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Welcome back to the Giro d'Italia. Today is D-Day with a series of hard and relentles climbs to master, above all the dreaded Mortirolo, also called Cima Pantani. There are three categorised mountains on the 195 kilometres from Brescia to Aprica: Aprica (km 112.9, Cat. 2), Trivigno (km 130.2, Cat. 1) and the Passo del Mortirolo (km 162.4, Cat. 1). A total of 3,743 of vertical metres is on today's menu...
From Brescia, the peloton will move on a straight road towords Aprica, where the finish line will be crossed a first time before the riders embark on a loop around the mountain for the Trivigno and Mortirolo climbs, before they come back to Aprica.
In Brescia, 148 remaining riders took the start at 12.10. We have three DNS today - the three remaining sprinters in the bunch all abandoned the race this morning: yesterday's stage winner André Greipel (HTC-Columbia), Danilo Hondo (Lampre) and Julian Dean (Garmin-Transitions). They all decided to call it quits - a wise decision bearing in mind today's horrific ascents and the fact that there are no more bunch sprint possibilities left in the race.
The bunch has left Brescia now, on its way to Aprica. There have been a number of attacks already but nothing came out of it.
It is a nice day to race so far, about 20° in the valley and very little clouds. But up there on the passes it will be chilly - there's even some snow left from a European winter that seems to have ended only recently...
Cayetano Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Acqua & Sapone), Simone Stortoni and Stefano Pirazzi (both Colnago) have been active at the front of the bunch, but unable to establish a proper gap.
This is a very interesting stage for a break. Not only would it be prestigious to be the first rider on the "Cima Pantani", the summit of the Mortirolo pass, but it could also be a great opportunity for a stage win if an escape group can get enough of a distance to the bunch to hold off the favourites in the end.
Thousands of tifosi are camping alongside the roads today, ready to cheer their favourites on. Especially the Mortirolo climb, of course, is covered with campervans, tents and cars, with riders climbing the famous ascent right now to get to a good position for when the race gets there later this afternoon.
The first 50 kilometres of this stage are nearly flat, but then the uphill gradually starts and becomes more testing after about 90 kilometres. The first GPM is in Aprica (Cat 2, km 113).
Guillaume Le Floch (Bouygues) crashed. But he got up right away and continued.
Still no breakaway in sight. But the race is quite fast, with many riders battling to get away.
Let's take a look at the GC prior to this stage: David Arroyo of Caisse d'Epargne still leads this Giro. At 2'27" in second place we have Ivan Basso (Liquigas), who trails former leader Richie Porte of Saxo Bank behind him at 2'44" in third position. World Champ Cadel Evans (BMC) is fourth at 3'09".
The focus today will be on Basso and Evans, with Arroyo's and Porte's capabilities over these fearful climbs after three hard weeks of racing being unkown. Other GC favourites such as Carlos Sastre (Cervélo, at 4'41") and Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana, at 5'12") cannot allow themselves to follow if they still want to be in contention for the overall podium. Knowing the race aggressiveness of the Kazakh rider, 'Vino' could be the first one to test his rivals' legs.
But as Evans said: as long as Arroyo is leading, he is the one to beat before all else. Basso and the Australian therefore need to attack if they want some pink confetti to be theirs on Sunday in Verona.
Next rider to jump off the front is Alessandro Bertolini (Diquigiovanni) - but no luck for him, either.
Many say race leader Arroyo does not have what it takes to defend his pink jersey today, but obviously the GC leader cannot be counted out. This morning in Brescia, the Spaniard said: "After having talked so much about the Mortirolo, finally the big day has come. It will be a beatiful day and an important one to clarify things in this Giro. I hope to have the same good feelings than until now, and remain in contention for the victory."
Finally, a breakaway of 9 riders has been able to get away: Jan Bakelandts (Omega Pharma), Francesco Failli (Acqua & Sapone), Branislau Samoilau (Quick Step), Luca Mazzanti (Katusha), Yuriy Krivtsov (AG2R), Jackson Rodriguez (Diquigiovanni), William Bonnet (Bbox), Xavier Tondo (Cervélo) and Leonardo Duque (Cofidis).
