Thomas De Gendt of Vacansoleil-DCM has ridden himself into contention for at least a place on the Giro d'Italia podium in Milan tomorrow after attacking on the climb of the Mortirolo today then, after catching a group of riders ahead of him, going again on the climb of the Passo dello Stelvio to claim a stunning solo win at the highest summit finish the race has ever seen. Overall leader Joaquin Rodriguez of Katusha took fourth, 3 minutes 22 seconds behind De Gendt, and in so doing also denies Mark Cavendish the red jersey by a single point. Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Barracuda, second overall this morning, lost the time he had made up on Rodriguez yesterday ahead of tomorrow's time trial in Milan.
Irrespective of what happens during that 30 kilometre individual time trial tomorrow, De Gendt today wrote his name into Giro history. His victory also brought him the Cima Coppi, the prize awarded for the first rider over the highest point of the race each year. This afternoon, that proved doubly significant – Fausto Coppi himself was the first rider to win a Giro stage on the Stelvio, back in 1953, and like De Gendt today, he did so riding a Bianchi.
The 25-year-old Belgian, who had started the day in eighth place overall, now lies fourth, 2 minutes 18 seconds behind Rodriguez of Katusha and 1 minute 48 seconds behind Hesjedal. Defending champion Michele Scarponi of Lampre-ISD is third, 1 minute 51 seconds off the lead.
Hesjedal will be favourite to overhaul the Spaniard to win the maglia rosa tomorrow, but De Gendt, fourth in the penultimate day’s time trial in last year’s Tour de France behind world champion Tony Martin, overall winner Cadel Evans and the subsequently disqualified Alberto Contador, is now the biggest threat to the Garmi-Barracuda man’s hopes of becoming the first Canadian to win a Grand Tour.
The inclusion of both the Stelvio and the Mortirolo on today’s stage had been determined by a vote of the Giro d’Italia’s fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter, reflecting the race’s ground-breaking use of social media to engage with the public. Those watching on TV or thronging the roadside in the Alps wouldn’t have been disappointed with their choice.
It was on the Mortirolo, crested some 56.6 kilometres from the end of the 219-kilometre stage from Caldes, that De Gendt, who in March scored a fine solo win in a stage of Paris-Nice, attacked from the GC group and then set about the task of chasing others who had got off the front of the main bunch in earlier moves.
Ahead of the Stelvio, De Gendt had joined a group of six including RadioShack rider Oliver Zaugg, winner of last year’s Giro di Lombardia, who had been alone at the front of the race heading over the Mortirolo.
Zaugg would soon by dropped, leaving De Gendt to head up the 22.4 kilometre climb with a group including 2004 Giro winner Damiano Cunego of Lampre ISD, the Euskaltel pair of Mikel Nieve, a stage winner last year and Jon Izaguirre, victor of Stage 16. Astana’s Tanel Kangert and Andrey Amador of Movistar another of this year’s stage winners, completed the group of six riders now at the front of the race.
One by one, De Gendt shed his fellow riders, the last being Nieve, dropped 13 kilometres from the summit of the mountain which the Belgian regularly uses for altitude training; today, his ride was no rehearsal, however, and with 10 kilometres left, he was five minutes ahead of the GC group, and he ground out another 15 seconds over the next five kilometres.
The Vacansoleil-DCM rider would not be caught, but behied him things were finally starting to heat up in the GC group, where Christian Vandevelde had been setting the tempo, working tirelessly for Hesjedal. Now, however, the latter found himself alone.
The first attempted attacks came from AG2R’s John Gadret, seventh overall this morning, but each time he tried to get away he was brought back, Hesjedal now at the front of the grouo which was inevitably being whittled down as the pace went higher, with Colnago-CSF Inox’s Domenico Pozzovivo, double Giro champion Ivan Basso of Liqugas-Cannondale, and Rigoberto Uran of Team Sky, wearer of the best young riders’ jersey, all getting dropped.
That left Hesjedal and Rodriguez together as they passed under the three kilometres to go banner with Scarponi and Team Sky’s other young Colombian, Sergio Henao. Shortly after, the latter seemed to drop back as if to help Uran, meaning that he wouldn’t be around in the finale to try and deny Rodriguez that fourth place that would take the points jersey away from Cavendish.
Cunego and Nieve would clinch second and third, and of the GC group, Scarponi appeared to be set to take fourth spot after attacking a couple of kilometres from the line. Had that happened, Mark Cavendish would have had the chance tomorrow to become only the fifth man to win the points classification in all three Grand Tours.
Rodriguez, however, would attack Hesjedal and then reel in and pass Scarponi 400 metres from the line to overtake Cavendish by just one point in the points clasification and more or less guarantee himself that jersey assuming he suffers no mishap on tomorrow’s time trial; the irony is that since the Katusha rider will be in the maglia rosa tomorrow, it will be Cavendish himself who will take part in the time trial in a jersey he cannot now win unless he achieves a extremely unlikely place in the top 15.
The destination of one other jersey was decided today, with Matteo Rabottini of Farnese Vini, winner of Stage 15 at Pian dei Resinelli last Sunday, able to get into a break and lead the race over the day’s first three categorised climbs, the Tonale, Aprica and Teglio, to guarantee that he would win the mountais classification.
During today’s stage, four riders, including the last man on GC this morning, Andrea Guardini of Farnese Vini who beat Cavendish to win the sprint in Vedelago on Thursday, were disqualified for slipstreaming cars after the Passo del Tonale. The other three men who saw their race come to a premature end were South African champion Robbie Hunter of Garmin-Barracuda, Dominique Rollin of FDJ-BigMat and Euskaltel’s Ivan Velasco.
Giro d’Italia Stage 20 result 1 Thomas DE GENDT VCD 6:54:41 2 Damiano CUNEGO LAM +56 3 Mikel ITURALDE EUS +2:50 4 Joaquin RODRIGUEZ KAT +3:22 5 Michele SCARPONI LAM +3:34 6 Ryder HESJEDAL GRM +3:36 7 John GADRET ALM +4:29 8 Rigoberto URAN SKY +4:53 9 Sergio HENAO SKY +4:54 10 Ivan BASSO LIQ +4:54 11 Domenico POZZOVIVO COG +5:39 12 Hubert DUPONT ALM +5:53 13 Ben HERMANS RNT +7:58 14 Gianluca BRAMBILLA COG +8:32 15 Roman KREUZIGER AST +9:10 16 Dario CATALDO OPQ +9:17 17 Johann TSCHOPP BMC +9:38 18 Christian VANDEVELDE GRM +11:00 19 Andrey AMADOR MOV +11:00 20 Marzio BRUSEGHIN MOV +11:35 Overall Standings after Stage 20 1 Joaquin RODRIGUEZ KAT 91:04:16 2 Ryder HESJEDAL GRM +31 3 Michele SCARPONI LAM +1:51 4 Thomas DE GENDT VCD +2:18 5 Ivan BASSO LIQ +3:18 6 Damiano CUNEGO LAM +3:43 7 Rigoberto URAN SKY +4:52 8 Domenico POZZOVIVO COG +5:47 9 Mikel NIEVE EUS +5:56 10 John GADRET ALM +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.