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by Shane Stokes
May 25, 2014
Having appeared extremely strong in the time trial on Thursday, Giro d’Italia race leader Rigoberto Uran put in a more muted performance on Saturday’s mountain stage to Oropa, faltering on the climb where Marco Pantani took one of the most dramatic victories of his career during his ill-fated 1999 Giro.
Uran came under pressure on the final climb as the Ag2r la Mondiale team ratcheted up the pace, and had no response when the French team’s leader Domenico Pozzovivo and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) pushed ahead with four kilometres to go.
Uran ended up losing 25 seconds to Quintana, 21 to Pozzovivo, 17 to Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff Saxo) and five to his main rival Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team), who jumped away from him before the cobblestoned finish.
Despite the time loss, he sought to play down the significance of the performance. “I had no problems today. The team was happy with the riders in the breakaway, and their lead. I had a team-mate [Julian Vermote] in there. I was surrounded by team-mates all day, so I wasn’t worried,” he said.
“The team was phenomenal today. The idea is to arrive at the end of the race wearing the Maglia Rosa. It’s no use showing yourself every day. You have to save as much energy as possible. This is a very open race, the hard days and the hard climbs still lie ahead of us, and I want to wear Maglia Rosa in Trieste.”
The 164 kilometre stage was won by the Italian Enrico Battaglin, who drew on the motivation of his Bardiani-CSF team-mate Marco Canola’s stage victory on Friday. He was part of a 21 man break which went clear early during the stage and which contained the riders who would fight it out for stage honours.
While he was distanced on the climb by Dario Cataldo (Team Sky) and Jarlinson Pantano (Colombia), he timed his finishing sprint far better than that duo and got back up to them after they launched an extremely early uphill sprint.
He whipped past a fading Pantano and then did the same to Cataldo, switching from left to right behind the Sky rider, jetting past on his right and snatching victory inside the final 50 metres.
“After yesterday’s win, our morale is sky high,” he said. “I didn’t attack in jest: I believed in the breakaway and it was always my intention to go all the way. I wasn’t our team’s designated rider in the breakaway: There are better climbers in the team than me, like Zardini. But the situation looked good and I felt sure that the breakaway would make it.”
He explained that it was his determination which made it possible for him to chase the win. “I suffered on the climb, and on the hardest section, I couldn’t keep up. I had to go full gas in the last 500m and, when I got across to Cataldo and Pantano, I had to breathe for a second because I’d had to ride at 100 percent to catch them.
“Thankfully, they lost speed and I did a great sprint and managed to get past them in the final 30 metres. I looked around to make sure I had really won, and to see if anyone else was coming from behind.”
He took a stage last season, and said that the date of today’s success had double significance for him.
“This day last year, I crashed out of the Giro d’Italia, days after taking my stage win. So this is a nice way to get my revenge,” he said. “Also, in the Veneto region, 24 May is the day we commemorate those lost in the First World War. In general, young people tend to forget history, but we are very aware of it, and it’s nice to be able to commemorate in this way.”
The day’s big move went very early on with Battaglin, Cataldo, Pantano, Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff Saxo), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), Ivan Santaromita (Orica-GreenEdge), Valerio Agnoli (Astana), Julien Vermote (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol), Androni duo Marco Frapporti and Emanuele Sella, Axel Domont (Ag2r la Mondiale), Martijn Keizer (Belkin), Paolo Longo Borghini (Cannondale), Yonathan Monsalve (Neri Sottoli), Mattia Cattaneo plus Jan Polanc (Lampre Merida), Danilo Hondo (Trek), Albert Timmer (Giant Shimano), Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar) and Manuel Quinziato (BMC Racing Team) all going clear as part of a 21 man break.
These built a lead of four minutes but after Wellens took the riders over the La Serra climb, a crash brought down several riders in the peloton. This caused both a stall in the bunch plus the retirements of Pieter Weening (Orica GreenEdge) and Kanstantsin Siutsou (Sky); the gap went out over ten minutes before the category one Alpe Noveis, where Wellens was first to the top.
Roche went clear on the Belmonte climb and race down the descent, but was reeled in. Timmer and Quinziato then attacked and opened a minute’s lead, but the latter had a mechanical and lost his chance out front.
Timmer did what he could to try to hang on alone but with less than three kilometres remaining he was caught by Cataldo and Pantano. He slipped back but then got back up with Polanc and Battaglin. The latter looked to be out of the running when Cataldo and Pantano accelerated for the stage win, but had timed things better than his rivals and raced past them to reach the line ahead.
Further back, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp) and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) had attacked and would gain 42 and 38 seconds respectively on Uran. The Colombian was clearly not on his best day and dropped time to his other rivals too, yet put a brave face on things afterwards.
He sought to reassure himself and others that he would cope well in the next mountains. “I know almost all the climbs that are coming up. I’ve trained on the climb up to Montecampione, even if I’ve never raced there,” he said.
That climb will be the battleground for Sunday’s stage, and will present a clearer view of just how strong his Giro chances are. Another faltering performance will show his rivals that the race is more open than might have seemed after his time trial win.
As things stand, though, he remains in pink. He has a 32 second lead over Evans, one minute 35 over Majka, and over two minutes on Pozzovivo and Kelderman. Quintana is just over three minutes back but showed signs that his form might be coming around.