Welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the Giro d'Italia! We're up for a short and intense stage to Alpe di Suisi today. Only 125km, but the last 25km are straight uphill. Today should be a bit more selective than yesterday's finish.
Speaking of straight up, the riders were on the first climb from the gun today, and of course the attacks started as soon as the commissaire's car pulled away and the flag dropped.
Nothing got away until 5km in when six riders went clear. Once again, Francesco Bellotti (Barloworld) was in the move, perhaps going for points toward the mountains classification, where he is currently fourth.
Eros Capecchi (Fuji-Servetto), Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre), Daniele Pietropolli (LPR Brakes), Jose Serpa (Diquigiovanni) and Mauro Facci (Quick Step) were also in the move.
Bellotti struggled to hold onto the group, and was eventually dropped and passed by Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) who was on his way across.
30km remaining from 125km
After the mountain top at km 8.2, Giovanni Visconti joined the men up front, replacing Facci who was dropped on the climb to make the breakaway seven men strong.
The pace is rather high at the moment thanks to the fact that after the GPM the course pretty much goes downhill all the way to the base of the final climb. Oh sure, there is a little lump in the valley and a rise here and there to break things up, but these seven will have an easy go of it for a while.
We have a lone chaser behind the lead group who has been trying to get across for quite some time. It's Pavel Brutt of Team Katusha. He's smack dab in the middle of no man's land - 1:05 behind the leaders and 1:15 up on the peloton.
The group of our maglia rosa, Thomas Lövkvist (Columbia-Highroad), is trailing on the descent 3:00 behind our leaders. Poor ol' Pavel Brutt is trying, but just can't seem to close the gap to the break, but he's pulling out a little time on the field - he's 1:12 behind the lead.
38km remaining from 125km
Along with Lövkvist, we have the LPR duo Alessandro Petacchi in magenta (points leader) and Danilo Di Luca in green for the mountains classification. Our overall leader also is in the position of best young rider, but the white jersey is on the back of second placed John-Lee Augustyn (Barloworld).
42km remaining from 125km
The situation isn't looking good for Brutt who is starting to crack on the false flat that leads to San Lugano. He's lost a few seconds on the seven men up front and now trails by 1:20.
Today's stage is interesting and unique for a modern Grand Tour. It's quite short for a mass-start stage and has just one climb, but it's a doozy - nearly 25km of climbing and an elevation gain of more than 1500m.
44km remaining from 125km
The average speed for the first hour has been 42.6km/h, which is pretty fast considering the long climb that greeted the riders at the start. But then again, they've been bombing downhill for much of the stage after the KOM.
As our intrepid seven pull out a few dozen more seconds on the peloton and poor Mr. Brutt, let's take a moment to examine the possibilities for today's stage finish.
However, our maglia rosa could pass onto the shoulders of Columbia's Mick Rogers, who is just six seconds behind his young teammate. Yet considering the length and steepness of the climb in the last half, and Rogers' climbing pedigree, that seems unlikely.
We have a couple of dangerous riders lurking a bit lower down the overall classification. Levi Leipheimer has won two major races so far this season: Tour of California and the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon. He's in fifth place and stands a very good chance of wearing pink tonight.
We cannot discount the double-trouble Liquigas duo, Franco Pellizotti and Ivan Basso. Both are climbing well as evidenced in yesterday's finish. Then, it's the Lampre pair Damiano Cunego and Marzio Bruseghin. We should seem some keen team tactics at the finish of today's stage.
In the shadows, barely visible with his black and white jersey, is the silent but daunting figure of Carlos Sastre. Could he pull off another Alpe d'Huez stunt today? He is certainly the strongest pure climber in our top 10 on GC.
The weather has been quite nice for the riders in this Tour of Italy so far. The skies are a bit hazy as they were yesterday, but the roads are dry and temperatures mild. It's fortunate since this descent has quite a few twists and tunnels which could be messy when wet.
60km remaining from 125km
The seven breakaway riders are bombing down the mountain at top speed, being led by Serpa. They've gotten past the false flat and are now plunging into the valley below. 4:32 to the peloton, while Brutt persists at 2:38.
Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) is leading the peloton on the descent, but Astana's Yaroslav Popovych gets ahead of him, perhaps scared that Soler hasn't used up all his pavement surfing points.
Up in our lead group, the young Giovanni Visconti is our virtual race leader. He was 2:49 down on Lövsvist this morning.
The average speed is up over 45km/h thanks to all this descending. The leaders are now being towed along by Voeckler, who is his usual feisty self this Giro. Capecchi follows through, then Serpa and Ochoa, Gavazzi and Pietropolli. They're cooperating nicely.
