Wednesday was always going to be one for the opportunists, and sure enough, it was. But on this day, it was a relatively unknown Frenchman by the name of Christophe Le Mevel, who showed the mettle to launch a perfectly-timed counterattack two kilometres from the line, and sail away to his first pro stage win.
The 24 year-old Credit Agricole rider has already proven his worth as a climber, winning the mountains classification at the Tour de l'Avenir in 2003 and finishing third overall last year. However, Le Mevel's victory today, on a 200 kilometre-plus stage in the third week of a Grand Tour, has shown he has another arrow in his cycling quiver. And can only mean the start of more great things to come.
With Paolo Savoldelli's Discovery Channel team content to control the peloton for much of the day, who were quite clearly in no mood to race, it's status quo at the head of the classifica generale, before the race heads back into the mountains.
The two stages that follow will undoubtedly be decisive, but Stage 17 tomorrow could present a few surprises. Right now, there are a handful who still believe that overall victory in the 88th Giro can be theirs - so a box seat in the Cyclingnews airship is simply a must until the race concludes in Milano this Sunday.
How it unfolded
Very much a calm before the storm style stage, the sixteenth stage of the 2005 Giro had the word 'breakaway' written all over it, and after yesterday's rest day in Lissone, there were more than a few of the usual suspects.
Not surprisingly, it took three attempts before the plotone was ready to let a group go. The first began after less than 10 kilometres, gained a minute, and was shut down by km 50; the second started around km 66, took half a minute, and was all over by km 92.
But with two hours' racing completed an average speed of 44,9km/h, the bunch had to slow down, and the lull provided the perfect platform for the winning break. Shortly before the century mark, a group of 18 took off, never to be seen again.
The sizeable group soon built an equally sizeable lead, gaining five minutes in the space of 15 kilometres, and took the average speed of the race higher again, to 45,4km/h after three hours in the saddle.
At Casinelle (km 154), the base of the day's only climb to Bric Berton, which, with an average gradient of 3.2% over 16.5 kilometres, could be considered a very long false flat more than anything, the gap ticked over the 10-minute mark. Vanotti (Domina Vacanze), Addy Engels (Quick.Step), Frank Schleck (Team CSC), and two Christophes, Brandt (Davitamon-Lotto) and Le Mevel (Credit Agricole), were particularly active at the front, keen the reduce the break to a more manageable number; by the crest of the Bric Berton, only Kazakhstan rider Dmitriy Fofonov (Cofidis) made it across, creating a new lead group of six.
While it was all happening at the front, the gruppo maglia rosa was enjoying the sunshine, as Discovery Channel tapped away a tempo even the ciclitouristi could follow. For most, the destination of Varazze - the start town of the Primavera Rosa, the midway point of Milano-Sanremo, and the finish town for today - provided the perfect opportunity for those in the plotone to chew the fat all the way to this seaside village on the outskirts of Genova.
Youthful second-year pro, Alessandro Vanotti (Domina Vacanze) tried his luck shortly after the GPM, but his more experienced companions weren't letting him go anywhere, the 24 year-old Italian reeled in at the 188 kilometre mark. Quick.Step's Addy Engels was the next to have a dig, and again it was Vanotti who went after him, but they too were caught shortly after passing the 15km to go banner.
It became obvious there was still plenty of strength left in the dozen legs-a-spinning out in front, and if anything was going to happen, it would happen in the final few kilometres. Sure enough, over the next 10,000 metres, the sextet cagily watched each other for signs of weakness, soft-pedalling all the way to the Ligurian Riviera.
At 3km to go, talented Luxembourger Frank Schleck (Team CSC) hit out down the right-hand side, but the quintet quickly countered - though only to be caught out by a huge jump from Credit Agricole's Christophe Le Mevel, who skirted left, before hitting out with incredible force. And from that moment on, the others were fighting for second...
The 24 year-old Frenchman may not have had a win to his name in his four-year pro career, but he knew that was all about to change 500 metres from the line. Taking one look back just to be sure, Le Mevel then opened his arms wide, took his hands off the bars, and sailed across the finish line with a smile that seemed to stretch the entire width of the road.
His namesake Christophe Brandt (Davitamon-Lotto) followed nine seconds later, disgusted at himself for letting the Frenchman go, banging his fist in frustration. Domina Vacanze's Vanotti didn't give up trying, either, and came in for a well-deserved third.
Stage 17 - May 26: Varazze - Limone Piemonte (Colle di Tenda), 194 km
With only four stages remaining in the 88th Giro d'Italia, this stage could provide some surprises. After a short ride along the coastline, Stage 17 heads across the small, twisting roads of the Ligurian hinterlands, which is perfect terrain for attacking the maglia rosa.
After 131km, there is a steep seven kilometre climb up to Madonna del Coletta, then the long, gradual 30km ascent to the mountaintop finish in Limone Piemonte. Watch out for Di Luca's Liquigas Team to go full gas, as the ProTour leader attempts to claw back valuable seconds on 'Il Falco' Savoldelli.
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