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Today's stage takes us over 186 kms from Civitavecchia on the coast inland to Assisi. It is a rolling day – perfect for a break group to come through to the end!
Skirting the western edge of the Apennine ridge, the Giro meanders into Umbria, close to the geographical centre of the country. It will alight at wonderful, evocative Assisi, another classic central Italian fortress town which was the birthplace of St. Francis. Back in 1982 Bernard Hinault (three giri ridden, three won) blasted round a time trial win here.
We have one noticeable absentee today. Filippo Pozzato of Farnese Vini broke his hand in yesterday's crash and has had to abandon.
As far as we know, Pozzato is the only rider missing on this lovely day -- sunshine and 20°C.
The kick of the day is at the end: a 4km long climb up a cat. four climb, with a gradient up to 15%.
Once again, we have an early break group. These five riders took off after 10 km and already have a 1:50 gap: Bonnafond (Ag2r), Mínguez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Failli (Farnese Vini), Brandle (NetApp) and Keizer (Vacansoleil).
The Giro, Picarde and California are bringing about some big changes in the IG Pro Cycling Index. Philippe Gilbert is still number one, but Joaquim Rodriguez has moved up to second place. All the details here!
The gap is now up to 3:20.
We suspect the field will let this group go. Bonnafond is the highest ranked of the five. He is 79th at nearly 24 minutes down.
Apparently there was a big crash early on, with Perget (AG2R), Miguel Rubiano (Androni), Pierre Cazaux (Euskaltel), Brian Bulgac (Lotto Belisol) and Dario Cataldo (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) all involved. As far as we know, they are all ok and still riding.
Speaking of crashes ... What did Mark Cavendish have to say about that crash in yesterday's finale? “Well, another sprint chance gone due to a crash in last 400m. Got to the point of just shrugging my shoulders now. @TeamSky were great today”.
There is not a lot of flat today, and interestingly enough, what flat (or flattish?) there is, comes near the end. Before that closing climb, of course.
"It will be a very demanding transitional stage with lots of changes in rhythm. Sprinters won't stand a chance," is how NetApp Sport Director (and former maglia rosa wearer) Jens Heppner described today's stage.
As expected, the gap keeps on growing. It is now up to 4:35.
Let's take a look at that final climb up to Assisi. The climbing starts with about 3.95km to go and within the first km, hits that 15% section. At 2.4 km to go, there is a long descent, followed by – you guessed it – another ascent to the finish line. This one averages 8.5%, with one section of 10.8%. But it “flattens out” to only 5.6% on the run-in to the finish line.
As always, our look at some of the various rankings. Here is the GC coming into today's stage:
1 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Barracuda 32:23:25
2 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:09
3 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:15
4 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Astana Pro Team 0:00:35
5 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team
6 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:40
7 Damiano Caruso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:45
8 Dario Cataldo (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quickstep 0:00:46
9 Frank Schleck (Lux) RadioShack-Nissan 0:00:48
10 Eros Capecchi (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:52
And the points classification:
1 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team 65 pts
2 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling 55
3 Miguel Angel Rubiano Chavez (Col) Androni Giocattoli 36
4 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox 35
5 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 30
Mountains! Miguel Rubiano of Androni Giacattoli is still the best climber.
1 Miguel Angel Rubiano Chavez (Col) Androni Giocattoli 24 pts
2 Michal Golas (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quickstep 16
3 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team 9
4 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox 9
5 Cesare Benedetti (Ita) Team NetApp 7
And let us not forget the best young rider rankings:
1 Damiano Caruso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 32:24:10
2 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:00:08
3 Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Sky Procycling 0:00:25
4 Peter Stetina (USA) Garmin - Barracuda 0:00:38
5 Tom Jelte Slagter (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:41
After 50 km, the gap is at 4:50.
Taylor Phinney opened the Giro with a win in the first stage and the leader's jersey. Since then, things have been a bit tougher. He talked to Cyclingnews about it all.
So far no one rider had established himself as the top dog here. Most of the top favourites are with the top 15 or so, though. In fact, the top 13 riders are still within one minute of leader Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda).
