Stage 14: Cervere to Bardonecchia, 180km
With TV images restricted to the final 400 metres of the concluding Jafferau climb, it was perhaps appropriate that the first figure to emerge from the mist was the flourescent hi-vis glow of the Vini Fantini-Selle Italia strip of Mauro Santambrogio, who led the equally bright maglia rosa of Vincenzo Nibali to the finish. Nibali did not challenge for the stage victory, settling instead for second place, but he was the day’s big winner as he put time into all his key rivals. Ag2r La Mondiale’s Carlos Betancur was nine seconds behind in third, his third top-three finish in the last six stages.
Safety concerns forced the race organisers to drop the Sestriere climb from the day’s parcours, leaving only the Jafferau summit finish to test the GC contenders.
A breakaway consisting of Daniele Pietropolli (Lampre-Merida), stage three winner Luca Paolini (Katusha), Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox), and Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) opened up a nine-minute gap. Although Trentin lost contact after a number of bike changes, the rest stayed away to the final climb.
Coming into the final 5km, it was Colbrelli and Paolini who looked strongest, with Pietropolli yo-yoing off the back. Meanwhile back in the bunch, Sergio Henao (Sky) and Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela teammates Diego Rosa and Franco Pelizotti attacked off the front. However, the brutality of the final climb took its toll with the whole race fragmenting in the final 3km. The break was mopped up, as were Henao, Rosa, and Pelizotti, with Nibali instigating the decisive move which left all but Santambrogio stranded in his wake.
VeloVoices rider of the day
Although my temptation is to give the plaudits to Mauro Santambrogio for a fantastic – not to mention popular – win, rider of the day has to be Vincenzo Nibali. He successfully put time into all of his main GC rivals – including 45 seconds on second-placed Cadel Evans (BMC). He led the decisive attack on the final ramp to the finish and showed a combination of strength and shrewdness which suggests that taking the maglia rosa off him is going to be a tough job indeed.
Opinion & analysis
The decision to cut Sestriere from the day’s route – prompted by freezing temperatures, low cloud, poor visibility and a risk of avalanche – was always going to spark some debate, but it’s fair to say that when Sean Kelly agrees it was too dangerous, it was too dangerous. While there are plenty of stories of the hard men of old riding through conditions that would have had Sherpa Tensing crawling back into his tent, I don’t think we seriously want to see riders have their health and potentially lives risked for the benefit of a few hours of entertainment. The ghost of Wouter Weylandt hangs over any such decision.
Aside from forcing route changes, the conditions also resulted in a number of crashes, with Bardiani’s Enrico Battaglin, the winner of stage four, forced out of the race with a suspected broken collarbone.
Due to freezing temperatures and reduced visibility on the descent from Sestriere due to low cloud, the race direction has taken the decision to modify the race route, removing the climb to Sestriere and the subsequent descent.
RCS Sport statement
In the event, the end result would possibly not have been dramatically different had the race route not been altered. The riders were clearly up against it anyway, with the conditions bad enough to prevent live footage being broadcast until the finish.
Aiming to recover from the loss of Wiggins, Sky still patrolled the front of the peloton as they looked to position Rigoberto Uran and/or Sergio Henao for the final climb. Combined with Vini Fantini, they hauled the faltering break back to within striking distance ahead of the final 15km. However, when Henao did attack, it was short-lived and instead of making time he ended up losing nearly two minutes, which suggests a pretty spectacular hitting of the wall in the final. Uran lost 42 seconds to Nibali to round off a couple of bad days for Sky, who must be wondering if somebody on their staff has been chasing black cats under ladders. They won’t have been encouraged by the continuing good form of Mauro Santambrogio, who is now snapping at Uran’s heels.
Meanwhile VeloVoices favourite Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) has clearly found better legs. He took a tidy fourth place, and looks in better shape to take on the final week.
The day’s biggest loser was Blanco’s Robert Gesink, who blew spectacularly and gave up over four minutes to drop from fourth to 11th overall.
Stage 14 result
1. Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) 4:42:55
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) same time
3. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:09
4. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +0:26
5. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) +0:30
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 57:20:52
2. Cadel Evans (BMC) +1:26
3. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) +2:46
4. Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) +2:47
5. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) +3:53
6. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) +4:55
7. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) +5:12
8. Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff) +5:32
9. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) +5:39
10. Benat Intxausti (Movistar) +5:51
Link: Official website