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Giro d'Italia 2009: Stage 11

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Welcome back! Today is a transitional stage – that is a nice way of saying that it is a day for the riders to recover from yesterday's Queen Stage and look forward in horror to tomorrow's knock-out 61 km individual time trial.

77km remaining from 214km

Things got underway at 12:17 today, with 188 riders taking to the start. One was missing, Chris Horner of Astana, and we will have more on that later. Several attacks were attempted in the early part of the race, but none was successful.

Bad news for Astana today as Chris Horner was not at the start. The American crashed on a descent yesterday, hurting his left knee in the process. Team spokesman Philippe Maertens told Cyclingnews that he tore a muscle in the back of his knee. "Chris has too many problems with the injuries he suffered in a fall Tuesday," Astana manager Johan Bruyneel said. "We will certainly miss him."

81km remaining from 214km

The gap for the leading "Fab Four" is coming down, and is now only 1:15.

Joaquin Rodriguez of Caisse d'Epargne dropped out at km 56, leaving his team with seven riders in the race.

82km remaining from 214km

We have a crash involving Alberto Fernandez (Fuji), Oscar Gatto (ISD) and Filippo Pozzato (Katusha). No word yet on what happened.

The race started, as we said, in Torino, which makes us think of a car the family used to own. There is in fact a Clint Eastwood movie called Gran Torino about that very car.

89km remaining from 214km

The field is now approaching the city of Alessandria, the capital of the province of the same name. It is a major railway hub, as well. History buffs will remember it as the site of Napoleon's famous Battle of Marengo.

Today will be a little easier than yesterday, with lots of flat and only one climb near the end. But it is still 206 km, which is a good day's work. What will we see today, a successful break group or a mass sprint? You can discuss the possibilities in our forum.

The peloton is setting a nice pace today, they were zipping along at 47.1 km/h in their second hour of racing. It's a bit hard for the Cyclingnews blimp to keep up with that speed!

99km remaining from 214km

The gap has fallen dramatically, and is now only 46 seconds. Wonder what happened?

Team Saxo Bank expects a mass sprint, and has just the man for the job: Matt Goss. "I think Matt will be at the very front of the mass sprint at the end of the stage," said DS Torsten Schmidt. The 22-year-old has already finished in the top ten in three stages so far, with his best result being fourth in Sunday's Milan stage.

Katusha is the one responsible for the action today. They are leading the charge of the light brigade, er, the peloton and will have the escapees momentarily. The lead is down to a mere 13 seconds.

That was it! This escape group is history. Everyone is all together again, but how long will that last?

Luncheon will be served today at Tortona, which has a population of nearly 27,000. It has any number of famous sons, including comic book artist Ivo Milazzo and a number of saints, but the one we are most interested in is Fausto Coppi (1919-1960), also known as Il Campionissimo.

109km remaining from 214km

Levi Leipheimer of Astana has just made the acquaintance of the pavement. Nothing serious.

110km remaining from 214km

Vladimir Isaichev of Xacobeo is the next to try his luck by attacking. The field has other ideas, though, and doesn't agree with his plan.

It took a few minutes, but Leipheimer is now safely back in the peloton after his crash. And as the group heads into Tortona, Isaichev extends his lead to 18 seconds.

112km remaining from 214km

Isaichev is in a hurry -- his lead has jumped up to 1:05.

Angelo Fausto Coppi, to give him his full name, wasn't actually born in Tortona, but died there. What did he win? The proper question might be, what didn't he win? He was not only an outstanding climber and time trialer, but also a great sprinter.

Coppi won the Giro five times (1940, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1952), the Tour de France twice (1949, 1952), the World Championship in 1953, the Giro di Lombardia five times, and Milano-Sanremo three times, and that is only scratching the surface.

Cervelo's DS Jean-Paul Van Poppel was more than satisfied with Carlos Sastre's ride yesterday. The Tour de France winner moved up from 7th overall to 6th. "We have said from the beginning that Carlos would get better every day and he proved that again today. Stage 11 is a decent stage, and I don't expect to see any changes in the GC tomorrow."

The sun is shining today, and some riders even have their jerseys unzipped. Everyone looks relatively relaxed.

