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Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage from the Giro d'Italia. It's stage 17, the first test into the Dolomites, and with four mountain passes to overcome the race will see fireworks with the top GC contenders set to do battle on the legendary Passo Giau.
Welcome back to our coverage from the most beautiful race in the world, it's stage 17 of the Giro and a stellar day is in store with four serious climbs, and some very tricky descents. The riders have just left the start for the 186km stage to Cortina d'Ampezzo.
Here's where we stand in GC, with the top 15 riders bunched together.
1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 69:22:04
2 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Barracuda 0:00:30
3 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:01:22
4 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:01:26
5 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Astana Pro Team 0:01:27
6 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:01:36
7 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:42
8 Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Sky Procycling 0:01:55
9 Dario Cataldo (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quickstep 0:02:12
10 Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:02:13
11 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:02:56
12 Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:03:16
13 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox 0:03:17
14 Johann Tschopp (Swi) BMC Racing Team 0:03:24
15 John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
For a video preview of today's stage click here. Michael Barry from Sky and Daniel Lloyd will take you through the stage profile, as well as give an insight into how to descent as a pro rider.
Into the Dolomites proper with a humdinger over four passes. They’ll begin with Falzarego, one of the climbs immortalized by Fausto Coppi, then wade into Passo Duran and the Forcella Staulanza. All of which are legendary and brutally hard, but the real pain is to be found on the last climb of the day, the heinous Giau. Though the shortest of the bunch at “just” 12 kilometres, it’s gradients are never less then punishing. With an average height gain of 9.9% it will conclude a 4,500 metre climbing day which may well decide the outcome of the race. This is the stuff of Giro legend, so even if you can’t be there in person make sure you tune in, turn on and drop out.
“It’s the Dolomite tappone, the big one. The Giau has a great history with the Giro, and that’s because it’s so hard. It has sections of 14% or so, but the real issue is that it doesn’t give you any respite; it’s never less than 7-8%. Therefore it’s normally the climb itself that makes natural selections. Thereafter they descend into Cortina, but in reality very few make up the difference there.”
Included as part of the tappone to Gardeccia-Val di Fassa this year, the Passo Giau takes centre stage in 2012 and is just a short 17km descent from the finish in Cortina. The Dolomite town has itself hosted four Giro stage finishes in the past, including a victory from Fausto Coppi in 1948 after an attack on the Passo di Monte Croce.
Last year, the Giau featured on the toughest stage of the race to Gardeccia, but with Alberto Contador already safely ensconced in pink and with two more passes still to come, there was little movement among the big names. Its positioning this time around should ensure that the likes of José Rujano (Androni Venezuela), and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) are more active, while the 17km plunge to the finish in Cortina d’Ampezzo will also provide thrills of its own. Vincenzo Nibali forged clear here last time, it remains to be seen who will take up the Sicilian’s baton on the descents in his absence, although his Liquigas teammate Basso might view this finale with some trepidation.
If the favourites are all together at the top of the final climb, it could be the perfect place to isolate Basso and put him under pressure on the descent. He's not the best when going downhill at speed, and the likes of Scarponi will fancy their chances of dropping him there. Both riders needs to make up time, Scarponi more so and neither can really wait any longer before showing their hand.
We've around 50km of flat to gradually uphill roads to start with, likely territory for a break to form. A number of teams have yet to win a stage in this year's race so there's some pressure on. Rabobank, they're having a torrid time of it. While Gesink was able to lay down the law in California the Dutch team have struggled here. Theo Bos pulled out of the race this morning, meaning they're down to just 4 riders.
Bos isn't the only rider to miss today's start. Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky) and Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge have also pulled out of the race.
Cortina d’Ampezzo has hosted five stage finishes in the past: In 1939, won by Secondo Magni; in 194, won by Fausto Coppi; in 1951, won by Luison Bobet; in 1955, won by Angelo Conterno; and in 1977, won by Giuseppe Parletto.
As for today's weather: The stage started under cloudy skies and temperatures of 17 degrees centigrade. Similar conditions are expected in Cortina d’Ampezzo.
Today of course marks the year anniversary since Xavier Tondo passed away. The Spaniard died in a freak accident at his home in Granada. The Movistar team will be especially motivated to ride with their hearts today and pay their respects to their friend.
25kms covered in today's stage and the peloton is all together.
Pressure on Basso today. He's been getting some heat in the press for his team's tactics in the opening first two weeks but he's still in contention for the win.
