Giro stage 15: Visconti in first as peloton stays in neutral

Stage 15: Cesana Torinese to Les Granges du Galibier (Monumento Pantani), 145km

On a snowy and curiously subdued afternoon, Movistar’s Giovanni Visconti took maximum advantage, securing a place in the day’s decisive breakaway and then picking the perfect moment to solo away to victory on the slopes of the Col du Galibier.

Revised stage profile

Revised stage profile

Contrary to earlier fears, the day’s parcours was shortened by just 4.25km, with the finish line moved from the Galibier summit to the Marco Pantani memorial.

After yesterday’s freezing and tiring conditions, the peloton elected to neutralise racing until shortly before the summit of the snow-lined Col du Mont Cenis. Visconti was quick to respond to a move by mountains classification leader Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox), who leapt out of the pack in search of points, forming a seven-man break which the Astana-led peloton showed little interest in pursuing.

The Col du Telegraphe then saw a succession of attacks, both from within the break and the peloton. Pirazzi and Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE) had split off from the break on the climb, but Visconti and Matteo Rabottini (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) bridged across to them before Visconti went solo over the summit. He would never be seen again, battling up the shortened Galibier climb to take victory by 42 seconds.

Behind him, Rabottini ploughed a lone furrow for most of the climb but eventually succumbed as an elite group of GC contenders ground their way slowly up to him. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) and maglia rosa Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) put in test accelerations, but the extreme cold made sustained attacks difficult.

It was left to Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) to ignite the closing stages as the pair faced off in the battle for the white jersey. Both put in late attacks which the Nibali group were content to let go, with Betancur emerging victorious to edge out Lampre’s Przemyslaw Niemiec and Majka to take second place.

The top five overall – Nibali, Cadel Evans (BMC), Rigoberto Uran (Sky), Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini) and Scarponi – all finished together 54 seconds behind Visconti to leave the top of the GC unchanged going into tomorrow’s final rest day.

VeloVoices rider of the day

On a day where the entire race was neutralised for nearly 60km and the GC battle was, other than a few feints and thrusts, neutralised for its entire 145km, Giovanni Visconti was an easy selection as our rider of the day. The 30-year-old is a three-time Italian national champion, but this was by far his biggest victory to add to a palmares which includes a stage of the Tour of Luxembourg and the overall at the Tour of Turkey, both in 2010.

He timed his moves perfectly and comfortably held off the chasing pack to claim victory on a shortened stage which finished at the memorial to former Giro and Tour de France champion Marco Pantani – a man with whom he shares the same birthday, January 13th.

Opinion & analysis

After yesterday’s tough stage and at the end of a second week which has taken its toll on all the riders, it was a shame but perhaps unsurprising that hostilities were muted today ahead of a final week which provides ample opportunity for time-grabbing attacks. Astana performed admirably, both physically and tactically, keeping Vincenzo Nibali safe and not being distracted by the multitude of attacks on the Telegraphe, knowing they would have plenty of time to push as hard as needed on the Galibier.

Of his nearest rivals, Nibali will expect to put significant amounts of time into all but Cadel Evans and possibly Michele Scarponi in the stage 18 uphill time trial, which should give him plenty of leeway to play with on the final two summit finishes which follow it. Never say never – all it takes is one bad day – but this Giro is now very much his to lose.

Evans has cut Mark Cavendish‘s advantage in the points competition to just 18, and even if Cavendish makes it over the mountains it increasingly looks like one of the GC contenders may claim the maglia rossa in Brescia. Whether that turns out to be Evans (91 points) remains to be seen. Carlos Betancur is fourth on 79 and his finishing record – three seconds and a third in the last seven stages – and his relatively large deficit to Nibali may give him the freedom to attack the points standings.

Stefano Pirazzi holds a significant lead in the King of the Mountains. Even though we have plenty of big climbs to come, a judicious breakaway over the Gavia and Stelvio on stage 19 may well secure him the maglia azzurra.

Finally, the best young rider competition is essentially now a straight head-to-head, with time bonuses today allowing Betancur to leapfrog Rafal Majka by five seconds. With the pair lying an impressive seventh and eighth on GC, this may well turn out to be the most exciting head-to-head battle of the final week.

Stage 15 result

1. Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) 4:40:48

2. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:42

3. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) same time

4. Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff) s/t

5. Fabio Duarte (Colombia) +0:47

General classification

1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 62:02:34

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) +4:35

7. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) +5:15

8. Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff) +5:20

9. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) +5:57

10. Benat Intxausti (Movistar) +6:21

Link: Official website

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