Arnaud Demare of FDJ-Big Mat is tired. And sore. And still has about two more weeks of Giro to go. His first grand tour has been an eye-opener for the 20-year-old reigning U23 world champ.
Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol) has taken off on short-lived attacks near the end several times, including yesterday. Plus his teammate Brian Bulgac was in the day's break group. Hansen tweeted: “So yesterday our @Lotto_Belisol were in full attack, Today will be the same. We must do something in this lap of Italy they call the Giro...”
How did Fran Ventoso of Movistar come to win the stage yesterday? “I was lucky, it was risky but I took the right risks to win,” he said.
Damiano Cunego punctured. And Katusha is leading the chase of the five escapees. "Purito" Rodriguez is one of the favourites today, and they want to do all they can to help him get the pink jersey.
Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Barracuda may be better known as a climber, but is the pink jersey helping him develop into a sprinter as well? He has finished top ten in two sprints this year, including yesterday's.
Brian Bulgac of Lotto Belisol has been in break groups twice so far this Giro. And that despite a nasty crash which left him with an injured ankle.
Fabio Felline of Androni was second yesterday, and so frustrated at not being first.
So far we have had nine stages. Seven teams have won stages, with only Sky winning two. And only one rider has won two stages, Mark Cavendish. And five nations have been represented atop the podium when an individual has won, with Great Britain and Italy each claiming two stage wins.
The gap is down to 4:00 with 90km to go.
Four riders have worn the leader's pink jersey: Taylor Phinney, Ramunas Navardauskas, Adriano Malori and Ryder Hesjedal. Three riders have had the red jersey for the points ranking, with Phinney and Cavendish each wearing it a day before Matt Goss took it over on the third stage. and as for the mountains, Alfredo Balloni had it for two days before turning it over to Miguel Rubiano.
The gap continues to fall. With 85km to go, it is down to 3:40.
Eight riders are out of the race, and all from different teams. That means that BMC, Farnese Vini, Garmin-Barracuda, Lotto Belisol, Movistar, Rabobank, RadioShack-Nissan and Vacansoleil are all one man down.
We just had the day's intermediate sprint, and the points in the lead group went this way: Keizer ahead of Minguez, Brändle, Failli and Bonnafond.
There was still one place to be filled, and none other than Cavendish charged out of the field to take it.
A lovely sunny day, and the peloton is riding through a beautiful rolling landscapem with lush green fields.
Matt Goss is still in the red jersey and fortunately showing no sign of yesterday's contact with the tarmac.
Who do some of the Italian teams fear may end up winning this Giro? Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), that's who. They are keeping a careful eye on the Luxembourger.
Pozzato plans to be back in form for the Olympics after breaking a bone in his hand yesterday. He talks about it all in our updated story.
The gap continues to go in the downward direction, now at 2:20.
Balloni of Farnese Vini is spending a lot of time at the race doctor's car. Oh, looks like his right elbow is bleeding...
Ouch. William Bonnet of FDJ-Big Mat is showing the results of an earlier crash. We hope it looks worse than it actually ever was.
The gap is now down all the way to two minutes.
The quintet's lead may be shrinking rapidly, but they are still working well together.
Meanwhile, Katusha is determinedly leading the chase.
The road looks to be a bit more rolling now than before. But also nice and freshly paved.
The gap looks to have settle in around the two minute mark.
Katusha leading the way, and Liquigas not far behind. A few Garmins in between.
Beppu of Orica-GreenEdge drops back to the team car, indicating it is time for a drink.
The riders are surely enjoying the weather. Not too hot, no rain, in fact, they have lovely blue skies and those cute little fluffy white clouds.
50km to go! And the gap is 1:50.
They are all working their way up an unranked climb. One of many today.
The gap keeps creeping down, now under 1:15.
The peloton looks to still be together, no stragglers yet.
There's another race going on these days, we hear, over there "across the pond". Of course we have news of that, too. For example, UnitedHealthcare had a bad day yesterday with crashes and injuries.
The race is now passing through the interestingly named town of Bastardo. No comment.....
Ryder Hesjedal may not be at the very front of the race, but we spy that pink jersey safely tucked in the field.
34km to go and a gap of....... 1:21.
One more little bump to climb, then about 20 km more-or-less flat, and then the exciting finale!
