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Things are a little easier today for the 17th stage. Yes, there is a category one ranked climb, but only one and it's in the middle of the stage. Not that that makes it much easier for all those tired legs from yesterday's brutal mountain time trial.
It's back to the mountains today for the weary riders, who have no doubt already forgotten Monday's rest day. It counts as a mountaintop finish, but it is only a very small mountaintop, and not even a ranked climb. That doesn't make it any easier, though, does it?
153 riders are now on the road! Missing today was David Loosli, of Lampre, who must have decided he has had enough of the mountains.
This is a relatively short stage, only 173 kilometres from Brunico to the Palade Pass and then to Pejo Terme. We are way up in the north of Italy, just about as far north as you can go and still be in Italy, and will be travelling west-southwest today.
It is overcast today, but at least so far, there is no rain. And we hear that the fans are already lining the road up to the finish line.
What do we have to look forward to? The Palade Pass. The riders go 1,242 metres up, with an average gradient of 6.6% and a maximum of 16%. It's a long climb, at 19km, but not considered to be a really difficult one.
We would be very surprised to see Milram's Linus Gerdemann finish the Giro. The German explained yesterday after the stage why he lost so much time – he is suffering from bronchitis.
"I have never before felt so awful on the bike," he said. "Last night I could barely sleep and fought my way up the mountain with a ceaseless cough. That was absolute torture."
Ten kilometres into the stage and still no one has tried to get away! Are they all still tired from yesterday's climbing?
Here's a quick look at today is all about:
Vertical climb: 3,390m
Highest point: 1,523m
Terrain: High mountain
Category: Mountain Stage
Finally! We have a group of 12 with a whole 18 seconds on the peloton: Ignatiev, Donati, Bertolini, Grivko, Kiryienka, King, Marangoni, Moreno, Froome, Albasini and Haedo
I'm handing things over to Dan Benson now, who will take you uphill and down and back up again....
As Susan straps on her parachute and jumps out from the CN blimp, let’s bring you up to speed on a few things.
Yesterday Stefano Garzelli blitzed the mountain time trial, finishing a whopping 42 seconds ahead of Cuddles and John Gadret a few seconds back. It was a bit of a surprise from Gadret but he's a strong climber with solid base in cross racing. As for the rest, they were bunched together with not that many major time gaps. Carlos Sastre was probably the biggest loser, finishing 2:31 down on Garzelli. So now our overall looks a little bit like this:
1 David Arroyo Duran (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 68:32:26
2 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 0:02:27
3 Richie Porte (Aus) Team Saxo Bank 0:02:36
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:03:09
5 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Cervelo Test Team 0:04:36
6 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 0:04:53
7 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana 0:05:12
8 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli 0:05:25
9 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Liquigas-Doimo 0:08:57
10 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 0:09:13
We did have 12 riders off the front. They've now been caught and everyone is back together.
Giro aside, there are a number of stories in the media today. Firstly, we have this courtesy of the New York Times regarding the Landis investigation and possible implications.
One of the favourites to win the Giro is Ivan Basso, and he should have very fond memories of this area. It is where he won the Giro of Trentino last year, his first win coming back from his two-year doping-related suspension.
The stage started today in Brunico, hosting its third Giro stage since 1997. There are lots of sports activities available in the area, both summer and winter sports. It also features the South Tyrol Museum of Traditions, an open-air museum to which many old buildings have been moved.
The stage ends today in Pejo Terme, making only its second appearance in the Giro. It is located in the Stelvio National Park and offers
everything from skiing to river rafting. Look for lots of polenta on the menu here, like “rostida polenta”, sliced and heated in bacon with potatoes and cheese.
Not only do we have an uphill finish, the whole last 10 km are climbing, at an average of 6%, with at least one section of 12%. The run-in to the finish line is a nice wide road, which offers a 5.5% gradient.
Just on the Landis affair, Landisgate or whatever we're calling it now; Procycling ran an issue last year called the 'Power issue' and it focused on the top 50 most powerful people in the sport. Yours truly didn't make the cut, despite my constant letter writing and threats, but many people involved in the story so far did. To highlight the significance of the entire story here are some the names: Paul Kimmage as 49th and has already said that the ramifications could be huge. Jim Ochowicz (40th) is at BMC and one of his directors has been named by Landis. Dave Brailsford (22nd) hired Michael Barry, another rider mentioned by Landis.
John Fahey of WADA (18th) has said they will launch an investigation, Michele Ferrari (20th) was named by Landis. Vaughters (13) had Matt White and Dave Zabriskie named by Landis.
