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Two-man battle for pink goes to Italy

New race leader Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step)

New race leader Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) (Image credit: AFP)

For the second stage in a row, a breakaway stayed clear until the end in the Giro d'Italia, and this time CSF Group Navigare's Matteo Priamo won stage six from a group which gained 11'34" on the peloton. With race after race this season being decided from escapes, it begs the question, are bunch sprints going out of style? Sprinter extraordinare and maglia ciclamino Daniele Bennati led the group home, but his Liquigas squad, not wanting to defend Franco Pellizotti's leader's pink jersey at any cost, passed the responsibility on to Giovanni Visconti and his Quick Step team.

Even with the shortening of the marathon sixth stage, high temperatures and long transfers made for a weary peloton which didn't seem motivated to bring back the dozen men in front, allowing them a maximum of sixteen minutes lead. When it became clear the peloton would not close down even half that advantage by the end, the pressure to gain the maglia rosa fell on the two best placed riders in the breakaway: Gerolsteiner's 24-year-old Matthias Russ and the 25-year-old Italian champion Visconti, who began the day at 1'39" and 1'52" behind Pellizotti, respectively.

The cagey Italian took a six second bonus at the intermediate sprint in Manfredonia, closing the distance to pink down to seven seconds – a margin which Visconti would take back in the final 350 metres to tie with Russ on time. Visconti was awarded the leader's jersey, and was thrilled with the achievement, but said that it took a lot of hard work.

"This morning on the team bus all my team-mates were urging me to go for the pink jersey. The first two hours we kept up an intense rhythm as we tried to gain as much ground as possible on the group," Visconti explained. Averaging close to 50 kilometres per hour, the high speed of the leaders created a choice for the Liquigas team – and after about an hour, the decision was made to call off the chase, allowing the breakaway's advantage to balloon.

Once the gap was established, the fight for the pink jersey overtook the desire for stage glory. "There were two of us jockeying for first place in the standings," said Visconti, "me and the German rider Russ from team Gerolsteiner. He was glued to my back tire and at that point I was only trying to gain the margin necessary to wear the pink jersey. In the last 350 metres I gave it everything I had, trying to gain as many seconds as possible. Those were the fastest 350 metres I've ever ridden in my life."

Of course, Russ was as disappointed as Visconti was elated. "It is a shame, it was so close. I was fully focused on Visconti, because I knew that he was the most dangerous competitor for me. It is bitter, it would have been my greatest success so far to ride in the pink jersey. But I will try again tomorrow, " said Russ.

Gerolsteiner's director Christian Henn shared the rider's disappointment, saying that Russ rode an "almost perfect race". The race jury awarded Visconti the jersey using the fractions of a second from the team time trial – a margin which came down to the hundredths of a second, according to Henn. (See Classifications demystified for an explanation of tie-breaking rules.) With such a small gap, the maglia rosa is still within reach of the German. "I will try everything on Friday and attack," said Russ.

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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.