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Emerging as the strongest from a breakaway, Taaramae rode to a solo win on stage 20 of the Giro d’Italia; Nibali dropped Chaves on the Colle della Lombarda and took the maglia rosa on the eve of the final stage

Photo: Tour of Turkey / Mario Stiehl

DARWIN ATAPUMA

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GIRO D'ITALIA

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JOE DOMBROWSKI

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KATUSHA ALPECIN

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REIN TAARAMAE

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VINCENZO NIBALI

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28.05.2016 @ 17:58 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

One day after the team lost everything with Ilnur Zakarin’s bad crash, Rein Taaramae salvaged the Giro d’Italia for Katusha by riding to a storming solo win on the final mountain stage of the race by emerging as the best from a strong breakaway of climbers. However, the biggest winner was Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) who dropped Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) with repeated accelerations on the Colle della Lombarda and managed to put 1.36 into the Colombian to move into the race lead on the eve of the final stage. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was just 13 seconds further back and secured the final spot on the podium.

 

A few days ago, Vincenzo Nibali was contemplating withdrawal from the Giro d’Italia. Poor results and a sudden drop in form made the Astana team question whether their leader was ill.

 

The tests showed nothing and so Nibali decided to press on even though he admitted that he didn’t really believe that he would turn things around. Astana were set to targets stage wins and the teams classification in the Alps while Nibali had to see what he could do to defend his top 5 spot in the overall.

 

However, Nibali proved that he is a real champion when he suddenly felt that his legs had come around near the top of the Colle dell’Agnello in yesterday’s stage 19. From there he went on the attack and after Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) suffered a terrible crash, he suddenly moved back into winning contention.

 

However, he still needed to make 44 seconds up on new leader Esteban Chaves and he had one final chance to do so: today’s short, intense penultimate stage in the Alps. The Italian managed to complete the comeback in the most impressive fashion as he dropped Chaves on the Colle della Lomarda and then soloed to the finish.

 

Nibali was confident in himself and didn’t care about the early breakaway and the bonus seconds. He sent Tanel Kangert on the attack and waited for the final big climb before he used Michele Scarponi to put everyone at his limit. When he made his first attack, Chaves and Alejandro Valverde could initially follow but very soon they had to let the Italian go and as the Colombian continued to lose ground, the outcome was never in doubt.

 

The other big GC winner was Valverde who joined forces with Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale) and nearly made it back to Nibali on the final ramp to the finish. That was enough to move him back onto the podium, leapfrogging Kruijswijk who dropped to fourth overall.

 

The third winner was Rein Taaramae. Yesterday Katusha lost everything when Ilnur Zakarin crashed out of the race but today the lieutenant saved it all for the team. The Estonian joined the early break, refused to respond to the many attacks and constantly time trialed his way back to the leaders. Finally, he hit out close to the top of the Lombarda and then held off Darwin Atapuma (BMC) and Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale) to take the win.

 

It was a long wait until the Lombarda after an early break of Tanel Kangert (Astana), Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale), Giovanni Visconti (Movistar), Mikel Nieve (Sky), Darwin Atapuma (BMC), Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep), Stefan Denifl (IAM), Alexander Foliforov, Alexey Rybalkin (Gazprom), Taaramae and Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) had dominated the stage. At the bottom of the climb, only Kangert, Dombrowski, Visconti, Nieve, Atapuma, Brambilla, Foliforov and Taaramae were still in contention.

 

Visconti set the pace on the lower slopes and sent Brambilla and Nieve out the back door. Dombrowski hit out very early in the climb and immediately got a gap before Atapuma, Foliforov and Visconti gave chase. The Colombian made it back to the American while the Italian dropped the Russian. Visconti dug really deep but was stuck a few metres behind the two leaders.

 

While Visconti finally managed to close the final bit of the gap, Amets Txurruka (Orica) led the peloton onto the climb 10.30 behind the front duo. Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff) took over the pace-setting and they didn’t react when Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani) launched the first attack.

