over the peloton, and have averaged a blistering 49.8km/h in the first hour. Either they've got motors on their bikes or they have a nice tailwind!
Back in the town of Cava dei Tirreni, the leaders were treated to one of the "occasional sprints" - an intermediate sprint that doesn't count toward any overall classification. It's just a nice prize for these two to tuck into their bank accounts. Facci took first ahead of Krivtsov, while LPR's Riccardo Chiarini took third from the peloton.
Just as we expected, the LPR Brakes team is the squad taking responsibility for this chase. Or, at the moment, for setting a tempo which keeps the pair up front at a striking distance.
We're happy to report that sprinter Robbie McEwen, who had to cancel his participation in the Giro due to a crash earlier in the season, is recovering from his latest encounter with a stationary object.
In the Tour of Belgium yesterday he hit a road sign that opened a gash in his knee. It was feared that the slice had severed important tendons and ligaments. But after a successful surgery to stabilize a broken tibia, he has reported that his tendon is OK and he has already begun the rehabilitation process.
Denis Menchov, our overall leader, suffered a puncture, but was quickly paced back to the peloton by his Rabobank teammates.
Speaking of the Tour of Belgium... the riders in the Giro d'Italia complained a bit in the first week of dangerous descents, narrow roads and traffic islands galore. But in Belgium these things are so prevalent every race is riddled with obstacles. Today they are facing some sectors of cobbles to go along with the usual fun and games.
66km remaining from 164km
The leaders have passed the 100km to go mark in today's stage, and are heading along the beautiful and scenic Amalfi coast. With such beauty it is easy to see why three million people risk their lives by living in the shadow of an active volcano like Vesuvio.
67km remaining from 164km
The gap has come down under 6 minutes now for Facci and Krivtsov as they make their way along the coast. It could be that they've encountered an unfavourable wind which is helping the chase. Two noses in the wind just isn't enough when you've got 169 guys chasing!
The leading pair are swapping pulls and it indeed seems that they have a headwind due to the short length of each rider's turn at the front. If they could look behind them they might be tempted to climb off, find a cafe and sip an espresso while enjoying the view rather than flogging themselves on the bike like this.
While the road the leaders are on is relatively flat, we can easily see to our right why today's profile is so jagged. As they head inland from the coast the terrain heads straight up and over huge ridges.
It's not unlike Southern California, really - or even coastal Northern California for that matter.
We're afraid Krivtsov - a Ukrainian riding for a French team - isn't getting as much love from the tifosi on the road side. We hear plenty of "Facci" being yelled, but have yet to hear a cheer for our AG2R man.
The LPR team has the peloton lined out as they speed through the narrow coastal road. Don't look down because it's 100m straight down to the water here!
74km remaining from 164km
Doh! We have a crash in the peloton with two Astana riders stopping. Looks like Armstrong might have overcooked the bend and slid out.
One of Armstrong's teammates stopped rather suddenly when they saw the Texan fall, nearly causing additional riders to hit the deck. They're all up and riding now.
Armstrong has probably had more crashes during his comeback year than in all of his years of dominating the Tour de France combined. He crashed at least twice in California without incident, then broke his collarbone in March in a wreck.
It's difficult for the Astana pair to rejoin as the roads are narrow and constantly twisting and turning. The following cars are not helping the matter on the narrow roads as it is difficult to pass.
82km remaining from 164km
The other rider who went down was Mauro Da Dalto (Lampre - N.G.C.). He actually fell first, and in the switch to avoid Da Dalto, Armstrong appeared to have his front wheel taken out.
At the finish line, street cleaners are trying to clear a thick layer of dust - probably volcanic - from the road with a great spray of water. Let's hope it's not mud by the time our racers get to the top.
The three Astana riders and Da Dalto plus one Cervelo rider have made the peloton, which had closed down the gap to the pair up front to 4'27, but the crash slowed that up a bit.
There are a few brave fans on the road side, standing up against a stone barricade on this narrow stretch. On the right side is a stone rock face, so there really is nowhere to stand. Young girls are dressed all in bright pink for the Giro.
87km remaining from 164km
The leaders are now entering the feed zone in Positano and will need to fuel up for the task ahead. Just a few more kilometres until they reach the base of our category 3 climb, the Picco Sant'Angelo.
