Giro d’Italia: Oscar Gatto foils the sprinters with last gasp attack into Tropea
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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Giro d’Italia: Oscar Gatto foils the sprinters with last gasp attack into Tropea

by Ben Atkins at 11:08 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Giro d'Italia, Race Reports and Results
Surprise attack from Alberto Contador gains a few seconds ahead of tomorrow’s Etna stage

Oscar GattoOscar Gatto (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) won the eighth stage of the Giro d’Italia between Sapri and Tropea, after a late attack on the short, steep climb just before the finish. The 26-year-old from Montebelluna in the Veneto, took by far the biggest victory of his career, ahead of Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard), who had also escaped on the climb, with Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) leading the peloton over the line behind them.

The surprise attacks at the end followed a predictable pattern of a breakaway chased down by the sprinters teams; but the sprinters were to miss out as the steep climb inside the final two kilometres gifted Gatto the chance to escape, just as Paolo Bettini had done when the race last finished here in 2005.

"Calabria brings me luck," said Gatto at the finish. "Here I won my first race of 2011 and today my first stage at the Giro d'Italia, I hope that this victory could be the first of my new dimension as rider for big races.

"This success is for [team director] Luca Scinto," he added. "He believed in me, worked with me and helped me to success again, after my first two difficult years in professional cycling."

A bit of foreknowledge of the stage's parcours helped the Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli rider, which he got from watching Italian TV the night before.

"I saw the stage yesterday in the resume of [Davide] Cassani, and I declared that I wanted to do something good," he explained, "and during the finale, I followed my sensations and at the last 1500 metres, I found my right time.

"I attacked, and fortunately I made it to the finish line."

Contador had attacked after the Italian, and was gaining on him in the closing metres.

"But not so close," he joked. "Fortunately, because I hadn't the energy left for the sprint!"

In between yesterday’s tough finish on Montevergine di Mercogliano and tomorrow’s showpiece stage to Mount Etna, the peloton was treated to 217km of almost totally flat racing around the Calabrian coast, on the instep of the foot of Italy’s boot. With very few opportunities for them in the race, this one was earmarked for the sprinters; as usual though, there was bound to be a breakaway with other ideas.

An early breakaway as usual and Rabobank isn't interested

True to form, after just 2km, Leonardo Giordani (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) and Mirko Selvaggi (Vacansoleil-DCM) jumped away; with a very lethargic peloton so early in the race, it took them just two kilometres to open up a lead of 1’40”.

As the flat seaside kilometres went on, the gap between the two fugitives and the peloton kept on growing; at the 10km point it had stretched to 4’20”, and by 20km it had gone out to 10’15”.

Neither rider was going to trouble the race lead of stage five winner Pieter Weening – Selvaggi was the best placed of the pair, but he was in 113th place, 28’14” behind – and so Rabobank was quite happy to see them go. Once again, the break would swallow up most of the bonus seconds at the intermediate “Traguardo Volante” sprint, meaning that Weening would be in no danger from those riders who were just a few seconds behind him.

With Weening’s team not willing to pull the breakaway back, the task fell to the teams of the sprinters; Quick Step, on behalf of Gerald Giolek, and HTC-Highroad, for Mark Cavendish, stepped up to the task, and the gap to Giordani and Selvaggi began to gradually reduce.

After 75km the gap was still as high as 10’12” but, as the race passed through the feedzone at the 99km mark, it had been cut to 8’20”. 25km later, through the town of Amantea with 92km to go, it was down to 7’20”, with the sprinters’ teams seemingly having everything under control.

The gap comes down but the duo still has a chance

With 50km to go, and with the gap just dipping below six minutes, the Androni Giocattoli-CIPI of stage three winner Angel Vicioso lent some of its muscle to the chase; the race was still controlled by Quick Step and HTC-Highroad, but the teams of the other sprinters were also beginning to come forward.

With 40km to go, the gap was still 5’10” though, meaning that the peloton still had its work cut out to catch the breakaway duo; as usual the plan was clearly to catch the fugitives as late in the stage as possible in order to prevent counterattacks from fresh-legged riders.

One of the few bumps on the course, as the road climbed a small headland, through the town of Pizzo with 35km to go, the favourites’ teams began to move their captains forward to avoid trouble. The pace was left to Quick Step and HTC-Highroad, but Lampre-ISD, Liquigas-Cannondale, Astana and Saxo Bank-SunGard were swarming behind them, protecting Michele Scarponi, Vincenzo Nibali, Roman Kreuziger and Alberto Contador respectively.

