Joaquim Rodriguez retained the maglia rosa in emphatic fashion, taking the win in one of the toughest stages of this year’s Giro. The Spaniard outsprinted Ryder Hesjedal and Ivan Basso to take victory, and moved one step closer to taking his first ever Grand Tour title.
It was to be a brutal day in the saddle, with two category one climbs in the Passo Duran and the Passo Giau, and two category twos thrown in for good measure. However, the finish came after 18km of descending, making it unlikely that any of the GC contenders would open up any big time gaps on this stage.
The day’s breakaway
The day’s breakaway initially comprised five riders: Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia), Branislau Samoilau (Movistar), Kevin Seeldraeyers (Astana), Matteo Montaguti (AG2R La Mondiale), and Jose Serpa (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela). But it became four as the riders began the ascent of the Passo Duran (12.2km at 8.1%), with the Italian Montaguti falling out of the back.
Meanwhile further down the road in the peloton, Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Mikel Nieve and Amets Txurruka attacked out of the front of the Liquigas-led bunch, with their team having worked hard at the head of the main group earlier on in the stage. Txurruka was unable to keep up with his teammate over the Duran and fell back to the peloton after less than a kilometre off the front, whilst the rest of the day’s breakaway fell to pieces over the top of the pass.
Nieve continued to motor towards the now sole leader Seeldraeyers, with Serpa and Samoilau doing well to recover and cling to his wheel. With around 45km remaining the four came together at the front of the race, although with Liquigas continuing to brutally drive up the pace, the gap was only one minute.
Sure enough, it was just a few kilometres before the break was reeled in to a group decimated by the efforts of Ivan Basso’s domestiques, with perennial underachiever and Astana team leader Roman Kreuziger being dropped with teammate Tanel Kangert. He would finish 11 minutes down, dropping him down to 20th overall and out of contention.
Action on the Passo Giau
With 25km to go, the riders began the sting in the tail of the Passo Giau – and what a sting! Liquigas’ Sylvester Szmyd – one of Basso’s key lieutenants – suffered a mechanical at the most untimely moment, right as they began the climb – a punishing ascent of 9.9km at 9.3%.
Eventually, the incredible pace set throughout one of the most difficult stages in this year’s Giro told, with an elite group of riders left out front. Sky’s Rigoberto Uran, Lampre’s Michele Scarponi, Garmin-Barracuda’s Ryder Hesjedal and Colnago-CSF’s Domenico Pozzovivo rode alongside the maglia rosa of Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Basso in the lead group.
Paolo Tiralongo missed out on this group, in a truly awful day for Astana. Similarly, Benat Intxausti (Movistar) and Sergio Henao (Sky) failed to keep up with the pace, ending any dreams of unlikely success in this year’s race.
With just 500m to go to the summit of the climb, with around 18km remaining, Pozzovivo turned up the pace with an impressive pull on the front, enough to put Scarponi and Uran into difficulty. But after some impressive descending from the dropped duo, they arrived at 2km to go all together again, with even the descent-hating Pozzovivo able to keep up with the others.
The sprint to the line
Basso was the first to make a move, attacking with 1.5km to go. Hesjedal quickly closed him down, but Basso continued to sit on the front of the group until half a kilometre to the finish. Scarponi opened up the sprint, but having suffered with cramp on the descent he faded fast, with Basso moving to the front.
Then, in his typically exciting manner, Rodriguez emerged from nowhere to pip Basso and Hesjedal to the line in the leader’s jersey, saluting the anniversary of the death of compatriot Xavier Tondo as he maintained his 30 second gap over Hesjedal in the GC, with Basso still over a minute in arrears. He also closed to within one point of Mark Cavendish in the points competition ahead of tomorrow’s final sprinters’ stage.
After the stage, Rodriguez admitted that Liquigas’ fierce pace had made the stage difficult for everybody:
It was a very hard stage. Liquigas-Cannondale put in a huge amount of work, and if they’re going to keep this pace on Friday and Saturday too, it won’t be easy for me and anybody else to resist and stay ahead.
However, he identified second-placed Ryder Hesjedal as now being the favourite for the overall:
Hesjedal is the big favourite. He has not lost any seconds now, and if the differences remain the same, Scarponi, Basso and I have no chance against him in the time trial in Milan. It is necessary now to attack and try to [put distance between us], otherwise he will win.
And a delighted Hesjedal recognised the psychological impact of being able to stick with the other big favourites to the finish:
Today was huge. There were not a lot of people who thought I could be third on the stage and sitting second overall in the Giro.
Quotes of the day: Today was the first anniversary of the death of Xavier Tondo, who was killed while preparing his bike for training last year. Rodriguez immediately dedicated the stage victory to his compatriot and friend:
I wanted to win today because it’s a special day. Xavi was a great friend of mine. I’ve known him since we were kids. It’s not that I think of him today, one year after his death, I’ll keep thinking of him all of my life. He’s in my heart, that’s all.
Former teammate Dan Lloyd also tweeted a touching message in remembrance of the Spaniard:
Xavier Tondo would’ve loved today’s stage at the Giro. Sadly missed.
— Daniel Lloyd (@daniellloyd1) May 23, 2012
VeloVoices rider of the stage: Our rider of the stage today links into our odd occurrences feature, with Domenico Pozzovivo taking today’s honour. Despite being expected to be dropped on the climbs, the plucky 5′ 5″ climber managed to stick to the likes of Ryder Hesjedal and Ivan Basso to finish in the lead group. After winning stage eight, his Giro gets better and better.
Stage 17 result:
1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) 5:24:41
2. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) same time
3. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) s/t
4. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) s/t
5. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) s/t
1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) 74:46:46
2. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) +0:30
3. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) +1:22
4. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +1:36
5. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) +2:56
6. Benat Intxausti (Movistar) +3:04
7. Domenico Pozzovivo (Colnago- CSF Bardiani) +3:19
8. Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) +4:13
9. Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) +4:38
10. Sergio Henao (Sky) +4:42
Points leader: Mark Cavendish (Sky).
King of the Mountains leader: Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia).
Tomorrow: Stage 18 – San Vito di Cadore to Vedelago, 149km. With Joaquim Rodriguez just a single point behind Mark Cavendish in the points classification, the Briton will want to take full advantage of a final chance of success on tomorrow’s flat stage. However, with so many other sprinters having already left the race, his Sky team – now missing both Jeremy Hunt and Peter Kennaugh – may find themselves short of help in chasing down the inevitable breakaway.
Link: Official website