The group broke off the front at km46, and now has a small lead of 22 seconds. Let's see if they can make it. Tondo, Bakelandts and Duque have already been in escape groups in this Giro, with Duque up the road only recently, on Wednesday.
It looks like the green best climbers jersey of Matthew Lloyd (Omega Pharma) could be the target of two riders within this breakaway: Tondo and Bakelandts. There are 25 points up for grabs so both riders could snatch the KOM lead away from the Australian.
The seven riders have now established a very nice lead, already seven minutes. They are therefore en route to a possible success and definite glory on this epic stage.
Back in the bunch, two Liquigas riders are putting on the pace.
There was a moment of panic when the peloton broke up into two groups, but now everything is back together.
The breakakway also panicked for a moment, as it had to wait for 48 seconds at a level crossing, but fortunately the train arrived fast and the leaders are now back on their way.
Liquigas is now pulling with its entire team at the front of the bunch, led out by Maciej Bodnar. The peloton is quite strung out, even though the road is starting to be more and more uphill.
The front group's advantage is 7'52" as they have started the ascent towards Aprica.
At the start this morning, Ivan Basso was interviewed by Gazzetta dello Sport. The Italian was well aware of his need to attack race leader Arroyo, but said, "I'm not the only one who has to attack. It will be spectacular over these two coming days."
On his almost equally successful team-mate Vincenzo Nibali, currently ranked sixth, 4'53" behind Arroyo, he said: "There's no problem. We are both intelligent enough to know how to race."
Carlos Sastre, at 4'41" of the race lead, also spoke this morning. "My situation is difficult, as I can't go in a breakaway, but in the GC I am too far away from Arroyo. It won't be easy."
Michele Scarponi (Androni), 8th at 5'24", wants to shine on the climbs today. "My plan is to be in front with the favourites on the Mortirolo today, to go for the stage win. If I have the legs I'll try something."
The leaders have extended their advantage to 8'27" according to the latest time check. They are almost in Sonico now, where the feed zone is located.
At km 97 in Edolo, the riders will have covered half of today's stage and get on the circuit course that leads them up to Aprica for a first passage of the finish line. After the Trivigno and the Mortirolo climbs, the riders will do this portion of the stage (between Edolo and Aprica) once again for an uphill finale.
The leaders have passed the intermediate sprint in Corteno Golgi, but we do not know the result. It's not of importance anyway, as none of these riders have any sprint classification objectives.
Ah, here we go: it was Mazzanti in front of Bonnet and Failli. The peloton is 8'10" behind the break.
Vladimir Karpets (Katusha) has attacked out of the peloton! He did this before in thsi Giro, on stage 13 to Cesenatico. But this time the peloton catches him again before they enter Aprica for the first passage of the finish line.
There will be no KOM points at the finish later on, but this time 5, 3 and 1 points are up for grabs.
The breakaway is losing ground. No more than 7 minutes separate it from the chasing bunch now.
Arnold Jeannesson (Caisse d'Epargne) has abandoned. One helper less for Arroyo...
No - Karpets is still up the road, perhaps 300 metres in front of the Liquigas-led peloton that crossed the line 4'48" behind the breakaway of seven.
The race is now on the descent into the Adda valley. It's not too twisty. The next climb, up to Trivigno, starts in Santa Christina - they'll get there quickly.
Karpets has been caught by the bunch at the foot of the climb.
Here we go: 7.5 percent gradient on average over 11 kilometres. Liquigas makes the pace.
Marcel Sieberg (Milram) abandoned. There might be a few more today.
At the front of the race, Failli leads Samoilau and the rest of the group through the forest. It's a narrow road with many turns and bends. They still work well together.
Pink jersey Arroyo is sitting in Sylvester Smyd's wheel - he is being driven by Liquigas and not by one of his own Caisse riders...
We have an attack in the bunch - it's Stefano Garzelli! The race is on - in front, the breakaway also dismantled, with four riders now leading: Failli, Duque, Samoilau and Rodriguez.
