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Welcome back to the penultimate mountain stage of this year's Giro d'Italia, featuring the mid-race Cat. 1 climb of Mottarone and a final ascent to Macugnaga, labeled "only" Cat. 3. It's the third-to-last chance to challenge GC-dominator Alberto Contador... and get a stage victory. Any takers?
Today's stage is 209 kilometres long and climbs up to 1,341 metres above sea level. The Mottarone climb is 13.8 kilometres long with an average gradient of 6.2 percent (slopes reaching a maximum of 14 percent). The final climb to Macugnaga is less challenging in terms of gradient but exhaustingly long with 28.2 kilometres. It averages 3.9 percent with maximum gradients up to 12.
We have a three-man breakaway: Jérôme Pineau from Quickstep, Matteo Rabottini from Farnese Vini and Lars Bak of Team HTC. The three have been away since km 51 and currently have 7.25 minutes over the peloton.
It's been raining since the start of the stage, and although temperatures have now risen to 20° Celsius, the wet conditions don't make life any easier for the Giro peloton, already exhausted after almost three weeks of intense racing.
The leaders have now reached the feed zone in Sesto Calende. The first of the two climbs will start shortly, and with an advantage of almost 12 minutes right now, Pineau et al. have all their options open today.
The Frenchman was last year's rider with the most breakaway kilometres. He received the "Trofeo Fuga" 2010. Leading this classification this year is Yaroslav Popovych (Radioshack), who also wanted to get into a break today but encountered too much support!
A group of riders attacked from the start in Bergamo shortly before 11.30am CET, including "Popo". 19 riders got away, but only got a gap aof about 25 seconds and were caught again after 28 kilometres raced.
The riders were: Cyril Dessel (AG2R), Giairo Ermetti (Androni), Chad Beyer (BMC), Daniel Sesma and Jorge Azanza ((Euskaltel), Giampaolo Cheula (Geox), Pavel Brutt and Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha), Simon Spilak (Lampre), Branislau Samoilau (Movistar), Robert Kiserlovski (Astana), Elia Favilli (Franese), Dennis Van Winden (Rabobank), Laurent Didier (Saxo Bank), Kjell Carlström (Sky), Peter Stetina (Garmin), Yaroslav Popovych and Ivan Rovny (Radioshack) and Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil).
Earlier on in the stage, as the leading trio had just formed and established a gap of four minutes with 150 kilometres still ahead of them, Pineau launched an attack on Bak and Rabottini - but the two were unfazed and caught him again a few kilometres later.
We wonder what they told him afterwards... or why Pineau even tried to get away. What a strange move - perhaps a bet?
They have started the Mottarone ascent. Predictably, the gap has decreased a little to 9.45.
Katusha's Pavel Brutt tried to counter-attack out of the field, but no-one came to help him - he's back in the bunch.
A similar move was made around km 70, when Laurent Didier (Saxo Bank) and Aliaksandr Kuchynski (Katusha) jumped away from the peloton in a crazy attempt to bridge up to the leaders, then already riding nine minutes ahead of them.
Needless to say, they did not make it very far.
The first part of the Mottarone is not too hard, but the tough gradients are sure coming up soon.
100 kilometres left to go.
The Mottarone is the sort of a climb that gradually becomes harder, a real leg-breaker. It's almost 14 kilometers long and includes steep ramps of a maximum of 14 percent, averaging 6.2.
But the real fun starts with three kilometers to the top: the last 3000 meters average 9.5 percent!
The gap is shrinking, now at 7.30 minutes.
Pineau is a good climber as he has shown at last year's Tour de France. He could stand a chance if he saves enough time into the final climb, not as challenging as the first.
We don't expect much of a battle for the GC today, but a lot of riders are still motivated to win a stage as today's multiple counter-attacks have shown. If the gap comes down further, within realistic reach, we might see more riders trying to bridge up.
The leaders have lost another minute. The peloton seems to have put on a chasing pace; perhaps the teams riding for GC are getting nervous about possible attacks.
Only four minutes left over the bunch for Pineau, Bak and Rabottini.This going to be difficult.
It's actually Acqua and Sapone doing the work in the front of the bunch. They could target more mountain points for Stefano Garzelli, leader of the KOM classification. He leads Contador by 11 points, and there are 25 for grabs on top of the Mottarone...
The gap is down to 2.56 minutes. Pineau and his companions are struggling to keep it up as Acqua and Sapone put on a furious pace.
With eight kilometres still to go beofre to summit, our leading trio has little hope left of making it through.
Bak has lost contact of Pineau and Rabottini. This hurts.
They have 1.36 minutes left from the bunch. They are in the last section of the climb now, the hardest part.
Garzelli ahs attacked! While Bak fought hard to come back to Pineau and Rabottini.
Garzelli is chasing hard to reach the leaders. But they've made it to the top! Pineau secured the 15 points, Garzelli still gets 3.
