Oscar Gatto (Farnese Vini) launched a perfectly-timed final kilometre attack to win Saturday’s stage eight of the 2011 Giro d’Italia.
The Italian had obviously done his homework on the tricky run-in to the finish line, positioning himself well around the two tight hairpins on the twisting road through Tropea before launching an attack. Overall favourite Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) was the only rider to react, but he couldn’t quite make contact with Gatto, rolling across the line to take second and a vital few seconds over his rivals.
Contador’s efforts at the end of the stage will have surprised the other GC contenders, most of whom seemed to be tucking themselves safely away in the bunch. They will undoubtedly be more wary of the Spaniard during Sunday’s trip to Etna.
Points classification leader Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) lead the rest of the peloton home at five seconds for third place. Britain’s Russell Downing (Sky) assisted team-mate Davide Appollonio to finish sixth and came home 13th himself, a solid result on a tough stage in his first Grand Tour outing.
Pieter Weening (Rabobank) safely maintained his overall lead from second-placed Kantantsin Sivtsov (HTC-Highroad) and third-placed Marco Pinotti (HTC-Highroad) both two seconds behind the Dutchman. Contador moved up the overall table to fifth, now 13 seconds behind Weening.
Long day for Italian escape
Lanky duo Mirko Selvaggi (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Leonardo Giordani (Farnese Vini) provided the day’s successful escape in the opening two kilometres. The Italian pair swiftly built up a gap over the peloton, eventually peaking at over 11 minutes two-thirds of the way through the stage.
The bunch then whittled the escapees’ advantage down to seven minutes and left them hanging out there until the final 50km, when the sprinters’ squads started to wind up the chase. Selvaggi and Giordani worked very well together, sharing the burden equally and keeping up momentum. A wave of panic must have spread through the bunch 20km from the line as the escapees’ advantage still totalled 2-30.
HTC-Highroad assembled at the front for their man Mark Cavendish, assisted by Quick Step for their fastmen Francesco Chicchi and Gerald Ciolek. The amount of fresh air between the break and bunch then started getting squeezed and the two were caught with seven kilometres to go, nearly 210km after they broke free.
A succession of squads then took turns at the front of the bunch in the final five kilometres, mindful that good positioning at this stage would help ease them through the narrow bends before the final climb.
But it was Gatto that capitalised on the bunch’s sluggishness through the turns, sling-shotting himself up the hill to take the win.
Sunday’s stage nine is the controversial visit to Mount Etna – a 169km mountainous trip starting in Messina that visits the active volcano twice. The first ascent and descent comes half-way through the stage, before the final trip up Etna’s tough south slope for a mountain-top finish.
The riders will then have a day to clear the volcanic ash from their lungs with the race’s first rest day on Monday.
Giro d’Italia 2011, stage eight: Sarpi to Tropea, 217km
1. Oscar Gatto (Ita) Farnese Vini in 4-59-45
2. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Sungard at same time
3. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-ISD at 5 secs
4. Alexander Kristoff (Nor ) BMC Racing
5. Roberto Ferrari (Ita) Androni Giocattoli
6. Davide Appollonio (Ita) Sky
7. Francisco Ventoso (Spa) Movistar
8. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) Ag2r La Mondiale
9. Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Garmin-Cervelo
10. Klaas Lodewyck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto at same time
13. Russell Downing (GB) Sky at same time
Overall classification after stage eight
1. Pieter Weening (Ned) Rabobank in 28-09-49
2. Kantantsin Sivtsov (Blr) HTC-Highroad at 2 secs
3. Marco Pinotti (Ita) HTC-Highroad at same time
4. Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Garmin-Cervelo at 5 secs
5. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Sungard at 13 secs
6. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-ISD at 14 secs
7. Pablo Lastras (Spa) Movistar at 22 secs
8. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at 24 secs
9. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank at 28 secs
10. Jose Serpa (Col) Androni Giocattoli at 33 secs
11. Thomas Lofkvist (Swe) Sky at 39 secs
Bjorn Selander and Russell Downing
Oscar Gatto celebrates his win
Pieter Weening pulls on the leader’s jersey
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Giro d’Italia 2011: Stage reports
seven photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage six photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage five photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage four photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage three photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage two photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage one photo gallery by Graham Watson
Giro d’Italia 2011: Live text coverage
Giro d’Italia 2011: Start list
Giro d’Italia 2011: TV schedule