Sunday 20 May 2012

Giro d'Italia Stage 15

Today is the first day of the third week of the Giro and the race returns for a second day in the high mountains with a 169km parcours that takes in four tough categorised ascents and numerous uncategorised climbs to sap the rider's strength and make the big ones even harder. (Map, profile)

The stage starts in Busto Arsizio, a city that can proudly claim to have been a real thorn in the side of the Fascists during the Second World War as the locals took to the hills and fought savagely for freedom, then in April 1945 set up the first free radio station in Italy since the Fascists took power. The city escaped bombing during the War - it was hit by only one bomb - and as a result many of the Art Nouveau villas built by the wealthy in the early 20th Century survive, as do numerous older buildings. It was the birthplace of cyclist Michele Mara (02.10.1903), a sprinter who won the silver medal at the World Championships of 1928, Milan-San Remo, the Giro di Lombardia and five stages (1, 9, 10, 12, 15) of the Giro d'Italia in 1930, then two more stages (5 and 9) in the Giro d'Italia of 1931; his younger and less talented brother Enrico (07.08.1912), who was 11th in the Giro di Lombardia of 1940; Luigi Casola (11.07.1921), winner of four stages of the Giro d'Italia between 1948 and 1951; Albino Crespi (03.01.1930), winner of Stage 3 in the Giro d'Italia of 1953; Valerio Lualdi (31.08.1951), who raced in ten Giri d'Italia and finished nine, won various other races and rode as a domestique for Francesco Moser; Dario Andriotto (25.10.1972), the 1994 amateur World Time Trial Champion and also a veteran of ten Giri d'Italia (he finished six). Unsurprisingly for a city that ha produced so many world-class cyclists, it once boasted a race - the Coppa Città di Busto Arsizio was first held in 1923, when it was won by Libero Ferrario, and last held in 1967 when Dino Zandegù won.

Valico di Valcava
The first 70.2km were relatively flat with Albese con Cassano the highest point at 398m - none of the climbs in this section looked challenging. Lecco, on the banks of Lake Como at 61.9km, is familiar from the Giro di Lombardia. It would be a beautiful city no matter where it was located, but with the high mountains the riders are about to climb providing the perfect backdrop to the lake and grand buildings, it's a contender for most beautiful in Italy. The first of those mountains was Cat 1 Valico di Valcava, rising to 1,340m, 11.8km in length with an average gradient of 8% and - according to Italian Wikipedia, a maximum of 18% around 4km from the top.

Cat 3 Forcella di Bura began at 113.5km, climbs to 884m with an average 3% gradient over 7.4km, then Cat 2 Culmine di San Pietro began at 144km and is 23.3km in length, long enough to create a low average gradient of 4.4km (max. 12%) despite the 1,254m altitude. Finally, Piani dei Resinelli began at 161.2km and climbs over 7.8km to the finish line located on a plateau at an altitude of 1,280m, giving an average gradient of 6.6%.

The stage's highest profile was the man who wasn't supposed to be here - Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), who increasingly looks as though he's never going to recapture the form he had in the past this year, abandoned after 28km due to pain from a shoulder injury suffered in Stage 11... or could it be that he's decided to chalk this one up to experience and go home to concentrate on training for the Tour with Andy? We shall see.

Matteo Rabottini
For Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia), meanwhile, the race went better than he could even have hoped: he attacked early on, then rode hard to keep his lead all the way to the finish line. It looked as though his efforts were in vain when ‏Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) caught him with 400m to go, this sort of uphill ending being precisely the sort of terrain over which he's all but unbeatable; which is probably why he looked so surprised when the Italian found a new reserve of strength and then hung on in his slipstream before swinging out just metres from the line and taking the most unexpected victory of the 2012 Giro so far with a time of 5h15'30". Alberto Losada was 23" behind them for third place. Rodriguez, who equaled Rabottini's time, took the maglia rosa from Ryder Hesjedal and now has an advantage of 30" in the General Classification. Mark Cavendish, who was 172nd for the stage, remains leader of the Points competition

Top Ten

1 RABOTTINI Matteo FAR 5:15:30 0:00
2 RODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joaquin KAT 5:15:30 0:00
3 LOSADA ALGUACIL Alberto KAT 5:15:53 0:23
4 HENAO MONTOYA Sergio Luis SKY 5:15:55 0:25
5 SCARPONI Michele LAM 5:15:55 0:25
6 BASSO Ivan LIQ 5:15:55 0:25
7 PIRAZZI Stefano COG 5:15:59 0:29
8 KREUZIGER Roman AST 5:15:59 0:29
9 GADRET John ALM 5:15:59 0:29
10 TXURRUKA Amets EUS 5:15:59 0:29 
(Full stage result and GC)

Monday is a rest day - and with three more high mountain stages, one medium, one flat and an individual time trial till to go, the riders will welcome it.

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