The descent is very fast. Garzelli has now bridged up to Pineau, Bak and Rabottini, with BMC's Johann Tschopp and AG2R's Cherel chasing.
Chérel and Tschopp are still chasing, but there are not very far from the leadzers, only 15 seconds. We don't know how far back the bunch is, though.
Chérel and Tschopp have made it. We have six leaders now, with an advantage of two minutes over the bunch.
They are descending through tiny villages, narrow mountain roads. Good it's stopped raining!
Bak is taking it cautiously on this descent, he is the last man in the group but always manages to hang on.
There will be a flat 20 kilometres after this descent, then the last climb.
The break has gotten a little more leash, they are now riding 3'23" in front of the bunch.
The clouds are still hanging low in the sky but the roads reamin dry at the moment. It's 14° Celsius in the finish...
The leader's advanate continues to grow, now at 4'50.
We wrote too fats: it's started raining again! No-one in the lead group has a rain jacket or even long sleeves.
They are racing ona two-lane road now, everyone of them taking turns on the flat. They are coming up to the intermediate sprint in Ornavasso now.
The gap has come down to 2.30 minutes. Not much with 41 kilometres uphill left to go. Garzelli will have to do it on his own if he wants to stand
The gap has come down to 2.30 minutes. Not much with 41 kilometres uphill left to go. Garzelli will have to do it on his own if he wants to standa chance for the stage win.
The weather has gotten a little better, the roads are still somewhat wet but it's stopped coming down. Fingers crossed it stays like this until the finish!
There's been a crash. Several riders went down, amongst them Thomas Peterson (Garmin) and Carlos Sastre (Geox), who already crashed in the beginning a the stage.
Marco Pinotti (HTC), Craig Lewis (HTC), Carlos Ochoa (Androni), Luca Mazzanti (Farnese), Tiago Machado (Radioshack) and Frederik Veuchelen (Vacansoleil) apparently also went down.
Craig Lewis (HTC) beeded medical assistance. It's not certain that he'll continue the race.
Lewis is being transported to hospital.
Pinotti has also abandoned the race.
We are not sure the bunch is still together, apparently it split in two groups because of the crash.
The leaders are being followed at 40 seconds now that they've started the final climb to Macugnaga, less challenging in terms of gradient but exhaustingly long with 28.2 kilometres. It averages 3.9 percent with maximum gradients up to 12.
Danilo Di Luca (Katusha) is leading out the bunch now. Katusha has a plan it seems, they've worked hard these past few clicks to bring the gap down.
Bak is again the first to drop off the breakaway on the climb. He'll be swallowed by the peloton very soon.
The road is wet again...
Pineau and Rabottini are leading the race on their own now, as the others dropped back. They have 40 seconds.
Still Katusha doing the work at the front of the bunch, Di Luca in second position.
Pineau and Rabottini have been in the lead since km 51, they are showing off a great performance.
Now the sun is out! But the road stilla puddle. What a messy weather!
The gap is coming down, now there are only 20 seconds left for our two leaders. No wonder they're having trouble as Katusha is really driving it.
Pineau taps Rabottini on the shoulder. They know it's over.
Here they come. The end of the road in Vanzone for Pineau and Rabottini.
Di Luca looks focussed as he passes them.
This is a long, undulating uphill for the bigger gears. They are fast and strung out now.
The tarmac is finally dry as the sun has taken over. The peloton is far from complete as many riders have had to ease off.
Di Luca still leading out, Katusha will have to find the right moment for Rodriguez to attack. Or is the 'Killer' feeling good today?
Garzelli - the mountains leader - is also out the back.
We haven't been mentioning it, but of course race leader Contador is present in this group.
Injury update: Craig Lewis (HTC) has broken his left leg in the earlier crash. He is being treated in hospital.
Arroyo (Movistar) has a mechanical.
An Astana rider attacks! It's Paolo Tiralongo.
But he only has a few seconds as they come out of a tunnel, looking at who will chase him down.
Tiralongo goes for it as they pass the 5km-to-go banner. They're hitting the harder perscentages now.
Contador has one teammate left to keep the pace up. Race radio announces 14 seconds for Tiralongo.
Tiralongo pushes on without looking back. 22 seconds. He'll make it through if noone attacks Contador behind.
Hubert Dupont from AG2R attacks out of the bunch, followed by Rodriguez (Katusha), who has more firepower and passes him.
It's not Dupont, it's Gadret, furiously chasing Tiralongo down. Will the Italian hold on?
But Contador also attacked and is now chasing Tiralongo!
Contaodr passes Tiralongo - ah what a shame for the Italian.
But Contador leaves the win to Tiralongo on the line. Like a gentleman.
Tiralongo and Contador knew each other from Astana days.
Nibali was third, followed by Gadret and Rodriguez.
Thanks for having joined us again today, and don't miss out on the action in tomorrow's penultimate Giro stage - another summit finish in Sestriere.
Ciao a tutti!