The roads are heading inland slightly, leaving the precipitous cliffs that, frankly, were making us dizzy and unsettled. Two feet of stone doesn't seem like enough to keep a rider from going over the edge.
There are houses on the cliff face below the road which are definitely not for those with vertigo or a fear of heights! Our leaders now have 4'40 as the peloton lost ground after the crash with Armstrong.
The LPR Brakes team is still drilling it, lining out the peloton as they twist and turn along the coast.
Down in the beach at Positano, there are bright yellow umbrellas on a short stretch of sand, and it's making us quite jealous. We'd love to be down there working on eliminating the pesky cyclist's tan lines, but alas, there's work to do!
89km remaining from 164km
The leaders have passed through the first part of the feed zone without picking up their feed bags... perhaps their soigneurs are up the road. They have 3km to feed.
It was a day for the sprinters in the Bayern Rundfahrt today. Andre Greipel of Columbia took his second stage win, beating Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo) and Sebastian Siedler (Vorarlberg-Corratec) in the bunch sprint.
The lunch break is likely to give the two leaders, Facci and Krivtsov more of an advantage. Right now they're ticking long at 50km/h while the peloton has sat up and is tootling at 39km/h.
Tootling, of course, is a technical term in the world of cycling...
The peloton is heading through the rather chaotic feed zone, which is on a slight rise to bring the speed down and help the soigneurs hand up the bags without having their arms ripped off.
Let's take a look at our breakaway men while they still have an advantage. Mauro Facci of Quick Step turned 27 at the start of the Giro on May 11. He began his career with Fassa Bortolo in 2002 and has only managed two wins - both in the team time trial of the Settimana Coppi e Bartali.
He's still looking for his first individual pro win.
In the Tour of Belgium, Borut Bozic won his second stage in a big bunch sprint. No crashes today, thank goodness.
Krivtsov (his name is getting easier and easier to type) is 30 years old but also started his pro career in 2002 with the old Jean Delatour squad. Now with AG2R, he hasn't won a race in years. His last victory was in 2003 at the Tour de Romandie.
Clearly, these two riders are the workhorses of the peloton and deserve to have their day in the sun. Sadly, we're afraid this move won't be successful considering they have 4'38 and a steady chase by LPR behind.
99km remaining from 164km
The leaders are beginning the long and gradual ascent of the Sant'Angelo - it's 13.3km but only averages 4.6%.
In Belgium, Bozic has taken over the overall lead from Serguei Ivanov.
We have an attack from the peloton - it's Andriy Grivko (ISD) who has been quite aggressive this Giro.
Grivko is second in the mountains classification and still has a slim chance of taking that green shirt from Stefano Garzelli.
100km remaining from 164km
After the mountain sprint, we'll have the T.V. sprint in Sorrento.
Grivko's teammate Visconti has the lead in the sprint classification, so perhaps Grivko is hoping to get up to the leaders and snatch the maximum points from Facci, who trails Visconti by 10 points.
101km remaining from 164km
Facci and Krivtsov are at the KOM now and the Quick Step man is not challenged for the maximum points.
Grivko still has 1km to go to the top. He's probably two, two and a half minutes behind.
It's Ukrainian vs. Ukrainian now as Grivko chases after his countryman up in the lead. Yet, it's the teams who write the paychecks, and the ISD rider needs to do his job.
The clock is ticking upwards of three minutes as he comes to the 100m to go to the top mark. Looks like he's 3'15 behind the two leaders.
The peloton comes over the top 4'35 behind the two leaders. Of course there are only points for the top three, so Garzelli would not have sprinted. He's still got a 21 point lead in that classification over Grivko.
The two leaders are on the descent now, and Facci is powering away at the front pushing a big gear. Krivtsov is in an aero tuck coasting behind.
The leaders are making their way around this little peninsula and will soon be on looking at the Golfo di Napoli as opposed to the Golfo di Salerno. We're sure they're equally beautiful.
Grivko was caught by the peloton on the descent. Our two leaders are in Sorrento now heading toward our T.V. sprint.
There are lots and lots of fans lining the roads in Sorrento, eager to catch a glimpse of their heroes.
The sprint for the line is hotly contested and Krivtsov gets it! Facci is angry.
Facci gesticulates at the Ukrainian. Clearly he wanted the points for the T.V. classification - he only had one more day to tie with Visconti and needed the 5 points. Now that he took second he cannot equal the ISD rider in that classification.
