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Welcome to Stage 5 of the 2010 Giro d'Italia. Although there are two ranked climbs along the way, a mass sprint finish is expected in Novi Ligure, famous for its assocations with Fausto Coppi and Costante Giraderdengo.
Thursday sees the fifth stage, a short jaunt of 162 km from Novara to Novi Ligure. It's considered a flat stage, even though it has two ranked climbs in the middle. We expect to see another rmass sprint today. Who will have the best legs after yesterday's team time trial?
We have a foursome away,with a lead of over two minutes. The Fab Four today are Paul Voss (Milram), Yukiya Arashiro (Bbox), Jerome Pineau (Quick Step) and Julien Fouchard (Cofidis).
Fouchard is the highest-ranked of the four, 104th at 11:04 down. We don't think that he is going to be much of a threat to Liquigas' Vincenzo Nibali's leader's jersey today.
All 196 riders were at the start this morning, under overcast skies. Showers are forecast for the whole afternoon.
There were attacks right from the start, with Milram being especially active. But as soon as one break was caught, the next got away. Finally, about 15 km into the day, Arashiro got away and after some 10 km alone, he was joined by the other three.
Meanwhile, the gap has skyrocketed to 4:48.
The sprinters will have another chance today. Will Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) take yet another Giro win, to add to his 21 lifetime Giro stage wins? Or has Andre Greipel of HTC-Columbia recovered from his stomach problems enough to finally take a win in the Giro this year? And there is always Garmin-Slipstream's Tyler Farrar, who already has a stage win here.
The peloton is happy to let this group go, and the gap is now 5:40.
It is obvious why Milram's Voss is in this group. He holds the mountain jersey, by the very narrowest of margins. Only three riders have mountain points, and they all have 4 points. Neither of the others is in ths group, so it looks like Voss will enjoy another day in green.
Novara, the start city today, has previously hosted stage starts in 1968 and 1988. It is famous for rice and gorgonzola cheese. It is also famous for native son Gaspare Campari, who in 1860 invented the recipe for the aperitif which still bears his name.
If you were in Novara with the Giro, you could have ordered one of the local specialities, such as is paniscia (risotto prepared with lard, duja salami, onions, cabbage and beans). Another local speciality which we would definitely not have ordeed: frogs, prepared with rice, or in a broth, fried or in special sauce.
Who are these four riders in the break group? Paul Voss is a second-year pro who leapt to the public's attention this spring when he won the first stage time trial of the Volta a Catalunya, and wore the leader's jersey for two days.
In the Giro's second stage, he was also in the day's escape group and took the mountain jersey in an incredibly tight battle. He wasn't sure until long after the stage had finished that he had actually won it.
Arashiro was one of the first Japanese riders to finish the Tour de France, and now is looking to become the first Japanese rider to finish both the Tour and the Giro. The 25-year-old rode with Continental-ranked Japanese teams for three years before joining Bbox in 2009.
The gap is dropping slightly, now down to 4:55.
Pineau is a 30-year-old French rider. He turned pro with Bonjour in 2002, and rode with Brioches La Boulangere and Bouygues Telecom before joining Quick Step last season. His best season was 2004, when he won Paris-Bourges, the Clasica de Almeria and the overall title plus two stages in the Tour de l'Ain.
The gap continues to drop, to just over four minutes.
Fouchard is a first-year pro. The 23-year-old French rider last year won the overall title and one stage in the Tour de Bretagne.
It does not seem to be raining at the moment, but the roads are very definitely wet.
Pineau takes the intermediate sprint, winning not only points but also six seconds time bonus.
Let's take a look at all of the various rankings, since most of them have changed. In the overall title fight, we have, not at all surprisingly, three Liquigas riders at the top: Vincenzo Nibali, followed by Ivan Basso and Valerio Agnoli.
There were no points awarded in the team time trial, so Graeme Brown (Rabobank) continues to lead Wouter Weylandt (Quick Step) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions). There were also no intermediate sprints, so there was no change in the top three of Tom Stamsnijder (Rabobank), Paul Voss (Milram) and Jerome Pineau (Quick Step).
Nor were there mountains on Wednesday, so the green mountain jersey stays with Paul Voss (Milram), ahead of Stefano Pirazzi (Colnago-CSF Inox) and Rick Flens of Rabobank.
The best young rider is now Agnoli, six seconds ahead of HTC-Columbia's Matthew Goss, with former leader Richie Porte of Saxo Bank dropping to third, 25 seconds down.
