Ooh là là, they do know how to throw a bike race in Italy. It had to have been a miserable day on the bike for the majority of the Giro field. But oh what fun for us watching from the safe comfort of our couches. Rainy conditions turned the Strade Bianche to pea soup, if pea soup were brown. Who were those guys on the bike? The brown mud obscured jerseys and bikes, turning the riders into so many zombies.
It was a day for a hard man win, and Cadel Evans again showed the tenacity that is earning him more fans with every passing day. As always Alexandre Vinokourov was on the attack, but Evans never gave him any road to play. The duel between the two riders proved one of the stage highlights, neither willing to give quarter. Three others rode in and out of the frame on the final climb: David Arroyo, Marco Pinotti, and Damiano Cunego. Cunego showed again why he counts among i bigs in Italian racing, first bridging across alone to the leading two. Marco Pinotti worried before the start about the conditions and the gravel roads but, as he said later, rode it "perfectly." Pinotti now sits sixth in the general classification in his home race.
But Evans, this Evans. Che grande corridore, as the Italians say. He won the sprint from the front, a hard, straight shot to the line. Cunego, no slouch in the final kilometer, could not come around. In a smiling interview after the finish, Cunego called Evans "incredible" and praised the Australian’s explosive power. Though he didn’t get the stage victory, Cunego looked happy with his day out. The strongest rider won, no shame in that. Evans commented after the stage that his seven years on the mountain bike had "born fruit." "It was a stage adapted to me," he said, and he had planned to do a big ride here.
For Liquigas, the wheels came off a bit, as Nibali crashed on a wet descent. The Sicilian conceded the race lead today, and dropped to fifth overall at 1:33. Ivan Basso played the loyal team-mate and waited for Nibali. The two riders seemed a bit mismatched on the final climb as Nibali took all sorts of chances on the descents and repeatedly gapped Basso. The two came in together at the line. Asked after the stage what he thought of the Liquigas tactics, Pozzato said that while Basso had started the race as team leader, Nibali held the Pink Jersey. One does not leave the race leader on the road. Basso sits eighth overall at 1:51.
Carlos Sastre, meanwhile, said arrivederci to his general classification chances today. The Cervélo leader suffered in the miserable weather and soupy roads of Toscana. Sastre was caught up in the same crash as Nibali, and never again saw the front of the bike race. The former Tour winner, with Xavier Tondo for company, finished 5:20 down on stage winner Evans. He’s now 7:20 down on the general classification. Look for Sastre to chase stage victories through the mountains. The Pink Jersey looks out of reach for him, but a climb back up the classification is not out of the question for the determined Sastre.
Tomorrow, the Giro races to its first mountain-top finish on the Terminillo. The stage passes over the Appenino, and includes two categorized climbs before the finale. The Terminillo is never especially steep, what the Italians call pedabile, which translates rather awkwardly as "pedalable." Bah inglesi! It’s a climb for a fast tempo, and a group sprint at the finish. After today’s difficulties, the general classification teams may wish to let a break go to the finish, while they wait for the final climb to play for the overall.
Anyway, there will be bike racing. What’s not to like about that? I’m just glad I’ll be on my couch, not in the bike race.