He's coming towards the end of his career now but still fancies another two or three Giri. He first came to attention - on a world stage - at the worlds in Zolder in 1998, winning the road race in the U23 category. He attacked with a South African rider, I cant remember his name, who pulled a foot out of the pedals. Anyway Basso went onto to win, with teammates Nocentini and Di Luca taking the silver and bronze medals.
Hesjedal sits 2nd on GC after two strong weeks in the race. He's finished in the top ten at the Tour (in 2010), finishing ahead of Rodriguez in fact but this is a different proposition and the Canadian is in with a strong chance of finishing in the podium.
Like for a lot of his GC contenders, today will be the truest indication yet of his credentials. He's got one of the best time trials but he's gone from being very good, to a little bit wobbly in the mountains so far in the race.
We've had a few attacks from the front of the bunch but nothing has stuck yet. Perhaps the first climb of the day will be the tipping point for the break to succeed.
Remember the South African rider I couldn't remember? Well someone has just emailed in. ..
That south african was non other than Robert Hunter. I clearly remember as I was manager of SA national team at that worlds....would have been a different result otherwise....:-)
Meanwhile, we have a break and will bring you the names as quickly as we can.
Matteo Rabottini (Farnese-Vini), Branislau Samoilau (Movistar), Kevin Seeldraeyers (Astana), Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r-La Mondiale), and Jose Serpa (Androni).
They have roughly a minute on the bunch. There were a number of counter attacks but they were quickly brought back. If that five can push clear they could do some damage, there's some decent climbers in that little mix.
The five have 2 minutes on the bunch and the road is starting to gently point upwards.
Rabottini of course won a thrilling stage 15 a few days ago and is clearly in good spirits and form. He's had a rest day, and yesterday's stage to recover but he'll be a marked man today. Surely he can't pull off the same trick twice?
Serpa, a former winner of Langkawi and at Genting Heights is also here. A strong climber on his day he can certainly impress when the road points to the sky.
For me Seeldrayers is probably the most interesting rider in the break. It's hard to imagine that he's still just 25, but in 2009 he was the best young rider in the Giro, finishing in the top 15 overall.
Since then he's failed to deliver on the grand tour platform and he's being used as a domestique so far in the race. Astana clearly have a plan, throwing a rider up the road for Kreuziger to possibly use later on. It also means that they wont have to chase the break later in the race.
Four minutes, roughly, for our five leaders.
Samoilau is similar to Seeldrayers. The Movistar rider was an excellent u23 rider, winning Liege and a stack of other races. He almost made the top 20 in his first Giro in 2007 but he's not really kicked on since then. A fine team player, and with a few placings in week-long stage races, he's yet to fulfil his potential in grand tours. Like the Belgian, he's still relatively young, at 26.
I know very little about Montaguti, it has to be said, other than he's an Italian on a French team. AG2R seem happy to throw him into the Giro and the Vuelta every year though. A solid domestique, with a track background, so probably the weakest climber in the break today.
He'll go and win now, won't he...
The leaders are working well together under the blue sky. They're onto the first climb of the day, the Passo Valparola.
The peloton are on the climb as well now and they're not hanging around. Euskaltel, who missed the break, have put their men on the front, while up ahead our brave five continue to work together.
Rodriguez looks fairly comfortable with the pace for now. Today's a major test of his credentials as, while the autobus is starting to form, with a number of riders dropping off the back and looking around.
Montaguti is doing more than his fair share of work in the break at the moment, the leaders are closing in on the top of the climb.
Rabottini leads the mountains competition and will be looking to make the jersey secure today. He takes maximum points over the top, as his colleagues take the chance to put on some warmer clothes.
It's now a long, steep decent down towards Caprile where the feedzone is situated. We're seeing some fantastic scenery as the break begin their journey down the climb.
Meanwhile the bunch plough on. They're down to around 60-70 riders already, although plenty of riders will make contact on the descent.
The bunch go over the top, the gap to the break at 4'17. It would have been much higher had Euskaltel not worked so much.
Gadret told Eurosport this morning that he was 'going to dynamite the race'.
That would be exciting to watch. He's lost a few minutes in the race already but he had such a strong race in the final week last year and these long gruelling climbs will suit him.
Just over 100 kilometres remaining as we watch the break take a few risks on the descent.
Bruseghin and Carrara have nipped off the front of the bunch on the descent.