After hours in front the breakaway has tired legs

Unsurprisingly, the brief climb seemed to have more of an effect on the two breakaways than the peloton; with 30km to go, their advantage was barely 3’30”.

Quick Step and HTC-Highroad clearly had the bit between their teeth now and, as Selvaggi led Giordani and across the Traguardo Volante line with 25km to go, their lead was just 2’46”. With both riders beginning to look tired, with every minor undulation in the road causing them to grimace, grit their teeth and stamp on the pedals, the next 10km saw the peloton take more than a minute and a half of their now slimming lead.

As Quick Step led through the 15km to go banner they were just 1’12” behind; with the gap tumbling at this rate they threatened to catch Selvaggi and Giordani with around 10km to go, which would be enough space for a counterattack to be launched.

Whether or not Quick Step and HTC-Columbia intended to slow down the chase was academic as Saxo Bank-SunGard surged forward to set a ferocious pace. The Danish team had no recognisable sprinter but, with Contador tucked in behind them they began to slash the leaders’ advantage further; with 10km to go, the gap had dropped to just 25 seconds, which was a cue for HTC-Highroad to take over once more.

A small crash gives Garzelli a chase

The exchange of teams at the front caused a brief slowing, and a few riders came together and crashed. Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) was the biggest name to come down; the veteran may have fancied his chances in the stage, but he faced a lengthy chase through the cars instead.

Team Sky was now the team on the front, and the two fugitives were finally caught with 7.3km to go, having been in the lead of the race for 208km. The British team was now faced with the task of keeping the pace high to prevent anybody with fresh legs getting away.

After a chase, which involved most of his teammates and most of the team cars, Garzelli joined the back of the peloton just as it was passing under the 5km to go banner.

HTC-Columbia led into the technical closing stages and, as the front of the peloton swept around the roads on the approach to the final short, sharp climb, the other teams were lurking behind him.

After 215km of flat the steep climb brings on the attacks

Jan Bakelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) was the first to make a move as the climb began, but the Belgian was unable to do anything more than string out the peloton behind him. First on his wheel was Yaroslav Popvych (RadioShack), who jumped past Bakelandts, and was able to get a gap.

The Ukranian overcooked a hairpin though, forcing him to lose virtually all of his momentum and the front of the peloton bunched up behind him.

Suddenly, with the front of the race grinding to a halt, Gatto put in a massive jump, which took him clear of everybody in just a few turns of the pedals. The Italian did not look back, but if he had done he would have seen Contador, whom everybody was expecting to save himself for tomorrow, chasing him up the steep gradient.

As he crested the top and took the slight descent to the flamme rouge, marking the final kilometre, Gatto had a gap of several metres over Contador, who was, in turn, several metres in front of the rest.

During the gently rising final kilometre Contador appeared to be gradually pulling back Gatto, he seemed more preoccupied with looking over his shoulder to see were his own pursuers were though; but they were a long way behind. Gatto was getting closer and closer, but the Tour de France champion was running out of road and the Italian sat up to take a euphoric victory.

Contador finished just a few metres behind him and Alessandro Petacchi, who proved once again that he can still get over the hills if there’s a sprint at the end, taking third at the head of the splintered peloton.

Bonus seconds for Contador mean that the Spaniard moves up to fifth place; Weening finished in the group behind Petacchi though, and so holds on to his pink jersey for another day.

Result stage 8
1. Oscar Gatto (Ita) Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli
2. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-SunGard
3. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-ISD @ 5s
4. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) BMC Racing Team
5. Roberto Ferrari (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-CIPI
6. Davide Appollonio (Ita) Team Sky
7. Francisco Ventoso (Spa) Movistar
8. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
9. Christophe Le Mével (Fra) Garmin-Cervélo
10. Klaas Lodewyck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto

Standings after stage 8
1. Peiter Weening (Ned) Rabobank
2. Kanstantin Sivtsov (Blr) HTC-Highroad
3. Marco Pinotti (Ita) HTC-Highroad @ 2s
4. Christophe Le Mével (Fra) Garmin-Cervélo @ 5s
5. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-SunGard @ 13s


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