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Welcome to our live coverage of stage 14 of the 2012 Giro d'Italia. We're heading for the Alps today in what has been touted as the toughest stage of the race so far. So stay with us throughout the afternoon on what could be a very significant day in the general classification.
Let's have a recap of stage 13 from yesterday:
STAGE 13 TOP TEN
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling 3:02:07
2 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha Team
3 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Rabobank Cycling Team
4 Sacha Modolo (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox
5 Elia Favilli (Ita) Farnese Vini - Selle Italia
6 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
7 Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
8 Lucas Sebastian Haedo (Arg) Team Saxo Bank
9 Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox
10 Manuel Belletti (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
Team Sky's Mark Cavendish took the win yesterday, his third of the Giro so far. It meant it consolidated his lead at the top of the points classification. If he can hang on to the lead and walk away with the red jersey it would give him the full set of Grand Tour points wins. Full report, results and photos from yesterday's stage right here.
The sun was shining at the start in Cherasco but there are warnings of rain later on, and even snow at the mountain finish at Cervinia later on. There'll be no hiding place in the finale in a few hours time.
20km in and the peloton is in tact. No breakaways yet. Probably a wise move with what lies in store later on...
On that note, let's have a look at the stage. It's 205km today. Pretty flat for the first 130km, before two huge climbs on the way to the finish in the famous Alpine resort of Cervinia. They aren't the steepest climbs of the Giro but their length - 22km and 27km respectively - will guarantee drama and pain in equal measure. More information on the stage right here.
After 13 stages Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) is still on top in the overall GC and in possession of the pink jersey. Yesterday's mass sprint didn't have a hufe effect on the GC, but here's the top ten ahead of today:
TOP TEN GC AFTER STAGE 13
1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 54:21:15
2 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Barracuda 0:00:17
3 Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:00:26
4 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:32
5 Ivan Santaromita (Ita) BMC Racing Team 0:00:49
6 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Astana Pro Team 0:00:52
7 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team
8 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:57
9 Damiano Caruso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:01:02
10 Dario Cataldo (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quickstep 0:01:03
Also, there's no time bonuses available today. Not at the finish and not for the intermediate sprints.
The big news this morning was that Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) has joined his fellow Aussie Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) in quitting the race. Both men cited Tour De France preparations their reasons. Read what Renshaw had to say right here.
Still no breakaways thus far...
The news of Goss withdrawing means Cavendish has a huge lead in the points standings. He is currently 51 points clear of Rodriguez.
Despite the lack of a breakaway and the looming climbs the riders have started fast - average speed so far is above 50km/h.
Here's the young riders classification after stage 13. Lots to play for here and today could shake things up quite a lot:
1 Damiano Caruso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 54:22:17
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 0:01:01
5 Tom Jelte Slagter (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:41
6 Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox 0:01:56
7 Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:03:45
8 Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team 0:12:04
9 Jon Izagirre Insausti (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:13:36
10 Geoffrey Soupe (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:18:48
At long last we have a breakaway group. Looks like Lotto Belisol's Olivier Kaisen has initiated it and that he's with six others. Waiting on confirmation...
Actually there's seven others with him. Full lead group: Kaisen, Jan Barta (NetApp), Andrey Amador (Movistar), Nelson Oliveira (RadioShack-Nissan), Matteo Montaguti (AG2R-La Mondiale), Nikolas Maes (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Alessandro De Marchi (Androni Giocattoli), Pierpaolo De Negri (Farnese Vini-Selle italia)
Gap is already at 4:25. That's some pretty fast work up front.
After Renshaw and Goss leaving the Giro, it's a relative Aussie fest of news today. Robbie McEwen is also making headlines. The Tour of California ends on Sunday, and so does his professional career. We've got a video of the Orica-GreenEdge rider's latest press conference here, where he talks about life after cycling.
Barta is the best placed rider in the leading group. He is currently in 54th position, over 14 minutes down on Rodriguez.
The gap is now approaching the six and a half minute mark.
Today's finishing town of Cervinia is a ski resort that's synonymous with jet setters and playboys. The riders will climb to an altitude of over 2000 metres before they cross the finish line.
Gap is up to eight minutes now. Peloton won't be too concerned. The huge climbs and forecast bad weather should play their part in bringing them back.
Speaking of the weather, race leader Joaquim Rodriguez had plenty to say about it yesterday. Read his comments here.
The leading group is a pretty inexperienced one. Oliviera, Maes, Barta and De Negri are making their Giro debuts this year. As they pass halfway, the gap is up to over nine minutes.
We're roughly 40km from the first big climb. The Col de Joux is 22.5km long, as discussed earlier, and has an average gradient of 7%. It will be punishing.
And the gap is now up to 11 minutes. Amador has been in good form recently. He was part of the breakaway group that dominted stage 12 and ended up making the podium. Can he do the same today?
Over in America, Sylvain Georges (AG2R-La Mondiale) won stage 6 of the Tour of California. Gamin-Barracuda's David Zabriskie leads the overall GC with two stages to go. Full report, pics and results here.
The leaders are now about 10km from the first climb. Gap between them and the peloton is now around the 12-minute mark.
The weather at the finish looks appalling. No snow there yet but very grey and wet. Cold too.
And the leaders are now at the first climb. Will they still be in tact when they reach the top?
And the heavens have just opened. Rain is pouring down.
Barta has dropped his rivals on the climb and is now ahead on his own.
De Negri, Montaguti and De Marchi are closing slightly on Barta. They still have 10km of the climb to go.
Cavendish has fallen behind the main peloton.
Liquigas are controlling the pace of the main peloton on the climb for Basso. No prospect of anyone attacking at this point.
