Stefano Pirazzi of Bardiani-CSF has won Stage 17 of the Giro d’Italia in Vittorio Veneto, one of five riders from an earlier escape group of more than two dozen to contest the finish. Lotto Belisol’s Tim Wellens was second, with Jay McCarthy of Tinkoff-Saxo third. Movistar's Nairo Qunatana retains the overall lead.
With three decisive mountain stages looming, the overall contenders were happy to let the break go today, and finished a quarter of an hour after the winner had crossed the line, with no changes in the times of the top ten.
It’s the Italian UCI Professional Continental outfit’s third stage win of this year’s race, and one celebrated by Pirazzi with what is known as the “umbrella gesture” – right arm upright, left hand cupping the inside of his elbow – a signal to those who doubted him. as he took his first win as a professional today.
With three days in the mountains looming ahead of Sunday’s finale in Trieste, today represented a last chance for teams and riders that have not so far got much out of this year’s race to try and rescue something.
It was a big breakaway group that eventually formed with 120km remaining of today’s 204km stage from Sarnonico, comprising 26 riders, three of them from Bardiani-CSF.
Other riders in the break included Astana’s Enrico Gasparotto, Cannondale’s Oscar Gatto, Movisar’s Igor Anton, and Sky’s Philip Deignan.
With none of the escapees representing a threat to the top of the overall standings they were allowed to build a big advantage and it would be clear long before the end that these would be the men fighting for the stage win.
By the time the break had entered the last 30km, rain was beginning to come down, causing a number of riders to fall, and behind them the main group was taking things very easy to ensure safety, with Quintana’s Movistar team in particular urging other riders to be cautious.
Ahead of the short but punchy climb of the Muro di Cà di Poggio and its ramps of 18 per cent, Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Thomas De Gendt, whose stunning solo attack on the penultimate day of the 2012 Giro led to him securing a podium place that year, was off the front again.
On the way back down from the climb, crested 20km from the finish, Pirazzi got across to the Belgian and the pair were subsequently joined by McCarthy, Wellens and Matteo Montaguti of AG2r-La Mondiale to form the quintet that would fight for the stage win.
Afterwards, stage winner Pirazzi said: “In the first hour, it was very fast and intense. There were attacks on the climbs, and that’s how I got into the breakaway. In the closing kilometres there was five of us. On paper I was the slowest, but after many hours of riding at high speed, the others lacked their usual finishing speed.
"De Gendt frightened me more than the others. When he goes, it’s difficulty to bring him back. When he attacked, I spoke to my team-mate [Nicola Boem] and told him to try to bring him back, and then I tried to save as much energy as possible for the finish. I attacked with 2.5 km to go, but they chased me down. I attacked again 1.2 km form the line, and stayed away. I chose the right moment.”
Speaking of his reaction on crossing the line, he said: “It had become a five-year obsession. I always knew a win would come, and I was sick of the criticism: Pirazzi gets it wrong, Pirazzi’s attack comes to nothing. Eveyrone has his way of riding. I’ve always tried to put on a show. I turned pro very young and I had to learn the ropes. Winning today was very important for me, and, in my emotion, made a gesture on the finish line. I regret it now and I would like to apologise.”
Pirazzi, one of the more combative riders on the 2012 Giro, added:: “Last year I was on the attack a lot to win the Maglia Azzurra, but this year the goal was to win a stage. I’ve only joined two breakaways in this Giro, and today went well for me and I’ve done it. I’ve had a good Giro so far, and there is still a mountain time trial to come, which I’ll try to rider well.”
Race leader Quintana was asked about the controversy over yesterday's stage, when some teams suggested that he had profited from confusion over whether or not the descent of the Stelvio had been neutralised.
The Colombian said: “It makes me laugh, because in reality everyone here and everyone watching on TV knows what happened. I didn’t go down in a car or on a motorbike. I came down on a bike, on the same roads as everyone else.
"A few riders refused to shake my hand this morning, but there are always people who cannot accept defeat, and many others, who ride for the teams whose directors sportifs are now arguing, came to congratulate me on my win. They know what really happened.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the race, he went on: “There are two mountain stages coming up that suit me. If I have a good day, I’ll show myself. I will ride as a team leader, and I’ll honour the Maglia Rosa, and, if the opportunity arises, why not add time to my lead?”
The Movistar rider also insists he is in good shape: “I have proven that I have the means to to be where I am. If it hadn’t been for the breakaway at Oropa, when I was still ill, I might have won, and I was second behind Aru’s spectacular attack 9 at Plan di Montecampione], beating the other favourites by several seconds.
"Perhaps if I have a good day, I’ll show myself. I’m not pushing myself beyond my means, dragging myself up the hills, to be where I am, wearing this Maglia Rosa!”
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.