Of course, there are no T.V. sprints in the time trial.
114km remaining from 164km
Looks like we had another crash in the peloton. This time Dario Andriotto (Acqua & Sapone - Caffe Mokambo) is back at the car looking a bit worse for the wear. He's getting a bike change.
Actually, Grivko is still in front of the peloton - we received some incorrect information. He's sitting up and waiting for them now, however. They can't be far.
Two riders attacked for the T.V. sprint, and one was from ISD. But he was beaten to the line by a rider in red, who we can only guess is Giuseppe Palumbo of Acqua & Sapone. Grivko took the third place ahead of them.
The lead duo still has a long, lumpy trip before they even get in sight of Monte Vesuvio.
The Giro d'Italia first used the mountain 50 years ago. The organisers staged a time trial on the slopes, which Charly Gaul won on his way to that year's overall classification. The second and last time was in 1990, when Eduardo Chozas conquered the climb at the end of a 190-kilometre stage.
The LPR team is keeping the leaders in check by setting a steady but not vigorous chase. The third hour averaged just 37km/h. That's down from 48 in the first hour and 38 in the second.
122km remaining from 164km
It's another warm day for the riders who have endured some unusually hot weather in this Giro. Earlier in the week the temps were pushing 40C - over 100F. It's not quite that hot here thanks to the ocean breeze, but our leaders are still cracking a good sweat.
Danilo Di Luca is looking every bit the killer today. Clad in the maglia ciclamino, we see him eying Menchov's pink jersey with icy daggers jutting out of his pupils.
Behind that icy exterior, the LPR man has a soft heart. We've seen it with the wrist bands he's arranged to raise money for the earthquake victims and through an incident earlier in the week when the podium bouquet he tossed got stuck in a tree. He busted out laughing - doubled over with giggles - at the mishap. It's nice to see the human side of riders!
The gap is holding at 3'40 - even going out a little. Our pair in front are doing 50kph according to the GPS, while the LPR-led peloton is doing 32.
Lance Armstrong is heading backwards in the peloton looking a little unhappy. We hope he didn't further injure his recently healed collarbone in that wreck a while back.
OK, apparently our broad definition of ocean has come under criticism. Of course Italy isn't near an "ocean", but the Mediterranean "SEA". Large body of water creating a cooling breeze on the hot, dry land. We must learn to be more precise!
123km remaining from 164km
Back to the business at hand, our two leaders have made up after their T.V. line spat and are cooperating again.
The peloton and the following cars head down a highway cloverleaf in a long line. The chase has picked up speed now and LPR has the bunch single file from beginning to end.
The LPR train takes a tight inside line around a bend where a florist has baskets of bright yellow sunflowers out. They could have easily grabbed a few.
We wonder, do the riders notice things like this when they're racing? Or does the lack of oxygen prevent them from seeing anything except a circle of pavement in front of their wheel?
The race is now heading along the coast of the shin of the boot of Italy, going in a Northwestern direction. Up ahead is Napoli, to the right is the target today - the looming figure of Monte Vesuvio.
As we commented earlier, Di Luca is keenly interested in gaining a time bonus at the finish of today's stage to help erase some of the 26" deficit he has to Menchov. He's got his LPR team driving the pace full throttle now in order to bring the two leaders back.
129km remaining from 164km
There are still another 20km or so to the base of the final climb, and our leaders have 3'35 on the peloton.
It's impressive to see Alessandro Petacchi at the front of the LPR train. His powerful legs are not being used to contest sprints these days. Instead, he's at the service of Di Luca and doing a very nice job of bringing down this gap. It's 2'40" now thanks to the former pink jersey.
The Golfo di Napoli, or if you want to use the less poetic version, Gulf of Naples, is providing a stunning backdrop for our race at the moment.
Oh, a doggie is on the side of the road as the leaders speed by - let's hope he stays out of the road! Earlier this week in the Tour of Belgium, one of the riders had the misfortune of not only having a black cat cross his path, he ran over it. Poor cat, but also poor rider - that's probably worth a month of bad luck.
134km remaining from 164km
Just over 30km to go and the peloton is keeping the two leaders at an ever decreasing gap. Last check was 2'40" but we're certain it's well below that by now.
2'00 now for the leaders as Petacchi continues to churn that big gear - his large quads tapping out a brisk tempo that has the bunch single file.
