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Hello and welcome to live coverage from day seven of this year's Giro d'italia. Today's stage stretches a considerable 222 kilometres from Carrara to Montalcino and covers the famous white gravel roads of Tuscany, as seen in recent years in the Monte Paschi Strade Bianche race. It's got some technical sections, its got some climbing, and we think it has the potential to be quite decisive indeed.
The stage has been shortened very slightly due to a small landslide (!) - that has lopped 2km off the total distance. It shouldn't have a significant effect on the race.
Marzio Bruseghin (Caisse d'Epargne) and Eros Capecchi (Footon Servetto) were both non-starters today. Bruseghin has a sore hip after falling on the third stage, while Capecchi has been experiencing breathing problems. That dropped the number of starters today down to 191 - still a very large field.
There was a fast start to today's stage, with 52.5 kilometres being covered in the first hour of racing. The riders are clearly keen to get on with it, although any early attempts to go clear were all negated.
Some details about today's race: The first 'white road' is tackled after the town of Murlo is 5.5km long, coming 195km into the stage. The second one leads up to Poggio Civitella. It's 14km long including six kilometres uphill. Once the riders will finish with this section, there will be only five kilometres remaining until the end of the stage in Montalcino, a small town famous for its Sangiovese wine (Brunello or Rosso di Montalcino).
For more details, wander over here.
After 57 kilometres of racing, sixteen riders went clear and built a decent lead. These were Jackson Rodriguez (Androni Giocattol), Andriy Grivko (Astana), Gorazd Stangelj (Astana), Yukiya Arashiro (Bouygues Telecom), Marcel Wyss (Cervélo Test Team), Mickael Buffaz (Cofidis), Remi Cusin (Cofidis), Sacha Modolo (Colnago-CSF Inox), Matthias Brändle (Footon Servetto), Svein Tuft (Garmin), Gilberto Simoni (Lampre), Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas), Addy Engels (Quick Step), Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank), Dominik Roels (Milram), Fabian Wegmann (Milram).
Of those, Agnoli was the best placed in the general classification - he started the day third overall, and is also leading the mountains classification. Because of this threat, the group was hauled back after 71 clicks of racing.
After approximately 80 kilometres of racing, Nicki Sorensen (Saxo Bank) and Rick Flens (Rabobank) attacked. They judged the moment perfectly and after ten kilometres of effort, they had established a two minute lead.
They are no threat at all to the GC lead of Vincenzo Nibali (Liqugas). Sorensen started the stage 20 minutes 53 seconds back, while Flens was 24'05 down.
With the Liquigas team of Vincenzo Niballi secure in the knowledge that the race lead is not threatened, the two are making very good progress. They are now over nine minutes clear and merrily marching onwards, trying to build a big buffer before the tougher finale.
Here's more info on Bruseghin's withdrawal. Warning: don't open link in front of your granny ;)
The weather is quite nasty out there today...most of the riders are wearing rain capes and caps under their helmets. The Lampre team are pushing the pace on the front - perhaps for Cunego, or maybe for Petacchi. They are under pressure to get a win after some criticism in the press.
With 80 kilometres to go, the gap is falling steadily: Sorensen and Flens are now six minutes 50 seconds ahead. The rain should help them in deterring the chase, but they've got to hold onto their lead.
Over the pond, the Tour of California is going to get underway this weekend. Yesterday saw many of the big names speak at a press conference. One of those was Lance Armstrong, who admitted to 'suffering like a dog' in the recent Tour of the Gila. He also said that he has had some doubts this year due to a lack of form, but vowed to keep building towards what he hopes will be an eighth Tour title. You can read more about that here.
Flens has a puncture and has to change his wheel, thus further hampering the break's chances.
With 68 kilometres left to the finish, the bunch is in one long line - the speed is certainly on. Katusha and Lampre lead the chase. Up front, the leaders look sodden and a little demoralised.
Sorensen is modelling a rainjacket with the sleeves cut off, while Flens prefers to do without. When you are working as hard as they are, you generate a lot of heat and so a jacket is not always as necessary as in the bunch.
In the bunch, several of the Katusha riders are taking off their capes. The weather seems to be clearing slightly.
Can a break succeed again today? Yesterday was the second stage in a row when the sprinters were foiled. Aussie climber Matthew Lloyd took a fine solo victory, following from his national championship success of a couple of years back. It's great to see him back in strong shape after some very bad injuries last year.
Here's how the stage result looked - Rubens Bertogliati took second, having initially been clear with Lloyd.
