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Giro d'Italia 2009: Stage 15

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Welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the Giro d'Italia! We have another beautiful summer day today, almost a bit too warm for a bike race. It's already 31C and sunny.

178 riders set out from the viale dell'Appennino in Forli this afternoon. Two riders packed and headed home this morning: Eros Capecchi (Fuji-Servetto) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin - Slipstream).

As has been the case for much of this Giro, the attacks flew from the very start of the race. The Silence-Lotto team has been desperate to get in on the action and prove their worth to the Belgian fans, and Oliver Kaisen was the first man to spring away.

However, after about 15km Voigt and Devenyns were brought back. 24km into the race, the group was all back together and waiting for another attack.

The pace was quite high despite a steady gain in elevation. A large group attempted to escape, but only two men emerged with a clear gap after a great deal of effort.

46km remaining from 161km

The first hour was raced at a vicious 43km/h - quite fast considering the riders gained some 450m in elevation.

Correction - Gonzales and Donati were on the attack to reach a larger group which had escaped earlier. They succeeded in reaching the group of 14, and made the breakaway sweet 16.

We have a little confession to make. Last night we took some of the race organisation up for a joyride in the Cyclingnews' blimp Hindenberg VI. A little too much grappa and some low power lines were a really bad combination.

The group has pulled out a lead of 3'25 as they make the slow ascent to the Passo dell'Eremo. It's a category 2 climb that tops out at km 54.8. They'll then have a quick descent before tackling the shorter category 3 Colle Carnevale that peaks at 701m by km 71.3.

There are two more unclassified climbs tucked in the middle, too, adding to the difficulty of a day that is quite warm and comes as the riders have 13 days of hard racing already in their legs.

51km remaining from 161km

We've already had one rider abandon today. Ricardo Serrano (Fuji-Servetto) packed it in at km 25. We wouldn't be surprised if we see a few more riders give up before the day is over.

The Giro organiser RCS Sport created a remarkably unique parcours for the 100th year of the race. The riders have visited towns which have rarely seen the Giro, and have broken from the rut of a week with the Dolomiti and a week with the Alps.

53km remaining from 161km

The break is just about over the top of the KOM, and we'll try to get some information on the composition of the break. They've only got 3'26 at the moment, so the peloton is not giving them a lot of breathing room.

And voila! Here are our men up front:
Jose Serpa (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli), Lars Ytting Bak (Saxo Bank), Daniel Navarro (Astana), Leonardo Bertagnolli (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli), Eduard Vorganov ((Xacobeo-Galicia)), Andriy Grivko (ISD), Marco Pinotti (Team Columbia-Highroad), Pablo Lastras (Caisse d'Epargne), Marco Marzano (Lampre), Serge Pauwels (Cervelo Test Team), Nikita Eskov (Katusha), Gorazd Stangelj (Liquigas), Mauro Facci (Quick Step), Matteo Montaguti (LPR Brakes Farnese Vini), Alessandro Donati (Acqua & Sapone - Caffe Mokambo) and Hector Gonzalez (Fuji-Servetto)

The highest placed rider in this move is actually fairly dangerous - Jose Serpa (Diquigiovanni) is only 9:52 down on overall leader Denis Menchov.

Grivko is actually challenging the mountains classification lead of Stefano Garzelli. He took the 5 points on offer at the top of the first climb ahead of Donati and Gonzales.

Grivko began the day 18 points behind Garzelli in that classification. There are 16 on offer today, so he cannot over the lead today, but can bring himself closer. Expect Garzelli's teammate Donati to continue to try to prevent him from taking maximum points.

Of course the peloton is being controlled by the Rabobank team of our leader Denis Menchov. With 100km to go or so, they're keeping the gap to 3'40.

We are reminded of the 2003 stage which was quite similar to today's - stage 10 which was won by Kurt Asle Arvesen.