But Hein Verbruggen (3), Pat Mcquaid (2), and Lance Armstrong (3) were all named too or have been drawn into the allegations.
Back to the action and the first hour of racing was covered at an average speed of 50kph. The riders are traveling along a long, downhill section right now. In fact it's net downhill until the base of the climb at 87K. Perfect launch pad for a break.
A total of 19 riders have nipped off the front. We'll cobble together some names for you now.
Our 19 leaders now have a 30 second gap on the bunch. Can they stay away and build a bigger lead?
Well that's a 'yes' then. The gap has jumped to 5:30 already so it looks like the bunch are happy with the names ahead of them. We're still working on a list for you.
Once again we're about to be joined by Daniel Friebe from Procycling
DB: Dan, what do think about today's stage. What are you predicting?
DF: It's not a finish that many of the riders know, and it's not the most extreme summit finish of the Giro. That doesn't mean nothing will happen, though. It reminds me a bit of the stage which finished above Bergamo two years ago, to Presolana. That wasn't steep but, precisely for that reason, the racing was very aggressive. You may remember it as the stage when Riccardo Ricco' accused Emanuele Sella or collaborating against him with Alberto Contador.
Sorry to stop you there Dan but we have our riders within the break. They are : Wyss, Efimkin, Ochoa, Kireyev, Arashiro, Amador, Konovalovas, Duque, Monier, Stortoni, Hondo, Marzano, Moreno, Kruijswijk, Cummings, Reynes, Ignatiev, Fothen, Nicki Sorensen
And we have exactly 100 kilometers left to race.
DB: Just a few days to go and the GC is very tight. You said that if Basso didnt win the Giro it would a huge blow to him. He's right in there though. Obviously reading your words on live coverage when he goes to bed at night.
DF: Yeah, it looks as though I got that one wrong. He's now the favourite, but Cadel Evans is in perhaps the ideal position for him: if he was ahead of Basso, the burden of making the race would be on his team, and, as we've seen, he doesn't have a lot of support
I think it's 50/50 between Basso and Evans at this point, although Basso's strong Liquigas team is a clear advantage
The lead is now over 10 minutes.
DB: Basso has said that we should believe in clean cycling and that he's clean. He's said that before. What's the difference now? Is there one?
DF: I was astonished to hear Pat McQuaid hail him as a "clean rider" yesterday. How can McQuaid take such a risk. I believe there is evidence to suggest Basso's performances have waned in line with what you'd hope/expect from a rider coming off a doping ban, but to publicly pronounce him or any other rider as "clean" is very unwise on the part of the UCI president. We frankly don't need or want McQuaid making those statements. He's got other more pressing matters on his plate, Floyd Landis's allegations being one of them.
DB: It seems to me like the UCI entire PR machine doesnt understand what's expected of it, or what cycling fans really want from them.
DF: I seem to recall the UCI hailing Basso as a "model rider" prior to Operacion Puerto. I repeat - they should refrain from making such claims about any rider.
DF: Yeah, maybe you're right. Maybe they think that's what the public wants to hear. But how comforting are those statements, when we know from past experience that riders have cheated and never tested positive. Just yesterday, there was an article in the New York Times about how EPO micro-dosing might not show up on the biological passport.
Just to jump in but the lead group are about to hit the main climb.
Only five teams are not represented in the break: Acqua & Sapone, Footon-Servetto, Garmin-Transitions, Liquigas and Quick Step. Best-placed rider in teh group is Efimkin, who is 16th at 18:57 back.
DB: Thanks for joining us Daniel.
DF: One last point: how fair is it for the UCI to publicly single out a rider as "clean"? What does that say about the others, most of whom have never broken the rules, unlike Ivan Basso? They can feel justifiably aggrieved.
Caisse d'Epargne are now leading the bunch but the tempo isn't too fast. There's a man running alongside the riders in his pants.
BMC and Liquigas are willing to let Caisse do the work on the front of the bunch.
Hondo takes a turn on the front and drives the break on.
The gap is now going out further. It's at 12:09.
And now Susan will take over for a few minutes.
Susan back again for a bit. We are really lucky with the weather, it looks like the sun is coming out.
The lead group continues to wind its way up the climb.
The gap is sinking slowly, now down to 10:40.
Remember, we have two other races going on right now: The Tour of Belgium and the Bayern Rundfahrt. But don't worry, we won't put any spoilers in here!
Nibali looks fairly relaxed today.