The Euskaltel team are clearly motivated after their stage win yesterday, and continue to set the pace.
The peloton pass through the feedzone with 89km to race. The men in orange continue their work while the Liquigas team hover around Basso.
The gap is under 4 minutes, now at 3:50.
We've mentioned Rodriguez but his team are under just as much pressure today. They'll be hoping that Liquigas once again take up the reins and lead the bunch over the next two climbs but if Rodriguez is put under pressure his team will have to be attentive.
Euskaltel continue to do all the work, they've put all their men on the front, although the gap has gone back out and now stands at 5 minutes.
The Cavendish group, which was dropped earlier on the the first climb have made their way back to the peloton.
77km to race and we're closing in on the Passo Duran. This is where the GC contenders will really start to watch each other, who looks strong, who looks like they're struggling? From there it will be a pure and simple selection process and by the time we get to the foot of the second last climb we'll see who can really win this year's Giro because the way Euskaltel are riding now the bunch are unlikely to sit up once they reach the Duran.
The gap is down to 3:36 with 73km to race.
Liquigas have moved closer to the front and Scarponi is paying attention and moves up, sitting behind Ivan Basso.
Rabottini, meanwhile, changes bike. So the break are on the footsteps of the Duran.
This climb will test some legs, it's 12.2km in length, with an average gradient of 8.1% but some pitches reach 14%.
Our five leaders are still together but their lead is down to 2:42.
Rider after rider are being dispatched from the back of the bunch as Euskaltel carry on setting the pace.
In some ways this nullifies Astana having a man up the road. They would never chase under these circumstances anyway but they're still having to stay near the front and keep their leaders protected.
We've talked about pressure and we've talked about how hard today could be but in reality it's going to be tough for every rider out there, it's just a case of how deals with the pressure and pain in the best manner.
Vande Velde has a puncture and needs a new wheel. He'll be key for Hesjedal's stage.
As Liquigas move up, already and start setting the pace. Can Basso turn the screw?
This will stop a few of the pocket rocket climbers from attacking for now. Basso simply wants to keep things together for as long as possible but he's already running out of teammates.
Vande Velde is coming back through the bunch to the leaders.
Scarponi is marking Basso. He's been on his rival's wheel since the start of the last descent.
The gap to the break is 2 minutes but Montaguti has been dropped.
Ballan has been dropped from the bunch. He's been quiet in his Giro debut. Just one attack that I can remember.
Basso has three teammates left.
Liquigas are isolating Rodriguez though, a number of his teammates being pinged off the front.
Off the back rather.
The maglia rosa has just one teammate with him, Basso has three.
Scarponi looks to be on his own though with Cunego a bit further back in the bunch.
Rujano has been dropped already.
But up ahead, his teammate, Jose Serpa leads the break.
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But back in the race Euskaltel have attacked with two riders.
Nieve has been launched up the road. There are still 62 km to race, another 3,4 km to top of this climb. That's a brave move to go so early.
Up ahead Rabottini is leading the break but his head and shoulders are rocking all over the place.
Nieve won a stage in the race last year into Gardeccia-Val di Fassa and he's around 4 minutes down on GC this year.
The Spaniard cuts the gap to 1:16 to the break so he could catch them before the top of the Duran.
Gadret is back with the team car, making an alteration to his jersey.
The break are 3km from the top of the climb.
Nieve has 30 seconds on the bunch
Liquigas have pulled the gap to the break to 1:31 but Nieve has nearly a minute on the bunch. Euskaltel are opening the race up.
Liquigas will have to take note of Nieve's and they're starting to claw back time on the Spaniard.
Rabottini comes to the front of the break again as he's looking for more KOM points while the bunch are strung out behind.
The Farnese rider leads over the top of the climb. Nieve crests the top 31 seconds later.
Basso is down to two teammates, Hesjedal on the Italian's wheel.
The bunch head over the Duran, with dry roads ahead of them, with the gap at 1:15 to the break, around 36 seconds to Nieve.
Nieve is closing on the break but the bunch are closing on him too.
There's been a crash, Larsson has hit the ground on a tight corner on the descent and goes into the barrier. He looks a little sheepish but he's back on and chasing.
Liquigas are setting a fast pace on the descent here, which is going to cause havoc on these tight, technical roads. The break has splintered with Seeldrayers ahead and on his own.
Nieve looks so relaxed that it's hard to tell if he's at full tilt or sitting up.