 

While Pirazzi increased his advantage to more than a minute seconds, Dombrowski tried to get rid of his companions but he had no luck. Atapuma also tried but the trio stayed together. Further back, Foliforov, Taaramae, Kangert and Nieve had gathered to form a chase group 20 seconds behind but the Russian quickly lost contact.

 

Pawel Poljanski took over from Boaro when the group had been whittled down to less than 30 riders and he brought Pirazzi back. The Pole led the group for around a kilometre before he swung off and left it to Jakob Fuglsang to up the pace for Astana.

 

Just as the chasers had almost regained contact, Atapuma attacked again but again he failed to get clear. The group wasn’t cooperating at all but they had increased their advantage over Kangert and Taaramae who had dropped Nieve. However, the Estonian pair finally made it back with 19.5km to go. Nieve was 30 seconds behind.

 

As they entered the final 20km with a delay of 10.10, the 14-rider peloton was composed of Fuglsang, Scarponi, Majka, Kruijswijk, Valverde, Amador, Chaves, Nibali, Uran, Cardoso, Zoidl, Dupont and Siutsou,  When he swung off, Scarponi took over and he quickly brought Denifl back.

 

Scarponit went full gas and dropped Siutzou, Dupont, Cardoso and Amador before Majka had to leave a gap behind the Italian. Nibali and Chaves quickly bridged across followed by Kruijswijk and Valverde. Finally, Jungels, Uran and Majka also got back while Zoidl was dangling a few metres further back.

 

Taaramae did most of the work in the front group until Dombrowski hit out under the 15km to go banner. Atapuma and Visconti responded while Kangert and Taaramae maintained their pace and it was the latter who made it back to make a failed surprise attack. However, when he went again, no one could follow.

 

In the peloton, Scarponi set the pace in the 8-rider for several kilometres to bring the gap down to 8.35 and at the same time, Kangert was asked to wait for Nibali who was expected to arrive soon.

 

Taaramae pushed his advantage out to 10 seconds while Visconti made repeated attacks. However, he suffered when Dombrowski countered one of his moves but he managed to stay with his two companions.

 

Passing under the 15km to go banner, Nibali made his first attack but Chaves and Valverde didn’t give him an inch. Kruijswijk, Jungels, Majka and Uran stayed together but lost a lot of ground as Nibali kept accelerating on the front.

 

Nibali didn’t have to up the pace many times before Chaves cracked and as the gap widened, the Colombian asked Valverde for help. However, the Spaniard just attacked his rival who managed to respond. He soon had to let the Movistar captain go though.

 

Chaves recovered well to make it back to Valverde and the pair started to cooperate to keep the gap at around 10 seconds. Meanwhile, Nibali caught Kangert who went full gas for his captain and started to increase the advantage.

 

Uran made it back to Chaves and Valverde and then fulfilled his promise to support his compatriot as he went straight to the front to work for Chaves. However, the race leader was clearly suffering and had to dig deep just to stay with the Cannondale rider. Further back, Jungels, Kruijswijk and Scarponi had gathered and were soon joined by Majka.

 

When the gap had gone out to 25 seconds, Kangert ended his work and then Nibali went full gas. Meanwhile, Chaves paid the price and had to let Uran and Valverde go. The Spaniard tried to drop the Colombian but the pair was together as they reached the summit 30 seconds behind the Italian. Chaves was caught by the Kruijswijk quartet which caught Brambilla who had decide to wait for Jungels and they crested the summit 50 seconds behind Nibali.

 

Taaramae hit the final climb with a solid advantage over Atapuma who was his nearest chaser. He had to dig extremely deep on the steep slopes but managed to hold off the Colombian to win the stage with a 50-second advantage. Dombrowski reached the finish in third.

 

While Visconti waited for Valverde and Uran and Brambilla worked hard for Jungels, Nibali hit the final climb with an advantage of 1.02 over Chaves. When Brambilla swung off, Chaves gave it one final push in an attempt to save the lead. That put Jungels into difficulty but Brambilla paced him back.

 

Majka attacked and managed to ride away while Jungels, Kruijswijk and Brambilla started to suffer. Meanwhile, Nibali was losing momentum and Valverde and Uran approached from behind. However, he held the pair off by 12 seconds after he had sprinted across the line.

