Giro d'Italia: Nieve solos to stage fifteen success, Contador unfazed
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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Giro d'Italia: Nieve solos to stage fifteen success, Contador unfazed

by Steve Jones at 12:43 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Giro d'Italia, Race Reports and Results
 
Two stages in a row for the Basque team

Mikel NieveEuskaltel-Euskadi's Mikel Nieve rode to solo victory in the Giro d'Italia's fifteenth stage, riding away from Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) on the final climb of five to notch up consecutive wins for his team.  Next to finish was Maglia Rosa Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard), who again was able to easily take on all his rivals and simply ride away to gain more time on the mountain top finish.

Today's 229 kilometer trek from Conegliano to the top of the Gardeccia Val di Fassa saw the largest break of the race form when two groups came together to make a 19 rider escape.  They were allowed to gain more than 10 minutes on the peloton, with tired legs behind seemingly content to give away the day's spoil.  The trip up the Zoncalon yesterday, along with the difficult last week of this Giro d'Italia, saw the peloton gauge their effort as they took in the five climbs the day's route had on tap.

Notable riders that made the move were former Giro d'Italia winners Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) and Danilo Di Luca (Katusha), both well behind in the overall, Carlos Sastre Candil (Geox-TMC) who continues to struggle in finding his form, former Maglia Rosa wearer Pieter Weening (Rabobank), Belgian Grand Tour hope Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step), gifted climber Emanuele Sella (Androni Giocattoli), Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and RadioShack's Philip Deignan and Yaroslav Popovych.  The highest ranked rider in the break was Euskaltel-Euskadi's Mikel Nieve, who had the honor of becoming the virtual leader on the road, 9 minutes and 8 seconds behind Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard).

Stefano GarzelliHonoring Il Campionissimo

As the escape approached the third climb of the day, the 16 kilometer Passo Giau that peaked at just over 2200 meters, Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) attacked out of the group.  The Dutchman had just over 10 minutes on the peloton, and forced a small gap over the now 17 men behind.  The top of the climb was this year's Cima Coppi, the prize given for the first rider over the race's highest point.  The chase was fueled by the race leader's Saxo Bank-Sungard squad, who also got help from the Italian Liquigas-Cannondale team.

The move began to break up on the climb, with seven breaking clear of the others.  Hoogerland brought his gap up to 50 seconds with 63 kilometers remaining to race.  As the Dutchman approached 3 kilometers to the top of the mountain, Garzelli and Nieve shot out of the break in pursuit of the mountain-top prize.  Behind in the group of favorites the scene was hand slings and power bottles from the team cars as tired riders struggled to remain in contact with the race so they could get home within the time cut.

Garzelli and Nieve managed to quickly pull back half of Hoogerland's advantage, and once they had him in their sights, the Italian powered away from the Spaniard and flew by the leader.  The Dutchman was briefly able to latch on, but had to settle for the wheel of the approaching Euskaltel-Euskadi rider.  With the snow capped mountains looming in the background, the former Giro champion put in a powerful ride ahead of his chase, pulling away from the duo with every pedal stroke.

On the lower slopes of the Passo Giau Vincenzo Nibali's Liqugas-Cannondale team pushed the pace, and worked hard to try to soften the legs of Contador.  There were two more climbs remaining for the day and the peloton already had more than 5 and a half hours clocked in the saddle.  Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) and last year's second place overall David Arroyo (Movistar) were first to attack the favorites group, while ahead Garzelli snatched up the Cima Copi award and began the technical descent.

The group of favorites continued to thin out from the pressure at the head of the race, with Saxo Bank-Sungard now working hard to keep the latest assault on the pink jersey in check.  Once his teammates were finished for the day, Contador launched an attack out of the group with Jose Rujano tacked onto his wheel.  The pair quickly joined the duo up front to make it four.  Behind there was no reaction from the Italian pair of Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) and Nibali, with the latter known for his descending skills and possibly looking the the descent.  Garzelli still had 9 minutes and 30 seconds in hand as the foursome crested the Cima Coppi line.

