Australia's winning streak at the Giro d'Italia continued today as Michael Rogers of Tinkoff-Saxo attacked on the descent from the day's final climb to take a fine solo win in Stage 11 of the race in Savona on the Ligurian coast.
Giant-Shimano's Simon Geschke won the sprint for second with Bardiani's Enrico Battaglin third. Cadel Evans retains the race leader's pink jersey.
Rogers was cleared to race less than a month ago after the UCI determined his positive test for clenbuterol at the Japan Cup last October was most likely due to his having eaten contaminated meat in China the previous week.
As he headed into the final 2 kilometres, Rogers' advantage had tumbled to a dozen or so seconds and it seemed inevitable that he would be caught, but the three-time world time trial champion dug deep to secure a comfortable victory, his first in a Grand Tour.
Predictions were that with an individual team time trial looming tomorrow, today’s 249km stage from Collecchio seemed to be one in which the break would be allowed to stay away.
The fact that didn’t happen was that the break that eventually formed after a frantic start to the stage didn’t include a rider from the Androni-Giocatolli team.
As a result, its manager, Gianni Savio, put his riders on the front of the peloton to ride hard and keep the escapees in check.
By that point, the break comprised 14 riders, including past Grand Tour stage winners Philip Deignan of Team Sky and fellow Irishman Nicolas Roche from Saxo-Tinkoff, as well as Katusha’s Dani Moreno.
Earlier, Trek Factory Racing’s Julian Arredondo had been with the initial break and consolidated his lead in the mountains competition by leading it over the day’s first categorised climb, the Passo Cento Croci.
The Colombian would be back later on to take maximum points again on the final climb, the Naso del Gatto, sweeping up the remnants of the break on his way, although the big Austrian rider Georg Preidler of Giant-Shimano did his best to stay with him.
Three other riders joined them on the descent, but on an uphill stretch they were swept up by the peloton, and the stage seemed destined to be heading to a bunch sprint until Rogers made his winning move with 21 kilometres remaining.
Just one rider failed to start today – Michael Matthews, who wore the race leader’s maglia rosa in the first week of the race.
He finished third in yesterday’s Stage 10, but had suffered a contusion in an earlier crash, leading his Orica-GreenEdge team to pull him out of the Giro.
The team lost another rider today, Luke Durbridge who was one of a number of riders to crash on the descent of the day’s opening climb. Many others displayed road rash through shredded clothing.
There was another big crash, this time on the flat, as the peloton headed out of the port city of Genoa, with riders coming down including Steve Morabito of BMC Racing.
That prompted race leader Evans to ask Androni Giocattoli to knock off the pace as they continued to chase the break.
However, perhaps mindful that Evans owes his advantage in the maglia rosa to the time he took when he was one of a handful of riders to avoid a crash on the way to Montecassino last week, his appeal fell on deaf ears.
Much of the press attention following the stage was focused on tomorrow's time trial. Speaking of his progression as a stage racer, Rogers said: "Look, I’ve always loved time trials, but I made it to the top of the tree and, to be honest, I wanted to try my hand in 3-week stage races. I didn’t succeed and, in a sense, I regret letting the time trials go. I lost a lot of weight and strength. At my age, in recent years, it’s difficult to get it back. Sometimes I manage it, and in short stage races, I can get results."
He revealed that he hasn't even studied tomorrow's course. "I haven’t seen it. Tomorrow morning we’ll go and look in the car. From what I understand, it’s very hard. There are 15 kms at a gradient of 3-4 %, then it rolls up and down. I think it’s a route for a rider with legs. It’s been a nervous, difficult Giro for the peloton, with some hard stages and bad weather, and the peloton is very tired.”
Speaking of his compatriot, race leader Evans, he said: "I know [Cadel] well. Being Australians, we grew together as amateurs. Cadel has always been a classy rider. The first part of his career was on a mountain bike and sometimes he came to find us in the Under-23 Australian team.
"We were happy when he did, because he won races, and we made some money out of it [laughs]. He’s always been mentally strong, with lots of heart. He has a very strong team, they’re riding well, and he has a great directeur sportif in Valerio Piva, who has lots of experience and is very intelligent.
"I think they use the team very well. They know their strengths, and Cadel’s experience in 3-week races is almost unrivalled.”
Evans, by contrast, knows that tomorrow's stage could be crucial if he is to add the Giro d'Italia to the Tour de France title he won in 2011.
He said: “It has 3 climbs. The first is a rolling, gentle climb, with 6 curves on the down hill. The second climbs a little bit harder and takes longer, from what I remember. The last pitch to the finish is quite steep. It’s comparable to the time trial we had in last year’s Giro, with the steep finish.
"With rolling roads, hilly, and a real mix, it seems most adapted to a climber who has some power on the flat as well. On paper it looks like the time trial course should suit my characteristics.”
Speaking of his potential challengers for the maglia rosa, he added: “Like any other day, I’d like to improve my margin on my rivals. Rigoberto Urán seems good and is improving day by day, and another name who might be able to do a result and is riding well is Majka.
"He seems a rider we should pay attention to. As for Quintana, we haven’t seen him much so far. I don’t know what to expect. I’m concentrating on my own result. We’ll see in tomorrow's results."
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.