 

Jungels joined Majka and sprinted to the line while Chaves also had to let Kruijswijk and Brambilla go in the finale. The race leader reached the finish with a time loss to Nibali of 1.36 and so lost it all on the penultimate day of the race

 

The result allowed Nibali to move into the lead with a 52-second advantage over Chaves. He now just needs to get safely through the final stage to secure overall victory in the Giro d’Italia. As so often before, the final day is a flat affair for the sprinters as the riders will travel from Cuneo to Turin where they will end the race by doing eight laps of a 7.5km finishing circuit. After an early celebration, the pace will be ramped up on the circuit where the fast guys hope to battle it out for one of the most prestigious wins of the race.

 

A short, brutal stage

After yesterday’s huge drama, there was another big stage in store on the penultimate day when the riders covered 134 brutal kilometres from Guillestre to Sant’Anna de Vinadio. Right from the start, they went up the 18km climb of the Col de Vars and then descended to the bottom of the might Col de la Bonette-Restefond. Another descent led to the brutal Colle della Lombarda which averaged 7.5% over 19.8km and summited just 10.3km from the finish. From there, it was a technical descent and then a short 2km uphill drag to the line which averaged almost 10%.

 

All riders that reached the finish yesterday, were present as the peloton rolled through the neutral zone under a sunny sky and with the riders starting with a tough climb, it was no surprise that many riders had been warming up on the rollers. The attacking started right from the lower slopes and especially Mikel Nieve (Sky) was keen on forcing the pace.

 

Foliforov gts clear

Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) was the next to try before Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini) made a move. However, Nieve had his eyes on the mountains jersey and so he shut it down.

 

Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) was the next to try and was joined by Rein Taaramae (Katusha), Nieve, Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale), Cunego and Alexander Foliforov (Gazprom-Ruusvelo). The Russian countered the move and he escaped in a solo attack.

 

Valverde makes an early attack

After several attacks, Tanel Kangert (Astana), Dombrowski and Visconti joined the lone Russian and moments later Nieve, Cunego, Darwin Atapuma (BMC), Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep)) and Stefan Denifl (IAM) also regained contact. The 8 riders slowly increased their advantage while Davide Formolo (Cannondale), Sergey Firsanov (Gazprom) and David Lopez (Sky) gave chase.

 

The gaps went out to 15 and 35 seconds respectively but then things got hectic when a group with the likes of Amador, Jungels, Valverde, Taaramae, Nicolas Roche (Sky) and Alexey Rybalkin (Gazprom) got clear. They caught Cunego, Formolo, Firsanov and Lopez but as Astana started to chase hard with Fuglsang, the move was neutralized. Roche, Amador and Jungels were among the riders to try again but Astana shut it down.

 

Ulissi in pursuit

Taaramae and Rybalkin surged clear before Cunego desperately tried to get back to the front to save his mountains jersey but he had run out of energy. Instead, it was Diego Ulissi (Lampre-merida) who tried to bridge across on his own.

 

The fast pace had made the peloton explode to pieces but the group finally slowed down when Orica-GreenEDGE hit the front with Amets Txurruka. That allowed the gap to go out to 3.30 while a regrouping took place. Meanwhile, Rybalkin made it across to the leaders.

 

The peloton slows down

Foliforov beat Visconti when the pair sprinted for the points in the intermediate sprint before Nieve tried to up the pace, going for the KOM points. However, the only effect was that Rybalkin again lost contact and the group slowed down again.

 

The peloton almost came to a standstill as Sam Bewley, Svein Tuft and Michael Hepburn hit the front for Orica-GreenEDGE. The front group also slowed down and this allowed Taaramae and Rubelkin to join the leaders.

 

Denifl wins the KOM sprint

Denifl attacked hard to get the KOM points and he managed to hold off Atapuma and Nieve who gave chase. Foliforov was fourth and Kangert fifth. Meanwhile, Tuft, Bewley and Hepburn slowly led the peloton to the top, crossing the line 7.03 later.

