Joaquin Rodriguez of Katusha, the man leading the Giro d'Italia this morning, has won his second stage of the race in Cortina d'Ampezzo on a brutal day in the Dolomites that left just six men contesting the finish, and the winner of this year's race will almost certainly come from that group. The Spaniard outsprinted two-time Giro winner Ivan Basso of Liquigas Cannondale to the line, with Garmin-Barracuda's Ryder Hesjedal third. Rodriguez's win also deals a big blow to Mark Cavendish's hopes of winning the points classification, making tomorrow's stage to Vedelago a make-or-break one for the Team Sky rider.
That stage tomorrow will be followed by two more big mountain stages ahead of Sunday's closing time trial in Milan, and there are now just five riders withing three minutes of the race lead. Hesjedal, who has had two spells in the maglia rosa during the past fortnight, is 30 seconds behind Rodriguez, while Basso and defending champion Michele Scarponi of Lampre-ISD are respectively 1 minute 22 seconds and 1 minute 36 seconds back.
There's then a gap to the fifth member of the group to contest the finale, Team Sky's Rigoberto Uran, who lies 2 minutes 56 down on the leader and takes the best young rider's jersey off team mate and fellow Colombian Sergio Henao. The other of the day's protagonists, Domenico Pozzovivo of Colnago-CSF Inox, is seventh in the GC, 3 minutes 19 behind Rodriguez, and his hopes of making the podium will depend on being able to drop his rivals on one of those two remaining mountain stages.
The 186 kilometre stage from Falzes, set among the breathtaking scenery of the Dolomites, featured four categorised climbs, the first three of which, while each tough on their own, served as an appetiser for the mighty Passo di Giau. However, even before that 9.9km ascent, which has an average gradient of 9.3 per cent, one big name, Astana's Roman Kreuziger, had already been dropped by the GC group.
The Kazakh outfit had begun the day with two men in the top five of the GC but would end it with none as fourth placed Paolo Tiralongo, along with three quarters of what had been a group of 25 riders, was also dropped in the early part of the climb of the Passo di Giau.
Coming towards the top of the climb, as if to test his rivals in advance of the battles that will be played out later this week, Pozzovivo attacked and it was Uran and, in particular, Scarponi, the man awarded last year's race after Alberto Contador's disqualification, who found the sudden injection of pace too much and lost contact with the group.
Uran would be the first to rejoin the other quartet on a twisting, technical descent from the summit, crested some 17.8 kilometers out, but behind him Scarponi seemed to be struggling with cramp and for a time his defence of his title hung in the balance as he found himself half a minute behind the leaders.
He managed to get back to them with just two kilometres left, and while it was Rodriguez who prevailed in the sprint, with no bonus seconds on offer, it's Hesjedal, a much stronger time triallist, who perhaps is best placed to take victory on Sunday as long as he can avoid losing time to the Spaniard on those two final summit finishes.
With the Giro attaching equal weight to all road stages as far as the points classification is concerned, today's victory brings Rodriguez to within one point of Cavendish at the top of the standings. Tomorrow will be the world champion's final chance to clinch points, with a maximum of 25 on offer for the stage win, plus whatever may be left once any riders have been through the intermediate sprint.
Even if Cavendish were to win tomorrow, top five placings by Rodriguez on Friday and Saturday would probably be enough to send the points jersey the Spaniard's way.
Giro d’Italia Stage 17 result 1 RODRIGUEZ Joaquin KAT 5:24:42 2 BASSO Ivan LIQ Same time 3 HESJEDAL Ryder GRM 4 URAN URAN Rigoberto SKY 5 SCARPONI Michele LAM 6 POZZOVIVO Domenico COG 0:02 7 INTXAUSTI Benat MOV 1:22 8 MORENO Daniel KAT 9 DE GENDT Thomas VCD 10 TSCHOPP Johann BMC 11 GADRET John ALM 12 NIEVE Mikel EUS 13 CUNEGO Damiano LAM 14 PARDILLA Sergio MOV 15 BRAMBILLA Gianluca COG 1:44 16 BRUSEGHIN Marzio MOV 2:13 17 TIRALONGO Paolo AST 2:47 18 HENAO Sergio SKY 19 CATALDO Dario OPQ 20 FAILLI Francesco FAR 2:51 Overall Standings after Stage 17 1 RODRIGUEZ Joaquin KAT 74:46:46 2 HESJEDAL Ryder GRM 0:30 3 BASSO Ivan LIQ 1:22 4 SCARPONI Michele LAM 1:36 5 URAN Rigoberto SKY 2:56 6 INTXAUSTI Benat MOV 3:04 7 POZZOVIVO Domenico COG 3:19 8 TIRALONGO Paolo AST 4:13 9 DE GENDT Thomas VCD 4:38 10 HENAO Sergio SKY 4:42
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.