It wasn't the kind of day where the race could be won, but it was certainly the kind of day where it could be lost. Michele Scarponi was the man who fulfilled that old truism on the Giro d'Italia's first real mountain stage to Montecopiolo, as the Astana man lost the coattails of the favourites and all hopes of overall victory, reaching the finish almost ten minutes down.
The auspices from the eve of battle had not been encouraging. Still suffering the effects of his crash on the road to Montecassino earlier in the week, Scarponi went straight to hospital in Foligno after the finish of stage 7 for a check-up on his injured hip.
No fractures showed up on the x-ray but the radiographer's report did little to assuage Scarponi's bruised morale. In the adrenalin of the moment at Montecassino, he had managed to limit his losses gamely to Cadel Evans (BMC), but the following morning at the team hotel in Ferentino, he walked into the dining room with the stiltedness of a knight in armour.
Scarponi began Saturday's stage in 17th place overall, 2:28 down, and as the Giro gruppo passed into his home region of the Marche, he must have hoped against hope that he could survive the inevitable cull on the first real mountain pass of the race, the Carpegna.
Instead, however, the steep, narrow ascent dealt out its verdict. Already lingering off the rear of the dwindling group of favourites at the summit of Marco Pantani's old training climb, Scarponi was distanced definitively on the next ascent, the rather more benign Villaggio del Lago, with 15 kilometres still to race.
By the time he reached the final haul to Montecopiolo, Scarponi trailed the other general classification favourites by five minutes, and in spite of the pacing of Paolo Tiralongo and Andrey Zeits, he continued to concede ground all the way to the top, cresting the summit 9:39 behind winner Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida).
"I tried but I wasn't able to save myself, I took a big blow the other day in the crash," a disappointed Scarponi said on crossing the summit."Honestly, I hoped I'd feel less pain but instead I felt too much to be able to stay with the best. I'm sorry because I had a very different Giro in mind."
After limiting the damage at Montecassino, Scarponi's hopes of a high overall finish in Trieste faded definitively on stage 8, and although he will be expected to serve as Vincenzo Nibali's lieutenant at the Tour de France in July, he looked to sound a defiant note about his prospects of completing the race.
"I hope so, and I want to thank all of the tifosi in my home region who helped through a very tough day," he said. "I'm disappointed because I didn't manage to limit the damage, but I hope to recover in the coming days."
The reins of leadership at the Astana team now pass to the young Sardinian Fabio Aru, who managed to stay with the Evans group until the summit of the climb and now lies in 5th place overall, 1:39 down on the Australian.
"It was a hard, hard stage. I managed to stay with the leaders but I had to suffer a lot," Aru said on the steps of the Astana bus in Villagrande, at the foot of the climb. "I'm very sorry for Michele, but he's still ourcaptain. I'll continue to go day by day because I'm young and I still have a lot to learn."
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