That move didn't win Simoni the Giro d'Italia - he ended up with more than seven minutes over Garzelli. But it was an important morale boost for him. Rabobank would be wise to let this break stay far enough away that a rider like Leipheimer couldn't jump across and stage a similar coup.

In our breakaway we have Alessandro Donati of Acqua & Sapone. He is from Abruzzo and his brother-in-law is from Southern California, so there is a connection in the break with the USA today.

The lead group is maintaining 3'46 as they head up toward the second KOM of the day. The have a little descent heading into the 500m to go mark. Grivko, predictably, takes off as the road heads uphill and is marked by Donati.

72km remaining from 161km

Grivko gets the sprint again, Donati second. The rest of the bunch just sat back and watched, not showing much interest in the competition.

The peloton, still hovering around four minutes behind the lead, is fairly compact - certainly not chasing hard and preferring to focus on remaining hydrated on this hot hot day.

The heat is a big factor when you're two weeks into a stage race. It becomes more and more difficult to drink and eat as the fatigue sets in and dehydration can set in quickly.

Columbia's Marco Pinotti took the last point on the Colle Carnevale behind Grivko and Donati.

Pinotti will be happy to hear that his teammate Greg Henderson won the sprint finish in the final stage of the Volta a Catalunya. Alejandro Valverde was unchallenged in the GC today, and took the overall victory.

Gorazd Stangelj (Liquigas) is one of several riders in this year's Giro d'Italia who were present a decade ago. The 36-year-old Slovenian almost saw his ProTour career end when he left Lampre two years ago. He was going to ride for a Continental team, but then got a mid-season contract from Liquigas in 2008 and has been there ever since.

Our 16 leaders are still putting time in the peloton - although slowly. They're moving along at 65kph, while the Rabo-led peloton is at 61kph according to the GPS measurements. They now have 4'40.

The second hour of racing has been considerably slower - only 37kph as opposed to the 43kph we had in the first hour.

Serpa, our top placed rider in the breakaway is now just 4'52 away from the virtual maglia rosa. The 2009 Tour de Langkawi winner is well suited to the shorter, punchy climbs on today's parcours.

Behind the peloton, we see Danilo Di Luca back in the following cars. Curiously, we do not see any LPR Brakes teammates around him as he makes his chase back to the bunch. He's drafting off the Barloworld car quite closely...

Di Luca should watch out - he might get a time penalty for such blatant drafting... of course the penalties are at the discretion of the Italian judges. He's really having a time getting through all the motorcycles!

Di Luca's team finally got the memo and now three of them have come back to pace our maglia ciclamino back ot the bunch. Still a few more team cars to go, then the neutral support. A slowing of the bunch makes their job much easier and they make it to the Rabobank car.

87km remaining from 161km

Less than 75km to go for our 16 leaders. They're speeding down this long, gradual descent from our second KOM. It goes on for another 8km or so before they hit one of those nasty little unclassified climbs.

At the bottom of the descent the riders will pick up their lunch in the feed zone, but some of the breakaway men are keen to get an early snack. Donati is back at the Acqua & Sapone car to get some food.

Rather, make that Ruggero Marzoli getting what looks like 100 bottles at the back of the peloton. He's got them everywhere - one in each pocket, up the jersey front and back - down the shorts?

Hector Gonzalez (Fuji-Servetto) up in the break already has his feed bag. He chucks his empty bottle over the hedge and digs into the bag for a fresh one.

95km remaining from 161km

The breakaway was farther along than we thought - they've passed through the feed zone in Casola Valsenio and are now on the lower part of the Colle Albano - not ranked, but still more than 200m elevation gain.

Now the peloton is back in the feed zone and the maglia rosa, Menchov, was careful to avoid any chaos as he took his feed bag. He's got a teammate right by his side in case anything should happen.

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) lives in Spain, but does not like the weather so hot. "I prefer 25 degrees, but the heat is hard for all of us and we all suffer."

