Diego Ulissi (Lampre & Italy); if the broader world of cycling didn’t really know who he was before this Giro – they do now.
His first win on Stage Five wasn’t a surprise if you were aware of his terrific end to last season – Milano-Torino, the Coppa Sabatini and the Giro dell’Emilia.
Three Italian semi-classics – all very desirable and hard fought – ‘tough and hilly’ is right up his street.
But Saturday was different, the real deal, first and second cat. montagnes; and just look at who he beat – Evans, Uran, Quintana, Pozzovivo…
As Kris said, it restores your faith in bike racing.
We were a bit worried at the start, not more of that ‘polemica’ stuff, please!
But once the Bigs had accepted that Matthews wasn’t going to be defending the jersey the race could begin in earnest – however, not before ten men had bolted to nine minutes.
This wasn’t going to be an ‘Oscar Pereiro Job’ where the break goes to 27 minutes, though and the peloton chipped away at the lead all day.
For a long, long time it looked like tiny Trek Colombian Julian David Arredondo was going to survive his long day in the break and take a marvellous solo win.
But when Europcar’s enigmatic Frenchman Pierre Rolland bridged to him it looked like another French Giro stage win to go with Bouhanni’s as the little Colombian collapsed within sight of the line.
He’ll have sore legs tomorrow.
But it’s always easy to underestimate of the venom of a peloton in the finale and it was Spaniard Dani Moreno who catapulted out of the lead group to catch and pass Rolland.
Revenge for all the Katusha’s ill fortune?
No chance, there are few fairy tales in the Pro Tour.
Croatian champion and one of our favourites for the race, Robert Kiserlovski looked like he was going to make up for Arredondo’s pain and keep the stage for Trek.
When we identified the Lampre rider on his wheel as Ulissi we knew there would only be one winner.
We got a couple of things right today; the end for Michael Matthews (GreenEdge & Australia) was indeed sudden and horrible: Cadel Evans (BMC & Australia) takes pink and we’re pretty smug about two of our ‘left field’ tips – Aru and Kiserlovski – being right up there.
It was a great day then for Evans and Ulissi but a horrible day for Astana’s former winner, Michele Scarponi who lost a chunk of time.
But it simplifies things for Aru and the Astana management – there’s no doubt now about who the team should ride for.
If Ulissi was a big surprise, so was Belkin’s Dutchman, Wilco Kelderman; third on the stage and he now sits seventh on GC.
AG2R must be disappointed that their sterling work – without them Rolland may well have won – couldn’t be finished off by their Domenico Pozzovivo (Italy).
But like I’ve said before; it’s easy from the sofa and as Evans reminded us, everyone is already tired from the transfer, long stages, wind, rain and stress.
Colombian race favourites Rigoberto Uran (QuickStep) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) didn’t sparkle today but they’ll be remembering that this is only stage eight – and that final week is a horror.
Let’s take a quick look at it…
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The Final Week – what’s in store
Stage 15 is 217 kilometres; the profile could have been drawn by a child, nice and flat along the bottom of the page until the end and then suddenly rearing straight up to finish on 1665 metres altitude at Plan Di Montecampione.
The rest day follows but everyone’s mind will be on Stage 16 with two legendary climbs and a third good hard slap in the face to finish; the Passo Gavia at 2,618 m. Passo Stelvio 2,758 m. and a mountain top finish at the 2,059 m. at Val Martello all within 139 K.
If you crack today, as many will, it’s over.
Stage 18 has the Passo San Pelligrino at 1,918 m. and a mountain top finish at 1.760 m. at Valsugana over 171 K.
Stage 19 is a chrono – but most low pros will stay in the mechanics’ truck.
At the end of 26.8 K of pain the contenders will be at the top of the Cima Grappa and at 1,712 m. altitude.
Not the day to have bad legs.
Stage 20’s delights include the Passo Del Purra at 1,428 m. and the Sella Razio at 1,816 m.
And there’s a sting in the tail with Monte Zoncolan at 1,730 m. – a savage swine of an ascent.
Upon which the organisers will be hoping for a 2013 Angliru Horner/Nibali cliff hanger finale…
And if you’re a rider, it’s sobering to remember that the Zoncolan is still two weeks away.
Last word is the ‘D’ one – Nero Sottoli’s right to be on the race is questioned but the stage is dedicated to Pantani; and we have to listen to Greg Lemond eulogising about a man who rarely raced clean.
Don’t worry, It’ll all work out for the best when you snuff it, Lance.