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Giro d'Italia 2011: Stage 14


Stage 14 of the Giro d'Italia, from Lienz to Monte Zoncolan.

146km remaining from 210km

The real attacking is taking place off the road this morning, however. This 14th stage of the Giro was arguably the most eagerly anticipated of the race, not just because of the fearsome finish atop the mighty Zoncolan, but also because of the technical climb and descent of the Crostis that was set to precede it.

The initial reservations about the inclusion of the Crostis were related to the safety of the descent, but teams of volunteers had worked to put up netting and padding on the exposed corners to alleviate those fears.

As expected, the polemica has exploded in Italy this morning, with Giro race director Angelo Zomegnan furious at the decision to cut the Crostis from the course. He blamed the decision on the power struggle between team managers and the UCI, and was very vocal in his criticism of both parties in this audio interview with Gazzetta dello Sport.

Meanwhile, out on the road, the peloton are happy to let the trio out front to build up a lead. Approaching the summit of the first climb, they have ten minutes on the Saxo-led bunch, and Brambilla leads Rabottini and Tankink over the top of the 3rd category Monte Croce Comelico.

Alberto Contador is up near the front of the peloton, looking very comfortable. He's taking a look at the race profile, and in spite of his dominance to date, he'll certainly be glad that he doesn't have to take on the descent of the Crostis.

Returning to the Crostis polemica, Zomegnan also pointed out that the team managers had used none of the three opportunities they had to voice their concerns about the dangerous descent before the start of the Giro - at the Giro presentation on October 23, the first team meeting in Milan on March 17, and the pre-race briefing in Turin on May 5.

A strongly-worded piece in this morning's Gazzetta dello Sport says names Bjarne Riis, Johan Bruyneel, Roberto Amadio and Luc Eisenga as the chief representatives of the managers, while Patrick Lefevere also weighed in by telephone from Belgium.

Saxo Bank lead the peloton over the top of the climb, fully ten minutes down on the leading trio. On the second of three consecutive tough days in the mountains, there are a lot of tired legs in the bunch that will be glad that things have settled down after the quick start to proceedings this morning.

123km remaining from 210km

Unfortunately for Farnese Vini-Neri, Andrea Noe was an early abandon on today's stage. The 42-year-old was off the front on yesterday's stage to Grossglockner, but he pulled out in the opening kilometres this morning.

120km remaining from 210km

Brambilla gets out of the saddle and puts in a little acceleration to make sure he leads the trio over the top of the Sant'Antonio.

Yesterday Contador benefited from some help from Euskaltel-Euskadi in keeping tabs on the early break. Today Saxo Bank are taking the responsibility for the chase themselves, although the gap is still rising slightly. 10:20 the lead now for Brambilla and co.

Rabottini drives the break down the descent of the Sant'Antonio and almost comes a cropper on a tight bend, but thankfully he gets around safely.

An average speed of over 38kph for the first two hours of racing. We may be in the mountains, but so far the climbs have been imminently manageable. The real horrors will come on the Zoncolan at the end of the stage.

After some light rain earlier in the stage, the sun is out as the peloton approaches the top of the Sant'Antonio. Saxo Bank continue the pace-setting but the bunch is spread across the road behind. A lot of riders looking to keep their powder dry for the Zoncolan.

Filippo Savini (Colnago CSF) darts out of the pack to take fourth place at the top of the Sant'Antonio, but he sits up over the top. The gap to the lead group is still in excess of ten minutes.

Speaking of the Zoncolan, Contador is well-prepared for the 10.1km climb. With an average gradient of 15% on the six kilometres that make up the toughest central part of the climb, smaller inner rings are the order of the day.

106km remaining from 210km

At the finish of the stage yesterday, Michele Scarponi promised no less a figure than Eddy Merckx that he and his Lampre-ISD team

102km remaining from 210km

Of course, even if Contador brings the maglia rosa to Milan, he may not feature in the record books as the winner of the 2011 Giro. The Court of Arbitration for Sport verdict on his clenbuterol case is due in early June. While it's impossible to second guess what that decision might be, there is the possibility that the man on the second step of the podium in Milan could be awarded the Giro title at a later date. This was a recurring theme in the Italian media's line of questioning at the pre-race press conferences in Turin. Nibali, Scarponi et al were adamant then that they were racing for first place, but in light of Contador's domination, they may well be revising that outlook.

100km remaining from 210km

While the Italian favourites struggled on the slopes of the Grossglockner yesterday, it was a good day for French cycling, or more specifically Ag2r-La Mondiale. Our man Jean-François Quénet spoke to Hubert Dupont after his surprise showing on the climb.

The Crostis polemica has not been the only controversy of the past 24 hours, of course. Away from Italy, there have been further allegations of systematic doping at the US Postal Service team.

10:38 the lead for the three leaders in sight of the summit of the Mauria. Tankink is the best-placed overall, by the way, 28 minutes down on Contador.