Seeldrayers continues alone on the descent, taking a few risks on the corners. It looks as though Nieve is now the next rider on the road, the rest of the initial break having sat up. 50km to go.
Nope Nieve is just coming to the remnants of the break now.
Nieve and the stragglers with him has a minute on the bunch. Rabottini has sat up.
The next climb, the Forcella has started with Seeldrayers starting the lower slopes alone and with 20 seconds on the next group. Nieve is doing all of the work as you might expect.
The lone Astana leader calls for the team car, gets a bottle and that should be all the time Nieve needs to close the gap.
And the junction has been made and we now have four leaders. Nieve is riding as if he's on his own and isn't even asking for any help. His group have 1:12 on Liquigas who have taken their foot off the gas a little, allowing them to regroup on the front of the peloton.
Rodriguez is now on his own, without any teammates. The gap to the Nieve group is down to 30 seconds.
The maglia rosa group is down to less than 30 riders
The break is coming back to the peloton.
It looks like Vande Velde has lost contact, Serpa has been dropped as well.
That means Androni dont have a single rider in the lead group.
Basso has two men, Scarponi as well. Hesjedal is on his own, so is Rodriguez.
The 25 maglia rosa group is down to just 25 riders.
Oh dear, Roman Kreuziger is off the back and dropped. That's surely curtains for his podium chances as up ahead Liquigas increase the pace.
The Astana leader is being paced back through the cars, maybe this is just a blip, but it doesn't look good.
Tiralongo has stayed with the leaders.
Scarponi is well placed, he's not used Cunego or his other teammate yet.
Just under 2 km until the summit of the climb.
The maglia rosa looks comfortable and it looks like Roman Kreuziger is cooked.
The Astana leader is around 100 meters back. He'll get back on the descent but the Giau will surely be too much for him.
Farnese have a man on the front, probably to take up some points for Rabottini.
Liquigas lead on the descent. They've been on the front for the last 40km but it will count for nothing if Basso can't press home the situation on the final climb.
Roman Kreuziger dives down the descent but Liquigas will be giving it everything to make sure he can't get back on.
Sylvester Szmyd has been kept under wraps all day but Basso has moved him forward. Can Scarponi count on Cunego to play a similar role?
We're nearly onto the lower slopes of the climb. The Passo Giau. 9.9km, with pitches of 14%.
If you want to win the Giro you have to make today's stage count and you have pull out a performance. All the favourites are here apart from Kreuziger.
There are less than 30km to go.
Cunego is the rider marking Basso. I'm not sure what he'll be able to do with the really punchy climbers open the race up on the main climb.
And we're onto the climb.
Liquigas 1,2, 3, at the front.
Scarponi and Basso together.
Hesjedal is there too along with Rodriguez.
Kreuziger is still on the descent.
Sylvester Szmyd has a problem with his bike and has to stop.
That's a blow for Basso but Scarponi has to keep his cool, Rodriguez too.
So Basso just has one man on the front of the bunch. Will that force him to change tactics?
Moreno from Katusha is dropped.
Scarponi is right on Basso's wheel. They're all looking at each other as they twist around another hairpin.
It's so tense. It's the first real mountain stage and they all know how important it is.
We're on the lower slopes and more and more riders are being dropped. There goes De Gendt.
Cunego looks weak and is slipping back.
Ryder H on Scarponi's wheel. He'll like the steady pace..
And Gadret blows, Tiralongo too. They're all over the road.
And now Basso is on his own and leading the group.
We;re down to less than 9 riders though.
We've still 7km to go until the top of the climb.
No one will help Basso but his pace seems good enough to keep them all in check for now. Caruso was Basso's last man.
Henao is dropped now.
It look s like 6 riders in the Basso group. Basso, Scarponi, Ryder, Pozzovivo, Uran. Rodriguez
Cunego has been dropped too.
Basso looks around he wants some help from the others but no one will help him.
Basso increases the pace again. He's doing a good job at the moment.
Scarponi look s back to see what damage has been done but Basso just keeps pushing away on the pedals.
The Garmin rider looks over to the maglia rosa to see how the Katusha rider is doing.
Around another hair pin and Basso continues to control the pace.
They all look able to keep up with the Liquigas leader though.
Will someone attack?
And Hesjedal has attacked. 23 to go and the Canadian has gone.
He's brought back by Basso.
