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