Stephen Farrand is at the race for Cyclingnews and gives us the happy tidings that the peloton is riding ino the rain. And it looks like they have arrived there now....
In the teams classification, Liquigas leads HTC-Columbia by one second, with Astana third at 19 seconds. However, in the Super Teams ranking, HTC-Columbia leads Garmin-Transitions and Rabobank.
The weather has definitely changed, and almost all the riders are wearing rain jackets or vests.
The escapees are in the feed zone, and it appears to be a bit dryer there.
The gap is holding steady at 4.55.
The peloton is now nearing the feed zone and the dry weather. Don't know how long that will last, though.
Voss is not only wearing a green jersey, he is on a green bike as well.
The first climb at km 97 is the Avolasco, which is 409 metres high. The average gradient is 5.5%, with a maximum of 11%.
This stage honours two great Italian climbers, Fausto Coppi and Costante Girardengo. The second ranked climb is at Coppi's home of Castellania, in this the 50th year after his death. The stage ends in Novi Ligure, where he worked as a butcher. Girardengo is from Novi Ligure, the finish of today's stage.
Weren't the riders supposed to be riding into rain? This looks more like sunshine to us!
Here is what the Cyclingnews preview had to say about Coppi:
It is 50 years since Coppi died at the age of just 40. Stricken with a raging fever following his return from a racing and hunting trip, the five-time Giro winner was misdiagnosed with flu. In fact, he had malaria. His outstanding feats are now remembered in a museum at the house where he and brother Serse were born.
The four leaders are wending their way up the first climb of the day. Voss will certainly do his best to get some points.
The gap has dropped to 3:10.
The sprint to the line of the mountain ranking: Voss takes it, with Ahashiro second and Pineau third.
Now the peloton works its way up the many switchbacks.
The peloton hits the top of the mountain, with a gap of 3:15.
A crash on a switchback. A BBox rider takes out an Astana, but everyone is ok.
Dan Benson is going to jump in to describe things for you in his inimitable way.
Our four leaders are still working together as they sweep through the latest sleepy Italian village. They have under 60Ks to go. If you're just joining us we have leaders with a gap of around three minutes to the peloton.
Lets have a bit of fun. Anyone can tell me who won the 5th stage in the 2000 Giro? No prize, just a bit of glory. Tweet me your answers to http://twitter.com/dnlbenson That year the italian press caused a bit of a stir by publishing the riders and teams that were to be tested by the UCI before the tests took place. So much for the element of surprise.
The bunch are now 3:28 back on our four leaders, with Lampre doing some work on the front. They'll be looking to turn their race around today and set things up for their sprinter Alessandro Petacchi.
Nibali is riding smart, surrounded by his teammates near the front of the bunch. This is his first GC lead in a major tour. Our four leaders are now climbing steadily. Back with Nibali and he's having a chat with Pippo Pozzato.
Some problems for two. A bike is thrown to the floor. That's Gustov from Cervelo and Haedo from Saxo. They took a bit of a tumble but looks like no major damage.
Want a tip for today's stage? Here's what Procycling magazine have to say, "Alessandro Petacchi and André Greipel have it in their sights and Garmin's Tyler Farrar will be revved up to improve on the two second-place finishes he had last year." Well Farrar has his stage already but can he claim another?
The leaders are now at the top of the day's second climb is the Passo Coppi Bv. Castellania at km.111. It is 368 metres high, with an average gradient of 6% and a maximum of 10%.
Lampre are still pulling hard on the front with Liquigas paying close attention as they aim to keep Nibali out of trouble. Astana are near the front too. The peloton are on the climb and the gap is getting bigger.
Our four leaders working hard on the long descent. Voss with his green frame to match his green jersey. Nice touch that but nice to see he's still got his blue and black Milram shorts on. No one likes a show-off.
45K kilometers to go.
Slight break with the leaders breaking up through the tight streets. These roads are wet - some rain earlier - so they could be slippy but so far so good. The bunch are lined out behind so the chase is really on to catch the four ahead.
Gilberto Simoni is pulling on the front now, doing his bit for the team.
There is only one very short climb remainnig to Gavi, in the vineyards nar Novi Ligure. It comes in the final twenty-five kilometers so it probably wont make too much difference but you never know. We're still backing a sprint.
The riders do an a lap around Gavi. There is a nasty righthand corner 600m to go but the riders get to see it wiht 29km to go.
Vincenzo Nibali looked relaxed and happy in the pink jersey this morning at the start in Novara: "I slept well. I've got extra responsibility on my shoulders now but I'm not worried because I know my team is really strong. I just hope it's a steady day today."