Vicenzo NibaliDropping like a rock

It didn't take long for Nibali to dive his way down the mountain and ride through the Contador group.  The Spaniard immediately went in pursuit to defend his Maglia Rosa, with the race absolutely flying down the sometimes moist switchbacks.  The lone leader passed under the 45 kilometer to go mark still looking fresh, while behind the flying Liquigas-Cannondale rider continued to take time from his chasers, ready to unload his reserves in an attempt to break the race leader with a rest day to follow.

Garzelli began the Passo Fedaia ahead, still riding smoothly and leading Nieve and Bakelandts by more than a minute.  Nibali working hard to preserve the 30 seconds he took back on the descent, and was 6 minutes and 30 seconds behind the lone leader.  The chase from the favorite's group didn't leave all the work to Contador, with Arroyo's Movistar team taking control of the pace in the form of Pablo Lastras as they began to collect remnants of the break.  Nibali could see the Movistar-led group approaching on the lower slopes of the Fedaia, and sat up only to see Arroyo launch a counter to his catch on the the 13 kilometer ascent.

The lone leader's advantage continued to erode away as a select group of close to 20 riders rode a strong tempo up the mountain pass.  It included overall contenders Roman Kreuziger (Astana), Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC), John Gadret (AG2r La Mondiale), Scarponi and Rodriguez.  The Maglia Rosa was next to attack, taking the race in hand with only Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank) and Rujano able to follow the acceleration.  Nibali began to become unraveled behind from his earlier efforts, and started to leak time as he began to fade away from the group of favorites.  Garzelli continued to forge on alone, crossing the 30 kilometer to go banner with 48 seconds over Nieve.

Nobody throws in the towel

It wasn't long before the straggling favorites, minus Nibali, made the junction to the pink jersey, but the efforts saw the Rabobank rider come unhinged along with Menchov.  The Contador group now included Rujano, Arroyo, Gadret, Rodriguez, Kreuziger and Scarponi.  Hoogerland was next to be caught from the day's break as Garzelli crested the climb in front.  Next to finish the climb was Nieve at 38 seconds, and then the group of favorites went over at 6 minutes and 45 seconds, with Menchov back into the fold.  A win was looking possible for the Acqua & Sapone rider as rain began to soak the roads.  Rabid fans were deservedly introduced to Garzelli's right elbow as he pressed on.

Nibali refused to give in, and with a second effort finished the climb 57 seconds behind the Contador group.  With 20 kilometers remaining, Garzelli had 6 minutes and 11 seconds on the Contador group, still pedaling well and highly motivated knowing the stage victory was still in the balance.  Nibali again used his descending skills to put on an incredible display of poetry in motion - he swooped down into the Maglia Rosa group before the 15 kilometer banner and tried unsuccessfully to ride straight through.  Rodriguez lashed out at the group next and opened up a small gap to the Maglia Rosa group.  Ahead Nieve continued to claw back time on Garzelli, finally catching the Italian with 6 kilometers remaining to race.  It would be all uphill as the they tackled the Gardeccia Val di Fassa climb.  Nieve attacked on the early 16 percent grade, leaving Garzelli behind unable to match his acceleration.

Alberto Contador checking the damageMaglia Rosa dishes out the pain

Arroyo was the first of the favorites to get popped from the group, with Scarponi making the initial move on the final climb.  He drew Contador and Gadret with him, but the Spaniard had enough of his effort and countered the move as the Italian tried to shed his rain cape.  He immediately opened a gap.  Rodriguez was looking strongest of the rest, with Nibali again beginning to suffer.

Contador continued to cruise up the mountain, gobbling up the stragglers from the early break like he was playing a game of Pac Man.  As Nieve approached the final kilometer he was 4 minutes to the good of Contador, and had a minute on Garzelli.  The Euskatel-Euskadi rider crossed the line alone to make it two in a row for the Basque team, with the Italian 1 minute and 41 seconds back and the Maglia Rosa nearly catching him completing the seven and a half hour effort just less than 10 seconds later.  Scarponi finished next in fourth, with Gadret putting in another fine performance to finish in fifth.  Nibali labored across the line next losing 1 minute and 43 seconds to the pink jersey, with Rodriguez on his wheel.

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