Igor Anton of Euskaltel-Euskadi, who crashed out of last year's Vuelta while leading the race, rode up most of the Zoncolan alone today to win a memorable but chaotic Stage 14 of the Giro d'Italia. He now lies third on GC, just 1 second behind the eventual winner of the 2010 Vuelta, Vincenzo Nibali. Alberto Contador, second on today's stage, retains the maglia rosa, with Nibali struggling towards the end of the climb to finish third. Following last night's exclusion of Monte Crostis from today's route, anothner change to the itinerary was made while the stage was actually in progress, with a fan protest meaning that 20km were missed out as the race headed onto the Zoncolan early.
The section of the already revised itinerary cut from the race at the last minute was at Tualis, skipped due to fans unhappy with the exclusion of the Crostis staging a protest.
Police cars and marshals blocked the turn towards the Tualis for any riders who hadn’t somehow got the message via their earpieces – even so, some including AG2R’s John Gadret, third overall this morning, seemed to go the wrong way before turning round.
The scenes of confusion inevitably gave rise to thoughts of how such a situation would have been managed if, as the UCI wants to do in future, radios are banned from the race, a point that team managers will be certain to highlight in their ongoing row with the governing body.
The sudden shortening of the stage by another 20km meant that the day’s three escapees, Bram Tankink of Rabobank, Colnago CSF-Inox’s Gianluca Brambilla and Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli’s Matteo Rabottini, hit the Zoncolan with perhaps a bit more of an advantage – more than four minutes – than they might otherwise have expected.
The mid-stage amendment to the course also meant that some teams and riders were perhaps not in their preferred position as they hit the bottom of the Zoncolan, which together with the fact that team cars were barred from the climb, added to the confusion.
With only neutral service motorbikes allowed on the narrow road to provide assistance in case of a mechanical problem, that also gave rise to scenes of mechanics riding as pillion passengers with spare bikes slung over their shoulders. Not all made it to the top of the Zoncolan, with smoke pouring out of one motorbike that had overheated halfway up.
With Rabottini left behind early on the ascent and Brambilla also falling away, Tankink found himself alone as he headed into the final two thirds of the 10km climb, which has an average gradient of 11%, hitting 18% in places, alone.
Those figures help reinforce why the Zoncolan, together with Spain’s Angliru, is generally considered the toughest stage race climb in Europe, and it was three Spanish riders who got away from the main group to head off in pursuit of the Dutchman.
The first to attack out of the GC group had been Katusha’s Joaquin Rodriguez, with Anton going off behind him, a move that spurred Contador into action.
Rodriguez, though, couldn’t keep with his compatriots and fell back, with the challenge now joined by the two big-name Italian riders, Michele Scarponi of Lampre-ISD, then Nibali, getting across to join Contador, now riding on his own after Anton had launched another attack.
As Nibali finally reached the pair 4km from the finish, he immediately attacked, Contador going with him straight away, but Scarponi couldn’t respond, and would later lose more valuable time through a mechanical problem towards the top of the climb.
As they headed up the famous climb behind Anton, the contrasting styles of the winners of, respectively, last year’s Vuelta and Tour de France, were plain to see – Nibali, sat down in the saddle, turning the cranks steadily as he ground out his pedal strokes, Contador, riding at a higher cadence, occasionally standing up on the pedals and making the ascent look relatively effortless.
The Saxo Bank-SunGard rider had started the day 3 minutes 9 seconds up on Nibali, so the maglia rosa wasn’t under threat. However, Nibali was mindful that Anton, still ahead on the road as the stage entered the closing two kilometres, was less than a minute behind him on GC, despite being 7th overall, and that he stood to gain 20 bonus seconds for winning the stage.
With a little over a kilometre left, Contador put the hammer down and although Nibali somehow managed to respond and come back to him, another kick from the Spaniard in the closing few hundred metres saw Contador ride to the line alone, the crowd’s boos ringing in his ears, replaced by cheers as Nibali subsequently appeared.
Ahead, Anton had already done enough to take what is by a long way the biggest win of his career, but just missed out on going second in the overall standings.
While Contador looks untouchable in the maglia rosa, the next week of racing in the Alps means that there are bound to be further changes in the order behind him, starting with yet another summit finish tomorrow at Gardeccia Val di Fessa, one of three Category 1 climbs on a day that also features the Cima Coppi, the Giro’s highest point this year, on the Passo Giau.
Giro d’Italia Stage 14 Result 1 ANTON Igor Euskaltel-Euskadi 5:04:26 2 CONTADOR Alberto Saxo Bank-SunGard at 0:33 3 NIBALI Vincenzo Liquigas-Cannondale 0:40 4 SCARPONI Michele Lampre-ISD 1:11 5 MENCHOV Denis Geox-TMC 1:21 6 GADRET John AG2R 1:38 7 NIEVE Mikel Euskaltel-Euskadi 1:52 8 DUPONT Hubert AG2R 1:55 9 SIVTSOV Kanstantsin HTC-Highroad 2:05 10 RUJANO Jose Androni Giocattoli 2:11 11 RODRIGUEZ Joaquin Katusha 2:24 12 KRUIJSWIJK Steven Rabobank 2:40 13 NIEMIEC Przemyslaw Lampre-ISD 2:57 14 TIRALONGO Paolo Astana 3:29 15 STETINA Peter Garmin Cervelo 3:29 16 KREUZIGER Roman Astana 3:32 17 ARROYO David Movistar 3:39 18 CARRARA Matteo Vacansoleil DCM 3:55 19 LE MEVEL Christophe Garmin Cervelo 4:00 20 CATALDO Dario Quickstep 4:03 Giro d’Italia Overall Standings after Stage 14 1 CONTADOR Alberto Saxo Bank-SunGard 54:45:45 2 NIBALI Vincenzo Liquigas-Cannondale at 3:20 3 ANTON Igor Euskaltel-Euskadi 3:21 4 SCARPONI Michele 4:06 5 GADRET John AG2R 5:23 6 SIVTSOV Kanstantsin HTC-Highroad 5:37 7 MENCHOV Denis Geox-TMC 6:06 8 DUPONT Hubert AG2R 6:12 9 KREUZIGER Roman Astana 6:40 10 ARROYO David Movistar 6:43
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.