Evgeni Petrov today won the 11th stage of the Giro d’Italia in an epic day that saw the race turn completely on its head.
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Petrov sprinted away from his breakaway companions to take the stage win in an uphill finish into L’Aquila today but that does not begin to tell the story of the drama that unfolded on the road today.
It was yet another wet day in the saddle, with heavy rain blighting the peloton nearly all day in what was the longest stage of the race at a backbreaking 262km.
In a Giro d’Italia that continues to defy all expectations, a group of 56 riders managed to break clear on the first climb of the day, echoing the break in the 2006 Tour de France that contained eventual winner Oscar Pereiro.
The group counted a handful of big names, with Bradley Wiggins, Carlos Sastre, Linus Gerdemann, Richie Porte and Xavier Tondo all present.
The precise explanation for the carnage that then unfolded is not quite clear but it’s believed that the bunch slowed to don much-needed rain capes on the treacherous descent and before long the break’s lead had ballooned to an astonishing 17 minutes, with neither Liquigas nor Astana willing to take up the reins in a bizarre game of brinkmanship.
With so many teams represented in the break, the peloton made slow progress in pegging back the gap and the effect of a week and half’s worth of racing visibly taking its toll; indeed, with 50 kilometres remaining, the lead group still commanded almost 13 minutes.
The chase group lacked a coordinated effort to chase the leaders down, with the work falling on the shoulders of Astana, Liquigas and BMC – with Alexandre Vinokourov, Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans each doing turns on the front – as what was left of the peloton began to splinter on the incessantly undulating roads of Abruzzo.
It may not have been a ‘proper’ mountain stage today, but it may as well have been, the effort of eight days straight in the saddle without a rest day beginning to show in the riders’ rain-soaked grimaces.
Inside the last 20km, the gap was still 12-30 and within the final 10km the gap had only been trimmed by a handful of seconds.
Gerdemann instigated the move that saw the lead group split, with riders being indelicately trimmed in a style of racing we are more accustomed to seeing in a Classic.
Despite efforts to reel him in from Dario Cataldo, it was Katusha’s Petrov who timed his effort perfectly on the long grind up to the line tearing past both of them to win alone.
As the likes of Wiggins, Porte and Sastre crossed the line attention swiftly turned to the clock to see just how much time they had put into maglia rosa, Vinokourov.
When Vinokourov’s group eventually did cross the line, the clock stopped at 12-45, bringing Wiggins and Sastre back into contention and young Porte into the race lead.
Vinokourov crossed the line with his head dipped. He must have looked at the time gap on the gantry above the finish and it dawned on him just how much time he had lost. His Astana team will think long and hard tonight about just how they allowed it to happen.
“I have only flown under the radar, no one knew who I was,” said Porte after the stage.
“I arrived here and pulled off a good one, I hope the race continues this well.”
With just one more sprinters’ stage tomorrow, it’s back into the hills and mountains and Porte will have the fight of his life to hang onto the pink jersey.
With a week and a half of racing still to go, this Giro d’Italia is anything but over.
Giro d’Italia 2010, stage 11: Lucera-L’Alquila, 262km
1. Evgeni Petrov (Rus) Katusha 6:28-29
2. Dario Cataldo (Ita) Quick Step at 5sec
3. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo
4. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Sky at 7sec
5. Alexander Efimkin (Rus) AG2R
6. Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Milram
7. Jerome Pineau (Fra) Quick Step
8. David Arroyo (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
9. Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervelo
10. Jan Bakelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto at same time
13. Richie Porte (Aus) Saxo Bank at 21secs
31. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Transitions at 2-10
45. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli at 12-42
46. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini at 12-42
48. Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone at 12-42
49. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo at 12-42
52. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team at 12-45
53. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana at 12-45
54. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo at 12-45
Overall classification after stage 11
1. Richie Porte (Aus) Saxo Bank 45:30-16
2. David Arroyo (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne at 1-42
3. Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Liquigas at 1-56
4. Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervelo at 3-54
5. Valerio Agnoli (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo at 4-41
6. Alexander Efimkin (Rus) AG2R at 5-16
7. Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Milram at 5-34
8. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo at 7-09
9. Laurent Didier (Lux) Saxo Bank
10. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky
12. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana
13. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team
14. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo
15. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo
28. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Transitions
Chris Sorensen leads the escape
Not happy: Cadel Evans and Alexandre Vinokourov in the chase group
An exhausted Alexandre Vinokourov at the finish
Cadel Evans’ expression says it all. A day to forget
Richie Porte in pink and loving it
2010 Giro d’Italia coverage in association with Zipvit