At 214 kilometers long and mostly flat, today looked like a day for the sprinters. Well, it did until you looked at the profile for the final 30 kilometers of the stage, which contained a 5 kilometer climb with sustained ramps over 10% misleadingly labeled as a mere category 4 bump that summited with 18 kilometers to go. Oh Italy, how we love the trickery you bring to race routes.
Still, the sprinters' teams seemed content to keep the day's four-man breakaway composed of Miguel Rubiano (Androni), Maxim Belkov (Katusha), Gert Dockx (Lotto Belisol), and Luke Durbridge (ORICA GreenEdge) on a tight leash. With 80 kilometers left to race, the gap was a mere 5 minutes, spelling certain doom for the escapees who had been on the attack since the first ten kilometers. The quartet became a trio almost as soon as the climb began with Belkov appearing to have lost the climbing legs that garnered him a stage win in the second week.
Behind, Omega Pharma - Quickstep and Cannondale had been driving the pace for Mark Cavendish and Elia Viviani respectively, though other teams began to swarm around the front of the peloton as the climb began. Cavendish started the climb prominently in fourth wheel but almost immediately disappeared from view as punchy climbers decided they wanted the stage for themselves. Danilo di Luca attacked at the base of the climb and pried open a gap in excess of twenty seconds before the pace truly ramped up behind. As di Luca's gap began to tumble, Giovanni Visconti - winner of Sunday's Stage 15 atop the Galibier - shot out of the front of the gruppo Nibali with astonishing speed, riding up to di Luca in less than a kilometer and pausing only for the slightest of moments before continuing on alone.
At the top of the climb, Visconti's gap was 30 seconds, which seemed a bit much to hold with 18 kilometers left to race, even with a technical downhill to tackle that would make organized pursuit for the next several kilometers difficult. But, the chase behind was lacking in coordination and groups of one to four riders kept pinging off the front of what little remained of the peloton rather than cooperating in ernest. Further behind, Cavendish's chances evaporated as he hit the bottom of the descent a minute in arrears of the chasing group and a full 90 seconds behind Visconti with only 10 kilometers to race.
In the end, Visconti held on for a memorable stage win while Garmin-Sharp's Ramunas Navarduaskas led home the chasing group for second some 19 seconds later. In the mix for the sprint for second was Cadel Evans, who finished 10th and garnered several points in the points classification to put him nearly on terms with Cavendish with two mountains stages and an uphill time trial offering him the chance to take home even more points and likely put the nail in the coffin of Cavendish's hopes of taking home the maglia rosso passione. Even if he wins the final flat stage - which is quite likely - Cavendish's only real hopes of winning the competition lie in an unlikely detonation on Evan's part over the next three days.
- Giovanni VIsconti (Movistar)
- Ramunas Navarduaskas (Garmin-Sharp), at 19"
- Luka Mezgek (Argos - Shimano), at 19"
- Filipo Pozzato (Lampre - Merida), at 19"
- Danilo Hondo (RadioShack - Leopard), at 19"
- Salvatore Puccio (Sky), at 19"
- Sacha Modolo (Bardiani Valvore - CSF Inox), at 19"
- Fabio Felline (Androni Giocattoli), at 19"
- Francisco Ventoso (Movistar), at 19"
- Cadel Evans (BMC), at 19"
- Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
- Cadel Evans (BMC), at 1:26
- Rigoberto Uran Uran (Sky), at 2:46
- Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma - Quickstep), 113pts
- Cadel Evans (BMC), 109 pts
- Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini), 89pts