Garzelli is powering away on a very small gear. Looks good. He is quickly making up time to the front of the race, 3'44" behind them right now.
Garzelli is impressive. He's really going for it. The pace is high in the bunch, and many riders are getting dropped.
All the favourites are together, led out by Liquigas. Arroyo has no teammates around him anymore... That's early in the stage.
But the bunch is not really letting Garzelli get away. They are still relatively close behind him, and if he makes up time on the leaders, they are too.
Thanks Hedi. Dan here for few kms
And just as I get settled in the blimp Garzelli powers passes the Tondo group. He's clearly on an inspired ride today but he's unable to build a big gap on the Liquigas-lead bunch.
Failli has sat up so we now have three riders up ahead of the race and they go over the top of the climb. They'll have a very, very tricky descent now before the road begins to rise again.
Failli was in fact waiting for Garzelli and the duo have linked up - Failli setting the pace for his leader with all the energy he has left in his legs.
And the Sapone duo go over the top. 1.25 down on the three leaders.
Still Liquigas lead the bunch. They're certainly setting their stall out early by making it as difficult as possible for everyone. Remember we still have the the Mortirolo to come.
Very twisty, technical descent and the riders are taking so many risks, especially the Sapone riders who are catching the lead trio.
Liquigas are now on the descent too, as Francesco Failli pushes the pace. He's riding like a man possessed as we see pictures of the finish and it's raining.
Ivan Basso destroyed his rivals on stages like this in 2006, but since returning from his ban has yet to rediscover that form. Does the Liquigas leader still have the ability to win on days like this?
There are a few wet patches on the descent as the riders take another switch-back. There's no let up at all.
As soon as they reach the bottom they'll start climbing almost straight away.
Rodriguez leads Duque, who has to hit the breaks as they take another tough corner. 25 points on offer today in the mountains comp. How many can Garzelli hoover up? Can he even push ahead and win the stage?
55 seconds back for Garzelli now to the leaders. That will come down further once both groups hit the climb, as Duque is distanced.
The leaders reach Colnogia, Garzelli now within touching distance of the two leaders now. Duque grabs a musette. The Mortirolo is coming up. The Giro, the entire Giro could be decided in the next few kilometers. Will Basso drop Arroyo? Can Evans turn the tables and grab pink? Will we see Sastre on the attack? So many questions and they could all be answered today.
Liquigas still lead the bunch. Arroya is on Nibali's wheel. The Spaniard will be looking to save as much time as possible today. Every second will count.
Duque calls for his car and takes off a layer of clothing.
Six Liquigas men on the front as Garzelli hoovers up part of the early break - still two riders up ahead of him.
Noble ride from Duque, who is better known for his sprinting prowess.
It's still raining at the finish and it's coming down ever harder. Still dry on the roads where the riders are though, as Arroyo gets a gel from a teammate.
Just to remind you, here's the top ten coming into the stage:
1 David Arroyo Duran (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 76:26:37
2 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 0:02:27
3 Richie Porte (Aus) Team Saxo Bank 0:02:44
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:03:09
5 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Cervelo Test Team 0:04:41
6 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 0:04:53
7 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana 0:05:12
8 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli 0:05:24
9 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 0:09:21
10 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Liquigas-Doimo 0:09:32
45K to go now as the lead duo reach the foot of the Mortirolo. Can Arroyo hang on today? If so it would be the best ride of the Spaniard's career.
Duque and Jackson R both out of the saddle as Failli does all of the work and leads Garzelli up to Duque and Rodriguez. Pink jersey is 2:38 back.
The bunch are on the cobbled section at the foot of the climb now as Szmyd, a winner on the Ventoux in last year's Dauphine sets the pace. Teeth gritted, arms pulling on the bars for every bit of energy he can muster.
Already riders are dropped an Garzelli is now on is own at the front.
Arroyo is hanging on with Vino and Scarponi and then Evans.
Garzelli wants this climb. He wants to lead the race over the top and collect those points. The Liquigas bunch is down to around 15 now. Already and Cunego is being dropped.