124km remaining from 214km

The Russian now has a lead of just over six minutes. The field is happy to let him go his lonely way.

Chris Horner talked to Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown this morning about the injury which forced him out of the race. "It is some kind of muscle pull between the left calf and knee." He was in pain the whole day after a crash yesterday, and he reported the pain became worse overnight.

To get back to today's history lesson: Coppi first came to attention when he won the Giro in 1940 at the age of 20 (well, yes, that would rather grab our attention). His career was interrupted in 1942 by World War II, during which he spent much of his time as a prisoner-of-war with the British. He started riding again in 1945, and promptly won Milano-Sanremo the next year.

Isaichev is 23 years old and joined Xacobeo last season. He has no wins so far in his short career. And if you are wondering why the peloton is so willing to let him go, here is the reason: he came into this stage as 185th, fifth-from-the last, and was nearly two hours behind leader Danilo Di Luca.

"Levi should be able to make up a lot of [classification] time in the TT," Horner also told Cyclingnews' Brown. (More later in our news coverage.)

Coppi was involved in a scandal in the 1950s which is astonishing to us today – he was shunned and booed for having an affair with a married woman. At one point the police even raided the home he and the "woman in white" were sharing to see if they slept in the same bed.

We see lots of riders dropping back to pick up water bottles. Those will be very necessary today, as Brown tells us that it is exceptionally hot today.

Coppi died in 1960, from malaria which he apparently caught the previous year when he attended a race in Burkina Faso. In 2002, there were various reports that the great cyclist had in fact been poisoned. A court in Tortona investigated and even considered exhuming his body, but closed the investigation without taking action.

130km remaining from 214km

The average speed for the third hour of today's stage was 42.5 km/h.

145km remaining from 214km

Isaichev enters Novi Ligure with a lead of 7:30.

The peloton has realized that at some point today there is a good chance for a mass sprint, so the tempo has picked up. Right now a Garmin rider is leading the chase.

Coppi was remembered in yesterday's stage, when Stefano Garzelli won the Cima Coppi, which is awarded to the first rider to cross the Giro's highest summit.

Oscar Gatto (ISD) is sporting any number of natty bandages on his right side. He has gone down several times, including today.

The peloton's effort is bearing fruit, as the gap has now come down to 5:50.

We have mail! Ted Wixon wants to know why Coppi died so young. We already covered that one, so go back and take a look.

Garmin and Quick Step both have one rider at the front of the field, followed by five Milram riders. Are they hoping to set up a mass sprint for Robert Förster today?

Today's finish is in Arenzano, right on the Ligurian Sea. The usual population is about 12,000, but that swells in the summer, as it is a popular vacation resort.

Lots of blue at the front of the peloton, with Garmin, Milram and Quick Step.

We are not going to starve to death here in the Piedmont (not that we thought we would). Don't look for tomato sauces here; instead you will find white sauces and lots of butter. As throughout northern Italy, there is more rice than pasta. And you are in luck if you like mushrooms and truffles.

Astana's Rubiera gets a new rear tire.

169km remaining from 214km

Isaichev has entered the town of Ovana. Will he sprint with himself for the intermediate sprint? And from here it is not far to the day's mountain.

The lead has dropped dramatically, to about two minutes. Won't be long at all now until the long solo flight is over.

The field has hit the intermediate sprint, with Edvald Boasson Hagen (Columbia-Highroad) taking the second place points and Giovanni Visconti (ISD) third. The lead is now 2:01 and Isaichev is paying the price for his efforts on this hot day.

Things are going up now! And it is narrow. Today's one ranked climb in today's stage, the Passo del Turchino at k.194.3. The field will ride 8.4 km up, with an average gradient of 2.2% and a max of 7%. That makes it a Category 3.

It's not that hard of a mountain, but the field is moving so fast that some of the non-climbers are having a tough time keeping up.

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-NGC) is always questioned about his abilities to win another Grand Tour. Many pundits suggest he should stick to racing week-long stage races (he won Coppi e Bartali in March) and one-day Classics (he's won the Giro di Lombardia and the 2008 Amstel Gold).

Marco Marzano of Lampre jumps out of the peloton and takes off.

Isaichev is gritting his teeth and giving his all but he just doesn't have much left to give.

