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Giro d'Italia 2011: Stage 15

Welcome to the Queen Stage of the 2010 Giro!   Five ranked climbs. the highest climb of the race, a mountaintop finish on gravel roads – this could be epic!

Hello and welcome back.  Today we travel an easy 229km from Congeliano to Gardeccia-Val di Fassa.  Or perhaps not so easy?

Things got off to an early start today, at 10:19 instead of the expected 10:40.
 

A group of seven is trying to get away:  Emanuele Sella (Androni), Kevin Seeldraeyers (Quick Step), Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack), Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil), Aliaksander Kuchynski  (Katusha), Olivier Kaisen (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Javier Aramendia (Euskaltel).  Let's see what happens with them...
 

Only one rider decided to give things a pass today:  RadioShack's Robbie Hunter was the only reported DNS.
 

Five, count 'em, five climbs today!  You thought we had mountains the last few days?  Just wait.  Today we take on the Piancavallo, the Forcella Cibiani, Passo Giau, and the Passo Fedaia, before topping it all off with the Rifugio Gardeccia.
 

They are already charging up the first of the day's climbs: the Piancavallo at km 43, offering 14.5km of climbing pleasure at an average gradient of 8% and a maximum of 14%.

A bit later, at km 123, we have the Forella Cibiani.  It climbs 10 km at 7%, and is  a mere category two.

By the way, we hear that there will be  group of protesters at the top of the day's first climb to protest yesterday's exclusion of the Crostis.  Let's hope it is a peaceful protest.

We aren't getting a lot of information to pass along, but hear that the lead group has passed the mountain ranking.  There is also said to be an 11-rider strong group between them and the field.

Ah, our 11 chasers:  Garzelli, Di Luca, Pasamontes, Pirazzi, Sastre, Weening, Deignan, Losada, Petrov, Nieve, and Tschopp.

Kaisen has fallen out of the lead group and is now in the chase group.

Back to our review of today's mountains: 


Then we have Mr. Big!  At km 172, the Passo Giau is this year's “Ciama Coppi”, the highest point of the Giro.  It rises all the way to 2236 metres.  Our guys will be riding about 16 km, with an average gradient of “only” 6% and a max of 16%.
 

That makes the Fedaia sound easy, with its 11 km at 8.2%  Ha ha, fooled you!  That is only the average gradient.  The last six km are all more than 10%, and at times it gets up to 18%.  And this is also known as the Marmolada – sound familiar?
 

Two more riders have decided not to take on today's mountains and have abandoned:  Frantisek Rabon (HTC-Highroad) and Manuel Cardoso (RadioShack).

If anyone is still left at  about km 220, they can start up the final climb of the day, up to the Rifugio Gardeccia.  Only 7 km!  But it opens with 12% and closes with 13.8%. 

179km remaining from 229km

The two lead groups have come together and now have 3:30 on the field.

Considering the antics from yesterday, we have to ask whether today's stage will actually ride on the planned course?  We haven't heard anything to the contrary, but then again, who knows....
 

Sella was the first over the mountaintop and took the most points, followed by Hoogerland and Popovych.

The UCI decided pretty much at the last minute yesterday to order the Giro to take the Crostis climb out of yesterday's stage.  Was race organiser Angelo Zomegnan to be so overruled?  Not on your life!  Here is what he had to say about it.

Jan Bakelants of Omega Pharma-Lotto is trying to join the lead group.  He has jumped out and now has just over a minute on the peloton.

You can win a Giro jersey!  Cyclingnews has teamed up with Santini to offer you the chance to win one of 10 jerseys from the Giro d'Italia. The individual prizes on offer are one of three signed maglia rosas, one signed green jersey, one signed red jersey and one signed white jersey. Each signature will come from the winner of the final jerseys at the end of the Giro.  

To enter, click here.


The first two big mountain stages didn't go so well for Euskaltel's Igor Anton, but he can't complain any more. He took yesterday's win atop the Zoncolan in grand fashion – even if it wasn't easy.  “At 5km to go, I suffered a lot and what I was doing at the front was a bit of a gamble. But I wasn’t racing against my rivals, it was a race with myself,” he said afterwards.

153km remaining from 229km

Bakelants made it up to the lead group and the gap has now skyrocketed:  over 8 minutes!

We have a new race leader!  A new "virtual" leader at any rate.  Mikel Nieve of Euskaltel-Euskadi was only 9:03 down on Contador.  The gap is now 9:30, so he can pull the virtual pink jersy on over his real orange one.