Cunego, ninth overall is dropped.
Riders are all over the place as Porte is also dropped. No teammates with him, he'll have to ride at his own pace and keep things together. Arroyo left with just one teammate.
Arroyo is already at the back of the lead. Liquigas have about 6 riders in the lead group. There are many 10 riders in the group.
And Arroyo is dropped. he's lost about ten bike lengths.
Szmyd has quite simply decimated the field.
Vino, Scarponi, Evans, and Sastre are there in the Basso group. Nibali too.
Garzelli continues to lead the race on the climb. He's out of the saddle as Szmyd looks back too what damage he's caused. I think Basso has asked him to ease up a bit.
Porte is on his own too. Big ride for him today as he aims to keep the white jersey. Sastre at the the, saving his energy but Arroyo digs in.
He has to dig in here. He's about 150 meters back which isn't too bad at all.
But Sastre is in difficulty and Basso moves to the front and sets the pace.
Basso catches Duque. Basso leads Nibali, Evans and Vino, a few other riders hanging on as best they can. A Sastre is maybe 10 meters back.
Basso has Scarponi and Evans on his wheel, Nibali just behind with Vino there too.
Garzelli on the steepest section now and Sastre looks like he's coming back.
Vino is dropped now.
So we have four riders. Evans, Basso, Nibali and Scarponi and Evans is struggling to keep it together. Basso piling on the pressure at the front.
Evans is on the ropes!
Around another tight bend and Scarponi comes to the front to take a turn, giving Basso a break. Evans is about 4 meters back.
But that gap is getting bigger now. Has Evans cracked. If Basso looks back he'll see the Australian is almost cooked.
Basso moves back to front as Evans begins to hang over the bike.
Basso continues to ride at his pace, he looks back and sees that Nibali and Scarponi are the only riders with him. Is he winning the Giro today? Can Evans come back?
Nibali a brilliant descender just needs to hang on here and then set the pace on the descent in order to put more time into Evans. Basso will not want to drop Nibali.
Garzelli still out in front but his lead is down to just over a minute now.
Remember we still have another climb to come today, so Evans could still come back. It's not looking great at this moment in time though. Evans is joined by a few riders, including Sastre and Vino.
And Sastre is going passed Evans. Evans has to dig in and just limit his losses. He can't afford to be dropped by the likes of Sastre. Oh what the Australian would give for a strong teammate here.
Evans hangs in and sits on Sastre's wheel. Arroyo hooks up with Ardila from Rabo. Would you like a contract for next year?
But Evans is now at the back of the Sastre, Vino group.
As Basso and his two companions come by Garzelli.
Arroyo is 1:58 down on the Basso group. A good ride by the Spaniard but it's not looking great. What does he have left.
And Evans is losing ground on Gadret, Sastre and Vino.
Garzelli is dropped so we now have Basso, Nibbles and Scarponi. Evans makes it back to Gadret's wheel.
Scarponi in a Liquigas sandwich now. He'll move up the overall today, for sure. Basso turns up the pace!
Sastre leads Vino behind. Everyone here is on the limit.
Basso has a little dig and Nibali and Scarponi have to push to keep contact. They have one minute on Evans.
Arroyo on his own now.
Arroyo though is hanging on and still, effectively in pink. As Sastre cracks again and Vino, and Gadret and now Evans come around him.
Vino just made a little surge there and blew that group apart. They're coming back together slowly though.
Evans seems to have recovered slightly and begins to set the pace but up ahead Basso continues to drive the pace.
The Evans group are about to catch Garzelli. Was that the last hurrah from the the Italian?
And Vino puts the hammer down and Evans is trying to react.
Vino is on his own now. He has about 8 seconds on Evans and co.
Gadret and Evans, then Sastre but they're all struggling now. Vino looks like he's motoring now.
Basso is still setting the pace.
Scarponi just looks happy to be there to be honest.
35K to go now for the trio up front. Vino is chasing hard though and chipping away at the time gap.
