Evans grabs pink jersey as Matthews cracks, Ulissi takes the win

by Shane Stokes

Twelve years after he first wore the Maglia Rosa, Australian rider Cadel Evans raced back into the famous pink jersey with a strong performance on the first real mountain stage of this year’s race. The BMC Racing Team rider finished eight seconds after the Italian Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), who jumped inside the final kilometre, overhauled lone leader Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and notched up his second stage win of the race.

Ulissi’s move came on the back of a surge by Croatian champion Robert Kiserlovski (Trek Factory Racing), who was responding in turn to an attack by Dani Moreno (Katusha). The latter was the first rider to catch a tiring Rolland, but had no answer when Kiserlovski and Ulissi got up to him.

Ulissi has already taken one uphill finish in the race, winning stage five to Viggiano, but admitted that the tougher climbs on today’s stage put him under pressure. He did what he could to save energy and then found he had the necessary oomph in the finale to fight for, and take, the stage.

“Today I really didn’t expect to win,” he admitted afterwards. “Of course it was a difficult race today, just because I knew we were talking about climbs that were really too hard for my characteristics. I am really, really happy.”

Evans was fifth across the line, dropping those eight seconds to Ulissi and Kiserlovski and conceding two to Wilco Kelderman (Belkin Pro Cycling Team) and Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Movistar Team). His BMC Racing Team had done a lot of the driving in the finale, with Steve Morabito putting in a strong performance for his team leader.

Although Evans conceded those few seconds, he appeared pleased at the finish. Today’s stage put him back in pink over a decade after he first wore the jersey and also confirmed that he has got the sort of form to chase the final overall victory.

“You have hopes of what you can do in the Giro,” he said afterwards, looking relieved that his condition is where it is. “It has been a difficult Giro, not for climbs and TT, what you’d expect to win the race with, but for all these other reasons. It is what makes the Giro such a difficult race.”

He was keen to praise the BMC Racing Team riders. “Of course Steve was really the man of the day. The team were great all day but he was there at the finish,” he said, adding that the general classification contenders are all staring to feel the strain.

“We all started the stage a little bit fatigued today and I think that all showed in the final.”

The 179 kilometre stage was the most mountainous thus far, featuring three categorised climbs but constantly undulating roads, and race leader Michael Matthews conceded that he would likely slip out of the Maglia Rosa. So it proved for the Orica GreenEdge rider, who struggled on the uphills and who finally cracked just inside fifth kilometres from the finish.

Earlier, a move of ten riders had gone clear some thirty kilometres after the start in Foligno and staved off a chase attempt by Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol). Those present included the rider who would be the day’s big aggressor, Julian Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing), along with Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar), Carlos Quintero (Colombia), Julien Bérard (AG2R-La Mondiale), Mauro Finetto (Neri Sottoli), Marco Bandiera (Androni Giocattoli), Mattia Cattaneo (Lampre-Merida), Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani CSF) and Eduard Vorganov (Katusha).

From this group Arredondo jumped clear 38 kilometres from the line and pulled away. Rolland would later jump from the peloton and mount a long chase, but struggled to close the gap. However as the end of the stage approached, the leader was starting to fade.

With three kilometres to go Rolland was drawing closer and closer to Arredondo, who was just ten seconds ahead and glancing back with concern. Further back, Evans had BMC Racing team-mate Steve Morabito setting the pace, with the Austaralian knowing that he could be riding into the Maglia Rosa.

Rafal Majka (Tinkoff Saxo) sparked off the action in the favourites’ group, attacking. He was recaptured but the tone was set for the remainder of the stage. Ahead, Rolland had caught Arredondo and went straight to the front, pushing the pace. He was conscious that the chasing group was closing and also that it was important to keep the pressure on the Colombian.

With two kilometres left the Evans group was 32 seconds back and drawing every closer. Three hundred metres later Rolland put in another surge and shed Arredondo, who cracked and slipped backwards. Morabito continued to push the pace at the front and caught the Colombian with 1.3 kilometres left.

Almost immediately afterwards Mikel Landa (Astana) jumped hard. Evans was quick to respond and grabbed his wheel. The pace relented for a moment and with Rolland into the flatter final kilometre, he suddenly had a glimmer of hope.

Morabito moved back to the front and resumed the pacesetting. Rolland still had a gap but the road kicked up again; Dani Moreno (Katusha) saw the chance and sprang clear, closing up quickly and going past with 250 metres to go. However Kiserlovski was stronger, got up to him and went past; his hopes of a stage win were dashed, though, as Diego Ulissi (Lampre Merida) came off his wheel and nabbed his second stage victory in the race.

Evans was gapped by the final kilometre surge but with Matthews finishing many minutes down and the Australian having a pre-stage time advantage over his main rivals, he took over the Maglia Rosa as race leader.

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