The Team Columbia riders all have pink trim on the arms of their jerseys in honour of Lövkvist. Mark Cavendish is up with his team still, perhaps feeling pressure to replicate Petacchi's performance yesterday.
Perhaps we should take a look further down the GC rankings to see who else might be a factor in today's finish. We've got a couple former Giro winners in Gilberto Simoni (Diquigiovanni) and Stefano Garzelli (Acqua e Sapone). Let's not forget about Denis Menchov (Rabobank) who is always a threat.
Team Garmin-Slipstream lost its GC hopeful Christian Vande Velde, and its other GC rider Tom Danielson lost over 10 minutes yesterday. Their top rider is Brad Wiggins, who might have an advantage in the long time trial, but doesn't have a history of excelling on major mountains.
75km remaining from 125km
Pavel Brutt has finally given up and been caught by the peloton as the course takes a trend toward elevation gain. Barloworld and Columbia are doing much of the work to keep the breakaway at 4:32.
Kjell Carlström (Liquigas) goes back to the team car to take on a big load of bottles for his two team leaders, Pellizotti and Basso. Felix Cardenas is sent back to do the same for Barloworld. The slower pace on this climb is the perfect opportunity to head back for drinks, and all the teams' domestiques are taking advantage.
Oh, alright. I'll say it. Lance Armstrong. A favourite for today? Who can say? He was climbing well enough yesterday and only a late-race mechanical kept him from contesting the sprint. But if he were anyone else, just coming back from a surgery in late March, we wouldn't tip him as a contender... but it's Lance!
76km remaining from 125km
The leaders are almost to the top of this little bump, which is hard enough to make the sprinters in the peloton to breathe heavy, but not enough to get them dropped. The break managed to pull out a few more seconds on the ascent as the bunch slowed to feed - it's out to 4:43 now.
It's a beautiful view in the valley - vineyards, historic towns, a church steeple, rolling green hills and a lake to complete the scene. It makes us want to stop and sip a cappuccino and enjoy the view!
We'll be sipping our coffee soon enough, as the riders are less than 50km from the finish. However, that last 25km will take them more than an hour. We fear our 45km/h average will be seriously impacted by that bit of difficulty.
Our leaders are descending this bump and they should enjoy it while they can because this will be the last piece of easy road they'll see today. Once they get to the bottom it's 15km of false flat before the final climb. Can these seven stay away?
80km remaining from 125km
The leaders are gobbling up the kilometres, speeding along at 67km/h. Only 45kms to go! At this pace they'll beat the evening rush hour!
In 11km there will be the intergiro sprint in Bolzano, and it looks clear these seven riders will get to battle it out for the cash and points.
Not to be outdone by Cavendish, who is helping out with the work at the front of the peloton, Petacchi in the magenta jersey is getting bottles for his team leader Di Luca at the LPR Brakes car. He gets a monster slingshot from the director and sprints back to the bunch.
The competition amongst our sprinters is not limited to the stage finishes!
91km remaining from 125km
The leaders have reached the sprint and Voeckler attacks to take the points.
90km remaining from 125km
The leaders get straight back to cooperating after the intergiro sprint, and they'll need every minute they can get, which at the present time is just over four. Already their pace has slowed with the gradient.
We see Lance Armstrong back in the cars with Rubiera by his side. We're not sure what is going on but he appears to be fiddling with something on his bars. Perhaps a loose stem. Let's hope it stays put!
Often times a rider can hit a pothole or a bump and the bars can slip and rotate down. It looks as if Armstrong went back for a wrench and adjusted them on the fly. He's still upright, which is a testament to his skills.
The race leaders are still holding on to four minutes and change, and looking quite fresh as they hurtle through the valley toward the Alpe di Suisi. They're exiting the lovely town of Bolzano which has quite a nice plaza.
95km remaining from 125km
Once the riders hit the climb a few things will likely happen. Voeckler may attack, as is his habit, but Visconti could be one of the one who stays clear. Jose Serpa, winner of the Tour de Langkawi, is also good on climbs, although he favours the shorter ones.
Francesco Gavazzi is getting a bottle from the team car and instructions of some sort - he is nodding in agreement. Perhaps the plan is for him to launch up the road on the climb in hopes Cunego can bridge across? It's a move we've seen a few times before in Grand Tours.
Clearly the Columbia team have faith in their leader and have pulled back the break to 3:38. Visconti is still virtual pink, but for how long? It's nearly time to go up, up and away to Alpe di Suise!
The leaders are following the river road at the moment, but soon enough they'll see a sharp right turn which signals the start of the climb. In the peloton behind we see the teams already moving their men into position. Columbia has lost control of the peloton!
It's all Barloworld and their celeste Bianchis, clearly believing that Soler can do something special today. They'll need to keep him out of trouble so that he can live up to his promise.
