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by Shane Stokes
May 29, 2015
Photography by Cor Vos
Philippe Gilbert became the third rider to double up on stage wins in this year’s Giro d’Italia on Thursday, attacking a breakaway group and the soloing in to the finish at Verbania well clear of his former companions. The BMC Racing Team rider had plenty of time to savour the success, beginning his celebrations over five kilometres from the line and finally crossing it 47 seconds clear of runner- up Francesco Bongiorno (Bardiani CSF).
IAM Cycling’s Sylvain Chavanel led in a six man chase group in a further 14 seconds back, while further out the road race leader Alberto Contador drove towards the line with the Cannondale-Garmin duo of Ryder Hesjedal and Davide Villella, aiming to add to his overall lead.
Villella was dropped in the closing kilometres but the other two crossed the line six minutes and five seconds behind Gilbert. More importantly, they finished one minute 13 seconds ahead of a chase group containing the other GC riders including those in second and third overall, Mikel Landa and Fabio Aru (Astana).
Contador’s move was fired off on the Monte Ologno climb when Landa was chasing back on after being delayed in a crash. It was widely interpreted as response to Astana’s attack on Contador when the race leader suffered a mechanical on Tuesday’s stage to Aprica.
Hesjedal managed to get up to him by the summit and the duo combined on the descent to hold off those chasing behind.
The Spanish Tinkoff Saxo rider ended the day five minutes 15 seconds ahead of Landa and six minutes five seconds up on Aru. He’s further reinforced his Maglia Rosa and is looking more and more certain to win the race on Sunday.
“Today’s scenario was a bit different from what happened on the Mortirolo,” said Contador. “Before the climb, my team was working hard on the front and expending energy because we knew that we had to be at the front going into the climb, and we wanted to avoid problems. In the event, Landa was caught behind, for the first time in the race.
“I’m very happy to have gained more time in the general classification. I’m tired, because after the last climb it was a time trial, but every day is hard here. We’ll see what happens tomorrow and the following day.”
Gilbert previously took stage 12 to Vincenza, with the dual Giro successes helping to make up for his disappointing spring Classics campaign.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever watched the Maglia Rosa finish on TV when I’ve been in the race!,” he noted after his victory. “I’m very happy with this second stage win. We rode a great race with Amael Moinard, my team-mate in the breakaway. We worked together.
“He went with the best climbers in the group, I followed at my own pace, and when I crossed the mountains point with a deficit of 40 seconds, I knew I could get back to them.”
Running 170 kilometres from Melide to Verbania, the 18th stage of the Giro d’Italia had two very distinct parts. Early on, the first 123.8 kilometres were almost completely flat, but from that point on the route reared up in the form of the first category Monte Olongo climb. The official summit was given at kilometre 134.4 but in truth the climbing continued for some time after that, with the uphill sections being interrupted by false flats and mini descents.
From kilometre 143.7 the roads were almost completely downhill, though, handing the riders over 25 kilometres of fast racing before the line.
As anticipated, many attacks were launched after the drop of the flag. After just over 40 kilometres the day’s break got clear, with this group comprising Gilbert, Bongiorno, Chavanel, Villella, Gilbert’s team-mate Amael Moinard, David De La Cruz (Etixx-Quick Step), Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2r La Mondiale), Maxim Belkov (Katusha), Kanstantsin Siutsou (Team Sky), Chad Haga (Giant-Alpecin), Matteo Busato (SouthEast), Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Fantini), Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) and Francesco Manuel Bongiorno (Bardiani CSF).
Cunego and Ferrari lost their place in the group when a race motorbike caused a crash, with Cunego retiring from the race.
With no rider of danger to Alberto Contador’s pink jersey, the rest of the group continued onwards and built a lead of 13 minutes.
Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo team was leading the peloton behind and ramped up the pace when the rider in second overall, Mikel Landa (Astana) was delayed behind a crash. The Kazakh team had controversially combined with Katusha two days earlier to floor it after Contador had a rear wheel puncture, defying the usual custom not to attack a race leader when they were disadvantaged by a crash or mechanical issue.
While Contador declined to criticise the team of Landa and Fabio Aru for this tactic, forcing him to chase on the Mortirolo, he let his legs prove a point Thursday when he attacked hard on the day’s climb.
It was clear that he was exacting a sort of revenge, and with 35 kilometres remaining he was seven minutes 40 seconds behind the leading riders De La Cruz, Moinard, Bongiorno and Siutsou, but almost a full minute ahead of Landa, Aru and the other GC contenders. The one exception was Hesjedal, who had scampered clear on the climb and slowly closed the gap to the Maglia Rosa.
The junction was finally made going over the summit of the climb; the leaders were seven minutes 39 seconds ahead there, while Landa’s group was one minute and 12 seconds back.
Hesjedal took over at the front and did most of the driving. Contador appeared to be taking a breather, knowing perhaps that he had proved his point to Landa and Aru, and that Hesjedal would be motivated to try to move up in the general classification.
The Canadian had started the day tenth overall and would improve to ninth by the time they hit the finish line.
His team-mate Villella dropped back to help, making it three riders in that group. Ahead, the leaders were on the descent and speeding towards the finish.
They went through the 25 kilometre to go point with a lead of six minutes 54 over the Contador/Hesjedal group and eight minutes 39 on Landa’s bunch.
Out front, the two leading groups were about to come together. Bongiorno attacked with 21.6 kilometres to go. This was covered, then Gilbert made his move soon with 19.3 kilometres left. He quickly pulled clear.
Belkov was unhappy with the lack of pace behind and attacked from the chase group. This was however covered and, with nine kilometres to go, Gilbert was 34 seconds ahead. He continued to ride well and started his first celebrations with five kilometres remaining. Moinard was doing a fine job behind of policing any chasing groups, and an attempt by Nocentini to get clear came to nothing.
Gilbert continued to the finish and his second stage victory of the race. He rolled in 47 seconds ahead of Bongiorno and one minute one second up on Chavanel, Busato, Moinard and four others.
Haga came in two minutes and 42 seconds back in ninth with Weening over a minute back in tenth. Hesjedal and Contador crossed the line 11th and 12th, giving up six minutes and five seconds to Gilbert but gaining one minute 13 on the other GC riders.
The Giro d’Italia continues Friday with a 236 kilometre race from Gravellona Toce to Cervinia. Starting flat and getting progressively hillier, it includes three peaks inside the second half, including the summit finish.
Contador underlined his superiority Thursday and may well try to do so again Friday, not least because he is still hunting a stage win.