Bertolini takes first Giro stage after 16 years

Race leader Visconti hangs tough on journey into Emilia Romagna

After 16 years as a professional, Alessandro Bertolini has won his first ever stage in the Giro d'Italia. The 36 year-old Italian, whose main job is to defend Serramenti PVC team leader Gilberto Simoni, was part of a five-man escape that dominated a wet and demanding stage to Cesena in Italy's Emilia Romagna region.

"I had freedom in this stage and the team indicated this yesterday," said Bertolini. "I am happy that it worked; the team gave me trust, [team manager] Savio and Simoni. The plan was to get into an escape, if maybe Gilberto was solo I would be able to drop back and help him."

In the final kilometre Bertolini accelerated from his two companions, Spain's Pablo Lastras (Caisse d'Epargne) and Italy's Fortunato Baliani (CSF Group Navigare), as the latter crashed with around 650 metres remaining due to a lapse in concentration.

"I hit a step in the curve and I crashed; I was not able to fight for the win," said Baliani of the incident that took him out of contention and opened the door for Bertolini. "I spent a lot of energy to enter into the escape, I worked along with Tiziano [Dall'Antonia], but then in the end I crashed with 500 metres remaining."

The race favourites used the climbs that dotted the 199-kilometre route to test one another, particularly Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes) and local rider Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott). The pair succeeded in distancing some of their rivals, including overall race leader Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step), but in the closing 11.5-kilometre loop of Cesena, hometown of the late Marco Pantani, most of the favourites came back together.

Visconti maintained his grasp on the maglia rosa despite being involved in a crash at 27 kilometres remaining with Levi Leipheimer (Astana), mountain leader Emanuele Sella (CSF Group Navigare), Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Scott) and Christian Pfannberger (Barloworld). The race leader headed to the hospital following the stage to have X-rays on his left elbow and right wrist.

"I knew right away that it was an off day," stated an exhausted Visconti. "I was having nausea and stomach problems this morning and that is why I was dropped immediately. I have to thank Bettini and Tonti for pulling so hard for me today." Several hours later, the X-rays showed no broken bones and it was reported that Visconti will start tomorrow's stage from Forlì to Carpi.

Danilo Di Luca was not pleased with the day, one that he thought brought with it too many risks. "It was a stage without sense because the climbs were far from the finish and too short to make the difference. It was very risky," he said

Di Luca's LPR Brakes team turned up the gas on the Monte Carpegna ascent with 91.4 kilometres remaining, leaving the peloton was shattered over the rain soaked roads, with just favourites Simoni, Andreas Klöden and Alberto Contador (Astana) and Riccò able to follow the acceleration.

However, other riders were able to work their way back over the following kilometres, despite a vicious move by Riccò on the Sorrivoli climb, which topped out at 24.2 kilometres remaining.

"It was a stage that I wanted to try on, but it did not unfold favourably," Riccò lamented. "The climbs were too far away from the finish to make a difference." Saunier Duval directeur sportif Pietro Algeri agreed "We did not want to risk sliding and crashing today," he said.

Riccò may have been frightened by the news of team-mate Piepoli's crash, with Saunier Duval has reporting that Piepoli, who suffered cuts on the left side of his face, is seeing the team doctor after which a decision will be taken on whether he must go to hospital for further attention.

Another of the overall race favourites, Italian Franco Pellizotti, was involved in a crash at nearly the same time as his Liquigas team-mate Dario Cataldo, but was reported to be without injuries.

Germany's Matthias Russ (Gerolsteiner) lost contact with the peloton and fell from second overall, allowing stage seven winner Gabriele Bosisio (LPR Brakes) to move into the spot. In third is the first of the race's expected overall contenders, Tour de France champion Alberto Contador. The riders will face what is expected to be a sprinters' stage tomorrow, 172 kilometres from Forlì to Carpi.

How it unfolded

The start of the stage was at 12:08 and most riders would have preferred to do another rest day, as it was raining heavily. Three riders did indeed not take to the start, but for various other reasons: Andrea Moletta (Gerolsteiner), Geert Steurs (Silence - Lotto) and Francesco Bellotti (Barloworld) were listed as DNS for the day.

The pace started out brisk – even without attacks the riders rode hard to keep warm in the dismal conditions. AG2R was driving the pace in the beginning. Later, it was Tinkoff and Rabobank. The wet roads caused a first crash at kilometre 26, when Mauro Santambrogio (Lampre) and Serguei Klimov (Tinkoff Credit Systems) hit the deck.

At kilometre 29, when the riders were heading towards the climb of Tavoleto, Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne) attacked. He was only 18 seconds ahead, but by kilometre 33 was joined by David Millar (Slipstream Chipotle Presented By H30). However, the two could not stay away, while Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) was fighting some technical issues with his racing machine.

