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Hello and welcome to today's live coverage from the Giro d'Italia. It's stage 20 from Verbania to Sestriere and the final day in the mountains.
Today, the race heads back through Turin and out into the western mountains for its final climbing test. It’s surprising it’s taken six years for the Colle delle Finestre to reappear at the Giro, given the gripping action it saw in 2005 when Paolo Savoldelli came close to losing the maglia rosa as José Rujano and Gilberto Simoni joined forces against him. Let’s hope for something equally enthralling.
The race then climbs to Sestriere, which first appeared on the Giro route 100 years ago. This final summit finish offers a chance for a late shake-up of the overall order and may even deliver a new leader.
Lets immediately bring you up to date with the action. We've got a break up the road, the gap over 11 minutes.
Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack), Kevin Seeldraeyers (Quick Step), Eduaord Vorganov (Katusha), Angel Vicioso (Androni), Frederik Veuchelen (Vacansoleil), Luca Mazzanti (Farnese Vini), Josep Jufre (Astana), Vasil Kiryienka (Movistar), Sebastian Lang (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Cristiano Salerno (Liquigas), Diego Ulissi (Lampre), Carlos Betancourt (Acqua & Sapone) and Miguel Minguez (Euskaltel).
Bright skies for today's stage and at the moment Lampre, Saxo and Liquigas are doing the majority of the work on the front of the bunch.
You can find a preview for today's stage, right here. It's all or nothing for the riders on GC today. Yes there's the final TT tomorrow but climbers will be looking to create big gaps today as it's their final chance.
Here's how we stand on GC:
1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 77:11:24
2 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:05:18
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:05:52
4 John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:07:53
5 Kanstantsin Sivtsov (Blr) HTC-Highroad 0:09:58
6 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:10:08
7 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Pro Team Astana 0:10:20
8 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:10:43
9 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC 0:10:51
10 José Rujano Guillen (Ven) Androni Giocattoli 0:11:50
It looks like Contador has the race in the bag but we all know he has an extra stage to come later this year when CAS will hear his Clenbuterol case. It's the Giro's 22nd stage.
So with that in mind and the possibility that he could be stripped of the maglia rosa if found guilty then this race is essentially wide open with Scarponi and Nibali both in with a chance of winning the race. It's a real shame we're talking about such outcomes but that's cycling for you.
There's a 32 second gap between the two men and last year Nibali put just over 10 seconds into Scarponi in the final TT of the race. It's all to play for, for both the podium places and potentially the win.
Right now Scarponi and Nibali are near the front of the race, keeping out of trouble and no doubt watching each other's moves. Any sign of weakness and they'll attack each other.
The break, meanwhile, has just gone through the feedzone. I see Popo is in the break again. If anyone can tell me how many kms he's done off the front in this year's race I'd appreciate it.
There's been a crash in the break, with Vorganov hitting the deck. I may be wrong but hasn't he crashed from a break already this year?
Lets have a scan of the morning news.
WADA's David Howman had a chat with us yesterday. You can read it here. He talks about Armstrong, the Feds, UCI and the future war on doping.
@Smeckham Sat, 28th May 2011 12:08:54
Miguel Martinez has also hit the deck.
AG2R are doing the work on the front now, with Contador more than happy to get some help.
Martinez is back on his bike and back with the leaders, with the peloton now going through the feed, and the gap 10:35
In other news Di Luca says he wants to be mentor to young riders and run a team. I'll let you state how ridiculous that is.
While Impey talks to us about his move to NetApp.
119 kilometres to go in the stage.
Last time we finished in Sestriere Rujano won the stage. He's a good bet for today as well.
Lampre now doing the work on the front. The pace is pretty relaxed at the moment and they're just making sure that things tick over and that the break isn't given too much room.
It should be interesting to see what Gadret does today, actually. Currently in fourth place, he's roughly two minutes down on third but two minutes up on fifth. Will he go for broke and try and crack Nibali? He'll need to do something special but you never know....
A crash back in the bunch with a motorbike going down.
AG2R still some work on the front of the bunch with Lampre having pulled over. Saxo are up there too. The gap has come down slightly, it's at 10 minutes.
The break is just on the outskirts of Turin
Some action to report. Lang jumps away and takes the point at the intermediate sprint.
Kruijswijk and Kreuziger are still battling for the white jersey. The Astana rider has a healthy advantage and should hang on today and claim it.
I'm on the fence with regards to Kreuziger's Giro though. Has it been successful or not? Well, wearing white reminds us that he's still young and that he'll have more chances as he matures but this was perhaps the best opportunity he's had to step up in Grand Tours.
I think if he rides well today he could move up to fifth on GC. That would actually make a big difference.
The gap has come down below ten minutes. These long flat roads aren't doing much favours for the break, especially with not everyone working at the same level.
We've still got around 50km of racing before the first climb of the day.
There is a gentle rise between now and then though, enough to sap the strength of the riders currently in the break.
