Vincenzo Nibali triumphed once more on Italian soil in the 37th edition of this race, which serves as an amuse-bouche for next month’s Giro d’Italia. Nibali’s Astana team nearly made a clean sweep of the final podium with Nibali taking both the overall and King of the Mountains, Astana was named best team and 2013 recruit Fabio Aru won the Best Young Rider competition. The wonderfully named Jarlinson Pantano took the points jersey for Team Colombia.
Maxime Bouet (Ag2r) outsprinted Josef Cerny (CCC Polsat) and Michael Rodriguez (Colombia) to claim victory as the day’s eight-man breakaway survived on Stage 1a’s 128km benign sortie around Lienz, Austria. Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani) led home the main bunch at 6:51 down, saving their legs for the afternoon’s 14.1km team time trial. This was the Frenchman’s first victory since 2010 when he won Stage 3 of the Tour de l’Ain. Bouet dedicated his victory to his unborn baby, due in August.
However, Boeut wasn’t to wear the jersey for long. In the afternoon’s straightforward team time trial, his Ag2r team finished 15th and he ceded the jersey to Cerny. Sky won in a time of 15:20, with second-placed Astana 13 seconds back.
Illustrating the depth and strength of the Sky squad, Kanstantsin Siutsou resisted Mauro Santambrogio’s (Vini Fantini) late charge to win Stage 2 atop Vetriolo Terme after he’d counter-attacked off the front of the bunch with less than 10km to the summit. Initially, the Belarusian had the company of Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani) and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) but they were unable to resist as he ratcheted up the pace. Bouet moved back into the leader’s cyclamen jersey as Cerny lost time on the final climb. However it was the duel between Sky’s Bradley Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali that was most keenly observed, with the pair matching one another’s moves and crossing the line together.
Ivan Santaromita (BMC) beat his breakaway companions Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) to the line on a lumpy Stage 3 to Condino. The trio had been part of the day’s early 11-man break but had dropped the others, on Scarponi’s initiative, on the final climb of the Daone.
It was yet another day when the GC contenders were content to mark one another, all arriving together with race leader Bouet over a minute down on the Italian, who recorded his first win since taking the overall in the 2010 Settimana Coppi e Bartali. Bouet retained his 3:19 advantage over Siutsou but the team lost defending champion Domenico Pozzovivo, who crashed out early in the stage.
Stage 4 was supposed to be the eagerly awaited Clash of the Titans, with Giro hopefuls Nibali and Wiggins battling it out for supremacy. However, Nibali triumphed atop the final stage to take overall victory ahead of fellow Italian Santambrogio after Wiggins’s challenge was derailed by problems with his electronic gearing at the base of the final climb: cue Pinarello toss.
Astana set out their stall early on with Tiralongo and Aru setting a Sky-like tempo up the lower slopes to take back the remnants of the day’s 10-man break, distance race leader Bouet and whittle the leading group down to a dozen. Tantalisingly, just as Wiggins had almost worked his way back to the leading group, Nibali lit the turquoise-blue touchpaper, with only Santambrogio able to cling for dear life onto his rear wheel. Three kilometres later, The Shark kicked again, soloing across the finish line eight seconds clear of Santambrogio, 44 seconds up on Aru and Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) and, crucially, 4:42 ahead of Bouet.
After the race, Nibali commented:
Winning on a climb like this is for me the most important reward at this time. From here there is still time until the Giro, Wiggins is the main rival, but I have seen progress in both Evans and Basso. As for me, it’s comforting to know we can count on a very competitive team that here, as earlier in Tirreno-Adriatico, we’ve done nothing wrong tactically. We’ll have to see about Liege on Sunday, I made a major effort today, the opponents are strong and numerous. We’ll see.
Analysis & opinion
This race has provided us with a snapshot of what it’s going to be like in next month’s Giro d’Italia. Think last year’s Vuelta, but with bells on it! Although we didn’t have an Astana v Sky showdown and Astana has already triumphed twice, at Sky’s expense, on Italian soil this year, May could be an entirely different story. Apart from today’s understandable tantrum, Wiggins has looked tranquillo all week, ridden well within himself and the team were dominant in the team time trial. Astana look to have taken a leaf out of Sky’s book but they also have Alexandre Vinokourov at the helm, which has intensified the team’s attacking instincts.
What of the other Giro contenders at the race? Cadel Evans (BMC) looks to be finding form while Ivan Basso still looked a bit off the pace, but there’s time. There’s probably not enough time for Pozzovivo to get back to form after broken ribs, however AG2R will be delighted with Maxime Bouet’s performance.
Elsewhere it was great to see riders who don’t often get an opportunity to win seizing the moment. Take a bow Messrs Bouet, Santaromito and Siutsou not, of course, forgetting the ProConti teams who animated the race, especially Messrs Santambrogio and Pirazzi.
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 17:49:11
2. Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) +00:21
3. Maxime Bouet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +00:55
4. Fabio Aru (Astana) +01:16
5. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) +01:40
6. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) +01:45
7. Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani Valvole CSF Inox) +02:15
8. Cadel Evans (BMC) +02:18
9. Stefano Locatelli(Bardiani Valvole CSF Inox) +03:05
10.Pierre Rolland (Europcar) +03:22
Links: Official website