Menchov leads in the overall by just 34 seconds from Di Luca and 43 on Leipheimer. It's still a close race, but the Russian was pleased that his rivals didn't earn any time bonuses yesterday. In fact, Leipheimer lost three!

The riders in the break are heading up the climb which looks quite difficult for an unranked hill. Passing by some vineyards, if they could look back they'd see a bucolic view of the rolling countryside.

Serpa pulls alongside him to see how he's doing, perhaps to give him some encouragement. 16 riders in the break and they're the only ones with a teammate. It's an advantage, but only if Bertagnolli can perk up!

Our prediction that we'd lose some more riders before the day's end has come true - David Millar (Garmin-Slipstream) has abandoned. He didn't get a lot of racing in before the Giro thanks to a broken collarbone.

96km remaining from 161km

It is, as we've said, hot. Leipheimer douses his head with water as they head up this little climb. Up ahead, the breakaway is getting some "air conditioning" courtesy of the nice descent.

The heat, combined with hotels and buses that don't have air conditioning, can make riders cranky. Ivan Basso (Liquigas) might not be feeling so "tranquillo" today as he swats at another rider who comes too close to his front wheel.

105km remaining from 161km

The breakaway is on another descent, it's very twisty and narrow, but it appears that the road was freshly paved just for the Giro. When they get to the bottom they'll be on their way to the intermediate sprint of the day in Brisighella at km 125.3.

Mauro Facci (Quick Step) is the best placed rider in the T.V. classification, and we should see the Italian make a move to get the points there.

The gap has eased out to 5'26 for our leaders, but the leaders are heading uphill while the peloton is on the descent from that first little bump, so the gap may come down some. We expect that after the sprint, the category three Monte Casale will begin to reduce that advantage further.

Serge Pauwels, the Belgian for Cervelo, leads up the climb before letting Matteo Montaguti (LPR) take over. Pauwels takes a moment to dump his bottle on his head. There isn't a bit of shade for our riders here, and they're baking in the hot sun.

The deep green hills surrounding our breakaway are dotted with vineyards, orchards and fields of grain. They're still holding over five minutes as the peloton heads through town below.

The non-classified climbs seem to be causing our peloton some pain at the moment. The leaders are now 5'50 as Rabobank's workers have their jerseys zipped wide open, unabashedly displaying dazzlingly white, hairless chests.

The chasing peloton is going so slowly up this climb that the riders at the back come to a near stand still as they approach a switchback. Finally, a day of "piano" riding? Not for long, we're quite certain of that.

108km remaining from 161km

The leaders are on the descent at last, heading down to the flatter roads that lead to the intermediate sprint.

Jose Serpa has opened up a gap on the descent, now leading the group 6'20" ahead of the lacklustre peloton. The gap is quickly closed as his teammate Bertagnolli comes up - still not looking like he's having fun.

Robert Forster (Team Milram) has a little problem - guess he threw his chain and he had to stop and dislodge it from the space between the frame and the cogs. He gets going only to pull out of his pedal... then he's on his way.

111km remaining from 161km

We have some action in the peloton! Liquigas takes over and raises the tempo in the chasing bunch with a strong surge.

One of the Liquigas riders, perhaps Basso's roommate Kjell Carlström, is going so hard he almost runs into a spectator - barely avoiding the fan by ducking his shoulder. They're going flat out now.

113km remaining from 161km

It seems either Basso or Pellizotti wants to try and gain some time today... The leaders are 2km or so from the T.V. sprint.

115km remaining from 161km

There are splits forming in the peloton, with three Liquigas riders and what looks like Simoni - Menchov closes the gap by himself.

The leaders don't contest the T.V. sprint, and get back to work after going to their team cars to collect drinks. The peloton is still under pressure from Liquigas, but now the gaps have been, for the most part, closed.