Vincenzo Nibal is not happy with Alberto Contador, accusing the Spaniard of not showing him any respect.  There was no need for Contador to attack in the final 500 metres, the Liquigas rider said.

Once again, we are getting little information from the race. And this is the "boring" portion of the stage -- the real climbs are still to come, it is just a matter of getting to them at this point.

Contador, on the other hand, was very happy with how the stage went.  He also said he didn't hear the boos and jeers at the end.  The maglia rosa also claimed that the reason he attacked Nibali is because he respects him as a competitor so much.

134km remaining from 229km

Almost time for the feed zone, and the gap has gone up another 10 seconds.


Christophe Le Mevel didn't have his best day yesterday, so he told Garmin-Cervelo teammate Peter Stetina to go for it.   The young American took advantage of his opportunity and finished an impressive 15th, only 3.29 down on Anton.   His mountain bike riing helped him a lot on yesterday's climb, he told cyclingnews.

Here's some bad news for Pippo Pozzato:  he's not going to the Tour de France.  Considering his relationship to Team Katusha at the moment, though, that shouldn't really come as too great a surprise.

Andrei Tchmil announced that Katusha will send a first-time-ever all Russian team to the Tour.  He said the final nine have yet to be selected, but we expect to see Vladimir Karpets, Denis Galimzyanov and Alexandr Kolobnev at the start.

The riders have now been underway for three hours.  They have another four or so to go.  Gonna be a looooooong day.....

116km remaining from 229km

The escape group is now on its way up the second climb of the day, the Passo Cibiana.  "Just"a category two climb.  Quite easy actually, at 10.2km long and an average 7% gradient with a max of 12%..... easy, right?

This is a very interesting escape group, with some very big names in it -- riders who are capable of going on to win this stage and taking over the race lead if the gap stays so big.

Barry Ryan is coming in to take over the live report for a spell.

The group's lead has stretched out to 9:50 and there has still been no serious reaction from the peloton behind. Saxo Bank-SunGard did a lot work on the front yesterday, and Bjarne Riis hinted after that stage that his team would look to make Liquigas work today. The lime green jerseys have started to gather near the front, but they haven't put the hammer down just yet.

With Nieve now pink jersey on the road, Saxo Bank have begun to contribute to the chase behind. Richie Porte is still bruised and bandaged from his fall on the road to Orvieto, but the Australian is setting the pace on the front of the peloton. It will be interesting to see if the gap starts to come down over the next 20km.

On the slopes of the Forella Cibiani, the lead group is looking still looking very smooth. Johan Tschopp and Emanuele Sella in particular have been looking to up the pace when the road goes uphill.

There's a lot of grand tour pedigree in this lead group. Philip Deignan is on the front now and pedalling very smoothly. The Irishman took 9th place overall and a stage win at the 2009 Vuelta. After an illness-ridden 2010, he's been getting back to his best at RadioShack. He told Cyclingnews earlier in the race that a high overall place was beyond him at this Giro, but he was looking to try and get into some dangerous breaks.

The few remaining sprinters in the race are suffering grimly and losing contact with the rear of the peloton on the climb of the Forella Cibiani. Roberto Ferrari (Androni) is among those struggling.

109km remaining from 229km

Mikel Nieve is in the pink jersey on the road by 40 seconds, and he looks like he has plenty left under the saddle as he sits behind Danilo Di Luca.

Stefano Garzelli lost a lot of time yesterday on the road to the Zoncolan, so it's really not surprising to see him in the early break here. Giro winner in 2000, in recent years the veteran Italian has given up on his overall aspirations to hunt for stage wins.

Jose Rujano was widely expected to challenge on the Zoncolan yesterday, but he suffered from the knock in the finale and finished 10th. According to Davide Cassani of RAI, Rujano's crisi di fame came about partly because he finds it difficult to consume energy gels.

Sella and Bakelants are marking each other in this break as we approach the top of the climb. Both men clearly have one eye on the green jersey.

Hoogerland attacks to try and hoover up the points, but Sella comes past him with Garzelli on his wheel.

106km remaining from 229km

Garzelli comes past Sella on the inside of the left hand bend before the summit and crosses the Forcella Cibiana in first place.

Garzelli and Sella have a small gap over the top of the climb, but presumably the break will all come back together on the descent.

Here's Susan to take you through to the finish.

Thanks Barry!

The not-so-good news is that it is now raining on the peloton.  Although the lead group has sunshine.