Cycling is not popular on the island and both Visconti and Nibali moved to Tuscany at just 16 to ride for what are long-time rivals teams. I can back him on that. I went there once for a holiday. Only found one bike shop!
Four leaders now on dry road again with Pineau taking a long turn at the front. Lampre-led bunch are on a wide open road now which will be perfect for their chase. They're doing a lot of work old Lampre, meaning teams like HTC, Garmin etc can just sit in and wait for the final dash for the line.
Cyclingnews spoke to HTC-Columbia DS Valerio Piva at the start in Novara.
"We hope the stage will finish in a sprint and we'll do what we can to make sure it does because there aren't many chances for the sprinters in the this year's Giro. The next three days after today are all tough and so we want to win today. Greipel was ill at the start of the Giro but he's a lot better now. The climbs won't be a problem for him."
There's a bit more urgency with our four leaders. They've realised it's now or never as far as their chances are concerned. They'd probably like a few more with them but Lampre still have some work to do. They'll get some help soon though, I'm sure of that. Plenty of team cars will be crackling with race radios as sportifs decide to move their men to the front. And there we go, Garmin are moving forward a bit. Matt White will have given that order.
Lampre are a bit angry that no other team are helping with the chase. HTC-Columbia and Garmin-Transitions have Greipel and Farar but seem to be saving their riders fo the lead out.
The peloton are getting a bit twitchy now as the pace increases. There's Evans. He's near the front. He's on his own. Where are his BMC teammates?
Well done to http://twitter.com/GaborKiss1 who guessed that Di Luca won the 5th stage in the 2000 edition of the race.
The four leaders are still working well together as they take a sweeping left-hand corner.
The peloton will have to be careful though. While the roads are mostly dry there are still a few wet lines. It could cause a few problems.
Garmin are now in the lead with Lampre. Nibbles is about 30 riders back.
So everyone is on the final circuit now. That final bend that they'll do again really is tight. Voss meanwhile, is hanging on here. He's struggling.
Voss is no more. He's popped and he's off the back. Good ride for him though as he's picked up some points in the mountains competition. So we now have three riders up the front.
Now HTC have joined the party at the front of the bunch. Fashionably late?
But Lampre take over again.
Susan back again, to take you to the end.
The gaps is down to 2:12 now for our trio in front. Voss has just been caught by the field.
Now I'll hand you back to Susan.
With 20 km and about two minutes gap, it is possible that the three in front could come through to the end. But the sprinter teams don't want to allow that. Columbia and Milram are now driving the peloton.
The gap has dropped to 1:46. Voss has now been dropped off the back of the peloton, accompanied by a Cervelo rider.
The tempo is high now, and more and more riders are falling off the back. Gap is 1:12.
The three leaders make their way through a narrow street -- no spectators here.
Arashiro leads the trio through the town of Gavi.
HTC-Columbia leads the peloton, with one Garmin-Transitions rider in their midst.
Now a Lampre rider moves demonstrably into the lead.
The gap is still at 1:24. Does this threesome have a chance?
We have a whole handful of riders off the back of the peloton now. We doubt that they will catch back up.
Astana, BMC and Rabobank move to the front now.
Nibali is safely tucked in the middle of the field.
If this trio stays away, and Arashiro takes it, we think that would be the first Japanese Grand Tour stage win.
The leading trio is still hanging in there, looking good.
With 7 km to go, the riders will pass the "Designer Outlet". Any shoppers in the field?
The gap is under a minute now, at 58 seconds.
The peloton isn't close enough to see the trio of leaders, but it won't be long now.
The field is flying along now, strung out in single file.
HTC -Columbia is keeping the speed up.
The leaders pass under the five km marker. More and more riders struggle to hang on to the end of the peloton.
Only 30 seconds now.
Sky has moved up behind Columbia now.
Three km to go for the leaders, and only a few seconds lead. Sky now pulls the peloton along.
Sky leads, followed by Quick Step.
Only eight seconds now.
The three leaders pick up their speed, determined to make it to the end. They are in the final km.
So close, but they won't make it.
ARashiro goes for the spring with 300 metres.
They make it! Pineau takes the win!
Fouchard was second and Arashiro third, with the peloton very close on their heels.
Hm, the peloton wasn't really all that close....
Who would ever have thought the three leaders would stay away until the end? And it really couldn't have been much closer.
That's the second stage win for Quick Step in this Giro.
Thanks for reading along today. Join us again tomorrow as we have our first intermediate mountain stage.