Actually, the peloton has been split into two groups! Liquigas has Menchov in there, but there is another chasing group of about 25, then 10, then 15, then the rest of the peloton. Clearly some GC favorites have been surprised!

Di Luca is in the front group, but we see an Astana rider who looks like Leipheimer in the second chase group.

There are a couple Astana riders in the front group, Garzelli is up there too. I don't see the Astana riders heading back to help that second group, so perhaps it's not Leipheimer.

Liquigas is still driving it... Sastre is here. Armstrong is here. Arroyo, Lovkvist, Rogers.

If all of these GC favorites are present and accounted for in the front group, Liquigas must be trying to set up Basso or Pellizotti for a stage win. Otherwise, why go so hard? The GC is not under threat by this breakaway. Serpa is 9'52 down as best placed. 4'38 is the current gap.

A Quick Step rider comes to the front of the Liquigas train and slips into the lead. He doesn't last long as Liquigas takes over again.

Simoni appears to be dropped with an Astana rider and a Katusha rider. There are two or three more in no man's land going after that first chase group.

The leaders are on the Monte Casale, a tough little climb that goes up to 12%, but averages only 4.7%. Basso only has one more man on the front of the chasing bunch.

Basso attacks! Menchov and Di Luca respond!

Popovych takes up the chase with Arroyo, Leipheimer.. Sastre is here too with Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step). Simoni has thrown in the towel!

Basso has a gap but Di Luca is closing it down - nearly running into a fan in the process. Menchov is on the wheel as the group with Popovych joins.

Basso goes again! This time there is no reaction.

This climb doesn't look too hard, but Garzelli is going now, then Arroyo attacks, too. Armstrong did not make it across, and Leipheimer has only Popo to help.

Basso and Garzelli are opening their gap on Arroyo now. He's alone chasing these two ahead of the group of the maglia rosa.

Di Luca has a teammate, Alessandro Spezialetti, setting a brisk tempo to keep these two in sight. Leipheimer and Seeldrayers are right behind.

122km remaining from 161km

For a category three climb, this is doing some big damage! The Monte Casale will certainly be remembered by our GC contenders.

Garzelli and Basso are giving a huge effort on this climb - Garzelli gets a coke from the sidelines... it's hot work just for about 15 seconds at the most.

A few more riders are coming across to the pink jersey group - looks like Lovkvist, Rogers and Popovych with Armstrong trying to come across.

Lovkvist has made it, Rogers was already there... It's simply chaos and we still have one more climb to go that is even bigger!

We cannot forget out first 16 who are up the road, but all eyes are on the chasing maglia rosa group. The leaders are heading to the KOM line of the Monte Casale.

The breakaway has split in two on the climb, with a chasing group 33 seconds behind. Basso and Garzelli catch Montaguti, who gets on.

129km remaining from 161km

The only remainders of the break are now: Daniel Navarro (Astana), Serge Pauwels (Cervelo Test Team), Marco Marzano (Lampre - N.G.C.), Leonardo Bertagnolli (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli), Jose Serpa (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli), Marco Pinotti (Team Columbia - Highroad) and Lars Ytting Bak (Team Saxo Bank)

The others have been dropped off on that climb, and are likely in the group with the maglia rosa. Basso and Garzelli were 2'19 behind the leaders at the top.

Another Liquigas rider has joined Basso. We suspect it's Gorazd Stangelj, who was in the break.

Serpa still has his teammate up here as Navarro begins to get dropped as they make the ascent of the Monte Trebbio.

130km remaining from 161km

Stangelj takes a massive pull giving the last of his energy as they enter the town of Modigliana... he then drops off.

We're not getting any time gaps at the moment - but last check Garzelli and Basso were just over two minutes behind the leaders. The group of the maglia rosa has swelled to 17 riders now.

131km remaining from 161km

The leaders have three minutes even to Basso, and he's doing all the work ahead of Garzelli who is not hiding his suffering one bit.

