Oscar Gatto of Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli won Stage 8 of the 2011 Giro d'Italia in Tropea this afternoon, with Alberto Contador attacking behind him to get second place and 12 vital bonus seconds plus a five second gap over the chasing pack that propels the Spaniard, winner of the race in 2008, to fifth in the overall standings. Points leader Alessandro Petacchi claimed third spot, while Pieter Weening of Rabobank retains the race lead.
A pair of hairpin bends negotiated with less than 2km left as the road rose up slowed the peloton right down and allowed Gatto to launch his attack, but in terms of the ultimate destination of the maglia rosa, the action was taking place behind as Contador took his rivals by surprise by going off the front of the bunch.
Today's stage took the 193 riders left in the race - Geox-TMC rider Fabio Duarte was a non-starter this morning - 217km along the Tyrrhenian coast from Sapri in the province of Salerno to Tropea.
The finish town lies some 20km north of the Straits of Messina, the city on Sicily that is Vincenzo Nibali's home town and where tomorrow's long-awaited stage featuring a double ascent of Mount Etna begins.
Two escapees got off the front of the race early on, Leonardo Giordani of Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli and the Vacansoleil-DCM rider Mirko Selvaggi, and at one point had a lead of 11 minutes 30 seconds.
However, with today supposedly representing a rare opportunity for the sprinters - although that was hardly the way the stage ultimately panned out with a trickier than anticipated finale - it was no surprise that HTC-Highroad were prominent in leading the chase.
The efforts of Mark Cavendish's team helped bring the gap down to two minutes with 20km left to race, and the pair were eventually swept up with around 7km to go.
Shortly before the catch was made, a crash in the chasing peloton took down riders including Matthew Wilson of Garmin-Cervelo and 2000 Giro winner Stefano Garzelli of Acqua & Sapone.
The latter somehow got back onto the rear of the peloton with the help of some rather brazen slipstreaming of team cars and stickier-than-usual water bottles that may well earn him a reprimand from the commissaires.
The senior of today's two escapees, the 33-year-old Giordani, Roman by birth, has spent the past decade as a gregario – the Italian for domestique – at a variety of teams including Fassa Bortolo and, most recently, Ceramica Flaminia-Bossini.
Selvaggi, seven years his junior, comes from Pescia in Tuscany, turning professional in 2008 and spending last year in the colours of Astana.
Commemoration has been a theme throughout the opening week of this year's Giro, whether it be marking the 150th anniversary of Italian unifaction with last weekend's start in Turin, or Tuesday's neutralised Stage 4 to pay tribute to the Leopard Trek rider Wouter Weylandt, killed in a crash the previous afternoon.
Today was no exception, with Giordani and Selvaggi the first riders to pass through a special sprint that Giro organisers had put in place at Sant-Eufemia-Lamezia, 60km out, to commemorate the eight local cyclist killed when they were hit by a car there last September.
As reported on road.cc earlier today, organisers have provided reassurance over tomorrow's stage despite the resumption of volcanic activity on Etna earlier this week. The stage is planned to go ahead more or less as planned, although the start, and therefore subsequent timings too, has been brought forward by 30 minutes.
Giro d’Italia Stage 8 Result 1 GATTO Oscar Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli 4:59:45 2 CONTADOR Alberto Saxo Bank-SunGard Same time 3 PETACCHI Alessandro Lampre-ISD at 0:05 4 KRISTOFF Alexander BMC “ 5 FERRARI Roberto Androni Giocattoli “ 6 APPOLLONIO Davide Team Sky “ 7 VENTOSO Francisco Movistar “ 8 NOCENTINI Rinaldo AG2R “ 9 LE MEVEL Christophe Garmin-Cervelo “ 10 LODEWYCK Klaas Omega Pharma-Lotto “ 11 CHEREL Mikael AG2R " 12 FAVILLI Elia Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli " 13 DOWNING Russell Team Sky “ 14 CARDOSO Manuel RadioShack “ 15 FISCHER Antonio Garmin-Cervelo “ 16 NIBALI Vincenzo Liquigas “ 17 CATALDO Dario Quickstep “ 18 LASTRAS Pablo Movistar “ 19 SCARPONI Michele Lampre-ISD “ 20 BAKELANDTS Jan Omega Pharma-Lotto “ Giro d’Italia Overall Standings after Stage 8 1 WEENING Pieter Rabobank 28:09:49 2 SIVTSOV Kanstantsin HTC-Highroad at 0:02 3 PINOTTI Marco HTC-Highroad 0:02 4 LE MEVEL Christophe Garmin-Cervelo 0:05 5 CONTADOR Alberto Saxo Bank-SunGard 0:13 6 SCARPONI Michele Lampre-ISD 0:14 7 LASTRAS Pablo Movistar 0:22 8 NIBALI Vincenzo Liquigas 0:24 9 KRUIJSWIJK Steven Rabobank 0:28 10 SERPA Jose 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.