We've received a lot of concerned emails from people regarding Lance Armstrong dropping back in the peloton. He wasn't looking happy, but we don't think it's anything serious. Crashing is never fun, we can say with experience, having done our share of pavement surfing. It doesn't tend to brighten one's mood.
The riders are passing near the ruins of Pompeii, the city which was obliterated by Vesuvio back in 79AD.
We see one of the LPR riders having a chat with Petacchi. Surely he's checked his blackberry and told Ale-Jet that we were complimenting him. He nods his head in acknowledgment.
139km remaining from 164km
25km to go and Krivtsov is taking time to tighten his buckles on his shoes and have a sip from his bottle. This could well presage an attack as his and Facci's gap comes down to 1'38".
The chase is now doing 10kph better than the leaders and this means their time is not long at the front. 48kph for the chase, 38 for Facci and Krivtsov.
Facci is being given bottles from the Quick Step team car. It's much easier to transport a dozen water-filled bottles by getting caught by the peloton as opposed to having to ride faster to catch up from the cars behind the bunch. That is why breakaway riders are frequently loaded down with bottles before they're caught.
Facci only gets two, however. The feeding from the cars ends with 20km to go.
We're happy to report that Armstrong appears to have gone back toward the front of the peloton. He's not in the single-file portion of LPR and Rabobank, but the next bunch with Liquigas.
The peloton has just gone past a impromptu feed zone and a few riders took bottles. They hit a section of rough cobbles right after and out bounced a few of those bottles. That's gotta be disappointing.
144km remaining from 164km
We're reminded that we've completely and utterly failed to report upon the barnyard animal situation during this year's Giro. Shockingly, there has been a lack of farm animal sightings.
The area is far too urban now for farms as the bunch goes through 1'14 behind the leaders in Torre del Greco.
The Liquigas team is beginning to make its rather predictable play for the front of the peloton as the gap to the two leaders hovers around the minute mark. We expect the men in green to charge at the base of the climb in order to set up Pellizotti.
Menchov doesn't fear the ascent of Vesuvio today. Our confident Russian maglia rosa told Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown "I'm not worried about the climb. It isn't much different from Blockhaus or Petrano. Of course they’re different – it's historical and it's beautiful, but I don't have to think about it any differently than the other important moments of the race."
149km remaining from 164km
Just 28 seconds for the leaders and we're getting very close to the base of Vesuvio! Time for the fireworks to start and LPR brakes' chasers get out of the saddle to pick up the pace.
To add to the pain, the riders are heading over some rough pave'. We see the Astana riders moving up and Di Luca actually moving back to keep his eye on Menchov.
15 seconds only for the two up front and LPR has timed this like a bunch sprint. They'll catch the leaders right at the base of the climb.
Four hours of racing have passed and the motorcycles are coming around the two leaders - who aren't going to be leaders for very much longer. Facci looks back and has accepted his fate. Krivtsov keeps going.
Facci is caught, but the AG2R man is resisting a bit longer, but finally gives up.
Now that the peloton is together, there is a brief lull in the pace as LPR looks around for Di Luca.
He's sitting 10 wheels back dumping water on his head. He has one teammate behind him.
Vesuvio is 13km long, 7.6% average and maxes out at 12%. We have our first dig - it's Liquigas.
Sharp right and we're on the climb! Liquigas has opened a gap and LPR has marked him. The team leaders aren't doing the damage yet - it's their helpers.
Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas) is the man alone at the front and he's opened a 20m gap.
There is no panic as Bosisio and Spezialetti, Di Luca's mountain domestiques, keep things under control.
Di Luca is moving up next to Menchov, who taps him on the shoulder. Agnoli is opening up his lead.
Tiralongo from Lampre has now attacked to go across to Agnoli.
154km remaining from 164km
10km to the top and Tiralongo quickly made it to the leader and then right past him. He's got only 8 seconds, however, on the pink jersey group.
Tiralongo is going so hard, he can only take one swig from his bottle and chucks it on the side of the road. He's still got one more in his cage... Agnoli can't quite make it back to him.
Ochoa has attacked and drawn Basso from the peloton. Garzelli goes across and Ochoa quickly is passed and dropped.
Garza and Basso are going alone as Tiralongo - we think - has been caught by the peloton.
Basso is at the front on his own now in front of the chasing bunch.