But now suddenly the gap has fallen under a minute. And Stef Clement of Rabobank has jumped from the peloton.
Keizer and Brändle are out of the lead group. Clement catches them and they will try to hang on to him.
The Clement group is holding steady at about 30 seconds, while the gap to the peloton is growing ever so slightly, now at 1:22.
Euskaltel's Velasco has obviously made direct contact with the road today. We are seeing more of his thigh than is usual.
The gap from the three leaders to the Clement group is now only 17 seconds. The peloton is at 1:8.
The peloton is spread across the whole width of the road, with Garmin, Katusha, Liguigas and Astana all at the front.
The three in front are doggedly holding on to their slight lead.
A Lotto rider is back at the race doctor's car.
Only nine seconds between the first two groups now.
The three chasers have now caught the three leader.
The lead group is really turning on the speed. They seem to think they can stay away. But is that realistic?
The peloton passes under the 15km banner, 52 seconds back.
Garmin has now taken control of the peloton again. The gap is 42 seconds.
Brändle now leads the break group.
Meanwhile, pink jersey Hesjedal is fourth wheel in the chasing field.
10km and 21 seconds....
The field now has the escapees in sight.
The World Champ, Cavendish, is still in the peloton. But we doubt he will still be there at the end.
Scarponi appears to lean over and give Geraint Thomas of Sky a bit of a nudge.
RadioShack moves to the front. Will Schleck try something?
And Mr. Cavendish has dropped off the back.
Astana on the right, Sky on the left, leading the way.
And the escape group is no more!
The climbing is starting!
This road is now very narrow.
RadioShack-Nissan again at the head of things.
Now the climb has officially started.
A Colnago rider tries to attack, joined by a Liquigas. And now a GreenEdge.
Looks like a steep section here. The GreenEdge rider looks to be pulling away, slightly.
But he is caught, and a Rabobanker is the next to try.
He doesn't get away either.
Hesjedal is alone, but still near the front.
They are grinding their way up. No one is having fun right now.
Slagter of Rabobank tries it again.
They have accomplished the worst of the gradient an now have a small descent, before it goes up again.
Two riders have taken off on the descent. Uran of Sky and someone from AG2R.
The AG2R is of course John Gadrett.
They are now windng their way through the alleys of Assisi.
Gadret and Uran have been caught.
Tiralonga leads the way up to the finish line, but it is Slagter now, with a Katusha rider.
Who else but Rodriguez, together with Slager an a NetApp rider.
400 meters to go....
The trio has pulled away slight. This is so narrow!
Rodriguez pulls away and takes over the pink jersey!
What a dramatic ending. You really couldn't ask for a more incredible route through this city.
Huzarski of NetApp has taken second place. The little German team has certainly justified its wildcard invitation to this race.
Slagter was third.
Oops, we need new glasses. Not Slagter of Rabobank but Visconti of Movistar, they tell us.
Rodriguez does indeed take the overall lead. He has 17 seconds on Hesjedal in second, with Tiralongo third.
Here the top eight of the stage:1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 4:25:05 2 Bartosz Huzarski (Pol) Team NetApp 0:00:02 3 Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Movistar Team 4 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox 0:00:06 5 John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 6 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Barracuda 7 Tom Jelte Slagter (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 8 Dario Cataldo (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
And here, so you can actually read it:
1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 4:25:05
2 Bartosz Huzarski (Pol) Team NetApp 0:00:02
3 Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Movistar Team 0:00:02
4 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox 0:00:06
5 John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:06
6 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Barracuda 0:00:06
7 Tom Jelte Slagter (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:06
8 Dario Cataldo (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quickstep 0:00:06
And here the new top eight in GC:
1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 40:27:34
2 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Barracuda 0:00:17
3 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:32
4 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Astana Pro Team 0:00:52
5 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:52
6 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:57
7 Damiano Caruso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:01:02
8 Dario Cataldo (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quickstep 0:01:03
What a finish! Incredible. The racing was wonderful and the climb up through this ancient city was boggling. A real masterpiece.
Congratulations to Rodriguez for his well-deserved win.
Be sure to join us again tomorrow for more action!