96km remaining from 229km

Liquigas turned up the speed in the chasing peloton, and the gap has come down to 9:02.

Six riders have jumped from the lead group and have 25 seconds.  Let's grab those names for you.

So, it's seven, not six:  Di Luca, Popovych, Tschopp, Sella, Garzelli, Bakelants and Seedraeyers.

90km remaining from 229km

The seven leaders have 35 seconds on the chase group, and the peloton is also moving slowly closer, now at eight and a half minutes.

A quick review of the standings:  Contador leads all the categories.  Well, that was easy enough!

Ok, not really all of them. Roman Kreuziger is best young rider, and Astana is the best team.

But Contador leads GC, points and mountain rankings!

We have an Euskaltgel ride sitting on the guardrail, and now hobbling to the ambulance.  It is Juan Jose Oroz.  No idea what happened....

86km remaining from 229km

Liquigas and Saxo Bank are sharing the lead work in the main field.

Contador has worn the maglia rosa since the ninth stage.  He took over the mountain and sprint jerseys on the 13th stage.

85km remaining from 229km

Most of the chase group has caught the lead group. Aramendia couldn't keep up and is now about a minute back.

The sun is shining on the peloton again.  But we hear that there is rain at the mountaintop finish.

The terrain at the moment seems to be relatively flat.  The riders better enjoy that while they can.  There's not a lot of that to be had today, and there is very little, if any, in the remainder of the stage.

Those flourescent green Liquigas jerseys are really something in this sunshine.  We wonder if they glow in the dark?

80km remaining from 229km

The gap has jumped again, now up to 10:40.

And up they all go.....

From the 14 stages so far, we have the following statistics on winners: Mark Cavendish is the only one to have won two stages. (three if you count the time trial)

 

HTC leads with three wins, those two from Cavendish and the TTT.

Androni is the only other team to have more than one, with Vicioso (3d stage) and Rujano (13th stage).

Ah, a bit of cobbles in Campina d'Ampezzo, a famous ski resort.

Cortina, not Campina.  Sorry!

10 teams have wins in the 13 stages  so far.  You will remember there was no winner in the fourth stage, which was ridden as a memorial to Wouter Weylandt.

Seven nations share those 13 wins.  Spain leads with four, Italy and the UK have two each.  The rest belong to the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Venezuela.

We have an attack out of the lead group and think it is Hoogerland -- why does than not surprise us?

Yes, it is him.

70km remaining from 229km

Hoogerland has built up a tidy little lead here.

The former lead group looks to be falling apart.  or not?

The gap back to the peloton is starting to come down, now at about nine and a half minutes.  Haven't gotten the gap on Hoogerland yet.

So of course now we have Hoogerland's gap:  he has already built it up to 40 seconds.

You will no doubt be greatly surprised to learn that Liquigas and Saxo Bank-SunGard continue to lead the chase.

They have now been underway for slightly more than five hours.  And aren't anywhere near done.

There's nothing new happening.  Hoogerland leads, the chasers chase less than a minute back, and the peloton is at nine and a half minutes.

Hoogerland continues to make his solitary way up through the pine forest.  It is warm enough that he has his jersey totally open.

62km remaining from 229km

Hoogerland has built up his lead now to nearly a minute and a half over his former escape companions.

Johnny Hoogerland of Vacansoleil is 28 years old.  He has been a pro for a number of years, but really came into his own in 2009.  That year he won Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen, was fifth in the Giro di Lombardia, 12th in the Tour of Flanders and 12th overall in the Vuelta a Espana.

Garzelli and Nieve have attacked out of the chase group and are at 58 seconds behind Hoogerland.

The large chase group is no longer so large.  Don't know yet who all has fallen back.

Looks like Garzelli and Nieve are making good time on Hoogerland.

Garzelli has dropped Nieve and caught and passed Hoogerland.

Nieve is now with Hoogerland.  Will they be able to stay together?

We see snow on the mountains.  And not all that far away, either.

Nieve is now alone.  We assume that he has dropped Hoogerland.

Garzelli approaches the top.  By the way, there is a nice little financial reward for winning this climb.

Purito Rodriguez and a Movistar rider pull away slightly from the peloton.

Saxo Bank is getting perhaps a bit worried.  They scurry to the head of the peloton.

We see quite a bit of snow now at the top of the climb.  Lots of fans, too!

And Garzelli can claim this years Cima Coppi!

Where is Nieve?  He comes across at 45 seconds down.

And here comes Hoogerland, at 1.25.