Carlos Sastre makes a move and decisively attacks to quickly bridge up to Basso.
The pink jersey group is now losing ground to Basso and now Sastre - who attacked and caught the Italian as Garzelli went backwards.
Armstrong is in the group of the pink jersey, as is a Cervelo man. Di Luca is there.
It's Pauwels, our Belgian wonder and now Garzelli goes again! He wants the stage win to go with his green jersey.
Sastre is huffing and puffing again - making the same faces he made when he won on Monte Petrano.
158.4km remaining from 164km
Somewhere behind Sastre is Arroyo and Gilberto Simoni, who are chasing the two leaders.
Garzelli has been caught by the pink jersey group now led by Astana. Arroyo is desperately trying to get on Simoni's wheel - he finally makes it.
159km remaining from 164km
Up front, Sastre is driving it with Basso looking smooth on his wheel. 5km to go!
Simoni and Arroyo pass a restaurant - lots of fans enjoying an early dinner are there to cheer him on.
Sastre attacks and drops Basso!
No sign of Pellizotti - Basso, however, is only 2 seconds behind Sastre in the overall and is now losing ground. He may need to help his teammate who is in third overall.
There is a gigantic furry snowman chasing after Sastre as he distances Basso. The Italian is out of the saddle trying to get on terms.
Di Luca attacks and is followed by Menchov and Pellizotti.
Di Luca has upped the tempo and pulled the two away - now Pellizotti counters!
Pellizotti may be dreaming of the Giro win, but he's not distancing Menchov and Di Luca, unfortunately. Sastre is still flying away up ahead. The pink jersey trio has sat up!
They're being caught up by the Leipheimer-led group and are 40" behind Sastre.
Sastre gets out of the saddle and keeps his speed going on the steeper section. An attack from the pink jersey group for Diquigiovanni - marked by Pauwels.
161km remaining from 164km
Could be Serpa, who leaves Pauwels behind. Pellizotti attacks and passes Pauwels!
Pellizotti can't get away and is caught by Di Luca, who counters. They catch Ochoa - the Serramenti man.
It's four with the pink jersey as Sastre has his tempo going strong. Armstrong is dropped.
Easing in the pink jersey group as Sastre continues to extend his lead. He needs 1'30 to get back over Pellizotti. Where is Basso?
Garzelli is now in the lead. He's got Di Luca on his wheel.
Attack by Di Luca, but he can't drop Menchov. Pellizotti is there, too - and he counters!
He STILL cannot get away. The three are glued together. We can't imagine Basso is still out front?
162km remaining from 164km
Armstrong is now coming across from the group behind with Garzelli on his wheel and we have a regrouping of sorts in the pink jersey group. Almost.
It's now 5: Armstrong, Di Luca, Menchov, Pellizotti and Garzelli.
58 seconds for Sastre as Pellizotti chases hard. The others kind of let him go.
Di Luca and Menchov can't let this Italian get 2 minutes... He first threatens Di Luca. Basso is waiting for Pellizotti!
The two Liquigas rider are together and Di Luca senses the danger, he attacks.
Menchov is right on him, but Armstrong and Garzelli are left behind. Basso sets tempo for Pellizotti, but let's not forget Sastre!
163km remaining from 164km
45" only for Sastre - he's not getting the time he needs.
1km to go and the pink jersey has nearly caught the Liquigas pair.
Menchov nearly runs into the barriers... Pellizotti is suffering a thousand deaths. Di Luca is out of the saddle sprinting.
Pellizotti has to leave Basso behind - Di Luca signals that it's over. He's not chasing.
Sastre is digging - he wants the stage win!
163.5km remaining from 164km
Basso is caught and passed by the pink jersey.
Sastre is going to get this and the 20" time bonus, but will it be enough? Di Luca accelerates.
He can't even drop Basso. Pellizotti is up ahead limiting his losses.
Carlos Sastre checks behind him and he gets the line - 4:33:23. Pellizotti takes second. Di Luca sprints past Menchov for third - 30" behind.
Here comes Levi Leipheimer for sixth!
This sure sets up an exciting finale! With the time bonus for third, Di Luca is now just 18 seconds behind Menchov with two stages to go! Sunday's time trial will be all or nothing.
Thanks for following the stage with Cyclingnews once again! Be sure to join us tomorrow for the penultimate stage.