Rogers conquers Zoncolan, Quintana set for Giro d’Italia win

by Shane Stokes

Ten days after taking his first-ever Grand Tour stage win in Savona, Michael Rogers notched up his second, and this time in rather more spectacular surroundings. The Australian rider was the strongest out of a twenty man breakaway group which went clear at the start of the 167 kilometre stage to the top of Monte Zoncolan, regarded by many as the toughest climb in Europe.

Rogers pushed clear with Italian rider Francesco Bongiorno (Bardiani CSF) on the final ascent. The Italian’s chances were ruined when an overzealous fan pushed him to increase his speed but instead caused him to almost run into Rogers’ back wheel.

Bongiorno had to put his foot down and while the time cost was only a few seconds, his momentum was lost and he was unable to contain a determined Rogers.

The latter reached the summit 38 seconds clear of Androni Giocattoli’s Franco Pellizotti, while Bongiorno grinded in a further eleven seconds back in third. Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff Saxo) and Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing Team) completed the top five.

Further back, the general classification contenders were waging their own battle and the first two riders in the overall standings, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma Quick Step), underlined their strength when they rode away from the others.

Uran was unable to crack Quintana, who matched his surges and then led in the final kilometres, taking them across the line. He finished seventeenth, four minutes 45 seconds back, and retained his three minute seven second advantage over Uran. Fabio Aru (Astana) lost a further 16 seconds, the Italian slipping to four minutes four seconds back, but he solidified his grip on third overall.

Rogers had been sidelined for several months due to his positive test for Clenbuterol in last autumn’s Japan Cup, but since being cleared to compete again, his career is on the up. He savoured the result, particularly because of the location.

“It is really worth it. It is amazing,” he said. “It has always been a dream to win a mountain top finish like that. Zoncolan is part of the history of cycling and to win here is an honour. We wanted to take the chance to win another stage win today and I did it. I’m delighted.

“It’s steep, one hell of a climb. These climbs are part of the history of cycling and to win here is special.”

He didn’t realise what had happened to Bongiorno but said that once he got the gap, he floored it. “It was such a hard climb and I was battling myself at a number of times. On the final bit of the slope when I was riding with Bongiorno, I believed it was possible to pull it through. When I discovered I was alone, there was no other way to go but head down, full speed.”

The stage was the final mountain leg in this year’s race and many teams were determined to fight for the stage. Soon after the start 19 riders clipped away, with the group comprising Tinkoff Saxo duo Mick Rogers and Nicolas Roche, Riccardo Zoidl and Danilo Hondo of Trek Factory racing, Neri Sottoli pair Yonatha Monsalve and Mattio Rabottini, Simon Geschke and Georg Preidler of Giant-Shimano, Androni Giocattoli’s Franco Pellizotti and Jackson Rodriguez, Sky’s Dario Cataldo, Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar), Pieter Serry (Omega Pharma QuickStep), Axel Domont (AG2R-La Mondiale), Maxime Belkov (Katusha), Francesco Bongiorno (Bardiani), Maarten Tjallingii (Belkin), Maxime Monfort (Lotto-Belisol) and Mattia Cattaneo (Lampre-Merida).

Brent Bookwalter (BMC) then got across, increasing the number out front to twenty.

This group was depleted in size on the day’s first climb, the category one Passo del Pura. Cataldo took the points at the top, then Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol) and Robinson Chalapud (Colombia) managed to bridge up to the move on the second category Sella Razzo climb. The gap at that point was over six minutes, and it increased to almost eight by the time the break moved onto the final climb.

Back in the bunch, there was a huge fight for positions, with Nairo Quintana’s Movistar bringing him to the front but then pushing too hard and taking him off the front. The Colombian got on team radio and called them back, leading to a more controlled pace.

Out front Geschke led the break with 6.5 kilometres to go, with team-mate Georg Preidler on his wheel. Pellizotti then took over and dragged Bongiorno and Rogers clear, only to crack himself. The other two continued onwards, threading their way through the gauntlet of at-times overexcited fans.

Back in the bunch, Kiserlovski jumped away but the Croatian champion was reeled in several kilometres later. The steep slopes and high pace were putting riders continuously out of the back; one of those to suffer was Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team), who fought to stay with the group but couldn’t do so.

With just under kilometres to go Bongiorno led with Rogers on his wheel. Pellizotti was several seconds back and fighting to get back in touch, but eventually faded.

Further down the slopes the screw was being turned. The pressure increased in the group of general classification riders and Wout Poels dragged his Omega Pharma Quick Step leader Rigoberto Uran and Quintana clear.

Fabio Aru (Astana), Domenico Pozzovivo (A2r La Mondiale), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff Saxo) and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) were distanced, with the other GC riders even further back.

The gradient flatted out somewhat and Rogers moved ahead of Bongiorno. The latter was pushed by a spectator and almost ran into Rogers’ back wheel, needing to put his foot down and then get going again. This handed Rogers a gap of several seconds, with the fan’s action costing Bongiorno his chance.

The Italian continued on but was caught by Pellizotti inside the final kilometre. Rogers grabbed the win, throwing his arms in the air and then grinding to a halt, completely spent.

Further back, Uran attacked Quintana but was matched by his compatriot, who was showing no weakness. He knew he was riding towards the overall victory in the Giro d’Italia and led his rival over the finish line, four minutes and 45 seconds behind Rogers.

He ended the day three minutes seven seconds clear of Uran and, barring disaster, will tomorrow become the first Colombian rider since Lucho Herrera to win a Grand Tour.

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