Surging away from his breakaway companions with just over one kilometre remaining, Pavel Brutt took the first ever stage victory for the Tinkoff Credit Systems team in the Giro d'Italia. The hilltop finish of Contursi Terme also saw him become the first Russian winner since namesake Pavel Tonkov triumphed four years ago.
Brutt hit the line ahead of four chasers: Johannes Fröhlinger (Gerolsteiner), Luis Felipe Laverde (CSF Group Navigare) and Francisco Pérez (Caisse d'Epargne) were next home, while David Millar (Slipstream Chipotle H30) suffered a broken chain at the precise moment the Russian kicked clear. He was disgusted at the ill luck and threw his bike over a barrier, eventually going on to finish 119th.
Millar was however given the same finishing time as Pérez. Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) led in a large main group 31 seconds after Brutt's triumph, with Maglia Rosa Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) well placed and thus retaining his one second advantage over Christian Vande Velde (Slipstream Chipotle H30.
"No, no, I didn't believe it," said Brutt when he was asked if he had thought the break would stay clear. "That was partly due to the fact that at the beginning, we had one minute 50 seconds, two minutes…the gap was not very much. But then I was with some very strong guys and it made the difference."
Brutt, who said at the post-stage press conference that he likes reading Tolstoy and his hobby is looking after his mini car, added that he has one particular style of racing. "I like to break away," he said. "I have done a lot of them – many in last year's Giro – and I always do them as often as possible. I suffer a bit on the climbs but I am able to go with 800 metres to go and make the difference."
Fröhlinger finished four seconds back in second place and said afterwards that he was frustrated with the Russian's tactics.
"I am a little bit angry with Pavel Brutt because the whole day, he was saying he was not feeling good," he stated. "For the first 100 kilometres, he stayed on the wheels on every climb. Then he attacked going into the last kilometre. I think that David Millar had a problem with his chain. I was looking at Millar [to react] and waited too long; Brutt was gone then. I waited too long, because I think I was stronger than him."
He can still take encouragement from the ride. "I was surprised that we stayed away. Second is a very good place for me, it was possible to win. I'm a bit angry."
Millar told Italian television after the stage that he was also unhappy with the way the finish worked out. "I was totally motivated to win the stage. All my rage just came out at the moment," he said, referring to his throwing of his bike. "I will try again, not tomorrow, but in a few more days. I hope to win a stage in this Giro."
Franco Pellizotti said after stage two that he was intent on trying to win the Giro, and survived today's test in fine style. He finished fourth in the group sprint to the line, taking eighth on the stage, and thus preserved his lead over closest rival Christian Vande Velde.
He was asked about his narrow time advantage. "It is an important second, but also today it would have been okay for me to lose the jersey because we already won one stage, we have the points jersey and we have had the pink jersey for three days. We thought we were going to lose it because there was this breakaway, but finally I kept it."
Liquigas did a lot of hard riding to reduce the breakaway's advantage. The gap was just half a minute at the end; Pellizotti said that the move could have been brought back if the other teams had ridden.
"I thought that some of the other teams that are interested in winning a stage would come and help us to catch them, but they didn't," he said. "As a result, we did all the work.
"Quick Step finally came but it was only in the last climb and they were not very committed. They came too late. I think it is a pity for Bettini because it is a lost chance…if you look at his sprint at the end, he could have easily won this stage. Di Luca and Riccó could have done it as well.
"I am happy for the breakaway. Tomorrow we will let a break go, and let's see...I think my boys are a little bit tired now. If there is a sprint I will be there in the first positions, like today."
Team High Road's Marco Pinotti was also satisfied. He helped his team-mate and namesake Marco Possoni during the stage, and the latter retained the best young rider lead. "Five riders went away and Liquigas let them have a big gap. They were strong riders and got a good gap…they deserved to stay away. For us, in the final we worked so as not to lose the jersey."
The race continues tomorrow with a shortened sixth stage. After representatives from the peloton spoke with the Giro organisation, it was agreed that the finishing circuit would be excluded. This brings the race distance down from 265 kilometres to 231.6. There have been many complaints about the length of the transfers thus far on the race, with Bradley Wiggins telling Cyclingnews today that he hasn't been to bed before midnight thus far as a result.
