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Giro d'Italia 2012: Stage 20

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Hello and welcome to our coverage from stage 20 of this year's Giro d'Italia. It's the final day in the mountains as the peloton tackles 218km from  Caldes/Val di Sole to the top of the Passo dello Stelvio. We're in for a thriller.

With Mortirolo and Stelvio in one crazy afternoon, it’s the history, the lunacy and the sheer unbridled magic of the Giro d’Italia in one afternoon. For what it’s worth Stelvio is again the Cima Coppi, but this is about guts and glory, about winning and losing the most beautiful race on earth. Just about as good as professional cycling gets…

Bergonzi:

The opening climbs of the Passo del Tonale (15.1km at 6.1%), Aprica (15.9km at 3.1%) and Teglio (5.9km at 8%) should not cause too many problems on paper, but after three weeks of racing, there will be many beginning to feel the strain even before the race reaches the penultimate climb, the Mortirolo (11.4km at 10.5%). Though approached from its “easier” side, the Montagna Pantani should still cause problems, even if one suspects most will look to keep their powder dry for the grand finale up the mighty Stelvio.

The race’s most iconic episode on the Stelvio came on its first in visit 1953, when Fausto Coppi conjured up one of the last truly great performances of his career to snatch the pink jersey from Hugo Koblet at the death, while its most exciting finish came when the hitherto unheralded Fausto Bertoglio held off Franciso Galdos to seal overall victory on the final day in 1975.

Here's where we stand in terms of the GC:

Hesjedal was the big winner yesterday, distancing all of his GC rivals and almost coming away with the stage in the process. It was a hammer blow for Basso who had put his team to work for the final 50km but was unable to control his rivals on the final climbs.

Rodriguez still leads the race, but only by 17 seconds. Yesterday suited the Spaniard, if he was ever going to extend his lead over the Canadian, and he'll need to find at least a minute today if he's to stand any chance of holding off Hesjedal in the final time trial.

Here's a video preview of today's stage.

Rather interestingly, Rodriguez and Basso both raised the white flag, admitting defeat in the race. There's still a long way to go and although Hesjedal holds the advantage, he's still not in pink and almost anything can happen on the Mortirolo and the Stelvio.

The rides started a few minutes ago, and there will be a lot of tired legs out there but if they can make it through today, they'll complete the Giro.

There's no question that yesterday's stage was one of the most dramatic we've seen in the Giro in recent years. We had the predictable but thoroughly entertaining suicide break, with Sandy Casar and Stefano Pirazzi on the charge.

Then there was Roman Kreuziger who you could sense was riding for more than just a stage win. His pride would have taken a huge blow after he'd cracked earlier in the week and his attack was a rare reminder of the talent he holds.

Away from the battle for GC, there are a number of other battles going on. Rabottini leads Pirazzi by 11 points in the KOM competition. Will either or both riders try and sneak into today's break?

And Cavendish only leads Rodriguez by 13 points in the fight for the red jersey. It's going to be hard for Cavendish to take any points today, you have to say.

Uran appears to have a good enough lead to secure the white jersey. He's had a great Giro d'Italia. I wonder if he'll ride the Tour this year in aid of support Wiggins or go back home and prepare for the Vuelta.

If you're interested in the bikes the peloton have been riding in the mountains, come and have a look at this article by tech guru James Huang. He's at the Giro and he's put together this article, looking at bikes for Scarponi, Hesjedal, Larsson, Ballan, Rodriguez and a few more riders.

Rodriguez:

208km remaining from 218km

The Stelvio, which will decide today's stage and possibly the final home of the 2012 maglia rosa is one of the most iconic climbs in cycling. You can read all about its history in this article - an extract from Daniel Friebe's book Mountain High.

198km remaining from 218km

More and more riders are being dropped on the first climb of the day. It's a tad cruel to start a stage like this after yesterday's brutality.

The final kms: The Passo dello Stelvio climbs at an average of 7% gradient with sections at 12%. The route winds along the side of the mountain with some narrow tunnels until 12km from the finish, where a series of hairpins starts. Following the junction with the Umbrail Pass, the average gradient steepens to approximately 9%, reaching the finish at an altitude of 2757 metres. The finishing straight is 200 metres long and six metres wide.
 

