Italian UCI Professional Continental team Bardiani-CSF has achieved its second victory of the 2014 Giro d'Italia in as many days with Enrico Battaglin winning a sprint from Team Sky's Dario Cataldo and Colombia's Jarlinson Pantano to win Stage 14 of the race at Oropa. Omega Pharma-Quick Step's Rigoberto Uran retains the race lead, but lost 5 seconds to second placed Cadel Evans of BMC Racing.
All three of the men who contested the finish had been members of a 21-man breakaway group that had helped animate a thrilling stage, the first of two this weekend that commemorate the late Marco Pantani in a year that marks the 10th aniversary of his death.
Today was the fifth time a Giro d’Italia stage has finished at the sanctuary of Oropa near Biella, the most famous being 15 years ago in 1999 when Pantani, leading that year’s Giro, had a mechanical issue prior to the last ascent.
He then passed around 50 riders to take one of the most celebrated victories of his career, but would be expelled from the race after his haemocritic level was found to exceed 50 poer cent.
Giant-Shimano’s Albert Timmer and BMC Racing’s Manuel Quinziato, survivors of the break, from which Saxo Tinkoff’s Nicolas Roche had attacked earlier before being brought back, hit the final climb together.
Soon, Timmer was on his own after Quinziato suffered a mechanical but he was caught with 2km remaining by two other escapees,Cataldo and Pantano.
Ahead of the flamme rouge to mark the start of the final kilometre, three became four as Lampre-Merida’s Jan Polanc came across, while Timmer fell back, his place taken by Bardiani’s Enrico Battaglin who would fight it out with Cataldo and Pantano for the win on the flat, cobbled run to the line.
Behind the breakaway riders, a select group including several the overall contenders had formed, but Domenico Pozzovivo of Ag2R La Mondiale, who had called up team mates to help him force the pace early on in the ascent, split it apart with around 4km remaining, Movistar’s Nairo Quintana and Gorka Izagirre the only men able to go with him.
Quntana would get away from Pozzovivo as the line approached, both making up time on the race leader - 25 and 20 seconds, respectively - while Uran was clearly in trouble on the final ascent, something that will give hope to his rivals, with a huge week in the mountains looming.
Out of the race following a crash today was Team Sky’s leader, Kanstantsin Siutsou, while Orica-GreenEdge lost Pieter Weening, and now have just three riders left in the race.
Those are Italian champion Ivan Santaromita, who was in the break today, Svein Tuft, the first man to wear the race leader’s jersey in this year’s Giro, and Michael Hepburn, the only one of six Australians who helped win the team time trial in Belfast still riding.
During today's stage a marshal was hit by one of Italian state broadcaster RAI's TV moto bikes and is reported to be in a critical condition in hospital.
Following his victory, Battaglin said: "After yesterday’s win, our moral is sky high. I didn’t attack in jest: I believed in the breakaway and it was always my intention to go all the way. I wasn’t out team’s designated rider in the breakaway; there are better climbers in the team than me, like Zardini. But the situation looked good and I felt sure that the breakaway would make it.
“I suffered on the climb, and on the hardest section, I couldn’t keep up. I had to go full gas in the last 500m and, when I got across to Cataldo and Pantano, I had to breathe for a second because I’d had to ride at 100% to catch them. Thankfully, they lost speed and I did a great sprint and managed to get past them in the final 30m. I looked around to make sure I had really won, and to see if anyone else was coming from behind.”
He added that today's date, 24 May, has a double significance for him: “This day last year, I crashed out of the Giro d’Italia, days after taking my stage win. So this is a nice way to get my revenge. And, in the Veneto region, 24 May is the day we commemorate those lost in the First World War. In general, young people tend to forget history, but we are very aware of it, and it’s nice to be able to commemorate in this way.”
Uran meanwhile didn't seem too fazed at ceding time to some of his rivals. He said: “I had no problems today. The team was happy with the riders in the breakaway, and their lead. I had a team-mate [Julian Vermote] in there. I was surrounded by team-mates all day, so I wasn’t worried. The team was phenomenal today.
"The idea is to arrive at the end of the race wearing the maglia rosa. It’s no use showing yourself every day. You have to save as much energy as possible. This is a very open race, the hard days and the hard climbs still lie ahead of us, and I want to wear maglia rosa in Trieste.
“I know almost all the climbs that are coming up. I’ve trained on the climb up to Montecampione, even if I’ve never raced there.”
He added: “I’m glad that Quintana’s getting better. We’re friends. We shared a house together in Pamplona three years ago, and sometimes we talked about what it would be like racing against each other in stage races.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.