Reports reaching us that David Arroyo (Movistar) was a faller on the climb of the Mauria, but he was straight back on his bike and is safely ensconced in the peloton. A brief moment of distraction for the man who battled his way onto the podium twelve months ago.

The Spaniard is having a fine Giro again this time around. While Contador appears to be on another planet, Arroyo is in the mix with Scarponi, Nibali and Roman Kreuziger. He lies in 4th overall, 3:25 down on his fellow countryman.

Paolo Zani, the CEO of Liquigas, has just told RAI that Roberto Amadio attended a meeting of the team managers at this Giro about the descent of the Crostis. According to Zani, Liquigas was one of five teams who were in favour of racing the Crostis, but that 15 other teams were opposed to the idea.  

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) reckons that it's impossible to put Alberto Contador into difficulty on this Giro. "We have to hope that he has a crisis," Rodriguez said before signing on this morning, with more than a hint of resignation. 14th at 5:26, Rodriguez will doubtless be less than pleased with how his Giro has gone to date.

Robert Kiserlovski (Astana) goes on the attack from the main peloton on the approach to the top of the Mauria. He crosses the line 9:46 down on the break.

Meanwhile, Francesco Chicchi (Quick Step) has abandoned the Giro. Most of his sprinting brethren had already left the race at Ravenna. With a grand total of zero stages favourable to a bunch finish in the final 10 days of the race, it's no surprise that there are almost no sprinters left at this point.

83km remaining from 210km

Filippo Savini is also trying to get across to the break, and he is clear of the peloton on the descent of the Mauria.

The bunch is now coming through the feed zone, with the gap to the break down to a shade under 10 minutes. A puncture for Tiago Machado, but he has a quick wheel change and will be back in place quickly.

Contador changed his bike ahead of the final climb yesterday, but it was controlled by UCI commissaires after he crossed the line. No word on whether the famous "scanners" were on hand.

70km remaining from 210km

The gap is now beginning to come down steadily to the trio in front. In spite of Tankink's best efforts, their lead is now down to 9:21.

There's a lengthy stretch of descent and false flat ahead of the peloton, so we can expect the gap to start to tumble more rapidly now over the coming 25-30km. Saxo Bank-SunGard have done all of the work at the head of the bunch today, but even if Contador is left isolated on the Zoncolan, is anybody really strong enough to put him under pressure?

61km remaining from 210km

54km remaining from 210km

A lot of banners out on the roadside today criticising the decision of the teams and the UCI to remove the Crostis from the race. "Rabbits" is one of the politer terms being used...

RAI reports that Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli was also in favour of the Crostis remaining in the race. It seems as though the Italian teams supported the RCS line, while the foreign teams requested that the UCI remove the climb from today's route.

50km remaining from 210km

While Contador will of course be the favourite to take the honours atop the Zoncolan, his closest challenger in the mountains has been something of a surprise. Jose Rujano appears to have rediscovered his climbing legs since returning to Gianni Savio's Androni outfit. No climb in this Giro should suit a man of his stature as much as the Zoncolan.

Brambilla has been the most active of the break on the climbs, but Tankink has arguably been the smoothest. The Dutchman certainly looks more comfortable than he did during the E3 Prijs in Harelbeke at the end of March. On that occasion he was the only man who tried to follow Fabian Cancellara's fearsome attack and pulled up 50 metres later with a cramp.

Some Liquigas riders coming to the front of the bunch now to lend a hand to Saxo Bank's efforts in keeping the break under control.

The familiar bobbing figure of Alberto Contador is a few rows back, betraying no signs of weakness.

46km remaining from 210km

A further alteration has been made to the route while the stage is ongoing... The race will not go to the top of the Tualis, but will instead travel directly to the foot of the Zoncolan.

All of this means that there are - we think - only around 25km left to race today. However, we are awaiting for formal confirmation of the distance from the race organisers.

Rabottini briefly lost contact with Tankink and Brambilla but has fought back up to their wheel.

The trio are now tackling a short steep 15-18% climb that was on neither the original 210km route nor the shortened 190km course announced last night.

This shortening of the course will doubtless be music to the ears of the three escapees, but even if they hold a 6-minute lead to the foot of the Zoncolan, they'll have their work cut out to hold off the big names behind.

Liquigas-Cannondale have grouped at the front of the peloton now, and they are looking to whittle down the break's advantage.

The peloton has split in two, which might explain why Liquigas are putting the hammer down, but so far we have no indication that any contender is caught behind.

Liquigas are leading the chase up that nasty, unexpected climb, and the gap is to the break is down to 5:40. Up ahead Rabottini is driving the three escapees towards the foot of the Zoncolan.

A lot of riders being put into difficulty on this stiff little climb. Marco Pinotti is among those struggling, and it seems that Contador is shedding teammates. Navarro and Hernandez are still with him, however.

Television images from the Tualis confirm that there was indeed a protest of sorts against the removal of the Crostis from today's route, hence the decision to make this new alteration to the percorso on the hoof.