A chase group of nine crosses at 1:44.  Di Luca and Seeldraeyers are in it, didn't catch the others.

Not only the chase group is getting smaller.  The peloton has shrunk dramatically -- maybe 30 riders now?

Garzelli looks to be riding carefully on hss way down.

Arroyo of Movistar is the one with Rodriguez.  They have only a minimal lead over the peloton.

Contador isn't taking any chances.  He is now riding in third place.

Rodriguez and Arroyo turn it up a notch, hoping to get away.

Contador couldn't stand it any more and moves up to join Arroyo and Rodriguez.

Rujano has joined the Contador group, and Nibali takes off out of the peloton.  As does Scarponi.

Down the hairpin curves they all go.....

A bit hard to tell who is where, but the group of favourites is all spread out on this descent.

42km remaining from 229km

Garzelli is still in the lead, powering his way along with 42 km to go.

And he has 42 seconds on the nearest chaser.

Arroyo, Scarponi and Contador more or less together.

Nibli has shown lhis powers and is ahead of Contador  et al.  That doesn't please the Spaniard at all, who takes off again.

40 km to go for Garzelli.

Nieve and Bakelants are at 1:05 behind Garzelli.  11 others are then at 1:30.

Nibali is really going here, determine to put time into Contador.  Contador, of course, is chasing furiously.

Niablai has a gap of 26 seconds on Contador, who is closely followed by a handful of others.

Oh and it is really pouring down rain at the finish!

Garzelli takes the intermediate sprint.

Garzelli is already on his way up the day's next climb, the Marmolada.

Contador is now together with the favourites' group again. 

Sella and Di Luca are together on their way up the Marmolada.

They seem to be behind NIeve and Bakelants and ahead of whoever is still left in the former escape group.

35km remaining from 229km

35 km to go for Garzelli.

Spectacular scenery here.  But we doubt the riders are paying any attention to it at all.

Nibali had up to 40 seconds on Contador, but as things go up, the gap has fallen to 25 seconds.

Contador is now 8:23 down on Garzelli, so NIbali is just about 8 minutes down.

Contador leads his group.

Arroyo attacks, and promptly looks back to see who if anyone is following.

Looks like about 20 riders in the Contador group.  Arroyo is pulling away.

Will Contador pull out another spectacular finish today?  Or is he at his limit?  We'll see.....

A Katusha rider is the next to go.

He doesn't get away, though.

Bakelants is alone now.  Don't know if Nieve is ahead or behind.

Nieve is ahead of Bakelants.

Nieve is 1:15 behind Garzelli, with Bakelants another 15 seconds back.

Nibali is now back in the Contador group.

Contador getting nervous?  He takes off out of the peloton.  But not alone.

Rujano and Kruijswijk go with him.

Seven riders behind them.

That group includes Rodriguez, Kreuziger and Gadret.

NIbali is not in the group chasing Contador, and is in fact faling back.

Garzelli had an almost-encounter with a dog. Fortunately it was almost.

A RadioShack rider is working his way up to the Contador group, as Nibali continues in the opposite direction.

Good bye, Nibali.  He is going the wrong direction.

Meanwhile the group with Scarponi and Kreuziger has nearly caught Contador.

Nibali visits the team car, probably for a pep talk.

30km remaining from 229km

30 km to go for Garzelli.

The Contador group has caught and passed Hoogerland.

Contador can afford to let Garzelli win this today, by the way.  The Italian is over 23 minutes down on GC.

In fact, he lost 17 of those minutes yesterday on the Zoncolan.  Guess he is making up for that today.

One by one the former members of the escape group are being caught and passed.

It's raining on Nibali.  Probably matches his mood.

Actually it is raining on all of them.

Garzelli is getting quite a fan escort up to the top.  Let's just hope none of them do anything silly.

Do they really think it helps the rider to run so closely beside him, yelling and clapping?

One of the fans got to close and Garzelli let fly with an elbow.....

And again!  This particular fan was so dense he had to get two elbows!

Isn't this race hard enough without the rider hang to fight off the onlookers as well?

Now Garzelli gets a visit from his team car, that will protect him a bit.

He hits the top!  Fan-free, thank goodness.

Nieve is still the next behind him.  What is his gap?

6:57 to Contador.

About 40 seconds to NIeve.

Nibali still grinding his way through the rain.

The Contador group now moves into the column of fans.

NIbali is no longer alone, but together with Sarmiento.

Rujano has pulled slight away from the Contador group.