100km remaining from 125km
The leaders have made the turn and are on the final climb! Let the fun begin!
The mountain is one that favours a climber who can deal with constant changes in grade, one who can withstand steep pitches and power over the gentler grades. Some riders simply cannot handle these constant changes in pace.
So far the leading seven have stayed together. They only have 2:33 on the bunch now!
David Zabriskie (Garmin - Slipstream) is tucked in at the back of the peloton and it is elbow to elbow back there. There is no moving up for the men back here. Basso is up front looking solid, as is Arroyo.
And we have our first victim in the breakaway. Looks like Gavazzi has lost the plot.
Capecchi is leading the break, ahead of the two Diquigiovanni riders, with Voeckler and Visconti still hanging touch. Peitropolli, too.
Armstrong is tucked in safely in the front part of the bunch - not too far up. Simon Gerrans (Cervelo Test Team) is up there for Sastre. The sprinters are starting to suffer, and Cavendish has left his teammates at the front.
Di Luca, looking mean in green, has a very serious expression.
105km remaining from 125km
20km to go for the leaders and another 3km or so before they'll get some respite from the steep stuff. They're losing ground - 2:18 now on the peloton.
If you're just joining us, we have a break which used to be seven until Francesco Gavazzi of Lampre was dropped on the start of the final climb. Remaining up front are Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Eros Capecchi (Fuji-Servetto), Daniele Pietropolli (LPR Brakes), Jose Serpa and Carlos José Ochoa (Diquigiovanni) and Giovanni Visconti (ISD).
There have been no attacks from the peloton yet, but the brisk and steady pace from Liquigas has now pulled the sextet back to two minutes.
105km remaining from 125km
Whoops - we were premature. It's now 20km to go for our leaders. The peloton is not too far behind and closing thanks to Liquigas' Valerio Agnoli.
Up front, Pietropolli takes over, but the gap is falling fast - 1:13 now as the main chase group heads under 20kms to go.
Carlos Sastre sitting up at the tail end of the single-file chasers and in front of a large group of favourites. He has Volodymir Gustov by his side.
The leaders have a couple nasty little pitches of over 9% to tackle before they get some relief in the form of a long stretch of 2.1% average. Almost 7kms of easier roads until the hill kicks back up with 10km to go.
107km remaining from 125km
Voeckler is making the most of his time on television, pulling all sorts of agonized expressions. He breathes a sigh of relief as the road levels off. Visconti heads back for a bottle from the ISD car.
The chasing peloton is a vision in spring green and blue as Liquigas has a firm grip on this chase. Pellizotti and his curly blonde locks sit at the back of this train in front of the deep green jersey of mountains leader Danilo Di Luca.
110km remaining from 125km
15km to go for the leaders and Ochoa hits the front to try and hold off the peloton. There still haven't been any attacks - our contenders are reserving the fireworks for the very difficult final 10km.
Just under a minute for the leaders as the peloton comes through the 15km to go mark! The Alpe is looming up ahead, and the riders can see the steep rocky ridge up ahead. Fortunately, they don't have to climb up there as they'd need some different gear to get on top of that!
We see just about everyone in this main group that you'd expect to be there: Di Luca, Basso, Pellizotti, Garzelli, Simoni, Menchov, Armstrong, Sastre... Leipheimer is probably in there but he's so good at hiding.
Caisse d'Epargne has three men near the front as the gap comes down to 48". Our pink jersey and his 'mates are still up front, as are the Lampre boys.
111km remaining from 125km
13.5km to go and Liquigas is still stringing out the chase group. Diquigiovanni is up front with four men. They've got their fifth up the road.
Ohhhhh... Kjell Carlström (Liquigas) pulls over and comes to a near stop. Job done! Legs fried!
Bad news for our leaders as they can now see the lead motorcycles of the peloton. It's not over yet, but soon.
Gibo Simoni has positioned himself near the front and is looking confident. 13 seconds to the leaders and soon we will see the groups come together.
115km remaining from 125km
Visconti looks back and sees that his time is over. All together!!! 10km to go and it's time for the fun to begin!
Giampaolo Cheula (Barloworld) attacks!
Dries Devenyns (Quick Step) attacks to go across to Chuela and he's got a nice gap.
Devenyns is setting a pace that Chuela isn't too happy with, he's not quite hanging onto the wheel of the Belgian.
116km remaining from 125km
8.6km to go and Chuela is dropped. We have one rider off the front, and it's the young Belgian Dries Devenyns (Quick Step).
There is carnage at the back of the bunch as more riders are dropped on these steep slopes. It's levelled off for a bit, which could help them out.
The leader is caught, peloton together.
Armstrong is up front with Rubiera, Navarro and Leipheimer. Brajkovic looks to be up here, too - Astana has some cards to play. Acqua e Sapone has men for Garzelli, too, but Liquigas has burned through a lot of their matches.