The Liquigas-led bunch passes under the 35km to go banner, but we reckon that there are probably only around 15km left to race. Unfortunately, we've had no confirmation of the precise distance left to race, but as soon as we hit the foot of the Zoncolan, we'll know that there are 10.1km to go...

On the approach to the Zoncolan, the gap between the break and the bunch is down to around the five-minute mark. Liquigas are still leading the pursuit behind.

10km remaining from 210km

The Saxo Bank team car is the only one behind the maglia rosa group. None of the other team cars or the race jury have been able to pass the second part of the bunch to get up behind the group of favourites...

50 riders or so in the pink jersey group, as they approach the Zoncolan.

Rabottini has seemed in trouble on every climb today, and as Brambilla moves to the front, he has been distanced from the break. Tankink is still holding on, but the steepest section is still a few kilometres away.

9km remaining from 210km

Nibali has his Liquigas team working hard here, he must be planning something on the Zoncolan, and Scarponi has sent his Lampre teammates to the front to lend a hand.

Garzelli and Machado among the riders dropped under the pressure from Liquigas at the front of the bunch.

Carlos Sastre has also been dropped, but his teammate Denis Menchov is still up there with Contador et al.

7km remaining from 210km

Liquigas are setting a tempo of 16kph at the head of the bunch, and the pink jersey group is down to 30 riders.

Valerio Agnoli has been immense for Nibali today, but it will be up to the Sicilian to try and take on Contador once the road gets steeper.

7km remaining from 210km

6km remaining from 210km

Contador climbs out of the saddle and effortlessly closes the gap to Anton. Nibali and Scarponi react behind too and try to haul themselves back up to Contador.

Up ahead, Tankink has managed to regain contact with Brambilla.

6km remaining from 210km

Meanwhile, Tankink has caught and passed Brambilla. He has 1:30 over the pink jersey group.

Rodriguez is dropped by the Contador group, and he appears to be in real difficulty. Nibali is really suffering but is at least managing to make it back up to Rodriguez.

5km remaining from 210km

Anton grinds past Rabottini and now has Brambilla in his sights. Tankink still has 40 seconds over Contador, around 30 over Anton.

Contador is happy to let Scarponi set the pace in pursuit of Anton.

Contador and Scarponi are climbing at 14kph, just behind Anton. Scarponi looks to be suffering, but Contador's face is as impassive as ever.

4km remaining from 210km

Contador is sat comfortably (if such a thing is possible on the Zoncolan) on the shoulder of Scarponi. He doesn't appear to be interested in helping to bring back Anton.

4km remaining from 210km

One of the following motorbikes gives up the ghost on the climb, smoke billowing from its engine at the side of the road. Contador and Scarponi cast a glance in its direction as they grind past. 

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This has been a fine show of defiance from Nibali. He doesn't have the legs to drop Contador, but he's certainly restored some pride here on the Zoncolan.

Scarponi hasn't quite been distanced by Contador and Nibali, but he'll struggle to make it back up to them before the summit.

Under the 3km to go banner for Contador and Nibali. Apparently Contador is spinning a 34x32 gear. Certainly he seems to be pedalling with greater agility than the rather more leaden Nibali.

2km remaining from 210km

2km remaining from 210km

The road flattens out here, and Anton is out of the saddle to take advantage. He has 30 seconds over the Contador-Nibali group and 45 over Scarponi. Surely he won't be denied the stage win now.

Anton knows the victory is close now. Nibali doesn't have the acceleration to trouble Contador and is doing his best simply to put time into Scarponi.

1km remaining from 210km

1km remaining from 210km

1km remaining from 210km

That will have been demoralising for Nibali, but he's still grinding his way up the climb.

0km remaining from 210km

Fantastic show of defiance from Nibali, he's made his way back up to Contador, to the delight of the tifosi.

Anton crosses the summit to take the stage win, the first foreigner to triumph on the Giro's toughest climb.

Contador drops Nibali again in the closing 300 metres to come home 2nd, 36 seconds down. Some jeers for the Spaniard from fans who see Saxo Bank as the instigators of the removal of the Crostis from the route.

Nibali comes in 3rd, just behind Contador. Great effort from the Sicilian today, even if Giro victory seems as distant as ever.

Scarponi finishes exhausted in 4th, 1:12 down, with Menchov breathing down his neck in 5th.

Nieve, Gadret and Rujano are the next riders to come in, around 2 minutes down on Anton.

A tough day for Roman Kreuziger. His podium hopes have taken a serious blow here, as he loses almost 3:30 to Anton.

With the 20 second time bonus for the stage winner, Anton will be close to Nibali's second place overall this evening.


Overall standings:

Thanks for joining us on the rocky and ever-changing road to the Monte Zoncolan. We'll back with live coverage tomorrow of the third instalment of this trio of mountain stages. In the meantime, full results, reports and pictures from today's stage will be online soon, and stay tuned to Cyclingnews for all the latest from the Giro. 

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