The gap is dropping rapidly on this long climb. It is now already down to 9:45.
It must be fairly warm today -- a number of riders have their jerseys unzipped.
Amador was back at the team car, getting some adjustments on his bike. Further back, his Caisse d'Epargne teammates are at the head of the chasing peloton.
We have an abandon today: Federico Canuti of Colnago has just called it quits.
Thanks once again Susan.
Caisse still on the front with Basso and Evans sitting and looking pretty comfortable. There are som much harder stages to come so it's very likely that the favourites will be happy to mark each other out today and wait for the more challenging days ahead.
Arroyo wipes his forehead, the conditions are hard today due to the warm weather. Arroyo has done a fine job of defending his lead and he should keep it for another day at least.
The gap is now at 9:27 with the break just a few kilometers from the top of the climb.
Basso's army are sitting just behind Arrroy's armada. Basso himself with that fixed grin he seems to always ride with.
Pozatto has his jersey unzipped to his waist. Oh wait, he's spotted the TV cameras and the zip comes up.
Kruijswijk leads the break, swings off and immediately grabs a drink.
Basso moves to Arroyo's wheel and then alongside the Spaniard as the peloton ride through a tunnel and the road begins to climb again. The gap is coming down but slowly.
The climb is 18.9K long and the average gradient is 6.6 per cent, in case you wanted to know.
The gap is 8.33 now.
Liquigas are more than happy for Caisse to set the pace here so they can save their powder for either the final climb today or later in the race.
Efimkin and Sorensen are probably the strongest riders in the break in terms of climbing ability. The Dane having already won a stage in this year's race.
Scarponi now on the front, with Cunego out of the saddle and on his wheel.
A couple of riders in the bunch are zipping up their jerseys now with the descent in mind. The gap now at 6:23.
The peloton reach the feed and arms move out to grab food and drinks. We'll see the lead jump up a bit here.
The peloton are now over the top of the climb. The gap at 8:35
A couple of Caisse riders have a chat on the front of the bunch as they munch down energy bars.
Now about this final climb: it's long, between 40 or 50K but it's very, very gradual. It does have a few steep sections at the start and finish. It's not a mountain top finish.
Arroyo just has to sit and in follow wheels today.
The pace is high as the riders continue to descend through the Italian countryside. The warm conditions could cause many of the peloton problems on the final climb.
The break are still working well together as they continue the long descent. Cummings comes through and increases the pace. He could do something today. Hondo then comes through. He could have done something today if the stage finished on a flat road. Unluckily for the German, it doesn't.
The peloton, lead by Arroyo's men continue to lead the bunch. Lastras, I think that is, on the front.
The break sweeps through an Italian town, still with a lead of over 8 minutes.
40K to go now for our break as they reach a steep part of the descent now. All in single file as they race towards the finish.
It's a fairly safe shout that someone from the break will take today's stage. A lot of riders there 19 - in fact so we could see a very interesting set of attacks.
The break are climbing now and we should see some kind of selection made as the non climbers and tired riders begin to pop off the back.
The gap is growing, over 9 minutes again.
Arroyo with his pink bike comes to the front and has a word with his man on the front.
Correction from earlier. Nicki Sorensen is in the break today, not Chris, who won a stage earlier in the Giro.
The peloton have certainly taken their foot off the gas and they'll wait for the final climb of the day until they start attacking each other.
The peloton has started the gradual climb now. Caisse still on the front, Basso's bullies just behind.
The gap is close to ten minutes now.
Sorensen comes through and takes a turn on the front. We'll surely see some attacks coming from the break soon.
30K for our leaders now. The peloton are 5K back now.
And we have our first attack and as you would expect Ignatiev takes off.
Ignatiev has gone early but this is the typical Ignatiev attack. Crazy, far out, usually doesn't work. The gap is perhaps a couple of hundred meters.
The Katusha rider has a 14 second gap.
Ignatiev hits a short downhill section and he gets a roar from the crowd. He has 25K to go.
Ignatiev is looking back and he doesn't look great. Jaw clenched, hunched over the drops. Is he about to throw in the towel?
The chase need only organise themselves properly if they're going to catch him. They can afford to let him work himself over for now though.
The gap between the bunch and the main escape is 9:30.
The lead group is starting to break up a bit. Four riders have moved off the front but are then caught.
It has split into four groups. Hondo, Situation
Mikhail Ignatiev and two other riders have formed as the lead group.
Lampre are moving to the front of the bunch, mainly to look after their man Cunego.
