Giro d’Italia: Bart De Clercq wins first mountain stage by the skin of his teeth
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Friday, May 13, 2011

Giro d’Italia: Bart De Clercq wins first mountain stage by the skin of his teeth

by Ben Atkins at 11:38 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Giro d'Italia, Race Reports and Results
Late attacks from race favourites just fail to catch the lone Belgian breakaway

bart de clercqBart De Clercq (Omega Pharma-Lotto) won the seventh stage of the Giro d’Italia, as the race hit the mountains for the first time. The 24-year-old Belgian, in his first year as a professional, attacked alone with 7km to go to the top of the climb to the finish and managed to hold on, despite late attacks from several of the race favourites.

Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) caught De Clercq just as he reached the line, but could not quite overcome the Belgian; Roman Kreuziger (Astana) was just behind in third with the other race favourites in his wake.

After sprint stages and rolling stages, the 2011 Giro d’Italia finally hit the mountains, taking in a short, sharp 110km between Maddaloni and Montevergine di Mercogliano. While most of the race favourites would be saving themselves for the big stage to Mount Etna on Sunday, they were expected to examine each other for the first time on the long climb to the finish.

The break takes a while to form and isn't allowed to get far away

After 13km Julien Berard (AG2R La Mondiale) and Federico Canuti (Colnago-CSF Inox) escaped the peloton. They were pursued and joined, first by Eduard Vorganov (Katusha) and Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step), and then by Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli), Luis Pasamontes (Movistar), Lars Bak (HTC-Highroad), Mirko Selvaggi (Vacansoleil-DCM), Carlos Betancourt (Acqua & Sapone) and Mickael Cherel (AG2R La Mondiale). At the 18km mark the ten riders led the Euskaltel-Euskadi controlled peloton by 18 seconds, which looked far from decisive.

In the course of the next few kilometres though, the front group of ten thinned itself out to just five; six of the fugitives were dropped and caught by the peloton, leaving just Canuti, Visconti, Pineau and Bak, with Matteo Montaguti (AG2R La Mondiale) replacing his French teammates.

This group was deemed far more manageable by the peloton and they began to create a lead for themselves; After 27km the five led by 1’42”, and had opened it up to 3’10” just two kilometres later.

Garzelli's team is determined to keep the fugitives in check

Rabobank was quite happy to let them get away, but Acqua & Sapone decided to put two riders on the front of the peloton on behalf of team leader Stefano Garzelli; the quintet’s advantage remained static at first though, before gradually reducing as the race made its way towards the foot of the first climb to the Sella della Strada.

As the road started to rise, just after the stage’s halfway point with 53km to go, the gap had been reduced to just 2’30”, with most of Garzelli’s red and white men now on the front of the peloton.

Midway up the climb, following a small crash that involved two of the Acqua & Sapone chasers Sebastian Lang (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Pierre Cazaux (Euskaltel-Euskadi) escaped. They were now less than two minutes behind the five leaders and making steady progress towards them.

The birthday boy has a go

Suddenly, out of the peloton in pursuit of Lang and Cazaux, came breakaway specialist Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM); celebrating his 28th birthday today, he was clearly intending to go and get himself a present. The Dutchman quickly caught the two riders and, as Lang suffered a mechanical problem, he went straight by in a bid to join the five riders up the road.

Canuti crested the top of the climb a few seconds ahead of the other four, while Hoogerland was just 1’15” back. The peloton, still led by Acqua & Sapone, was now 2’10” behind, with a little over 40km to go.

Canuti appeared to be waiting for the other four leaders to catch him up just after the climb; when they didn’t arrive quickly though, the Italian set off alone down the descent; Hoogerland too was descending alone, with the rest of the breakaway group in between.

Minor mishaps but the break is still strong

Bad luck struck for Canuti though, as his front wheel slid away from him on a left hand hairpin; he didn’t appear to go down too hard, and was straight back on his bike, but the brief delay allowed the rest of the group to come up to him.

Pineau suffered a puncture, with 31km to go, he got a quick wheel change from his team mechanic and, as the other four riders eased off a little to allow him to catch up, Hoogerland closed the gap a little closer. The Dutchman was now just 29 seconds behind, with the peloton at 2’30”.

As the five leaders went under the banner with 25km to go, Hoogerland had closed to just nine seconds and, just 500 metres later he caught them up. Never one to sit in a group though, Hoogerland tried to go straight over the top of them, but they chased him down quickly; the group now numbered six and they led the peloton, now led by Androni Giocattoli-CIPI, by a little over two minutes.