Weather update brought to you by the bright as the sun Farnese kit: The stage started under cloudy skies and temperatures of 17 degrees centigrade. At the finish at the summit of the Passo dello Stelvio similar conditions are expected with temperatures of six degrees centigrade.
 

188km remaining from 218km

Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Barracuda), Roman Kreuziger (Astana), Damiano Caruso (Liquigas), Emanuele Sella (Androni Giocattoli), Branislaw Samoilau (Movistar), Mathieu Perget (Ag2r), Oliver Zaugg (RadioShack), Stefan Denifl (Vacansoleil-DCM), Mathias Frank (BMC), Matteo Bono (Lampre), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Tom Slagter (Rabobank), and Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini),

188km remaining from 218km

That's pretty powerful looking group. Kreuziger is clearly riding with a purpose, Vande Velde can handle himself on the climbs, so to Zaugg, Caruso, Sella, and Slagter. All the major teams have a rider in the break, apart from Sky actually, so it will be interesting to see who will chase.

Kreuziger is the highest placed rider on GC, 12:21 down on the maglia rosa. He won't be thinking about anything other than another stage win today. He's playing a different tactic than yesterday, when he allowed the break to go clear and then decided to ride across later in the stage. Perhaps he's worried that if he waits until the Mortirolo the GC contenders won't allow him to attack and gain any time. Hats off to him for trying, either way.

174km remaining from 218km

162km remaining from 218km

That time gap has moved Kreuziger up just one place in GC. He wont be worried about that, he's just after the stage win.

155km remaining from 218km

We've talked about the Stelvio but we've not really mentioned the Mortirolo much this morning. It could be crucial in the battle for pink. Tree covered almost to its summit, Lance Armstrong called it the toughest climb he'd ever ridden in 2004.

The first rider over the summit during its Giro debut in 1990 was Sierra. Four years later Pantani won ahead of Indurain and Berzin and after the Italian died, the climb was dubbed the Cima Pantani. There's a monument to him on the climb and he still holds the record for the fastest ascent.

Lance Armstrong:

Pantani raced up the climb with a 22 on the back.

The break are heading up the second climb of the day and Rabottini will be looking for maximum points again, having been first over the last climb.

The bunch have pegged the group back by around 40 seconds, the gap down to 2:55.

I still find it truly incredible that Pantani rode up the Mortirolo using a 22 on the back. The climb is 12.4km in length and has 6km of 12.4% at the mid-point.  The average gradient is 10.5%.

130km remaining from 218km

Rabottini was first up the last climb and the break are now on the Teglio. By my reckoning Rabottini has the KOM done and dusted now. I think if Pirazzi wins the final two climbs and Rabottini doesnt pick up points it's back on but the Farnese rider looks unstoppable.

Once over the top of the climb the break will race towards the feedzone before tackling the Mortirolo. Below is a picture of Basso, Nibali and Scarponi about to go over the top of the climb in 2010.

The leaders are over the top of the climb. No confirmation on who grabbed the maximum points but unless you hear otherwise it was Rabottini.

The lead for the break has gone out to 5:32.

We're about an hour or so of racing from the start of the Mortiroli.

Over 6 minutes for the break, and that's the sort of advantage they'll need if they want to stay clear over the Mortirolo.

Colnago will need to get some help if they're going to keep this break under control, there are simply too many good riders up the road for them to contain. The gap has come back down to 5 minutes but it's going to stretch the Italian team to breaking point if they have to do all the chasing.

100km remaining from 218km

95km to go and Colnago still driving the peloton along.

Garmin have put two men on the front to set the pace.

The break are working well together and the gap is still fluctuating between 5 and 6 minutes.

The Vande Velde/Kreuziger group have just passed through the feedzone.

Rabottini has dropped back to his team car to pick up a can of coke, or rather, a cola based drink.

Euskaltel have added a man to the chase.

Serpa comes through and takes a turn on the front. He's looking for a good performance for his Androni team who are racing without Rujano who pulled out of the race.

