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by Shane Stokes
May 17, 2014
After notching up victory on Tuesday in Bari, Nacer Bouhanni reached the top step of the podium again on stage seven of the Giro d’Italia on Friday, leading the peloton home into Foligno.
The French FDJ rider won a massive bunch sprint to the line, beating Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) and Luka Mezgec (Team Giant-Shimano).
“I wanted to start my sprint as we came out of the bend, but I was on the right hand side and [race leader Michael] Matthews and Nizzolo closed the door to my left. I had to go right, saw a little gap, and managed to make my way through.”
Overnight race leader Michael Matthews (Orica Greenedge) raced in fourth, retaining his Maglia Rosa for yet another day. He had hoped to take his second successive win but came up short in that regard. “It was pretty technical and there was a lot of fighting. Coming into the final, I was one or two spots too far back with that type of finish.
“After yesterday’s efforts, I wasn’t at 100%. It was more about switching on today and keeping the Maglia Rosa. A top three would have been great, and to get the win would have been amazing, but I didn’t quite have the legs.”
Matthews ended the day 21 seconds clear of closest challenger Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) and one minute 18 ahead of Rigoberto Uran (Tinkoff Saxo).
He accepted that the stage was likely his last to hold onto the pink jersey. “I haven’t really looked in detail at tomorrow’s stage, but we really knew this would be the last day, if we could keep [the Maglia Rosa] to this point. It’s going to be pretty sad to lose it tomorrow,” he said.
“I’ll definitely be trying my best to keep it. It’ll be unfortunate, but realistically there’s not much you can do about it. It’s been an amazing week for the team, winning the team time trial on Friday, then the stage at Montecassino, and wearing the Maglia Rosa. We couldn’t ask much more for ourselves.”
The 211 kilometre stage began in Frosinone and saw a number of early attacks. Australian rider Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol) was one of those who was aggressive, but he missed out when a five man break pushed ahead on the category three climb of Valico di Aricnazzo.
Those who were present were Bjorn Thurau (Europcar), Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp), Winner Anacona (Lampre-Merida), Robinson Chalapud (Colombia) and Nicola Boem (Bardiani-CSF). They built a lead of nine minutes, but this ebbed to less than six minutes with 85 kilometres left.
Chalapud picked up the intermediate sprint at Rieti (km 123.9) while behind Elia Viviani (Cannondale) was first of the bunch, adding to his total in the points competition.
The break continued to work hard and held an advantage of five minutes heading into the final forty kilometres. That gave them a mathematical possibility of winning the stage but the bunch continued to drive the pace behind, ramping up the speed to try to ensure a big gallop to the line.
Haas was feeling good and picked up top points on the fourth category Valico della Somma climb. He then kicked clear with ten kilometre left, only to be hauled back.
The effort put Anacona into distress, causing him to dig in to hold the wheel of the other riders in the break. The other four continued to work but the bunch had reduced the gap to less than a minute and the sprinters’ teams were driving it onwards.
Thurau then attacked with 6.2 kilometres to go, continuing the hostilities in the break. He was quickly brought back but the jump caused the move to stall, and the riders began to look back at the looming peloton. The gap was down to just twenty seconds at that point, making it extremely unlikely that the leaders would stay clear.
Haas was concerned and kicked clear again just before the five kilometre to go banner. The others closed him down and while he stayed clear a little longer when he tried again with 3.9 kilometres left, this effort was also unsuccessful.
The quintet was hauled back very soon after that. Fran Ventoso (Movistar) crashed at the three kilometre to go banner, losing his chance for the day. Up front, Orica GreenEdge drove the pace in trying to set things up for Matthews, then Giant Shimano took over and led the bunch into the final kilometre.
It was working for Mezgec, who kicked to try to give the team a stage win. However Bouhanni and Nizzolo were both quicker and got past him before the line, taking the first two places.
Matthews finished just behind Mezgec, netting fourth and retaining the pink jersey for another day. He savoured the moment, knowing that tomorrow’s first big mountain stage will likely see a change.