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With a powerful surge in the uphill sprint, Ulissi easily distanced his rivals to win the seventh stage of the Giro d’Italia, holding off Lobato and Gerrans; Contador got safely through the day and defended the lead

Photo: Sirotti

ALBERTO CONTADOR

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DIEGO ULISSI

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GIRO D'ITALIA

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JUAN JOSE LOBATO

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SIMON GERRANS

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UAE TEAM EMIRATES

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15.05.2015 @ 18:22 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) proved that he is back in great condition after his doping suspension when he took a hugely dominant sprint victory on the uphill finishing straight in Fiuggi on the seventh stage of the Giro d’Italia. After his team had tried to do the lead-out for Sacha Modolo, he powered down the left-hand side of the road to hold off Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) while Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) was not too bothered by his injuries and so defended the overall lead.

 

Last year Diego Ulissi got his big breakthrough as an uphill sprinter when he took very impressive stage victories in the Giro d’Italia. However, he later tested positive for excessive amounts of the asthma medication Salbutamol and after a drawn-out affair, he served a one-year suspension.

 

Ulissi made his comeback in April at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and used the race to build condition. Even though he also did the Ardennes classics, he made it clear that it was all about preparation where he hoped to take a stage win.

 

A few days ago he tested his legs in a breakaway and claimed to be happy with the feelings but he also stressed that he would probably have to wait for the second week before he would be competitive. However, his form has clearly arrived earlier than planned as he was the fastest in the uphill sprint that decided the long 264km stage 7 to Fiuggi.

 

Ulissi was nowhere to be seen as the peloton hit the bottom of the long 5km uphill drag that started with 10km to go. Instead, it was Tinkoff-Saxo who were in complete control as they wanted to keep race leader Alberto Contador out of trouble.

 

Matteo Tosatto led them onto the slopes but it was Ivan Basso and Michael Rogers who did a lot of damage to gradually whittle down the peloton. Strong climbers like Igor Anton (Movistar) found the going too tough and the TV cameras showed how André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) suffered immensely to survive the challenge.

 

The fast riders had to dig very deep to stay in contact as the two strong climbers set a brutal pace but surprisingly many were still in contention when they crested the summit. A short descent allowed them to get back to the front to fight for position before they got to the uphill finishing straight.

 

Sky took control with 4km to go when Vasil Kiryienka strung things out while the sprinters battled for position further back. With 2km to go, Lotto Soudal had got to the front with Greipel and it was Greg Henderson and Adam Hansen who took control with the German on their wheel.

 

Hansen took over but while he set the pace, Greipel ran out of power and drifted backwards. Instead, Orica-GreenEDGE took over with Pieter Weening leading Simon Clarke, Michael Matthews and Simon Gerrans who was the protected sprinter.

 

Sacha Modolo had survived the climb and so Lampre-Merida hit the front with Manuele Mori and Maximilano Richeze leading the sprinter out. When the Argentinean took his turn, Modolo ran out of legs and it seemed that the efforts had all been in vain.

 

However, while Manuel Belletti (Southeast) launched the sprint in the middle of the road, Ulissi suddenly powered clear on the left-hand side with Juan Jose Lobato on his wheel. The Spaniard could not even try to pass him and had to settle for second while Gerrans took third.

 

Contador didn’t seem to be too bothered by his injuries and he made it safely to the finish with the peloton to defend his maglia rosa and 2-second advantage over Fabio Aru (Astana). However, he faces a much sterner test tomorrow in stage 8 which is the first hard summit finish of the race. After a rolling first part with a category 2 climb at the midpoint, the race ends at the top of a 13km category 1 climb which has an average gradient of 6.9%.

 

A long stage

After a first week dominated by short stages, it was time for the longest stage of the Giro d’Italia which brought the riders over a massive 264km from Grosseto to Fiuggi. After a completely flat first part, the stage gradually got lumpier until the riders reached the tricky finale. Here they went up two small climbs inside the final 20km. The final of those was a 5km uphill drag at 4% that summited 5km from the finish. From there it was rolling terrain until the riders got to the final kilometre that was uphill at 2-4%.

 

There was one non-starter when the riders gathered in Grosseto as Daniele Colli (Nippo) broke his humerus in the crash in yesterday’s finale and so is unable to continue in the race. The remaining riders headed out under a cloudy sky and for the first time in this year’s race, light rain was falling.