A few riders have cracked and left the first group on the road. Serpa lost his teammate, Lars Bak went backwards. Navarro is gone. Just four men remain at the front with 1'58 on Basso/Garzelli.

Sastre ups the tempo in the pink jersey group and has reduced the group to Di Luca, Pellizotti, Menchov and Leipheimer - Bruseghin, too.

Garzelli has now picked up a teammate from the break, Donati, and the fatigued Caisse d'Epargne man, Lastras.

133km remaining from 161km

Now our Lampre man, Marzano, is dropped from the break. Basso and Garzelli have lost their two passengers, and more riders have joined the pink jersey group behind. Armstrong is chasing with Popovych.

Facci has gone backwards past the Basso/Garzelli duo. The first riders - now Pauwels, Pinotti and Serpa, have 3'28 on the maglia rosa.

Di Luca is sweating so much he keeps squeezing his helmet and having sweat pour down his face. Eeeeew.

Rogers has made it up to the pink jersey group, but now we see two men chasing at the head of the race - has Serpa flown the coop?

134km remaining from 161km

Actually Serpa and Pauwels are the lone survivors and Pinotti has been dropped.

Pauwels has been in breakaways all year - in the Tour of California he was in a couple, and he's been off the front in other stages in this Giro. He's quite a promising young rider who is in search of his first big pro win.

136km remaining from 161km

The leaders have 25km to go and now Grivko, who was dropped from the earlier break, is with Basso and Garzelli. Garza will sprint him for the points to hold his mountains classification lead.

Grivko is boxed in but then finds his way out and sprints for the points!

Di Luca is flying past dropped riders from the break and powering away - Menchov has to respond alone!

Di Luca and Menchov are now together as they sprint for the top of the climb. 3'15 from the leaders. Sastre is coming across solo.

Sastre is going to make it to them and look at that gap!

Pellizotti is coming across now, but where are the rest?

Our two leaders still have 2'15 on the Basso group, which is now four. Up front, it's Pauwels and not Serpa (our bad) but Bertagnolli! We had a hard time believing that because he looked so bad earlier.

Serpa is back with Grivko, Basso and Garzelli.

Pauwels is getting an earful from Bertagnolli for not working. Perhaps the Belgian is tired, or he may be saving his energy to help Sastre. 2'15 to Basso, 3'15 to the maglia rosa.

141km remaining from 161km

20km to go for the leaders, who have 2'15 on a chase of four. Basso, Garzelli and Grivko and Serpa have another minute on the maglia rosa who was last seen on the attack with Di Luca. What has come of that effort? Nothing.

The group of favorites came back together on the descent and have called a truce.

Beautiful rolling countryside and buttery smooth newly paved roads for our leaders as they hit a little rise which interrupts the descent. 20km to go now for the Basso group.

20km may well be enough for Pauwels and Bertagnolli, but they cannot mess around. They'll need to cooperate or risk losing what could be their only chance to win a Giro stage this year.

Seeldrayers is going crazy chasing on the front of the maglia rosa group. Behind them, Armstrong has 20km to go as he's way, way dropped.

Bertagnolli is alone on the front now, and our fine young Belgian has been caught out. They're going downhill now - maybe he doesn't like the Diquigiovanni rider's descending style.

146km remaining from 161km

The chasing four are moving on this descent, and Pauwels is still trying to get on terms with the Italian.

This descent is very narrow, but nicely paved. Arroyo nearly clips the barricades as he rounds a bend but holds it up.

Garzelli is drilling the descent in the chasing quartet. Basso is hanging on for dear life. Behind, the maglia rosa group is stringing out behind Arroyo.

Pauwels is getting a talking to from the Cervelo team car, and he's not happy. He's being sent back for Sastre! There goes his chance at the stage! Bertagnolli is equally unhappy - he now has no help. 2'04 to Basso, 2'23 to the pink jersey.

Looks like Basso's gamble isn't paying off. They're just seconds ahead of the group of GC favorites.