1 Matthew Lloyd (Aus) Omega Pharma-Lotto 4:24:20
2 Rubens Bertogliati (Swi) Androni Giocattoli 0:01:06
3 Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre-Farnese Vini 0:01:15
4 Manuel Belletti (Ita) Colnago-CSF Inox
5 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Team Katusha
6 William Bonnet (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom
7 Sacha Modolo (Ita) Colnago-CSF Inox
8 Vasil Kiryienka (Blr) Caisse d'Epargne
9 Alexander Efimkin (Rus) AG2R La Mondiale
10 Baden Cooke (Aus) Team Saxo Bank
There wasn't much change to the general classification, which looked like this last night:
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 18:55:38
2 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 0:00:13
3 Valerio Agnoli (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 0:00:20
4 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana 0:00:33
5 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Team Katusha 0:00:39
6 Richie Porte (Aus) Team Saxo Bank 0:00:45
7 David Millar (GBr) Garmin - Transitions
8 Baden Cooke (Aus) Team Saxo Bank 0:01:03
9 Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Team Milram 0:01:04
10 Laurent Didier (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:01:13
Matthew Lloyd spoke about his alternative philosophy to racing at the post-race press conference. He said the Giro is a very chaotic race and it's possible to make huge advances in the general classification because of that.
He started today's stage 43rd overall, 9'34 back, but he's a strong climber and should progress when the race hits the mountains. The first summit finish of the race is tomorrow.
Filippo Pozzato is one of those who will be trying to win today. The Classics specialist is wearing the Italian tricolore on his back and would love to honour it on today's stage. He said that the final stretch of gravel roads is a full 12 kilometres long, and predicted chaos. He also warned that riders such as Ivan Basso (Liquigas) and Carlos Sastre (Cervelo Test Team) could lose time.
The pressure has caused some splits in the bunch, with Carlos Sastre (Cervelo Test Team) and Marco Pinotti (HTC Columbia) both in the second group and chasing hard. That's bad news for Sastre, who had looked good for the GC. There's still quite a way to go to the finish, though, so he and his team will hope to overcome the gap.
With less than 60 kilometres left to race, the two leaders are 2'40 ahead of the first group, with the Sastre/Pinotti bunch a further 50 seconds back. That's worrying...
The gap continues to fall for the leaders, and grow for the second group. Sastre and Pinotti are 1'15 back now.
The team cars have come up to the two leaders, and the riders are asking for advice about what to do. It's very difficult to see them standing a chance now, unfortunately. The gap is falling and with Sastre losing time, the incentive is there for other GC contenders to continue to drive the pace along.
Dario Cioni (Team Sky) now attacks, 42km from the finish.
Pinotti started this stage 17th overall, two minutes and one second back, while Sastre was 20th, 2'13 in arrears.
The white gravel sections today start between 25 and 20 kilometres to go and, we suggest, things are really going to break up then.
Cioni is powering along, looking very strong. Behind, the Astana team are near the front, with Vinokourov and Nibali (Liquigas) sitting third and fourth.
The chasers are on the Rosso del Rospatio climb, with Cioni still persisting but just metres ahead now. Riders are tumbling out of the back of the Maglia Rosa group, which is still quite large.
Cioni passed the two leaders a couple of kilometres ago, so he's the leader. But it's all to no avail - he's been caught now.
The riders are now over the top of the climb, with Milram's Thomas Rohregger netting first place.
Importantly, it seems that Carlos Sastre is now back in the main group; there seems to be a bit of confusion as to what happened. Either he was there all along and the race organisers incorrectly indentified him (easy to do with rainjackets on), or else he snuck back on. Either way, panic over for Sastre fans...he's there.
Ouch...many riders went down on a right hand bend on a descent...Nibali and Basso (Liqugas) are down!
That's huge news, but both are up and riding again...they are chasing hard. The crash happened when one of the riders slipped on the descent, bringing others down.
There's a big split now, with Vinokourov (Astana), Rohregger and Gerdemann (Milram) and a couple of others ahead courtesy of the crash.
Now Pozzato and Cadel Evans are riding hard behind, with Nibali further back...we'll try to get a better idea of the situation.
Agnoli is driving the Nibali group along, trying to get his team leader back in touch. They are 1'17" behind now!
Rohregger, Gerdemann, Vinokourov and Garzelli are in the small lead group...that's dangerous...
Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone), Thomas Rohregger (Milram), Linus Gerdemann (Milram) and Jan Bakelantds (Omega Pharma - Lotto) are the leaders, and are on the white roads...well, they should be white, but they are now covered in mud. Garzelli pushes on, trying to catch the others.
Rohregger appears to be gone, so there's four leaders. Garzelli doesn't seem comfortable on this mud.
Behind, Evans is coming across!! He's flying...
The conditions really are foul... Pozzato was up with Evans but has drifted back..
Here's the situation as it stands - it's guns a-blazing here!
Linus Gerdemann (Milram), Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) and Matthew Goss (HTC-Columbia)
Group (Pozzato, Cuneto) at 0:10
Maglia rosa group at 1:20
More riders have also come across, really swelling this front group. Pozzato is there, as is David Millar (Garmin Transitions). Damiano Cunego (Lampre), John Gadret (Ag2r La Mondiale) have also made it.
Cunego attacks! He's gone clear alone on this section between the two gravel/mud sections.
He has been joined by Gerdemann and Bakelandts...Nibali is far back, and looks to be alone!! Situation:
Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini), Linus Gerdemann (Milram) and Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Lotto) lead now.