Marzano now has caught the Russian and the peloton is only 20 seconds or so back.

A very bad crash. Sokolov of Bbox Bouygues Telecom went down into the roadside woods, but it is not clear what happened, or whether he is riding again.

179km remaining from 214km

LPR leads the way under the 35 km-to-go banner.

Marcos Garcia of Xacobeo is the next to jump out of the peloton. HIs teammate is now back in the peloton and Marzano is alone in the lead.

182km remaining from 214km

They are all still tearing up the mountain.

Rob Gray has fond memories of Chicken Marengo, as his birthday is on the anniversary of the battle. But he also has a cycling question: what is with the "blurred" Astana jerseys? The team created those as a protest, fading out the names of those sponsors who have not ponied up their share of the monies. The riders are understandably not happy about not being paid.

Marzano seems to be another one of those shaved-head riders, who wears a bandana under his helmet.

Marzano is now at Campo Ligure, which puts him near the official start of the climb.

The climb features a 24 km long ascent, which is said to be very technical. Anyone who can get away here will probably be able to stay away until the end. On the other hand, the last 20 kms are flat, so it offers another opportunity for the sprinters, one of the few in this year's Giro.

189km remaining from 214km

Who else but LPR is leading the pack?

Master Sergeant David Amyx wants to know where Di Luca and Leipheimer are. Both are safely near the front of the peloton, with their teammates around them. And even as we write, Astana, including Leipheimer, move up to the front of the group.

Garcia is back in the peloton and Marzano has only a 10 second lead.

Well, Marzano had a 10 second lead, but now he has none at all. The field rolls through Masone all together, with Astana still at the head of things.

194km remaining from 214km

Oh, yes, we are definitely going up a mountain here. And lookie there, some riders are starting to fall off the back. There is a whole slew of Astana riders in the lead, and we see the all-pink Di Luca near the front.

Garzelli jumps out at the last moment to take the mountain points ahead of none other than Lance Armstrong.

Leipheimer was third over the mountaintop. Astana leads the way down.

198km remaining from 214km

Armstrong is hunched down low as he leads the peloton on the ascent. They are in single file, moving fast.

Constant curves here, no more than 10 metres or so straightaways.

199km remaining from 214km

They are almost at the bottom now.

Di Luca is now in second place behind Armstrong, and they have a small gap over the field.

This is not a break attempt, they were simply faster than their followers. Everyone is lining up again. Edvald Boasson Hagen is also near the front.

Looks like the sprinters survived the climb: we think that Farrar, Cavendish and Petacchi are all in the main group. Pozzato is not, though. He is trying to play catch-up. Looks like he had a mechanical problem.

204km remaining from 214km

Armstrong is still leading the way, closely followed by Di Luca.

Looks like Pozzato had more than a mechanical. He must have crashed, as he has torn shorts and an injury to his thigh.

Popovych takes off!

Followed by someone from Lampre, as they come to the coast and turn to the west to the finish line.

It is Gasparotto. But they don't make it. The Rabobank-led peloton has caught them.

Three riders including Thomas Voeckler have built up a small lead -- oops, not any more.

209km remaining from 214km

We expect to see a lot of attacks now and concerted action by the sprinters' teams to prevent those attacks.

They are literally right on the coast here, if they look off to the left they will see the water. Well, not now, they have just gone into a tunnel.

Columbia has moved up to the front. They would love to give Cavendish his second win and add another one to the team tally.

211km remaining from 214km

A Liquigas rider has other ideas and builds up a lad of two or three metres -- oh, never mind.

212km remaining from 214km

The next to try is one from Ag2r, with two riders trailing behind.

Attack attack attack -- everyone is giving it a try.

Four riders have a minimal lead over the onrushing pack.

213km remaining from 214km

One km to go. Will the field catch them?

They are caught and things are moving fast fast fast.

Columbia leads the way for Cavendish who has no problem at all taking his second win in this Giro.

And Farrar was second behind him. Not clear who was third, either Petacchi or Davis.

Di Luca smiles happily. He is still leading and his pink jersey was never in danger today.

Petacchi was third, Davis fourth.

That was it for today! Thanks for joining us. Tomorrow will be a biggie, possibly deciding who will take the overall title. Join us then for the grueling 61 km time trial.

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