Paolo Tiralongo of Astana this afternoon claimed his second Giro d'Italia stage win in two years - and only his second victory in a professional career spanning 13 years - overhauling defending champion Michele Scarponi of Lampre-ISD within sight of the line in Rocca di Cambio in the first summit finish of this year's race, with RadioShack-Nissan's Frank Schleck third. The maglia rosa, meanwhile, is back with Garmin-Barracuda, and will tomorrow be sported by the Canadian, Ryder Hesjedal.
Scarponi, awarded last year's victory after Alberto Contador was stripped of the title, had finished last year's race as runner-up to the Spaniard despite not winning a stage, and attacked inside the final kilometre today as he sought to win the fourth Giro stage of his career. The 34-year-old Tiralongo, winner of Stage 19 in Macugnaga last year, went with him however, and passed the Lampre man on the final bend, just 50 metres from the line.
It wasn’t until today's last 19km climb, which included a short descent 3km out until rearing up again for the final 1.5km, that the battle for the GC in the 2012 Giro d’Italia began in earnest. Yesterday, the riders considered the main contenders to win the maglia rosa in Milan a fortnight tomorrow had kept a watchful eye on each other, but today's stage gave a first glimpse of who is riding strongest in the mountains.
Hairpin (pic Daniele Badolato - LaPresse - RCS Sport)
The day’s break, comprising four riders – Orica-GreenEdge’s Fumi Beppu, Mirko Selvaggi of Vacansoleil-DCM, NetApp’s Reto Hollenstein and Matteo Rabottini of Farnese Vini-Selle Italia – had got away very early on, and built an advantage of nearly nine minutes at one point.
The break (pic Daniele Badolato - LaPresse - RCS Sport)
However, as the stage headed towards that final ascent, on the way skirting the Gran Sasso national park as well as the town of L’Aquila, devastated by an earthquake three years ago, the lead tumbled as Lampre-ISD, whose Adriano Malori took over the race lead yesterday, and Katusha, working for birthday boy Joaquin Rodriguez, 33 today, forced the pace to keep the escapees in check.
The peloton chases (pic Daniele Badolato - LaPresse - RCS Sport)
As the leading quartet started heading up the early part of that final 19km climb, they still had a couple of minutes' advantage over the peloton but with the catch seemingly inevitable, Rabottini decided to go it alone.
Behind, riders were starting to attack from the peloton, including Stefano Pirazzi of Colnago-CSF Inox, who managed to bridge across to his compatriot with a little under 14 kilometres to go, with the Spanish rider Jose Herrada of Movistar joining them shortly after.
Those attacks from the bunch meant that the pace as the road headed uphill, while not flat out, was higher than maglia rosa Malori would have hoped for, and he was soon off the back. Prior to the stage, the 24-year-old from Parma had played down his chances of keeping the jersey beyond the end of the stage, but at least had his day in pink, a childhood ambition fulfilled.
Maglia rosa Malori enjoys his day in the pink (pic Fabio Ferrari - LaPresse - RCS Sport)
Malori certainly wasn't alone in finding the going too tough on that final climb, however, the peloton strung back down the mountain as the leaders headed up it.
Peloton heads uphill (pic Daniele Badolato - LaPresse - RCS Sport)
Heading into the final ten kilometres the three riders at the head of the race had an advantage of 30 seconds, but Rabottini would soon see his challenge end as he shipped his chain.
Then there were two; Herrada & Pirazzi (pic Daniele Badolato - LaPresse - RCS Sport)
Herrada and Pirazzi tried to keep going, but the Italian would see his hopes dashed after misjudging a corner on that final descent before the road reared up again towards the finish, leaving the Spaniard on his own.
The big names expected to challenge for the GC – including Ivan Basso, Roman Kreuziger, Frank Schleck, and Jose Rujano – were breathing down his neck, however, and Herrada was passed with a little over half a kilometre left as Scarponi made his move.
One rider who didn’t finish today was Lotto-Belisol’s Gianni Meersman, suffering from a back injury caused by a crash on Stage 2 last Sunday, who abandoned just 25km into the stage, which had started in Recanati.
Stage start in Recanati (pic Gian Mattia D'Alberto - LaPresse - RCS Sport)
Giro d’Italia Stage 7 result 1 TIRALONGO Paolo AST 5:51:03 2 SCARPONI Michele LAM 3 SCHLECK Frank RNT 0:03 4 RODRIGUEZ Joaquin KAT 5 HESJEDAL Ryder GRM 0:05 6 POZZOVIVO Domenico COG 0:09 7 MORENO Daniel KAT 8 BASSO Ivan LIQ 9 NIEVE Mikel EUS 0:11 10 BRAMBILLA Gianluca COG 11 HENAO Sergio SKY 12 INTXAUSTI Benat MOV 13 CAPECCHI Eros LIQ 14 PAUWELS Serge OPQ 15 GADRET John ALM 16 CARUSO Damiano LIQ 17 GARATE Juan Manuel RAB 18 KREUZIGER Roman AST 19 HERRADA Jose' MOV 20 PARDILLA Sergio MOV Overall standings after Stage 7 1 HESJEDAL Ryder GRM 26:16:53 2 TIRALONGO Paolo AST 0:15 3 RODRIGUEZ Joaquin KAT 0:17 4 VANDEVELDE Christian GRM 0:21 5 STETINA Peter GRM 0:26 6 MORENO Daniel KAT 0:26 7 KREUZIGER Roman AST 0:35 8 BASSO Ivan LIQ 0:40 9 CARUSO Damiano LIQ 0:45 10 CATALDO Dario OPQ 0:46
Canadian maglia rosa + local wolf museum = winning photo opp (pic Gian Mattia D'Alberto - LaPresse - RCS Sport)
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.