Chase group - including: Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team), Matthew Goss (HTC-Columbia), Vladimir Karpets and Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) and David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) at 0:20
Maglia rosa group at 1:20
Gerdemann looks to have gone back to the chasers, so there's two leaders. Further back, Nibali is leading the chase group, with Basso also there.
Bear with us as we try to identify more riders - they are covered in mud. Vinokourov lurks near the front of the group behind the two leaders, and we understand Pinotti (HTC Columbia) has also made it up here. That's good to see. Sastre is quite far back - he also went down.
Front group, including: Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini), Linus Gerdemann (Milram) and Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team), Matthew Goss (HTC-Columbia), Vladimir Karpets and Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) and David Millar (Garmin-Transitions)
Maglia rosa group (Nibali, Basso) at 1:40
Sastre is chasing with Tondo, and having a stage he'll want to forget. Hopefully he can limit his losses.
The leaders are on the climb now, as is the next group. Vinokourov attacks! Evans goes with him...
Evans takes over, and leads Vinokourov on this uphill section...Garzelli leads the group behind. This is really breaking up...amazing racing.
Evans is going all the work - Vinokourov is concentrating on following the wheel, and getting mud out of his eyes. One leads to the other, though...!
He takes over and does his turn...behind, some others are grinding along, trying to get across.
Cunego and Garzelli have got across to Evans and Vinokourov...Pinotti (HTC Columbia) also there - super riding by him.
Behind, Nibali doesn't know what to do...he pushes on ahead alone, then he waits for Basso...this is a mess for him.
In the front group, Gadret (Ag2r) and David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne) are also there. Vinokourov and Garzelli lead the group along.
Behind, Scarponi (Androni Giocattoli) is chasing alone and catches Pozzato, who has cracked.
This is a super day's racing, folks - still got 7km of these muddy roads to go, and plenty of action ahead.. Kudos to the Giro for including sections like this.
Nibali and Basso have caught Pozzato. No time gaps right now...bear with us..
The Evans/Vinokourov/Garzelli group is 26 seconds ahead of the next chasers. Nibali and Basso are a minute and a half back, so this is serious for them.
Vinokourov started the stage fourth overall, just 33 seconds behind Nibali...is he riding into the Maglia Rosa?
Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team), Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone), David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini), Marco Pinotti (HTC-Columbia), John Gadret (Ag2R-La Mondiale)
Michele Scarponi (Androni Giocattoli) at 0:32
Maglia rosa group at 1:28
Vinokourov and Evans attack! They are going ahead alone...
So the winners of Fleche Wallonne (Evans) and Liege - Bastogne - Liege (Vinokourov) are at the head of the race... just over seven kilometrtes left. Now Arroyo gets across.
Nibali keeps dropping Basso, who really doesn't like this terrain.
Garzelli is leading the chase group, with Cunego on his wheel...the leaders are out of sight, though, so the gap is growing...
Arroyo is content to sit on, thinking of the stage win.
It's raining pretty heavily now, as the leaders go under the 5km to go banner. Who will win? Who will have the Maglia Rosa? And, equally importantly, who will be the big losers on today's chaotic stage?
The riders are now on the final climb...who will jump first?
Evans is out of the saddle, pushing things along. Vinokourov remains seated. Arroyo is also there, waiting...
Cunego gets across!
PInotti is also there - super ride from the Italian TT champ...he's having a great race.
Five leaders with four km to go.... Behind, Basso and Nibali are together, trying to limit their losses.
Vinokourov attacks! Evans and Cunego get across, with Pinotti and Arroyo a few seconds back...
Nibali and Basso catch and pass other riders...they have to keep pushing on. However they are 1'48 back...ouch
Two kilometre to go, and Pinotti and Arroyo join up again on the descent!
Evans leads down the descent, chasing seconds for the GC... He nearly loses it on a corner, Cunego swoops past..
Last kilometre! Who will get it?
Evans leads it into the last corner, but Cunego is there, sitting on his wheel and waiting! Vino third..
Evans still leading....he sprints....Cunego and Vino are just behind - can they get by?
Evans does it! Brilliant victory...he led most of the last kilometre, yet was strong enough to ride away from the others on the slight rise to the line....
Cuengo took second with Vinokourov third...Pinotti and Arroyo were next across the line at the end of what was a brilliant day's racing..
The riders are coming in in dribs and drabs...this has been an epic stage.
Nibali came in two minutes back...Sastre lost 5'20, and looks shattered...
Vinokourov takes over the pink jersey - that will provoke mixed feelings, if the reaction to his Liege triumph is anything to go by. Evans is now second overall, 1'12 back. David Millar is up to third, delighting Garmin fans. He's at 1'29 - very good ride by him.
Surely Cadel Evans is the best world champion of the past few years? He's having a superb season,
Vladimir Karpets is fourth overall, with Nibali and Pinotti next..
We'll leave it there for today - it's been a brilliant stage with plenty of racing and a real upheaval in the general classification. Tomorrow is the first real mountain stage, so make sure to come back for coverage then. You can find brief results here - full results and a post race report will follow a little later. Thanks for reading!