We're hearing that a number of riders including Hunter have been thrown off the race by the race jury. We'll bring you more once we know.

Clement has the break strung out on a small rise but we're still some way off the start of the Mortirolio.

86km remaining from 218km

The main contenders are all near the front of the race. It will be interesting to see what tactic Liquigas and Basso use later in the stage.

We're hearing that four riders, including Hunter and Rollin have been kicked off the race for holding onto cars.

Clement is still leading the break, taking a huge turn on the front.

81km remaining from 218km

The next section is flat until a small rise at Tirano. Then there's a short descent before we start the Mortirolo.

Both Rabobank riders, and both Movistar riders have moved to the front of the break.

75km remaining from 218km

The gap is down to 3:45.

Could Pozzovivo attack on the Mortirolo? 

Rabottini and Frank are hanging on at the back of the break.

They're onto the Motirolo

Garmin and Liquigas are riding alongside each other. This is the biggest day in the history of the Garmin team. If Hesjedal can hold on he'll win the Giro. The Mortirolo is perhaps the biggest test for him, if he can hold things together on that climb he should make it through the stage.

He looks a bit laboured at the moment while Basso looks pretty comfortable.

Rodriguez is riding a bit further back in the bunch and looks relaxed.

The gap is down to 2:49.

Liquigas take control of the bunch. They really only have one tactic, one dimension to them, and that's been their undoing at times in the race.

Roman Kreuziger has moved up to second wheel in the break. He's just riding for the glory and although the stage is probably out of the question now he'll still attack on the climb.

The peloton are on the climb now.

Slagter sets the pace in the break and already riders are starting to pop off the back.

Frank and both Movistar men have been dropped. Vande Velde is at the back too while Zaugg sets the pace.

Rabottini has been dropped too.

And it looks like Zaugg has broken clear.

And it's Lampre who set the pace on the front of the bunch, no Liquigas.

Scarponi wants the stage and possibly a crack at second on GC. Maybe even the top step.

Zaugg has been joined by Carrara. It must have been the Italian in the break and not Denifil.

64km remaining from 218km

Stetina leads Hesjedal, with Basso sitting close by.

The gap is 3;15 between your break and the maglia rosa. They have 8km of climbing to come.

Hesjedal grabs a drink as behind him Scarponi and Basso ride side by side, watching his every move. The two Italians will try and crack the Canadian mentally as well as physically.

Caruso is charging up to the leading pair and is about to make contact.

Carrara is going backwards and Caruso goes passed him.

Is that someone in a full Polti kit running alongside Zaugg? I do hope it's Luc Leblanc.

As Rabottini has been caught by the main bunch.

Zaugg and Caruso have 3:42. The Liquigas rider has been told not to work though so he'll just sit there and wait for Basso to catch him.

There's a bit of a re-group at the front of the race with Vande Velde Sepra and Kreuziger coming up to Caruso and Zaugg. Carrara continues to go backwards.

But back in the bunch Rodrguez has attack and Hesjedal has gone with him, Scarponi too.

That's blown the entire race apart.

It's slowly coming back together though.

But that's really thinned out the maglia rosa group.

Rodriguez goes again

Hesjedal goes with him, Scarponi too and a ride from Sky.

Basso leads them all back together.

Hesjedal doesnt need to set the pace, he just needs to follow.

61km remaining from 218km

Cataldo comes through and sets the pace for the maglia rosa group.

It's Pauwels on the front setting the pace, Cataldo is there. So is Basso, Scarponi, Cunego, Hesjedal, Rodriguez and around 8 more riders.

Rodriguez's attacks did some damage but is he just weakening the Canadian before landing a sucker punch?

It's Zaugg, Caruso, CVV and Sepra up the road still and Amador coming back to make it 5 riders.

Stetina is at the back of the maglia rosa group. He needs to stay in that group for as long as possible. I'm surprised Vande Velde hasn't sat up yet.

The American grabs a bottle from the car.

QuickStep continue to set the pace on the front of the maglia rosa group, that's doing Hesjedal the world of good to be honest.