There's certainly more of an effort coming from the bunch with Saxo Bank and AG2R doing all the work on the front.
72km left to race, two major climbs, the final two climbs of this year's Giro.
7:55 is now the gap between the leads and the peloton. They'll get to the foot of the climb with an advantage but it won't be anything substantial.
Geox has now moved up to the front of the bunch. Menchov isn't out of the reckoning for a top five place, you know. He's down in 8th but if he has a strong ride today and puts a couple of climbers to the sword in the TT tomorrow he could move up.
Nibali just over a minute down on Scarponi on GC. That will surely be the most important battle of today. Scarponi is marginally the better climber, especially on the really steep climbs, but Nibali will use his descending skills as much as he can.
The break is roughly 4km from the foot of the Finestre
The gap is 7 minutes between the break and the Contador bunch.
More and more teams moving to the front of the bunch, all wanting their leaders to be at the head of the race once we hit the first climb.
45km to go for the leaders but they're already struggling, turns are getting shorter and shorter and some riders not coming to the front at all.
The start of the climb is so, so steep so a lot of the GC men are moving up. They dont want to be chasing and wasting energy on the early slopes.
The gap is now just 5:29. I can't see the break making it over the first climb before the bunch.
And we've already got attacks from the bunch. First Rujano, and Pirazzi try their luck.
No idea why Rujano is waiting energy so early.
The bunch is already splitting up, with Rabo doing the damage.
The bunch is bringing Pirazzi back, while Poppo leads the break. The gap now 4:41.
Rujano attacking again.
He's got around 15 meters but he's putting everyone behind him under immense pressure.
Rujano brought back in with Liquigas doing the work. The bunch is down to less than 30 riders though.
Even less in fact. Not even 20 riders.
Scarponi, Nibalil and Contador all there. The maglia rosa is without a teammate though.
Sestriere: Getting flashbacks from 1999.
@stephenfarrand Sat, 28th May 2011 14:16:46
Menchov and Dupont both hanging on for dear life at the back of the maglia rosa group.
Up the road and Kiryienka is all alone now, having dropped all the other riders from the initial break.
Nieve also hanging on at the back of the group. it looks like Le Mevel, Siutsou have both been dropped. Sastre is still up in the running though.
Anton has also been dropped by the main challengers as well. The climb is blowing the entire race apart. We're going to see some major time gaps today.
Dupont though is still with the Contador group but he's slowing losing some ground. Surely he'll be dropped now because Rujano has attacked again and this move looks serious. Liquigas leading the chase but more riders are being distanced.
Gadret is still up there. Scarponi, Nibali and Contador too. No sign of Roman K. Has he been dropped too?
Rodriguez in chasing and he's got Menchov on his wheel.
Sastre is now the man under pressure on the back of the group. Maybe a dozen men in the maglia rosa group. Rujano and co have been caught. Kruijswijk is there though but Roman K isn't.
Anton and Nieve are both riding together. Both stage winners but both dropped.
Szmyd is doing all the work on the front for Nibali.
And Rujano is going again.
He's doing a good job of softening up the other GC riders. Not many can live with these accelerations.
This time Rujano has a gap, perhaps 15 meters or so.
Cataldo and Arroyo both missing from this group too as Rujano picks his way through the remnants of the early break.
Roman K has picked up Dupont and has a teammate with him. This is a big ask for the Astana leader.
Rujano and has caught his teammate Vicioso and gets a tow.
Rujano has caught his teammate Vicioso and gets a tow.
But the climbers leaves him behind and presses on alone.
But the climbers leaves him behind and presses on alone.
Sastre and Menchov are both in the mix but the Spaniard is hanging on at the back.
Szmyd has had a poor Giro due to illness but he's coming good when it really, really matters. Could he be the deciding factor in this year's race?
Nibali leads Scarponi, Contador on his wheel and Kruijswijk having a great ride is next.
Kiryienka is on the gravel roads, with 35km to go. He's struggling too.
Rujano has reached the dusty road too. No time checks yet but Roman K is perhaps 20 seconds down on the Contador group.
Brambilla is still up with the Contador group, that's a good ride.
Menchov and Sastre both just sit on the back of the group as Salerno is caught, meaning Nibali has two teammates with him.
Rujano catches more riders from the breakaway and drops them all bar Popo.
I spoke too soon, Rujano drops the Shack rider and presses. on.
3:42 is the gap between our leader and Rujano with the maglia rosa at 4:45
We're onto a really steep section and Roman K has lost his teammate, as Nieve and Anton, who are further back, continue to ride together.
The Astana leader has Arroyo and Dupont on his wheel but he's not getting any help at all.
Just an estimate but Roman K is around a minute back.
As Popo is caught by the Liquigas train.
Rujano goes through more riders from the early break but the gap isn't really coming down. It's at 3:50 to Kiryienka.
And Kiryienka has 30km to go as Salerno cracks leaving Nibali with just one teammate.
