Movistar rider gets away with 23km left as three-time Italian champ wins his first ever Giro stage

Giovanni Visconti of Movistar, three times Italian national road champion, has today taken his first ever stage win in the Giro d'italia but he did so on French soil, as the race crossed the border for a finish on the Col du Galibier. Visconti, born in Turin to a Sicilian family, got clear of his breakaway companions with 23km remaining, and dug deep as the snow fell to stay ahead by 42 seconds, with attacks coming from the GC group behind him in the closing kilometres. Carlos Betancur of AG2R finished second to move into the best young rider's jersey, while Vincenzo Nibali of Astana retains his commanding overall lead.

There had been fears yesterday that the Galibier would have to be skipped altogether due to heavy snowfalls. As it turned out, the race did head up the fabled climb, although it finished 4.2km short of the originally planned finish line.

That meant that today's stage ended by a memorial to the late Marco Pantani, on the mountain where he sealed his greatest triumph, winning here in 1998 on his way to becoming the last man to win the Giro and Tour de France double. By coincidence, today's stage winner, Visconti, shares his birthday, 13 January.

Prior to that climb of the Galibier, the riders first had to tackle the Col du Télégraphe, and it was Visconti who led the race on his own as it headed over that climb, with three riders less than a minute behind him, followed by a smaller group ahead of the maglia rosa group, which was just shy of 3 minutes behind the leader.

Among Visconti’s closest pursuers was mountains classification leader Stefano Pirazzi of Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox, who got over the Télégraphe in second place, picking up points to consolidate his lead in that competition, having earlier burst clear of the peloton to lead it over Mont Cenis, the summit of which came 58.6km into the 145km stage from Cesana Torinese.

Accompanying Rabottini as he went over the Télégraphe, crested a little less than 20km from the finish with a brief downhill section before the ascent of the Galibier, were two former Giro stage winners, Marco Rabottini of Vini Fantini-Selle Italia and Peter Weening of Orica GreenEdge.

The group of seven behind them had a former winner of the race in the shape of Rabottini’s team mate, Danilo di Luca, plus three Colombians including Team Sky’s Sergio Henao.

On the final climb, Rabottini, whose stage win last year provided one of the most memorable stages of the 2012 Giro, headed off on his own in pursuit of Visconti, provoking what may have literally been a hair-raising moment for team manager Luca Scinto – following Mauro Santambrogio’s victory yesterday, he had promised to shave his head if the team pulled off another win today.

With 5km left, Rabottini was still nearly a minute down on Visconti and started to fall back, with the maglia rosa group, being led up the climb by Nibali’s team mate Valerio Agnoli, a minute and a half back.

Attacks from the GC contenders’ group were inevitable, and it was Euskaltel Euskadi’s Samuel Sanchez, fourth yesterday but at more than 8 minutes down not a realistic threat to Nibali, who made the first move, Cannondale’s Damiano Caruso going with him.

It was the man who started the day in the best young rider’s jersey, Rafal Majka of Saxo-Tinkoff, who would attack inside the final kilometre with Betancur, the rider who heads the classification tonight following his second place, with Lampre-Merida’s Przemyslaw Niemiec third.

While some stages of this year’s race have been ridden at breakneck speed, making it difficult for a break to get away early on, today’s stage began at a sedate pace, the group remaining together.

According to host broadcaster RAI, that was because the peloton was united in the aim of ensuring that there would be a realistic time limit for the less able climbers to meet.

That’s something that no doubt would have provided relief for points classification leader Mark Cavendish of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, who had ridden in the gruppeto that reached the finish of yesterday’s stage to Bardonnechia, ridden in atrocious conditions with the climb to Sestriere missed out.

Cavendish and the rest of the participants remaining in the race now have tomorrow’s rest day to recover before the final week of what has been a tough but absorbing race begins with a 238km transitional stage from Valloire to Ivrea.

Giro d'Italia Stage 15 result  
1  VISCONTI Giovanni    Movistar Team        04:40:48
2  BETANCUR Carlos      AG2R La Mondiale        00:42
3  NIEMIEC Przemyslaw   Lampre - Merida          ,,
4  MAJKA Rafal          Team Saxo-Tinkoff        ,,
5  DUARTE Fabio         Team Colombia           00:47
6  SCARPONI Michele     Lampre - Merida         00:54
7  NIBALI Vincenzo      Astana Pro Team          ,,
8  EVANS Cadel          BMC Racing Team          ,,
9  SANTAMBROGIO Mauro   Vini Fantini             ,,
10 URAN Rigoberto       Sky Procycling           ,,
11 KISERLOVSKI Robert   RadioShack - Leopard     ,,
12 CARUSO Damiano       Cannondale Pro Cycling  00:58
13 PELLIZOTTI Franco    Androni - Venezuela      ,,
14 KELDERMAN Wilco      Blanco Pro Cycling      01:00
15 TROFIMOV Yuri        Katusha Team             ,,
16 SANCHEZ Samuel       Euskaltel - Euskadi     01:06
17 DI LUCA Danilo       Vini Fantini            01:09
18 ATAPUMA John         Team Colombia           01:24
19 INTXAUSTI Benat      Movistar Team            ,,
20 CAPECCHI Eros        Movistar Team           01:27
Overall Standings after Stage 15  
1  NIBALI Vincenzo      Astana Pro Team      62:02:34
2  EVANS Cadel          BMC Racing Team         01:26
3  URAN Rigoberto       Sky Procycling          02:46
4  SANTAMBROGIO Mauro   Vini Fantini            02:47
5  SCARPONI Michele     Lampre - Merida         03:53
6  NIEMIEC Przemyslaw   Lampre - Merida         04:35
7  BETANCUR Carlos      AG2R La Mondiale        05:16
8  MAJKA Rafal          Team Saxo-Tinkoff       05:20
9  POZZOVIVO Domenico   AG2R La Mondiale        05:57
10 INTXAUSTI Benat      Movistar Team           06:21

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.