Leipheimer is on the wheel of the pink jersey, while Basso and Pellizotti still have just one rider to set the pace. Once he goes, will we see them attack?
118km remaining from 125km
Chris Horner is once again baring his chest for the world to see up front. 6.8km to go!
Looks like Brad Wiggins is hanging on at the back of this bunch, while Sastre isn't in any hurry to get to the business end of things. He's back with Armstrong.
Bruseghin is still in this group, too. Cunego might want him a little farther forward... and as if he read our minds he accelerates.
Astana has four riders at the back of this main group with Armstrong, while up ahead Leipheimer has two.
Oh, the Armstrong group is coming detached! As is Garzelli!
Basso, Pellizotti, Lövkvist and Di Luca are at the front. Poor Garzelli has been solidly dropped.
Sasatre and Menchov have made their way around the dropped riders, and we see Cunego fighting alongside Wiggins to get back on terms!
Still no fireworks at the front, just a long, slow and steady burn thanks to Liquigas. They've torched Cunego, Garzelli, Armstrong and more. But who is still here? Leipheimer. Sastre and now - Soler! He's moving forward.
Rabobank also has Ten Dam up front - he's looking quite good while Menchov is further back.
120km remaining from 125km
Seeldrayers is back with Menchov, in this now much reduced peloton.
Wiggins has fought his way onto the tail of this group, has Cunego? Bruseghin hasn't and we're missing the pink and blue up front!
There are only about 25 men left in the front group with less than 5km to go. Still Liquigas setting the pace as they hit a switchback with a steep pitch on the inside.
Armstrong is long gone now. Our axe man up front? Sylvester Szmyd of Liquigas. He's been pulling for a long time, putting many big names into difficulty. Cunego is pushing through, still not giving up but not making up much ground.
Denis Menchov (Rabobank) is on Sastre's wheel - they go around an Acqua e Sapone rider who is losing touch.
Simoni and Arroyo are now in trouble as Basso takes up the pace!
Sastre sprints around Simoni, dragging Menchov along.
Basso is working for our blonde Adonis, Pellizotti. Armstrong has lost more than a minute on the man who he used to school in the mountains.
122km remaining from 125km
3km to go and we're down to eight up front!
Basso, Di Luca, Lovkvist, Horner, Leipheimer, Sastre, Menchov and Arroyo are here, Basso still leading!
Basso, Di Luca and now Menchov are the first three. Leipheimer tucked in behind as Lovkvist and Sastre struggle at the back.
Pellizotti has been dropped!
We missed our blonde Adonis going out the back - a sad day for the coiffed one.
Oh, the pain! Lovkvist is pushing hard, digging deep to stay on this group. He HAS to stay with Di Luca. In fact, with time bonuses he'd better drop Di Luca or he will lose this pink jersey.
123km remaining from 125km
Basso takes back over with 1.6km to go!
It's steep. It's painful. Basso's name is written all over the road. Silly boys are running alongside the riders, one with a sombrero - a sombrero??
Oh, poor Cunego is still at 2km to go. Armstrong further back. The front seven are still together and our maglia rosa is fighting hard. Sastre seems to be sitting back to help him.
The pain is evident on the faces of the front seven men as they still have 1200m.
124km remaining from 125km
1km to go and Di Luca is in the lead, sweating but still looking good. Horner still up here with Leipheimer, but Sastre is getting tailed off. He fights it.
It's a slow speed approach for sure! Horner takes the lead!
124km remaining from 125km
600m to go!
Di Luca hits the front with Menchov to his right.
It's almost like a scratch race and Sastre attacks!!!
Menchov sees him and gets on his wheel with Di Luca.
Menchov goes, Di Luca is the only one who can hold the wheel!
100m to go and Menchov pulls away, Di Luca has second on the stage and enough of a gap to take the pink jersey!
Lovkvist gave it a solid try to take third on the stage... and here comes Rogers!
Menchov gets the stage, but Rogers is 19 seconds back!
Here comes Simoni and Soler, 45 seconds late.
What a finish! Nice attack by Menchov, who countered the move by the cagey Sastre.
Armstrong is still on the road, more than two minutes back. Cunego comes across the line losing 2:36 or so.
Armstrong said coming into the stage he wanted to stay within 2 minutes of the winner, but he's lost 3.
Leipheimer was right up there in the finish - we'll get the results up in a bit.
What a comeback by Rogers! And Lovkvist dug deep to hold onto second place overall by 5 seconds to Di Luca.
Thanks for following the Giro on Cyclingnews live once more. We've got an exciting situation in these early days of the Giro - many top names within a minute of each other and some big names minutes behind. But there are still more than two weeks to go!
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