How it unfolded
Stage five was one for a long escape thanks to its rolling parcours. The riders were treated to seaside views in the first 42 kilometres to Praia a Mare before turning inland for the climb of Fortino, kilometre 80.2
Only 190 riders started the 203-kilometre stage, 11:42 in Belvedere Marittimo, as overnight Belgium's Nick Nuyens (Cofidis) left the 91st Giro d'Italia with a broken collarbone sustained in yesterday's final kilometre crash.
After several attempts, including a move in the first kilometre by Swede Magnus Backstedt (Slipstream Chipotle - H30), a group got free. Luis Felipe Laverde (CSF Group Navigare), Johannes Fröhlinger (Gerolsteiner) and Theo Eltink (Rabobank) went at kilometre 17. Dutchman Eltink was dropped while David Millar (Slipstream Chipotle - H30), Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff Credit Systems) and Francisco Pérez (Caisse d'Epargne) succeeded in reaching the lead pair at the front to make five at kilometre 20.
At kilometre 35 the escape group had built a gap of 3'28".
Winner of last year's stage to Spoleto, Colombia's Laverde, took top honours ahead of Spain's Francisco Pérez (Caisse d'Epargne) over the Fortino GPM (Gran Premio della Montagna) – the gruppo trailed at 6'52". The gap at kilometre 90, was 7'20" and reached an even eight minutes seven kilometres later in Casalbuono.
By the intermediate in Polla, won by Scot Millar, the escape had 7'20" in hand over the gruppo that was being commanded by Liquigas and Quickstep. A light rain started to fall.
On the Buccino climb, 40 kilometres remaining, Pérez was still in the virtual maglia rosa and the five were fighting hard to hold on to a gap that was now around 5'50".
At 45 kilometres remaining, on the decent of Buccino, the gap was 4'31"; the peloton was closing in but not quite fast enough to ensure the leaders would be caught. One rider looking particularly attentive in the chase was World Champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step). The Italian was in the mix of Liquigas men were leading the chase.
In the final 30 kilometres the rain started to come down in earnest. Pellizotti's pink top was becoming darker, as was Millar's British national champion jersey, 3'40" up the road.
The gap was an even three minutes with 22 kilometres to Contursi Terme. Pérez, who started the day 1'57" down, was still in the virtual maglia rosa. LPR Brakes moved its men to the front of the chase for its leaders Paolo Savoldelli and Danilo Di Luca as the race started the descent with 20 kilometres remaining.
In the final seven kilometres, Paolo Bailetti (LPR Brakes) crashed with AG2R La Mondiale's Rinaldo Nocentini and Laurent Mangel.
With three kilometres racing, but all of it uphill, the five leaders held a solid 1'42", and each rider could almost taste the victory.
Raffaele Illiano (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli) sensed an opportunity as, up the road, the five were busy watching each other. The Italian put in a short-lived attack, but the pace of the chase was too high and he was quickly brought back.
Up front, the five men were on a hair-trigger, and when German Fröhlinger put in the first attack with five to go, he was followed by Pérez and the ever-attentive Millar. There was then somewhat of a truce, as the five let nothing escape until the line drew much closer. As the banner signifying one kilometre to go approached, Brutt was just about to launch the lethal race-winning move when disaster struck Millar. The Slipstream rider came to a halt when his chain broke, and seething with anger and disappointment, he tossed his bike over the barriers.
For Brutt, the momentary distraction allowed him to put metres into his three chasers that they could not close down. The 26 year-old Russian, after five hours and three minutes of racing, kept the gap to win over Fröhlinger and Laverde. Pérez finished fourth. Bettini led the gruppo home for fifth at 30 seconds with Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott), Daniele Pietropolli (LPR Brakes) and Pellizotti in tow.
Stage 6 - Thursday, May 15: Potenza - Peschici (Circuito del Gargano), 231.6km
This stage, 265 kilometres from Potenza, is the longest haul of them all and takes the riders to Italy's Mare Adriatico for the finish in Peschici. The Corsa Rosa came here twice before; Franco Pellizotti won in 2006 and Danilo Di Luca in 2000.
After riding past the Parco Nazionale del Gargano the race will conclude with two runs of the 17-kilometre Circuito del Gargano. The finish is cut for a climber or a sprinter who can handle the final 800-metre rise.
* Stage was shortened from 265km on May 14. Read Giro stage six shortened.
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