Gadret and Rodriguez are the big winners at the moment with a number of top ten riders off the back. Contador is sitting in, behind Scarponi and keeping out of trouble.
And now Rodriguez is starting to suffer on the climb.
Kiryienka has less than 1km to go until the top of the climb. Then it's the really tricky descent before the final tough climb.
And Rodriguez attacks and the group has blown apart and Nibali is in trouble.
Nibali has been dropped, Scarponi is suffering too. Contador Menchov and Kruijswijk all look good.
Rodriguez is really putting the hammer down on the really tough sections near the top.
Kruijswijk on the Katusha rider's wheel, Scarponi is looking a little better but it's all going wrong for Nibali.
Meanwhile Rujano is about to crest the top of the climb. Nibali is losing more time, perhaps 20, 25 seconds down on the Contador group. Scarponi just needs to hang on. Nibali has to go for broke on the descent.
And Rujano goes over the top of the climb.
Gadret is up there too. Sastre was dropped earlier. So Rodriguez, Contador, Gadret, Kruijswijk, Menchov, and Scarponi. Nibali dropped and 20 odd seconds down.
All that work down by Liquigas on the early slopes and it's just not working for them. Nibali could make it back on the down hill but he'll have to really push it to the limit.
Nibali has regained contact with the Contador group. Nice work but with a climb still to come it's going to be very tricky. Will Scarponi attack? Surely he'll look to take advantage.
Nibali has made a break for it. Nice move and Contador tries to go with him.
Betancourt has caught Rujano and gone straight passed him on the descent.
The lone leader begins his climb to the finish. I think it's fair to say he'll hang on unless he blows completely. The real battle is behind, Rujano ahead of the major contenders, with Nibali testing his rivals to the maximum on the descent.
It looks like Nibali has backed off on the downhill, perhaps trying to save energy for the final climb.
10km for the lone leader.
Kruijswijk is trying to push the pace in the Contador group because Roman K has closed the gap. He's less than 30 seconds down.
And Roman K makes contact.
And Rodriguez has attacked and Menchov has gone with him again.
Gadret latches onto Menchov's wheel. Can Gadret move into 3rd?
The leaders all come back together.
So many mini battles in this group for the white jersey, podium places and perhaps the race title...
Rodriguez has attacked again.
This time he's got a gap though. Roman K has to chase, his place on GC is under threat.
Scarponi on Nibali's wheel, Contador keeping court and sitting on the back of the group. He doesnt need to move yet.
Menchov now takes responsibility on the front of the main group, the lone leader has just over 5km to go. He looks tired but the gap isn't coming down.
Menchov has now attacked too.
But he's quickly caught.
Correction: Menchov is still out there on his own. The Astana leader is setting the pace behind.
Rujano has ditched Betancourt., with Kiryienka just 2.7km from the top of the climb and the stage win.
Rodriguez has over a minute on the Contador group.
Gadret is going to have to do something. Ether help with the chase or attack. Scarponi will want to try and put more time between him and Nibali too, but it look like everyone is on their limit.
And Rodriguez has caught Betancourt.
1km to go for the Movistar rider. They have their stage, he shakes the DS's hand. Last week they lost Xavier Tondo, one of the most popular riders in the peloton. This will be such a special moment for them.
As Gadret attacks.
Glasses on, jersey zipped up, points to the sky. Job well done and an excellent ride.
Gadret is coming up to the back wheel of Menchov.
And he goes right passed him. He's really going for third place and at the same time distancing his other rivals.
Menchov reacts and gets onto Gadret's wheel.
Behind Nibali ups the pace.
Roman K has cracked!
And Scarponi has attacked Nibali
And Contador goes, making his way up to Kruijswijk, Menchov and Gadret. Scarponi too. Nibali is cracking.
As Rujano comes up to the line and takes second, Rodriquez takes third.
Betancourt is next.
Scarponi is putting more time into Nibali. Surely that's second and third done and dusted.
Roman K coming to the line. Actually considering how much pressure he was put under that's a great salvage job from the Astana leader. Nibali comes over the line just a few seconds behind him. Nibali trails Scarponi by almost a minute in GC.
1 Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Movistar Team 6:17:02
2 José Rujano Guillen (Ven) Androni Giocattoli 0:04:43
3 Joaquím Rodríguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:04:50
4 Carlos Alberto Betancourt Gomez (Col) Acqua & Sapone 0:05:31
5 John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:05:54
6 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:05:58
7 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:05:58
8 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:05:58
9 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC 0:05:58
10 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Pro Team Astana 0:06:16
11 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:06:20
1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 83:34:25
2 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:05:18
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:06:14
4 John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:07:49
5 Joaquím Rodríguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:09:27
So Rodriguez has move into fifth after his ride today. He may struggle to hold onto that in tomorrow's TT.
Thanks for joining us today though and tune in tomorrow for the final stage of this year's Giro d'Italia.