 

The break gets clear

Many expected that this could be a day for a breakaway and so it was no surprise to see the stage get off to a fast start with lots of attacks. The first promising move was made up of Gianranco Zilioli (Androni), Jaroslaw Marycz (CCC) and Fabio Sabatini (Etixx-QuickStep) who had a 28-secomd advantage at the 13km mark. Sabatini was dropped but the move was no success for the two remaining riders either as they were brought back after 20km of racing.

 

2km later Marco Bandiera (Androni), Nicola Boem (Bardiani), Nikolay Mihayloy (CCC) and Pier Paolo De Negri (Nippo) escaped and the peloton seemed to be content with that composition. At the 23km mark they were already a minute ahead and 3km later the gap was 3.18.

 

Tinkoff-Saxo take control

After 32km of racing, the gap had gone out to 6.47 and even reached 10.23 at the 40km mark. Tinkoff-Saxo now took control and they gradually reduced the advantage to 8.18 by the time they entered the final 200km.

 

The gap went back out to 9.18 after 80km of racing but Tinkoff-Saxo worked steadily to keep the gap between 8.30 and 9.30. At the 100km mark, it was 9.04 and after it had briefly reached 9.55, it was back to 8.30 after 122km of racing. Due to a headwind, the pace was slow and at the end of the third hour, the average speed was only 35kph.

 

Zabel leads the chase

BMC showed their interest in controlling the stage and so they put Rick Zabel on the front. However, the young German constantly lost ground and with 111km to go, the gap had gone out to 11.12.

 

Bandiera sprinted ahead to win the first intermediate sprint, followed by Boem and De Negri. Further back, Sky tried to lead Elia Viviani out but he had to settle for third as he was beaten by Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) and Modolo.

 

Trek come to the fore

Zabel went back to work and he was now riding faster. As they entered the final 100km, the gap had been brought down to 10.00.

 

After the feed zone, it was time for the chase to get organized and now Trek came to the fore with Marco Coledan. He combined forces with Zabel to gradually bring the gap down while they started to go up the only clim of the day. At the top, De Negri sprinted ahead to take maximum points, followed by Bandiera, Boem and Mihaylov.

 

Movistar lend a hand

At the top, the gap was only 7.45 and now BMC showed their intentions as they lined out their team on the front behind Zanel and Coledan. With 67km to go, they even got dome assistance as Dayer Quintana started to work for Movistar.

 

With 55km to go, the gap was 5.30 and the fight for position had now intensified. Moments later, Zabels swung off and Brent Bookwalter took over for BMC.

 

Cannondale take control

With 50km to go, the gap was only 4.30 and now Cannondale also started to work with Nathan Brown and later also Janier Acevedo. Kristof Vandewalle took over from Coledan while Quintana disappeared from the front.

 

With 40km to go, the gap was only 2.00 and the Cannondale riders were riding really fast. Meanwhile, Matthews dropped back to the medical car as he was suffering from allergies.

 

A battle for points

Bandiera led Boem and De Negri across the line in the second sprint while Nizzolo beat Viviani in the battle for fifth. At this point, the gap was only 1.00 and as a huge fight for position started, ti came down quickly.

 

Sky, Orica-GreenEDGE and Tinkoff-Saxo lined out their teams on the front with riders like Bernhard Eisel, Tosatto, Sam Bewley, Michael Hepburn, Luke Durbridge and Brett Lancaster doing a massive amount of work. As things calmed down, the gap stabilized at 45 seconds until it again came down. With 25km to go, it was just 25 seconds.

 

The break Is caught

Juul, Eisel and Durbridge were lined out on the front as they hit the first of the two later climbs where Mihaylov attacked. His three companions were all caught while Juul starte to work hard fo Tinkoff-Saxo.

 

Mihaylov maintained a 15-second advantage for a while but with 20km to go, he was brought back. A little later, Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff-Saxo) took over and sprinters like Tom Boonen and Alessandro Petacchi now fell off.

 

Rogers was the next rider to hit the front for Tinkoff-Saxo and he worked hard all the way to the top where Tosatto took over. He led the peloton onto the final climb where the finale really started.

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