Rujano takes off!

That was all too much for Contador.  He moves up.

Descending isn't so Contador's thing, and he is back in the group.

It looks to be a bit dryer on the down side of the mountain.

20km remaining from 229km

20 km and a lead of 6:11 for Garzelli.

Garzelli is making good time, building his lead up to 6:30.

Nibali is doing his all to make up lost time.  He is an excellent descender and is taking advantage of that.

Nibali is really flying.  But the contador group is nowhere in sight.

15km remaining from 229km

15 km for Garzelli.

Looks like Bakelants has caught Nieve.

Nibali takes off his rain vest.  A tricky move at this speed!

Nibali is taking every risk he can.

And he can see he Contador group!

We were wrong about Nieve and Bakelants.  They are stil in that order behind Garzelli.

Any number of riders moving up to the Contador group now. And he doesn't like that, especially since some of them dared to pass him.

About 14 in the maglia rosa group.

Rodriguez attacks out of that group.

No one follows.

Garzelli now has only 20 seconds on Nieve.

The road lopks very wet again.

Garzelli and Nieve are about to start up the final climb.  It is, we would say, a nasty one.

Nieve catches Garzelli at the 6 km marker.

Once again we have a fan-lined road.

Remember the average gradient is 10%, with a max of 16%.

5km remaining from 229km

Nieve takes off. Garzelli can't follow.

Two Rabo riders lead the Contador group,with the magli rosa tucked in at third.

Nieve pulls away, as Garzelli looks to be running on empty.

Nieve up out of the saddle as he climbs.  He now has 25 seconds.

6:08 back to the Contador group with 5km to go for NIeve.

Garzelli has recovered and is now only 10 seconds back.

Another steep ramp, curving and in the rain... what fun!

The Contador group now heads up the final climb.

Weening is one of the first to drop from the group.  Now Arroyo.

Scarponi moves ahead of the group. Contador follows, as does Gadret.

Scarponi dumps his rain jacket and Contador jumps to a small lead.

Contador keeps on going....

He slowly pulls away from Scarponi and GAdret.

And now he pulls away not so slowly.

Scarponi and GAdret still give chase.

Contador has 20 seconds now on Nibali.  Contador continues to pull away and still manages to look as fresh as a daisy.

Less than 3 km for Nieve.  Or will Contador catch him?

The maglia rosa is up out of his saddle and turns it up a notch.

Nieve now has 32 seconds on Garzelli.

Nieve grinding along.  He gives the impression of being ready to see the finish line.

Nibali is not entirely giving up.  He is now in a group with Rodriguez and Kruijswijk.

Contador continues to sail along as if he were on the flat.

Two km for Nieve.

Contador flies past Bakelants at the 3km marker.  NIevei is only 1 km ahead.  Perhaps Contador really will catch him!

It's very wet on the way up.....

Now Gadret and Scarponi catch Bakelants.

1.3km for Nieve.  Almost at the flamme rouge!

Contador is up out of the saddle.

The last km won't be all that much fun for Nieve.  Or anyone, for that matter.  It includes 100 meters of gravel, with the steepest gradient.  And that in the rain....

And Nieve hits the last km!

The riders have been out there having fun for over seven hours today.....

Garzelli just now hits the flamme rouge.

And now Contador is also in the final km.

Nieve is still going... WHERe is the finish line????

Just one more curve, and another one, and another one....

Nieve struggles, Contador goes smoothly.....

100 meter to go for Nieve, who is almost brought down by traffic warden!

Nieve raises his fist and blows a kiss to celebrate his victory!

GArzelli holds on to take second place, at 1:41 down.  Followed only seconds later by Contador.

Scarponi was close behind for fourth, with Gadret fifth at 2.28.

NIbali is still toiling his way up......

He crosses the finish line at 3:37 down.

The stage:

1 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 7:27:14
2 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone 0:01:41
3 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:01:51
4 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:01:57
5 John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:02:28
6 José Rujano Guillen (Ven) Androni Giocattoli 0:02:35
7 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:03:34
8 Joaquím Rodríguez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:03:34
9 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Pro Team Astana 0:04:01
10 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:04:13
 

And the GC:

1  Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard  62:15:29  
2  Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD  0:04:20  
3  Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale  0:05:11  
4  John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  0:06:08  
5  Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi  0:06:32  
6  Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi  0:07:03

Thank you all for reading along on this long long day.  Monday is a rest day, which we all very much need!  Join us again Tuesday for more fun and games at the mountain time trial!

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