At kilometre 42, a new attack formed with Laurent Mangel (AG2R), Pablo Lastras (Caisse d'Epargne), Tiziano Dall'Antonia (CSF Group Navigare), Jussi Veikkanen (Française des Jeux), and Alessandro Bertolini (Diquigiovanni). They quickly gained a minute on an undecided peloton. The average speed after the first hour of racing was 42.7 km/h.

After less than 50 kilometres, Santambrogio retired from the race due to his crash injuries. At kilometre 48, the gap between the five leaders and the bunch was already 2'40. The peloton was now content to let the five go ahead, and the lead extended to 7'10 by kilometre 54 and to 8'10 by kilometre 61.

When the five came over the top in San Marino, they still had a gap of 7'38. After the second hour of racing the average speed had dropped to 36.4 km/h, thanks to the hilly terrain.

The gap went back up and at kilometre 80 it was 9'10. Ten kilometres later they had reached the maximum lead of the day, 9'20. With a dozen kilometres to go before the summit of the Monte Csarpegna, the lead started to drop a little, going below the nine-minute mark.

During the climb, Rik Verbrugghe (Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone) and Barloworld's GC hopeful Mauricio Soler retired from the race. The Colombian has been suffering from pain in his arm after crashing on stage two.

Danilo Di Luca took it in his own hands to start the action and he caused an initial gap, with riders like Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval - Scott), Andreas Klöden (Astana), Gilberto Simoni (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli) and Alberto Contador Velasco (Astana) being attentive. But the acceleration quickly reduced the gap to five and a half minutes.

By the time the break made it over the top, they had only a good five minutes left. After the third hour of racing, the average speed was 34.300 km/h. The quick pace up the hill dropped many riders and several small groups came over the top. At 7'18, the leader of the race, Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step), crested the top.

After 120 kilometres, a group of 21 riders with all the favourites was 5'25 behind the leaders, while the maglia rosa group was 7'45 behind.

The descent in the rain proved to be as dangerous as expected. First, it was Alessandro Bertolini (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli) and Tiziano Dall'Antonia (CSF Group Navigare) who crashed (km 121), but the other three waited and three kilometres later they were five in the front again.

Dario Cataldo was the next to go down, and had a bloody elbow to prove it. With 75 kilometres to go, the gap of the now 34-man group to the five front runners was 5'40. The main bunch was 7'52 behind.

The mountains kept the average speed in check and after four hours of racing, it was 33.4 km/h. In the mean time, Gabriele Bosisio (LPR Brakes) and Fortunato Baliani (CSF Group Navigare) were trying to bridge up to the front group and at kilometre 137 were only 2'15 behind, two minutes ahead of the first big chase group.

In the maglia rosa group, Matthias Russ (Gerolsteiner), lying in second overall, lost contact. After the category two Perticara, the two big chasing group merged again.

At kilometre 143, Bosisio and Baliani were only 55 seconds behind the leaders. But in the wet descent, Bosisio crashed in a left hand turn and waited to wait for the next group. At the time, he was riding in the maglia rosa virtuale.

After 152 kilometres Baliani made it to the front group, after an incredible solo effort. The Expo 2015 sprint at kilometre 153 was won by Veikkanen, ahead of Baliani and Mangel.

With 40 kilometres to go, Lastras decided to try his luck on his own for a second time and left the break. Yet again, he was quickly brought back. Liquigas was leading the chase behind, while Bettini suffered a flat tyre, but was quickly back in the peloton.

Riccò was the first to go on the lower slopes of the Monte Leone, with a little more than 30 kilometres to the finish. Di Luca, Klöden and Contador were quick to react, while others took their time. Over the top, a 20-strong group was about 20 seconds ahead of a Bettini-led peloton.

As Bosisio was caught, Rabobank's Mauricio Ardila Cano took a flyer, but he was stopped short by a crash in a left hand turn. In a separate incident, several high-profile names went down. Pfannberger, Piepoli, Leipheimer, Visconti and Sella were among the victims, but all were good to continue after the initial shock was over.

At kilometre 175, Baliani accelerated, with the others glued to his wheel, but it was again Lastras, who tried his luck – his fourth or fifth attack of the day. He did manage to get over the top first, but was not able to get away. Savoldelli was leading the chasers, with two groups of a half dozen riders merging on the descent.

The last mountain proved to be one too many for Mangel and Veikkanen, who lost contact. The remaining four leaders came to the finish line for the first time and faced another loop of 11 kilometres. Mangel and Veikkanen were already a minute back, with the Di Luca group four minutes adrift. The Visconti group managed to merge back with all the race favourites in the closing kilometres.

Eventually, Dall'Antonia paid for his efforts and his crash, and Bertolini, Lastras and Baliani headed to the final kilometre together. Everything looked set for an exciting three-man sprint finish, when Baliani, lying in second spot behind Bertolini, slipped in the last turn, a sharp left hander. Lastras lost his momentum and Bertolini was able to hold the gap to the Spaniard all the way to the line.

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