Ulissi bounces back to take stage seven of Giro d’Italia, injured Contador holds pink jersey
A month and a half after returning from a suspension linked to excessive salbutamol levels during last year’s Giro d’Italia, Diego Ulissi triumphed on stage seven of this year’s race, hitting the line first in Fiuggi.
The Italian Lampre-Merida rider beat Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) and Simon Gerrans (Orica GreenEdge), the Australian sprinting in place of his team-mate Michael Matthews due to the latter’s allergies.
Italian trio Manuel Belletti (Southeast), Enrico Battaglin and Sonny Colbrelli (both Bardiani-CSF) completed the top six.
“There are some big sprinters here,” he said, “so I knew I wasn’t the number one favourite today, but I had great legs. I went early because I was afraid of getting caught from behind.
“This is a special win for me after the difficult year I’ve had, and I want to thank my family – my wife, my parents and my in-laws – and also my friends for all their support.”
Overnight race leader Alberto Contador successfully got through the stage without losing any time. He had partially dislocated his left shoulder in a crash at the end of stage six and was clearly feeling tender during what was the Giro’s longest stage, holding the handlebars slightly crookedly.
However his Tinkoff-Saxo team looked after him throughout the day and then kept the pace high in the finale to ensure that nobody was able to slip clear.
“It was a hard day for me but I’m happy because I got through it,” he said. “After three and a half or four hours, I didn’t know what to do with my arm, but I hope and trust that, as the days past, it will improve.
The uphill finish to the line proved to be too short and too gradual to enable Contador’s challengers to make a bid for the jersey and as a result Fabio Aru (Astana) and Richie Porte (Sky) remain two and 20 seconds back respectively.
Contador will be relieved to survive the day in the lead and will now carry pink into Saturday’s 186 kilometre stage from Fiuggi to Campitello Matese.
This concludes with the race’s second big summit finish and will be a bigger test for the Spaniard.
“Tomorrow is a stage that I was looking forward too,” he said. “Now it’s going to be hard for me, and I expect attacks. Now I’m just thinking of resting and putting ice on my shoulder. Then we’ll see…”
How it played out:
Clocking in at 264 kilometres, the race from Grossett to Fiuggi was the longest of this year’s Giro and would see the riders in the saddle for well over seven hours. The logic of this was lost on some, not least because of the demands it placed on riders. Greg Henderson noted that he spent more time on the bike than he did sleeping the night before, and it was a relevant point.
As expected a number of attacks was fired off from the drop of the flag. The day’s move went clear early on and Pier Paolo De Negri (Nippo Vini Fantini), Nikolay Myhaylov (CCC Sprandi), Marco Bandiera (Androni Sidermec) and Nicola Boem (Bardiani-CSF) knuckled down to open a gap of over ten minutes after 50 kilometres.
The intermediate sprint at kilometre 151 went to Bandiera, while De Negri was first to the top of the climb at Monterotondo [km 184]. However the peloton accelerated, thanks in part to the grunt provided by the BMC Racing team, and the gap was less than two minutes with 40 kilometres remaining.
The break knew their chances were looking bleak, and sure enough the break was caught with just over 20 kilometres left.
The pace then ramped up even more, with Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo team pushed at the front to try to keep things together. The race leader looked slightly uncomfortable, holding his handlebars slightly askew, but remained close to the front.
The Tinkoff-Saxo team continued to drill it into the final ten kilometres, lining out the bunch. This thinned out the list of contenders, and also dissuaded attacks.
Just before five kilometres to go the riders went through a dark tunnel. Maxime Monfort later tweeted about the location, saying that he was concerned by the risk to riders.
“Nobody spoke about this dark tunnel we rode 5k to go today,” the Lotto Soudal rider said. “Was I the only one scared? It would have been great to have some light inside.”
There were fortunately no mishaps and the group emerged intact. Ivan Basso had been leading things for Contador and peeled off after that point.
Team-mate Michael Rogers then took over before Sky hit the front. The British squad’s leader Richie Porte sat on the wheel of Vasil Kiryienka, waiting for the chance to try to reduce his 20 second deficit, but it was unclear if the finish would be tough enough. Kiryienka continued to push as the course dipped slightly downhill, then the Lotto-Soudal and Orica GreenEdge teams pushed forward.
Orica GreenEdge led under the kite, then Lampre-Merida swept forward. The road kicked up at that point and the two teams battled for control. The efforts of the Italian squad paid off when Diego Ulissi powered in first, hitting the line ahead and then celebrating in a very emotional way afterwards.
He roared, then got down in a kneeling position on the ground. The Italian had taken two stage wins in last year’s Giro but then had his salbutamol case, serving a ban and now returning to experience success.
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