 

Brambilla attacked on the descent and was quickly joined by Nieve and Atapuma. However, the group came back together and when Ulissi also closed the final bit of the gap, 11 riders had gathered in front with an advantage of 7.40 as they entered the final 100km.

 

Nieve surges clear

Nieve attacked right from the bottom of the climb and quickly got an advantage of 30 seconds. As the road got steeper, Foliforov tried to attack but he failed to get clear. However, Rybalkin and Ulissi lost contact.

 

There was no great cooperation in the break and so Atapuma was the next to try. He didn’t get clear either and so Denifl started to ride tempo on the front.

 

A chase quartet is formed

Ulissi rejoined the group which was losing time and while Hepburn, Bewley and Tuft still allowed the gap to the leaders to grow to more than 9 minutes, Nieve extended his advantage to 1.30 as he entered the final 85km.

 

Atapuma tried again and this time only Dombrowski and Visconti could respond. Foliforov made it back and the quartet quickly rode away from their former companions. Denifl also briefly made it back but when Visconti attacked again, the Austrian lost contact.

 

Movistar hit the gas

The gap had gone out to 10.30 when Movistar decided that it was time to up the pace. Jose Joaquin Rojas hit the front and immediately made the peloton explode. Further up the road, Brambilla, Kangert and Taaramae rejoined the chasers but they were losing ground to Nieve who now had an advantage of 2 minutes.

 

Rojas made the peloton explode as less than 50 riders had survived when Rojas swung off and left it to Jose Herrada to set the pace. While the selection process continued,the aggressive Atapuma attacked again, sending Taaramae and Brambilla out the back door. The pair made it back but were again dropped when Atapuma made his next move.

 

Nieve moves into the KOM lead

Atapuma attacked relentlessly until he finally only had Foliforov for company and the pair started to get closer to Nieve. With 77km to go, the gap dropped to less than a minute. Meanwhile, Rory Sutherland took over the pace-setting for Movistar that had again allowed the gap to go out to 10.30.

 

Atapuma and Folifororv were stuck one minute behind Nieve and this allowed Taaramae, Visconti, Kangert and Dombrowski to slowly regain contact. They failed to work well together though and so Nieve had extended his advantage to 1.15 at the top where Taaramae beat Foliforov in the sprint for second place. The result meant that the Basque moved into the virtual lead in the mountains classification.

 

Tinkoff up the pace

As the peloton approached the top, Pawel Poljanski and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) attacked and initially only Amador, Kruijswijk, Nibali, Fuglsang, Scarponi, Valverde, Chaves, Uran and Jungels could follow. However, a regrouping quickly took pace while Poljanski continued to ride on the front. The Pole led the peloton over the top 9.50 behind Nieve.

 

Poljanski set the pace on the upper slopes of the descent before Amador and Valverde took over for Movistar. The Costa Rican made the peloton split as he went full gas in the technical sections.

 

Nieve waits for his chasers

Amador and Valverde continued to set the pace on the descent but were riding less aggressively when they realized that they couldn’t make a difference. However, they had reduced the gap to 9.10 when they brought Ulissi back with 53km to go.

 

Nieve decided to wait for his chasers and was brought back with 48km to go where Poljanski had taken over the pace-setting in the peloton. Brambilla was on his own, one minute behind the leaders.

 

Brambilla rejoins the leaders

Amador and Valverde led the peloton to the bottom of the descent and then the peloton came to a standstill as they took a collective natural break. However, Atapuma was a threat to Pozzovivo’s 10th place and so Ag2r upped the pace with Axel Domont. The Frenchman got some help from Amets Txrurruka (Orica-GreenEDGE).

 

Brambilla had to dig extremely deep but made it back to the leaders with 37km to go. Meanwhile, Domont again stopped his work and left it to Txurruka to set the pace 9.25 behind the leaders.

 

Visconti beat Kangert and Dombrowski in the final intermediate sprint with 30km to go where the gap had gone out to 10.10, and then hit the climb. 10 minutes later the peloton arrived and then the drama could start. 

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