Zaugg pushes on alone. If you're wondering about Kreuziger, he's off the back.

Serge Pauwels is leading the peloton on the Mortirolo.

Hesjedal looks like he's suffering.

He slips back, then moves to the front again.

58km remaining from 218km

Tiralongo and Bono have collided and come off.

The Astana ride slid out and landed face first. He's back up and chasing now,  Bono too.

Zaugg is struggling to turn the pedals as Hesjedal takes up the pace setting in the maglia rosa group.

Riders are all over the road, a Lampre car is also stuck. And it look s like Kreuziger has been caught by the maglia rosa group.

Basso is in trouble and has let a gap develop between him and Uran.

As Zaugg closes in on the top and will be the first ride over the climb.

162km remaining from 218km

Carrara gives De Gendt a little push as he pulls over.

Pozzovivo is setting the pace, Hesdejal is there, Rodriguez too but Basso is still off the back.

Basso is clawing his way back to the Rodriguez group and they go over the top.

Zaugg leads on the descent but it's full throttle behind as the Scarponi/Hesjedal group look to put Basso under even more pressure.

48km remaining from 218km

43km remaining from 218km

Zaugg has 2:58 on the maglia rosa group.

Cunego Losada, De Gendt and Carrara have formed a group behind the Caruso group.

And Caruso has a problem with his bike. He needs a new one.

Cunego wont work here or the Katusha rider.

A ceasefire with the maglia rosa group easing up and taking on some food and drink. There are a number of attacks through from riders further down on GC.

Hesjedal is urging his rivals to ride.

Nieve, Cataldo and a few other riders have all attacked.

The gap between Zaugg and Rodriguez is now 5:44.

De Gendt is 5:40 down on GC and he's riding into a very strong position, so no wonder Hesjedal is worried at the moment. He needs Stetina and Vande Velde to get back to him and do some pace setting. This valley between the Mortirolo and the Stelvio is changing the dynamic of the entire race.

35km remaining from 218km

Astana are setting the pace in the maglia rosa group with Tiralongo and Kreuziger on the front.

Frank is leading the group with Tschopp, Cataldo and Dupont.

Carrara has popped. De Gendt and Cunego riding themselves up the GC and they have nearly 4 minutes.

Zaugg meanwhile is struggling. He doesn't have much left.

Vande Velde took a long time to come back. I think he's made it now.

33km remaining from 218km

Frank has popped and Vande Velde and Stetina are both riding for Hesjedal now.

They're 4 minutes behind de Gendt.

As Zaugg races along the uneven gravel roads that will lead him to the final climb of the day. He has just 33 seconds on the chase group.

The cars are coming by Zaugg and he's looking back to see the Cunego/de Gendt group.

30 hugely important kms to come.

And Zaugg has been caught.

Seven riders in the lead group but Cunego and Losada are just sitting and Zaugg is a spent force.

The gap is coming down, it's now at 3:42.

I think Stetina has popped too so that just leaves Vande Velde with the task of dragging back the dangerous group. He's doing a good job, the gap is now at 3:38.

The Garmin group are about to bring back the Cataldo group.

Stetina is back, he must have been with the team car. He's on the front with extra bottles. Hesjedal, is getting some fine support from his two American teammates.

The break are about 2km from the start of the Stelvio.

The Euskaltel duo lead the break onto the foot of the climb.

The gap is 3:58.

Stetina and Vande Velde continue to push the maglia rosa group along.

Cunego is getting a free ride, and if he has the legs he'll attack. Rodriguez and Basso are watching the Canadian. As Scarponi moves up.

And Zaugg has been dropped.

The peloton are on the foot of the climb but the gap isn't coming down any further.

De Gendt moves to the front and then asks for help. I doubt he'll get much support from any of the other riders. Nieve, but that's it.

Stetina has been on the front for a while and CVV takes over for him. The gap is at 3:48.

19km remaining from 218km

19km remaining from 218km

Stetina is back with the team car. Will he be able to come back and do one more turn?

Scarponi just stares ahead at the road, pale faced and vacant.