Cervelo already had its stage win, but that doesn't mean Pauwels shouldn't have his chance...

Basso's gamble may pay off with a counterattack from Pellizotti... but he's now too high up on GC to get away. The group thunders past Basso and the four have to sprint to get on.

Armstrong, Popo, Cunego and Donati are chasing behind the maglia rosa group and may be able to get back on...

151km remaining from 161km

10km to go and it's a long, long road for our lone leader. Sure, 10km might not seem like much if you're running to the coffee shop, but at the end of a 161km stage over all those hills in scorching heat... he's got to be suffering a thousand deaths.

Mauro Facci (Quick Step) is now setting tempo in the pink jersey group. Pauwels is with Pinotti and Marzano chasing behind our lone leader.

Bruseghin is urging the maglia rosa group to work as our leaders still have two minutes on the pink jersey group. Armstrong is 30" behind Menchov's group and closing.

The throttle has been eased back in the pink jersey group now and that's a good sign for our leaders. We could see the group of Pauwels and Pinotti come back to Bertagnolli - we haven't gotten gaps on the three chasers.

That could well be why the Cervelo DS was ordering Pauwels back. He's now within seconds of Bertagnolli with Pinotti and Marzano.

156km remaining from 161km

They're passing by some lovely orchards as the maglia rosa group is a long, thin line in pursuit. Lars Bak is also back!

Actually, the three caught Bak, not Bertagnolli... we still have our lone leader 36" ahead of now four chasers.

Less than 5km to go and Bertagnolli has 36 seconds - will it be enough to stay clear of four chasers?

Back in the maglia rosa group, an ISD rider has attacked! Must be Grivko.

158km remaining from 161km

That sparks a reaction from behind. Bertagnolli has 3km to go!

The chasers are working together now - Pauwels pulling.

It won't be enough unless Berto blows to the high heavens in the next few minutes.

159km remaining from 161km

It is Grivko who attacked. The four chasers have 27 seconds behind Bertagnolli.

Bertagnolli shows now signs of blowing to the high heavens. Much to the contrary!

The four chasers have stopped cooperating and lost ground. Grivko's seemingly futile attack is working.

160km remaining from 161km

Bertagnolli is within 1km to go now! This thing is his and Gianni Savio will have champagne waiting.

This will be the team who's name is too long to type's second stage after Scarponi's coup.

A left hand bend and now he can see his fame and fortune up ahead in the distance!

Leonardo Bertagnolli is going to get this, and it's well deserved. Pauwels' gamble failed, and the four chasers are nowhere to be seen.

Leonardo Bertagnolli takes the stage with double fist pumps overhead.

The sprint behind is going to be hotly contested. Pauwels tightens his shoe buckle.

Marzano leads Pauwels and Pinotti, with Bak on the back.

Pauwels goes for it!

Pauwels, Pinotti and Bak take the next three spots, while Marzano is dropped. Grivko will be the next to come to the line.

Facci will take the next spot ahead of Xacobeo rider and another who escaped the pink jersey group. The maglia rosa group is right behind them.

Armstrong is still riding in with Cunego. They'll lose less than a minute.

Armstrong finally arrives with Popo, Donati and Cunego, and now the cameras can focus on the stage winner, Bertagnolli.

A beautiful woman was trying to come out into the street to congratulate Bertagnolli, but she was manhandled back to the barriers by the security guards.

So there we go - another stage done and dusted and another heroic and deserving winner. Leonardo Bertagnolli rode in that break, suffering like a dog and looking like he was in abject agony midway through the stage, but he emerged victorious.

Tomorrow's Monte Petrano finish will be a decisive stage, no two ways about it. So far, Basso has used and abused his Liquigas team in order to gain little or no time on the other GC contenders. Will they continue to kill themselves tomorrow? Find out when our live coverage of the centenary Giro d'Italia resumes tomorrow afternoon.

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