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A flat stage, with nary a mountain in sight! Stage 18 will be one for the sprinters, at least for those few sprinters who are still around. On the other hand, this stage just screams for a break group. Will the peloton let them go, or will there be enough interested teams to organise a chase?
Welcome back to the Giro, and stage 18. This is the shortest non-time-trial stage today, a mere hop, skip and a jump of 151 km. And it is flat! What a relief that must be to those tired riders – especially when they look at the profiles of the next two stages!
It's raining again today -- hardly for the first time in this race! There are even said to be thunderstorms at the finish line.
151 riders took to the start this morning, so we didn't lose anyone overnight.
We've had all kinds of bad weather this Giro, and Saturday doesn' look much better, as it promises snow. Not snow coming down, but snow already there. There are four to six metres of snow piled up along the road (which, when you think about it, is a heck of a lot of snow!), but the road is said to be clear.
But just in case the weather situation changes –which it so often does – the Giro has set up an alternate route which would climb the Motirolo climb from the north for the first time.
The first ten km of the day have been ridden, and the peloton is still together.
Here are our stage details for today:
Vertical climb: 960m
Highest point: 717m
Category: Road Stage
20 km have now been ridden, and there is still nothing to report.
Let's take a look at who has won what so far this Giro. The 17 stage wins have been divided up amongst 12 teams, with Liquigas leading the way with three stages. Garmin-Transitions, Quick-Step and Katusha each have two wins.
Finally we have some action! Roman Kireyev (Astana) and Alan Marangoni have jumped out of the peloton and now have a nearly one-minute lead.
We forgot to say that Marangoni rides for Conlago - CSF Inox, but of course everyone already knew that. Right?
The gap has grown to 2:45 minutes.
Among the nations, (not counting the team time trial), Italy leads the way with five wins, followed by Australia with three. The USA and France have two each, with one apiece for the UK, Belgium, Denmark and Russia.
We are happy to be able to tell you that the weather is not as bad as feared. It rained at the start, but things are looking better, and it seems to be dry at the finish.
Having said that, of course, we see that it is now raining.
And we further see that it is Oliver Kaisen of Omega Pharma-Lotto in the lead, and not the Astana rider.
The gap is about 2:15 minutes.
Teams Sky and HTC-Columbia are leading the peloton. Funny, both of them have sprinters still in the race....
They are keeping a close eye on the escapees, determined not to let them slip away like has happened so often already in this Giro.
Only one rider has won more than one stage in this year's Giro: Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Transitions.
He won't add to that total today, though.
Cadel Evans is getting tired as the race nears its end. He told Cyclingnews: "The thing with this Giro is that is that there have been so many hard stages, even the transfer stages have been difficult. It's not that the break goes or the sprinters' teams ride: it's been hot or with crosswinds, or something was going on. How many days in a row did we have above 200km? I've never raced that long in a three-week stage race."
The peloton is riding right along the Gardasee, quite lovely.
The rain seems to be getting heavier. No wind, though.
There were 151 riders starting today, which means a number of teams have had a lot of personnel losses. Footon is the hardest hit, with five riders missing. The following teams are all four riders down: BMC, Astana, Colnago, Garmin-Transitions, and Milram. Most of the rest have one, two or three riders already out of the race.
The good news? Two teams are still complete: Cervelo and Liquigas.
Marangoni gets a drink from his team car.
Here's what HTC-Columbia DS Tristan Hoffman has to say about today's stage: “Today will suit us a bit better and after a climb near the start it is mainly downhill 151km to the finish in Brescia. We expect there will be a lot of teams trying to make a break on the first hill and we hope to control this to keep Andre Greipel in the front pack for a sprint at the end. Sky will probably have the same idea so hopefully we will be able to work together to keep the pack within a manageable distance.
If we can’t stop a break, Marco Pinotti will go off with the front group whilst the rest of our guys will work with Andre to try for the sprint final.
It’s going to be a really fast stage with some quite tight, technical corners near the end. Should be another good one for the spectators!”
The theme today seems to be "wet" -- the rain, the lake......
Yesterday's stage was a so-called “intermediate” stage, which means it was too flat for the climbers and too hilly for the sprinters. Result? Nobody was happy.
Damien Monier was named to Cofidis' Giro squad at the last minute, and it turns out to have been a good decision. The 27-year-old took his first pro victory by winning yesterday's stage.
BMC's Michael Schär punctures and gets a quick fix.
Marangoni is getting some repair work done on his bike. We always hate to see the mechanic hanging out of the car window like that, with his fingers so close to the bike wheel.