Nieve sets the pace in the break as they take on a hairpin with Amador at the back.

Vande Velde has Hesjedal on his wheel.

The gap is at 3:42 so he's within 2 minutes of pink.

How long can Vande Velde keep this pace?

The moment Vande Velde turns over Hesjedal will be on his own.

17km remaining from 218km

Kangert has been dropped by the break.

And de Gendt has attacked.

17km remaining from 218km

Cunego has been dropped by de Gendt and Nieve and Vande Velde is back on the front of the maglia rosa group.

Nieve and de Gendt push on but Cunego hasn't given up, he's about 20 meters back.

16km remaining from 218km

Vande Velde has the maglia rosa group down to around a dozen riders.

15km remaining from 218km

Uran is there, Scarponi, Pozzovio, Basso, Rodriguez and Hesjedal.

Cunego is losing more ground on the leading two riders.

The gap continues to go out, it's at 3:55.

Vande Velde takes us around another hairpin.

Rodriguez is calm. So calm his mouth isn't even open.

And Zaugg has been caught by the maglia rosa group.

Gadret is also there.

Cunego is spinning a small gear and he's coming back to the leading pair.

13km remaining from 218km

And Cunego makes contact.

And the Italian goes right by them leaving De Gendt to close the gap.

12km remaining from 218km

And Cunego drops Nieve.

De Gendt with his jersey unzipped and shoulders rocking is turning the entire Giro upside down.

11km remaining from 218km

De Gendt has 14 seconds over Cunego, a few more over Nieve.

The Vacansoliel rider is less than two minutes off the race lead.

He's 4:16 up and sits 3rd overall if the race was to stop right now.

It's 4:23 but Scarponi has to do something, Basso too, if they want to even finish on the podium.

The gap is 4:31.

10km remaining from 218km

None of the favourites have reacted yet, perhaps they simply cant...

Hesjedal is trying to get more riders to help with the chase

Basso has moved up but that's not really done much to help the Canadian's situation.

Amador has been caught by the maglia rosa group.

The gap is 5:05. He's less than 40 seconds from the race lead.

8km remaining from 218km

Vande Velde isn't slowing, the Vacansoleil rider is just getting quicker and quicker.

The gap is 4:51.

The gap is 5:21.

And Gadret has attacked.

Panic or a thought out tactic?

A Sky rider closes the gap.

And Vande Velde pulls over and Sky lead the bunch

With Henao and then Uran on his wheel, then Hesjedal and the rest of the favourites.

The gap is 5:26 with 6km to go.

The gap is 5:26 with 6km to go.

Sky should have done this a lot earlier, not for Hesjedal but for their own GC places. The gap is 5:23.

Henao is setting a good tempo and he has the maglia rosa group strung out. He's shaved a few seconds of the lead, which now stands at 5:15.

5km remaining from 218km

And it looks like Gadret attacks and Hesjedal goes with him.

The Canadian needs to move to the front and set the pace himself now.

4km remaining from 218km

The gap to De Gendt is at 5:11.

And they've slowed in the maglia rosa group and Hesjedal moves up, finally.

He wont get help but that doesnt matter too much at this point.

3km remaining from 218km

They're starting to bring back Gadret.

The gap is 5:16.

3km remaining from 218km

Hesjedal is losing his current second place to De Gendt at the moment.

The gap is at 5:11

2km remaining from 218km

The Canadian increases the pace and takes back a handful of seconds. Basso almost gets dropped.

And Pozzovivo has blown. And Bass too and Uran.

Hesjedal has put down the hammer and has Scarponi, Rodriguez and Henao with him. The gap is 5:00

Hesjedal leads them around another corner with just 1.6km to go.

Basso has totally blown.

Henao is now waiting for Uran.

Hesjedal has the gap at 4:50

Either way De Gendt is going to take the stage win, an incredible stage win.

The gap is 4:48

As Scarponi attacks and Hesjedal cant respond

1km remaining from 218km

Rodriguez just sticks to Hesjedal's wheel.

Scarponi looks back, it looks like he'll gain some time.

As De Gendt parts the crowd on the top of the climb.