First year professional Bart de Clercq of Omega Pharma-Lotto attacked on the day's final climb and just about clung on to win Stage 7 of the 2011 Giro d'Italia this afternoon. The main contenders in the general classification had appeared content to mark each other, but with bonus seconds on offer, Lampre ISD's Michele Scarponi almost overhauled the young Belgian on the line to finish second, with Astana's Roman Kreuziger third. Pieter Weening of Rabobank remains in the race leader's maglia rosa.
Today's stage saw the first summit finish of this year's race at Montevergine di Mercogliano outside Naples. On that final climb, which saw the riders have to negotiate a series of hairpins on their way to the summit at 1,260 metres above sea level, de Clercq’s team mate Francis De Greef had launched an attack but was reeled back in before the young Belgian decided to go it alone 7km out.
Behind, Acqua & Sapone and Movistar were among the teams setting the pace at the front of the bunch, with Weening also near the front of the chasing group as he attempted to stay clear of trouble and retain the jersey for another day.
Riders from Androni Giocattoli and Colnago-CSF Inox both managed to get clear and try and catch up the Belgian first-year professional, with the big guns apparently content to mark each other as the ascent headed towards its conclusion.
However, with around 2km to go, Lampre-ISD began to force the pace at the front of the main bunch, and with vital bonus seconds on offer it was their big overall hope this year, Scarponi, who led the sprint to the line, followed by Kreuziger, now in the colours of Astana.
It would have been cruel indeed had de Clercq been denied at the last, but the 24-year-old somehow managed to get across the line first for a victory that will be welcomed in his native country following the trauma of the death of Wouter Weylandt earlier this week.
By the time 25km had been raced of today’s stage – at 110km, the shortest of the race, excluding the three time trials – a group of a dozen riders who had managed to get off the front of the peloton had been whittled down to just five escapees.
The best placed of those on the general classification was the AG2R rider Matteo Montaguti, who started the day in 45th place, 2 minutes 16 seconds down on Weening, overnight leader.
He was joined in the break by Italian champion Giovanni Visconti of Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli, HTC-Highroad’s Lars Bak, Colnago CSF Inox’s Federico Canuti and Jerome Pineau of Quickstep.
With a little under 25km to go, birthday boy Johnny Hoogerland of Vacansoleil, who had got off the front of the main group, not only managed to bridge across to the escapees but flew past them, forcing them to up the tempo in response.
On the final climb however, the breakaway riders were swallowed up by the main group one by one, including Canuti who had earlier fallen after losing control of his bike on the descent from the Category 2 Serra della Strada, and the stage seemed set for a battle between the big favourites before the Omega Pharma-Lotto riders made their respective bids for glory.
Tomorrow sees a rare chance of a sprint finish as the race heads down the Tyrrhenian Coast to Tropea, although the wind could play a part in determining the outcome of the stage, then on Sunday what could be an epic day’s racing is in prospect as the peloton crosses the Straits of Messina – Vincenzo Nibali’s home town – for a stage that starts there and features a double ascent of Mount Etna.
That stage sees the first of a further six summit finishes that figure in this year's Giro, and while the favourites for the overall title may have kept their powder dry today, Sunday is likely to see some fireworks worthy of the famous volcano on whose slopes they will be riding.
Giro d'Italia Stage 7 Result 1 DE CLERCQ Bart Omega Pharma-Lotto 2:54:47 2 SCARPONI Michele Lampre-ISD Same time 3 KREUZIGER Roman Astana “ 4 GARZELLI Stefano Acqua & Sapone “ 5 NIBALI Vincenzo Liquigas “ 6 RODRIGUEZ Joaquin Katusha “ 7 RUJANO Jose Androni Giocattoli “ 8 CATALDO Dario Quickstep “ 9 CONTADOR Alberto Saxo Bank-SunGard “ 10 LE MEVEL Christophe Garmin-Cervelo “ 11 ARROYO David Movistar “ 12 KRUIJSWIJK Steven Rabobank “ 13 MASCIARELLI Francesco Astana “ 14 SIVTSOV Kanstantsin HTC-Highroad “ 15 GADRET John AG2R “ 16 SELLA Emanuele Androni-Giocattoli “ 17 MENCHOV Denis Geox TMC “ 18 POZZOVIVO Domenico Colnago-CSF Inox “ 19 WEENING Pieter Rabobank “ 20 LASTRAS Pablo Movistar “ Giro d’Italia General Classification after Stage 7 1 WEENING Pieter Rabobank 23:09:59 2 SIVTSOV Kanstantsin HTC-Highroad at 0:02 3 PINOTTI Marco HTC-Highroad 0:02 4 LE MEVEL Christophe Garmin-Cervelo 0:05 5 SCARPONI Michele Lampre-ISD 0:14 6 LASTRAS Pablo Movistar 0:22 7 NIBALI Vincenzo Liquigas 0:24 8 KRUIJSWIJK Steven Rabobank 0:28 9 CONTADOR Alberto Saxo Bank-SunGard 0:30 10 SERPA Jose Rodolfo Androni Giocattoli 0:33
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.