Basso gives Scarponi a good old fashioned stare.
Basso again moves to the front of the group to restore some kind of order.
Scarponi looks to be suffering but he's glued to Basso's rear wheel. Rodriguez is getting a free ride at the moment.
Basso again ups the pace but it's not enough to create any gaps. Rodriguez looks very good at the moment.
And Pozzovivo is back with his team car.
And Uran takes up the pace with a little dig. Basso drifts back.
Hesjedal now moves to the front of the group.
They're all watching each other again and Basso moves to the other side and increases the pace. I think that's because Nieve is coming back.
Nieve is closing very quickly. He's about 20 meters back.
That's a great ride from Nieve to come back into contention. Gadret is also closing on the leaders too.
Basso grits his teeth and ups the pace and the gap to Nieve increases again. Basso needs to think about pink not about Nieve.
Rodriguez is at the back of the group and keeping out of trouble. He'll be happy enough with the stage so far, and might even attack as we close in on the top of the climb.
Inside the last 3km of the climb and Basso ups the pace, getting out of the saddle for the first time.
20km to go. So less than 3km to go until the top of the climb. Nieve is closing again.
Scarponi takes up the pace setting as we move closer to the top of the Passo Giau.
No one has been able to attack. We've had one dig from Hesjedal , one from Uran and a lot of pace setting from Basso. They're all on the rivet.
And Scarponi is struggling now. Pozzovivio moves up and increases the pace with 500 to go.
Scarponi is losing some ground.
The Colnago climber is dropping the defending champion.
Scarponi is losing more ground, it's maybe 40 meters.
Uran has also been dropped.
So Basso, Pozzovivo, Rodriguez and Basso crest the top together. Scarponi will have to chase hard now.
He should get back on but mentally that will damage the Lampre leader.
Meanwhile Nieve and Gadret are riding together.
Scarponi can see the cars ahead of him so he's closing in on the leaders.
Hesjedal is doing the work on the descent and he'll want to make this as hard as possible for Scarponi to come back.
Scarponi is coming back to Uran but up ahead there's a real battle because Hesjedal is using all his skills to drop the others. Rodriguez comes around Basso.
Hesjedal and Rodriguez are are dropping Basso.
Scarponi isn't making much of an impression on the leaders yet. He's 20 seconds back and it looks like he's not chasing. He's got cramp!
Meanwhile the four leaders have re-formed.
And Basso takes over the pace setting on the descent.
Scarponi is at 29 seconds now.
8km to go and there's the slightly uphill finish too. Rodriguez surely the favourite for the stage.
A slight uphill section and it looks like Uran is coming back so we could have 5 riders in the lead group now.
7km to go.
Scarponi coming back? The gap is 19 seconds.
13 seconds now.
Scarponi cuts another second off the gap so it's down to 12.
7 seconds and that's a great recovery from the Lampre rider. He looked down for a few km ago.
And Scarponi is back, so we're up to 6 riders again.
And Basso attacks, Hesjedal chases.
1km to go
It's going to be a straight out sprint.
Rodriguez at the very back of the group.
Basso still leads with 500 to go.
Basso comes over the top.
But Rodriguez come around him and takes the win. Basso has to settle for second, Hesjedal 3rd.
The chase group containing De Gendt and Cunego comes over the line 1:21 back.
Tiralongo is inside the final 1km. His GC aspirations are probably over now. There's still no sign of Roman Kreuziger.
It looks like Uran took 4th. Scarponi 5th.
Scarponi lead out but Rodriguez was so good he could afford to start right at the back and make sure he had not complications in the sprint.
1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 5:24:41
2 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:00
3 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Barracuda 0:00:00
4 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:00:00
5 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:00:00
6 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox 0:00:02
7 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:22
8 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:01:22
9 Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:01:22
10 Johann Tschopp (Swi) BMC Racing Team 0:01:22
General classification after stage 17
1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 74:46:46
2 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Barracuda 0:00:30
3 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:01:22
4 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:01:36
5 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:02:56
6 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 0:03:04
7 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox 0:03:19
8 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:04:13
In the end, after an exciting stage, we've not seen who will win the Giro but we've certainly seen who will lose it. The big losers of the day, Androni and Astana, who saw both their main men lose contact. Gadret another man who has lost more time but the maglia rosa will be the happiest rider, having taken the stage and defended his lead overall in the race.
Thanks for joining us today. You can find results, images and a report, right here.