OK - leaving you in the capable hands of Susan for the next few kms...
Susan here, and happy not to be on that rain-soaked mountainside.
With 53.5 km to go, Barta has 25 seconds over the four chasers: Montaguti, De Marchi, De Negri and Amador.
Oliveira, Kaisen and Maes are about another minute down, with the peloton at 10 minutes.
The field is plugging away in this nasty weather and if we can read faces, we would say that any number of riders are thinking, "there must be an easier way to make a living...."
Barta, 27, is a Czech rider in his third year with NetApp. He has brought in all three of the team's individual wins this year: the closing time trial in Coppi e Bartali as well as the overall title, and Rund um Köln. He was also, of course, on the team which won the team time trial at Coppi e Bartali.
A mechanical for a Farnese Vini rider. Didn't catch who it was.
It was Rabottini and he is now working his way back up through the team cars.
Liquigas is at the head of the field right now.
NetApp team manager Ralph Denk is driving the team car accompanying Barta.
With 46km to go, we have out first attacks out of the field. Jose Rujano of Androni is the first to go, followed by Damiano Cunego (Lampre).
And Barta can now claim the top points for this climb, as he soloes under the banner.
Barta (and the rest, of course) now face an 18km descent, followed immediately by the closing climb.
Jan Bakelants of RadioShack-Nian is the next to lose contact with the field. And Fränk Schleck is also slowly drifting back.
Rujano is pulling away from Cunego.
Looks like Barta is taking a lot of care on this descent. No wonder, when you consider the weather conditions and wet road.
Schleck is back in the field, by the way, and working hs way up. Rujano now crosses the mountain ranking, but we don't have a time gap.
Mark is back and ready to take up the final climb!
Thanks Susan. Looking forward to this finale. They're now on the final climb, which is a category 1.
The last time a Giro stage finished in Cervinia was back in 1997...
Host broadcaster keeps commenting on Amador's "ungraceful" riding style. It hasn't done him much harm so far.
Amador has gone to the front now. Attacking up the final climb. Can he last home? How much will his exploits in stage 12 on Thursday have taken out of him?
Amador is clear of the chasers by 50 seconds now. Cunego a further seven minutes back.
Cunego is too far behind to catch the leaders for the stage win. He is about two minutes up on the main peloton and if he can maintain his pace he will move up in the GC. Main problem is that he working alone.
In fact the projected GC puts Cunego into third place, if things stay like this.
It was (finally) a good day for AG2R yesterday with wins at Circuit de Lorraine and the Tour of California. It broke their duck for the season, which has lasted for almost six months. They say that things happen in threes - so should we be putting on our money on Montaguti?
20km to go for Amador. The gap remains pretty steady.
Marzio Bruseghin (Movistar) and Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) have joined Cunego to form a trio.
Liquigas pushing the pace on the main peloton. They have closed up, with the gap 7:26 to Amador.
Cunego and Bruseghin have now been dropped by Txurruka, who is on his own. De Marchi is closing in on Amador at the head of the field.
Peloton closing fast now. The breakaway riders are clearly tiring and no surprise after the two hugely long climbs. Gap down to 6:30.
Barta has sprung from the chasers. He's 25 seconds behind the leading duo.
Roads are looking slippery as the two leaders head towards Cervinia.
Gap between two leaders and the main peloton is now down to under five minutes as they continue up this huge climb. There's only 7.5km to go, but plenty of time left.
Barta has joined the leading duo. Peloton now less than four minutes down. It's going to be tight...
The leaders have just hit the steepest part of the climb. Their quads must feel like they're on fire.
Liquigas-Canondale's Sylvester Szmyd has been working hard at the front of the peloton but his work is now done.
Ivan Basso has now taken up the reins and is powering up the climb surrounded by fans running alongside him.
Gap is now down to the under two minutes. The leaders have got through the worst of the climb. And now Ryder Hesjedal attacks from the peloton.
Is Hesjedal going to reclaim the pink jersey? At this stage it looks like he might
And now his GC rivals Rodriguez, Scarponi and Pozzovivo make a move to close on the Canadian.
Superhuman effort here by Hesjedal. Almost eerie atmosphere amid the mist in the Alps.
Kreuziger has fallen off the main chase group
Less than a kilometre to go now. Sprint finish on the cards here between these three leaders. Smart money would be on Amador?
1 Amador 2 Barta 3 De Marchi 4 Hesjedal
Hesjedal will take over the pink jersey from Joaquim Rodriguez.
Just waiting on official results and general classification update. Will post as soon as we have them.
Amador has taken the win, but the two big heroes of the day must be Barta and Hesjedal. Barta for his bravery in fighting his way back to the front in the most gruelling was possible, Hesjedal for getting his tactics absolutely spot on with his late attack to reclaim the pink jersey.
Hearing rumours that points leader Mark Cavendish might not finish the race. More when we get it.
Rigoberto Uran (Sky) has taken over the best young riders jersey.
TOP 10 - STAGE 14
1 Andrey Amador Bakkazakova (CRc) Movistar Team 5:33:36
2 Jan Barta (Cze) Team NetApp
3 Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli 0:00:02
4 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Barracuda 0:00:20
5 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:46
6 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling
7 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team
8 Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
9 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD
10 John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
GC AFTER STAGE 14
1 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Barracuda 59:55:28
2 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:09
3 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:41
4 Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:01:05
5 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:01:06
6 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Astana Pro Team 0:01:07
7 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team
8 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:01:19
9 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:01:20
10 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox 0:01:21
That's all for today's live coverage of stage 14. We'll have all the reaction, results and photos right here when it filters through. Join us tomorrow for stage 15 and the formidable Valcava climb - the riders are in for another tough afternoon on two wheels.