Powerful climbing by Steve Morabito (BMC Racing) on stage eight of the Giro d'Italia on Saturday was instrumental in ensuring that his leader Cadel Evans took hold of the maglia rosa at the summit of the Montecopiolo climb.
After leading a dwindling pack of favorites almost all the way up the six kilometre ascent, Morabito, 31, was strong enough to take 20th on the stage, 35 seconds back, and is now fourth overall behind Evans at 1:31. And whilst his last win dates back to the 2006 Tour de Suisse, the Swiss rider impressive show of climbing strength on Saturday certainly helped shape much of the outcome of the Giro 2014's first high mountains showdown.
BMC Racing would have preferred the 10-man break of the day to stick to the finish, he revealed afterwards, but when hard work by Ag2r-La Mondiale in the previous two climbs to the Montecopiolo pegged back the move, Evans team adopted their plan B: going for the lead themselves.
"The plan was to let a group get away and after the group had gone, we had no aim of getting the pink jersey," Morabito told a small group of reporters. "With 10 guys away and one of them at 3-50 [overall] it would have been easy to give them the jersey, but the other teams went flat out and we had to try to respond to that."
"But it's nice to have Cadel in pink, too, and it was good to be the last guy with him."
"Maybe when [BMC team-mate and fellow climber] Samuel Sánchez comes back [recovers] from his crashes, we'll have an even more solid team to defend the jersey. We're all ready to do as well as possible in this Giro d'Italia."
Rather than simply look at the results sheet from one day in the high mountains, Morabito says that the team will make a collective evaluation from the two stages in the Apennines this weekend and then decide what strategy they will apply when it comes to controlling their rivals on even more difficult climbs in the second and third weeks of racing.
"Today is not the best reference [point], everybody is still finding their place. We'll see what happens tomorrow as well and then work out from the two stages what we will do for the really difficult days," he said.
But in the Giro's first major mountain challenge, in any case, there can be no doubt Morabito personally passed the test of climbing form with flying colours.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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