Sastre lead Gadret but Evans isn't there. He's blown!
Evans has 35K to go now too but he's starting to slip back again. Can he give it one last effort to get back to Sastre's wheel before the descent. He's a much better rider going downhill. Arroyo is still in pink!
Long 19K of downhill before the final climb so Evans can still come back to Sastre and Gadret. Vino has flown though.
Basso continues with his solid tempo, Vino driving on, in and out of the saddle, Evans wrenching on the bars ,his body locked in pain as he continues to lose time.
Wet roads here and they're getting wetter. This descent is going to be a real test. Basso still has an ace in his hand with Nibali with him.
Scarponi's shoulders are rocking now. He's still on Basso's wheel but he's clearly finding it harder to stay there.
Back in Australia, where it's 1am an entire nation will be watching, looking for Evans but their man is losing time here. He has to make it back to Sastre and Gadret.
The three leaders crest the top. Vino will be next. Here he comes. 55 seconds back as he grabs a gel from his back pocket.
Evans zips up his jersey as he nears the top. Pain etched on his face, 1:42 down and Arroyo is almost with him. That's right, Arroyo is there too. Amazing ride from the Spaniard.
Basso doesn't like wet roads does he? He's almost on the floor there but he keeps it together.
More bad news for Evans. Arroyo has passed him on the descent and is flying. And Evans has to come to a total stop to avoid hitting a parked car!
The World Champion wont like that a bit. He needs to get it out of his mind and charge down this hill as quickly as he can. Nibali drives things on at the front and Arroyo's incredible ride continues as he's almost about to catch Gadret and Sastre.
Sastre looks at him in total surprise but Arroyo just comes right through and drops them both. That's impressive.
Vino meanwhile is coming back to the lead trio. This is all working out for Arroyo here. Basso doesn't like the wet descent at all and Nibali is having to wait for him. Scarponi just sits in.
Nibali still on the front doing his job but Arroyo is having an incredible ride, taking huge risks. It looked all over for him about 20Ks ago but he's dug in and at this stage he's still the overall leader.
Arroyo is 50 seconds down on Basso.
We've not seen Porte since the start of the climb in case you're wondering. He was dropped on the early slopes.
Add Arroyo to the list of of great descenders. He's just caught Vino. This is a masterclass in how to go down hill very quickly. What's going on in Basso's head? Surely he'll have the time gaps in his ear.
Evans has pulled it together now and is about to catch Gadret and Sastre. This last climb is going to be crucial.
Arroyo is dropping Vino on the descent now too.
Arroyo will wait for Vino and use him on the final climb.
Basso calls Scarponi through to do some work. Is the race slipping away from the Italian? He has to do something on the final climb. The big question is what does he have left in the tank? Has Arroyo ridden the perfect race today? The answer looks like a big 'yes' so far.
Scarponi almost being bullied into working by the Basso/Nibali. Arroyo asks Vino to work but the Astana rider declines and motions for the Spaniard to do it all. Well, that's a debatable decision.
Vino has to ride her to protect his position. Arroyo needs to chase too. They need to kiss and make up, and fast.
Onto a fairly flat section now and Arroyo and Vino start to work together. They're 39 seconds back on the three leaders.
This final climb is the least difficult but after such a long stage it's still going to create time gaps.
Evans, Sastre and Gadret are about to catch Vino and Arroyo now.
Basso asked the questions and everyone has answered, some stronger than others. What can the Italian do now to answer back? If he wants to win this race he needs to increase that gap on Arroyo, who is 41 seconds back now.
Onto to the final climb now and Evans is leading the chase but Basso isn't looking grace now. He's looking laboured. As Arroyo's ride cracked him mentally?
Arroyo lets Sastre and Evans do the work. Clever riding. This is epic racing.
Basso pushes on with 12K to go. Gritted teeth with Nibali and Scarponi on either side of him. Evans chasing with Arroyo on his wheel. It looked all over for Arroyo and Evans earlier today.
The gap is going out a bit. It's 50 seconds now.
