Farnese Vini rider gets his reward after spending 90 kilometres alone at front of race

Katusha's Joaquin Rodriguez is back in the lead of the Giro d'Italia, finishing second on today's Stage 15 to Farnese Vini's Matteo Rabottini after launching an attack inside the final couple of kilometres that left many of his GC rivals struggling. Rabottini had spent nearly 90km alone at the front of the race after shaking off fellow escapee Guillaume Bonnafond of AG2R, but looked set to be robbed of victory as Rodriguez passed him just 200 metres from the line on the summit finish at Pian di Resinelli. However, the 25-year-old Italian dug deep to overhaul the Spaniard for a throughly deserved win following a thrilling stage.

It was just the second win of Rabottini’s professional career, the rider from Pescara having taken a stage of the Tour of Turkey in his debut season last year, and as a result of today’s victory he also takes over as leader of the mountains classification.

Shortly before hitting the bottom of the final climb up to Pian di Risanelli, however, the stage had seemed to be slipping away from him as he slid off on a corner while riding through the village of Cassina Valsassina.

Rabottini seemed to be struggling on that final climb, which he had begun with a margin of two and a half minutes over a six-man chasing group including 2004 Giro winner Damiano Cunego of Lampre-ISD, Katusha’s Alberto Losada, Amets Txurruka of Euskaltel and Colnago-CSF Inox’s Stefano Pirazzi, as well as the winner of yesterday’s Stage 13, Andrey Amador of Movistar.

With Pirazzi and Losada both attacking on that climb, Rabottini had lost a minute to his pursuers as he passed under the 3km to go banner, but recovered to keep the margin over them to a minute and a half.

Only Rodriguez, who had begun that ascent with the main GC group more than 4 minutes behind the leader, with Astana setting the pace, managed to reach him after the Katusha rider launched an attack in the final quarter of the climb that quickly distanced rivals including overnight leader Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Barracuda.

Today’s 169km stage took the peloton from the town of Busto Arsizio, 25km or so to the northwest of Milan, through Lecco on the southeastern fork of Lake Como to a looping near-circle incorporating several of the climbs above the lake including the Valclava, which regularly a regular feature of the Giro di Lombardia.

It was on the descent of that climb, which had been crested with 83.7km still to ride, that the three-time winner of that late-season Monument and 2004 Giro d’Italia champion Cunego had made his move as he bridged across to group including Marzio Bruseghin of Movistar that was chasing Rabinotti.

Cunego, who had also attacked yesterday on the descent of the Col de Joux but was caught and then dropped by the GC group on the final climb to Cervinia, was for much of today’s stage virtual maglia rosa on the road, but the Lampre-ISD rider struggled on the final climb as he paid for his earlier efforts.

That chasing group had been whittled down to just six riders as they rode over the top of the day’s penultimate climb, the Category 2 Culmine di San Pietro, two minutes 46 seconds behind the leader and a shade under three minutes ahead of the main GC group.

Rabottini would hang on by a thread for the biggest win of his career, while his six pursuers would come away with nothing to show for their endeavours.

Earlier, Rabottini and Bonnafond, whom the Italian would ride away from shortly afterwards, had been the first riders across the intermediate sprint point in Lecco, which came before the first of the four categorised climbs on the stage.

Behind them, Mark Cavendish led the bunch over the line to pick up the maximum 4 points that remained, temporarily putting himself 46 points ahead of Rodriguez in the points classification, although the Katusha rider’s second place would result in the margin being cut to 26 points.

While the Spaniard’s chief target is of course the maglia rosa, realistically he – as well as the mountains that lie between here and Milan next Sunday – appear to provide the only realistic threats to Cavendish becoming just the fifth man ever to have won the points jerseys in each of the three Grand Tours. A potential sprint finish on Thursday’s Stage 18 will give the world champion one last opportunity to give a big boost to his total..

One of the team Sky riders who has put in some big efforts on behalf of Cavendish during the past fortnight, Jeremy Hunt, has now left the race to which he had been called up as a last-minute replacement for the injured Ben Swift to rush back home to await the birth of his first child.

Also leaving the Giro today, albeit for less happy reasons, were two big names. One was Frank Schleck of RadioShack Nissan, oficially due to a shoulder injury, although it is being reported in the Italian media this evening that his exit was planned and that there were arguments at the team hotel this morning; the other was Italian champion Giovanni Visconti who had been struggling to catch breath. The Movistar rider said on Twitter that the incident had scared him, but that he had been told it seemed to bear the hallmarks of a panic attack. Both those riders abandoned early on, as did Graeme Brown of Rabobank.

For the second day running, this morning the riders paused to hold a minute’s silence prior to the start of the stage, today to remember the victims of the earthquake that struck the Emilia-Romagna region in the early hours of the morning.

The 6.0 magnitude earthquake had its epicentre near Modena, which less than a fortnight ago hosted the departure of Stage 5 of the race. Last week, the Giro also passed by L’Aquila, where nearly 300 people lost their lives as a result of an earthquake in 2009.

Giro d’Italia Stage 15 result

1  Matteo RABOTTINI      FAR  5:15:30
2  Joaquin RODRIGUEZ     KAT       +0
3  Alberto LOSADA        KAT      +23
4  Sergio HENAO          SKY      +25
5  Michele SCARPONI      LAM      +25
6  Ivan BASSO            LIQ      +25
7  Stefano PIRAZZI       COG      +29
8  Roman KREUZIGER       AST      +29
9  John GADRET           AGR      +29
10 Amets TXURRUKA        EUS      +29
11 Mikel NIEVE           EUS      +36
12 Ryder HESJEDAL        GRM      +39
13 Dario CATALDO         ITA      +39
14 Benat INTXAUSTI       MOV      +44
15 Johann TSCHOPP        BMC      +52
16 Paolo TIRALONGO       AST      +54
17 Thomas DE GENDT       VCD    +1:11
18 Daniel MORENO         KAT    +1:11
19 Damiano CUNEGO        LAM    +1:11
20 Gianluca BRAMBILLA    COG    +1:17

Overall standings after Stage 15

1  Joaquin RODRIGUEZ     KAT 65:11:07 
2  Ryder HESJEDAL        GRM     0:30
3  Ivan BASSO            LIQ     1:22
4  Paolo TIRALONGO       AST     1:26
5  Roman KREUZIGER       AST     1:27
6  Michele SCARPONI      LAM     1:36
7  Benat INTXAUSTI       MOV     1:42
8  Sergio HENAO          SKY     1:55
9  Dario CATALDO         OPQ     2:12
10 Sandy CASAR           FDJ     2:13

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.