Meanwhile, HTC-Colulmbia and Sky are still leading the chase.
Steven Kruijswijk was a last minute replacement on the Rabobank team. Taking the place of Oscar Freire is a big load for a 22-year-old first year pro, but the young Dutchman has done an outstanding job. Rabo calls him its “revelation of the Giro”. Yesterday was his best finish, as he came in third. “If you had told three weeks ago, I would go for the win in a mountain stage in the Giro, I would have said you were crazy,” he said on the team's website.
Good news! The sun is shining at the finish! And not just there -- the riders have finally moved into the sunshine.
HTC-Columbia is busy. Andre Greipel puts on his sunglasses and looks like he is planning his sprint. Marco Pinotti does some housekeeping duties, gathering vests and rain jackets from his teammates to take them to the team car.
HTC-Columbia's Greipel and Marcel Sieberg eat a last banana each to build up some strength for the upcoming sprint.
A mechincal for Omega Pharma-Lotto's Sebastian Lang.
The gorgeous scenery here looks much more gorgeous in the sunshine than in the rain.
The gap is holding steady, at 2:10 minutes.
We have a sprint for the final points at the intermediate sprint.
Kaisen took the most points ahead of Marangoni, and Tom Stamsnijder takes the third-place points.
Cervelo still has all nine riders in the race, one of whom is 41-year-old Inigo Cuesto. This is his 26th career Grand Tour, and it hasn't been easy. “I was at the point of going home in the second week. I had stomach problems and I really struggled. I am feeling better, so I hope to have the legs to be there in the climbs like I normally am,” he said on the team website.
The team spirits are high. We’re coming into the final decisive stages and all the possibilities are still there,” Cuesta said. “Carlos is one of the smartest riders in the peloton. He’s not quite as strong as some of the others, but he can use his experience to his advantage. All he needs is one good day and he’s right back in there.”
THe same picture of HTC-Columbia and Sky at the front, with a gap of roughly two minutes.
The gap is coming down, to 1:44.
It wasn't an easy day yesterday, according to World Champion Evans. "It was pretty fast at the start and headwind all the way as well, which certainly made getting in the breakaway difficult for those who wanted to get in it," he said. "I certainly wasn't feeling comfortable in there (at the end). I don't know how the others were feeling. (Michele) Scarponi made an acceleration, but with my position on GC in the last few hundred meters, it's not going to make much of a difference."
The sprinters' teams are having an effect on the gap, as the lead is now down to 1:30.
You might reasonably expect to see Danilo Hondo involved in the final decision of today's flat stage, but not in yesterday's. But the German sprinter for Lampre said he is no longer a pure sprinter, and he doesn't fancy his chances today.
We won't count him out, though.
There seems to have been an accident involving a race motorcycle. We don't know any details, but no cyclists were involved.
The gap is still at 1:25. When will the peloton put the final touch on and catch the duo up ahead?
What sprinters do we have here today? Andre Grieipel, Greg Henderson, Danilo Hondo, Robert Förster -- hm, three Germans in there.
Still 1:16 minutes! Is it possible that they will come through to the end?
The chances are now looking better for the peloton and worse for the two leaders. The gap is at 50 seconds.
The gap is now down to 43 seconds.
The gap is dropping every metre, but of course now the question is whether Sky and HTC-Columbia will have anything left for the sprint, after doing all the chase work?
Liquigas moves to the front of things now. The gap is 22 seconds.
Matthias Brändle of Footon tries to get away from the peloton.
Narrow streets and tight corners here in Brescia.
Kaisen gives up but Marangoni keeps going.
Braändli is caught, and Marangoni will be momentarily.
Rabobank at the front -- they still have Graeme Brown in the race.
That was it for Marangoni.
HTC-Columbia, Sky, Rabobank all at the front....
Graeme Brown gives Pozzato a little shove.....
Sky leads the way, with Greipel on Henderson's rear wheel.
The sprint is on! Greipel goes
And the German finally gets his 2010 Giro stage win!
A big smile and an even bigger sigh of relief from the happy Greipel.
Second place went to Julian Dean of Garmin-Transitions, with Liquigas' Fabio Sabatini third.
Now we hear it may not have been Sabatini but Dall'antonia.
There were no changes in the GC.
There wasn't really much question as to who was going to win that sprint. Greipel took it quite easily.
That wraps up another stage of the 2010 Giro d'Italia. Only three more to go: two high-mountain stages and a closing time trial.
Thanks for joining us and come back again tomorrow for some mountain-climbing!