Nibali, who looks fresher than Basso goes to the front and ups the pace. He looks back, accelerates and makes sure Basso is with him.
Arroyo says 'thank you very much' to Evans, probably in Spanish and moves through to the front and leads the chase.
Basso moves back to the front as the chasers are spread all over the road.
The gap goes back to one minute as Scarponi does his first turn at the front. I wonder if he'll win the stage and Basso and Nibali sit up? Vino leads the chase now, Sastre hanging on.
Less than 10K to go now and the gap is 1:08 now. Scarponi still on the front.
Arroyo, still leading the race, is asking for help, almost pleading with the others. Evans moves to the front.
1:17 now is the gap. Still Arroyo leads the race and it looks like he could pull off a huge coup here. Basso goes back to the front now.
Basso is really suffering here as he tries to drag out the gap. He'll know that the chasers aren't organised as Arroyo again asks for help and again it's only Evans who can come to his aid.
A slight flat section now but the gap is up to 1:32. This could be really close on the line. Remember there are bonus seconds so maybe Basso will sprint for the win.
Gadret moves to the front and then Vino but the chasers are not organised and the gap goes to 1:42. Is the pink jersey slipping away from Arroyo? Can anyone call this race?
Just over 5K to go now as Nibali gets out of the saddle of gives it everything for his leader. Basso takes over and the gaps goes to 1:45. Thrilling stuff.
The chasers look a bit more organised now but the three Italians continue to push the pace on the front. It's certainly not a steep part of the climb. Scarponi comes to the front again.
Arroyo takes another long pull on the front. Whether he keeps the jersey or not he's put in a splendid ride.
Sastre seems to have found his legs and takes a pull on the front but the gap is now 2:19.
It now looks like Basso will take pink. Arroyo holding just a five or six second lead over Basso in the overall.
Scarponi now pushes on and Arroyo looks totally cooked but he still leads the chase.
Arroyo isn't giving up and he's turning in an great performance.
But the gap is now 2:42. Basso is the leader on the road with 1.8K to go.
No messing around for the three leaders on the road as Basso leads into the final 1.5K. Nibali could move into second overall here, Evans and Sastre could be saying goodbye to the podium.
Nibali, who has done a great job for Basso today leads through, Scarponi in second and then Basso. Basso moves to the front. Will scarponi be allowed to have the stage or will Basso want the seconds?
Scarponi has helped in the latter part of the stage, it has to be said. But he open the sprint.
And Scarponi takes the win, Nibali allowing Basso to take second and some vital seconds.
Now the clock starts ticking.
Arroyo sets the pace into the final K. No help front anyone anymore. Evans is on his wheel.
Sastre is last in the grouo and still Arroyo drives on.
It's 2:15 with 600 to go.
Basso will take pink but by how much?
Evans takes over, Vino leads out the sprint for fourth.
Vino takes it then Gadret. As Arroyo crossed the line he received a pat on the back from Carlos Sastre. Nice touch and certainly well deserved. Arroyo really suffered today but gave it everything. He's out of pink but that was still a great ride.
Arroyo finished 3:05 back
Another group come through. Pinotti is there and possibly Porte too. No Cunego yet.
Arroyo is heading to the team bus but he's getting a warm reception from the Italian crowd.
Cioni and Cunego now reach the finish. Not a great day for the Little Prince. He's lost 8:17 to Basso.
So confirmation that Basso leads the race by 51 seconds from Arroyo.
So here are the results from today's stage. Basso, the big winner but he had to do a lot of work to take the jersey off Arroyo's shoulders. Join us tomorrow for the final mountain stage of this year's race.
1 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli 5:27:04
2 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo
4 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana 0:03:05
5 John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
6 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:03:06
7 David Arroyo Duran (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
8 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Cervelo Test Team
1 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 81:55:56
4 David Arroyo Duran (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 0:00:51
2 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 0:02:30
3 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli 0:02:49
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:04:00
6 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Cervelo Test Team 0:05:32
8 Richie Porte (Aus) Team Saxo Bank 0:06:00
7 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana 0:06:02