Basso sits on Cunego's wheel.
The leaders are breaking up all over the road now. Attacking each other and then chasing. Hondo latches onto Moreno's wheel but the pair are quickly brought back.
Duque is next to have a dig but he's quickly brought back.
Cummings moves to the front and immediately Moreno tries his luck. Caught! Then Hondo goes again and he's followed by Kruijswijk. The two riders have a small gap.
Moreno goes again and is trying to catch the two riders ahead.
Monier has already latched on to Hondo's wheel. So we have three riders up front now.
Cummings is leading the chase behind but Hondo and co are not hanging around. They're flying along.
The three leaders have 20 seconds on the remnants of the break. Moreno still trying to come across to them.
I said earlier that Hondo might struggle today with an uphill finish, but so far, so good for the German.
The three leaders have 37 seconds the chasers now. That's not a racing wining margin so they'll still have to work hard if they're going to decide the finish between them.
Moreno is about to be caught.
Hondo on the front of the trio again. He has been very aggressive today.
Less than 10K to go now for the leaders, who have split into several small groups now. The peloton now over 11 minutes down.
Kruijswijk takes a turn, mouth open as he gulps in air.
Cummings is now off the front of the second group and trying to catch the lead trio, who are about to hit a steep section of the climb.
The trio have around 300 meters on Cummings and behind him lots of riders are attacking each other.
Lampre have come to the front now. Possible to protect Cunego's position in the overall against Efimkin.
Cummings and Moreno are working together as they try and reach the trio. Sky, meanwhile are moving to the front of the peloton.
The lead trio are still working well together. Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank), Danilo Hondo (Lampre) and Damien Monier (Cofidis)
The road is starting to steepen, surely Hondo will blow? Steven Kruijswijk throws his bottle to the side of the road.
The bunch pass through the 10K to go barrier. Simoni on the front Greipel behind him.
Hondo does look smooth though. He;s in second wheel here and turning the pedals.
Monier attacks on the right.
Monier has a gap and he's pushing on. There's no response from behind. In the saddle and moving well here but it looks like a rider might be coming over to him. The lead trio have blown apart as Kruijswijk moves!
Monier looks back and sees Kruijswijk
Monier doesn't look great on a bike it has to be said ,but it is effective.
I think Steven Kruijswijk has blown though. I dont think he can come across. Less than 2K to go now.
Monier has 8 seconds on Kruijswijk as he takes a corner.
Another corner for Monier as he stays in the saddle, turning a big gear with all his power.
Heading for the biggest win of his career is Damien Monier. Remember the GC riders are still 11 minutes back.
Kruijswijk has totally blown and Hondo is coming back to him. Monier turns to look back, sees the gap and then pushes back on the pedals. he gets out of the saddle, he doesnt look great doing that either.
But here he comes. Less than 1K to go
100 meters to go
And the Frenchman takes the win! he's on the floor, totally shattered.
Hondo grabs second with Kruijswijk in third.
The rest of the early break are now filtering through.
That was the second French win in this year's Giro.
Now back down the climb and Liquigas are now in charge.
Basso is sitting just at the end of the train, Cunego not too far back and Vino sitting on Arroyo's wheel. The pace is pretty high, riders getting dropped and sitting up.
I think Liquigas want to try something here and exploit some tired legs.
A Colnago rider makes a move but Liquigas will close that one down.
Simoni is dropped.
The peloton down to around thirty riders or so. Cuesta pops too.
All the big guns are present. Vino, Evans, Basso, Nibali, Sastre, Porte
Scarponi is also there and sits in third wheel. Will we see fireworks?
Less than twenty riders with Nibali now driving on. What a teammate to have in this situation.
Pinotti hanging on at the back
Scarponi moves with 250 to go
Scarponi finishes two or three bike lengths ahead of Basso but everyone finished roughly together.
Big winners of the day Monier and Efkimkin.
Monier looks shocked on the podium. I don't think the stage win has sunk in yet. Simoni crosses the line and watches the podium presentation.
1 Damien Monier (Fra) Cofidis, le Credit en Ligne
2 Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre-Farnese Vini
3 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank
4 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Omega Pharma-Lotto
5 Steven Cummings (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team
6 Simone Stortoni (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox
7 Alexander Efimkin (Rus) AG2R La Mondiale
8 Marco Marzano (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini
9 Carlos Jose Ochoa (Ven) Androni Giocattoli
10 Nicki Sorensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank
Thanks for joining us today. We'll see you tomorrow for stage 18!