As the race passed through the flagstone-surfaced streets of Avellino, with 20km to go, the Lampre-ISD team took command. The blue-fuchsia team put most of its riders on the front of the peloton and, within just a few kilometres, took almost a minute out of the breakaway’s advantage, slashing it in half.

The climbing starts and the group starts to splinter

As the long steady climb to the finish began, Pineau and found himself dropped by the others, and was quickly followed on the way backwards by Viscoti. The peloton, now led by Geox-TMC and Liquigas-Cannondale, made short work of pulling them back; with 15km to go the gap to the group, which now numbered four, was just 30 seconds.

With 13km to go, with the four fugitives almost in sight, just 20 seconds ahead, Francis De Greef (Omega Pharma-Lotto) attacked. The Belgian was pursued by the leading teams and couldn’t get far ahead, but continued with his effort; the peloton’s constant accelerations were causing a multitude of riders to lose contact at the back.

As the lead dipped below 10 seconds, Bak decided to set off alone; with almost 12km still to ride, his move was surely doomed, but he managed to extend his lead to 15 seconds over the peloton.

Liquigas-Cannondale was now in control of the race though and, although they were spread out across the road, they were matching the pace of the lone rider up front.

As the pace slackened off though, De Greef jumped again; he was quickly pursued by a number of others, including Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) and Rafael Valls (Geox-TMC); from this group though, Cherel, one of the day’s original attackers tried his luck.

Attacks from the peloton but only one looks like making it

The Frenchman lasted just a few hundred metres in the lead though, before he was overtaken by Ivan Rovny (RadioShack), Stefano Pirazzi (Colnago-CSF Inox) and Valls. The three of them had just 100 metres over the peloton, which was now led by Acqua & Sapone, and, with 8km to go, they finally caught and passed the exhausted Bak.

Pirazzi continually tried to get away alone, but Rovny chased him down time after time. The red and white Acqua & Sapone boys quickly had them, only for Bart De Clercq to become the latest Omega Pharma-Lotto rider to try his luck alone.

The Belgian managed to pull out a clear gap, but Garzelli’s men refused to panic and maintained their steady pace in pursuit; with 6km to go, he held a slim eight-second lead.

As the peloton approached the final five kilometres, Movistar moved forward to help Acqua & Sapone, as De Clercq’s lead grew to 26 seconds. There was only one man from the dark blue Spanish team though and, once he had pulled off Acqua & Sapone took over again and the gap began to increase again. Tucked in behind the red and white team was race leader Pieter Weening (Rabobank); the Dutchman looked comfortable, but he only had Steve Kruijswijk with him.

With 4km to go, De Clercq led by 33 seconds and was continuing to increase his lead.

Counter attacks all over but De Clercq is holding firm

Jackson Rodriguez (Androni Giocattoli-CIPI) attacked with 3.5km to go, and was allowed to go. Half a kilometre later Pirazzi had another go and managed to make his way across to the Colombian; he caught up in just a few hundred metres and went straight by in pursuit of De Clercq.

Rodriguez fought hard to get back to Pirazzi but the Italian, who’d been denied victory in his home region in the previous stage was not to be held. Suddenly though, Lampre-ISD ramped up the pace and quickly caught the Colnago-CSF Inox rider.

De Clercq still had 25 seconds at the final kilometre, but the blue-fuchsia men looked far fresher than he did. As the climb began to level out towards the top though it looked as though he was going to make it.

The favourites make their moves

Into the final few hundred metres the favourites suddenly launched their moves, with Scarponi jumping and taking Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), Garzelli and Roman Kreuziger (Astana). Contador led the chase group, just behind them and, as the gradient suddenly kicked up again they were eating up the ground between them and the lone Belgian.

As they all launched their sprints, De Clercq was stamping on his pedals, trying to get the last bit of energy from his legs to the road. As Scarponi pulled alongside him he threw his wheel across the line, to beat the Italian by the skin of his teeth and take his first ever professional victory.

The rest of the front group streamed over the line behind the Italian and, with all his rivals around him, Weening managed to secure the pink jersey for another day.

Result stage 7
1. Bart De Clercq (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
2. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-ISD
3. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Astana
4. Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone
5. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
6. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha
7. Jose Rujano (Ven) Androni Giocattoli-CIPI
8. Dario Cataldo (Ita) Quick Step
9. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-SunGard
10. Christophe Le Mével (Fra) Garmin-Cervélo

Standings after stage 7
1. Peiter Weening (Ned) Rabobank
2. Marco Pinotti (Ita) HTC-Highroad @ 2s
3. Kanstantin Sivtsov (Blr) HTC-Highroad
4. Christophe Le Mével (Fra) Garmin-Cervélo @ 5s
5. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-ISD @ 14s


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