Tag Archives: Rigoberto Uran

Fitting win for Barguil; Stalemate on the podium

Barguil in polka-dots wins on the Izoard (Getty Images Sport)

It was the last chance saloon for the climbers. A last opportunity to try and take time from Chris Froome before Saturday’s time-trial. A final battle between Louis Meintjes and Simon Yates in the white jersey contest. One last chance to stop Warren Barguil’s claim on the polka-dot jersey. And the little matter of someone winning the stage.

This was a stage race within the race in which there were many mini-races taking place. Once they hit the final climb of the Col d’Izoard, you didn’t know where to look. There was always something going on. It was the first time the race has finished up this Alpine Giant and you have to wonder why it took so long? It was a brute and it wore the very best down to exhaustion.

Continue reading Fitting win for Barguil; Stalemate on the podium

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Crashes, attacks, and controversy: Two wild days in the mountains at the Tour

Coming into stage 8 on Saturday morning there were eight men within a minute of Chris Froome’s yellow jersey. By the time they went to bed on Sunday night, ready for a rest day, that number was down to three. And while some fell away in the standings, Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte, well placed coming into the weekend, fell away on the road and had to abandon.

The yellow jersey came through unscathed with two crucial days ticked off in his bid to defend his title. His lead is only 18 seconds but in hindsight, with all we seen, he’ll take it. Likewise might his now closest rivals, Fabio Aru at 18 seconds, Romain Bardet at 51 seconds, and the surprising Rigoberto Uran at 55 seconds. Of them, Aru courted controversy, Bardet animated Sunday and Uran took a stage win. It was a weekend that threw up so many talking points as the race hit the high mountains. Eight categorised climbs over the two stages, of which four were category one or higher.

Saturday’s stage, while full of action, belonged for the most part to the stage hunters. Lilian Calmejane of the Direct Energie team was the one who survived and made his name. He bridged gaps throughout the day and then struck out solo. Robert Gesink was his closest rival, but not even a serious cramp near the finish could stop him. It was his first stage win on his first Tour de France. Gesink rolled in 37 seconds later. The GC group led by another young French talent, Guillaume Martin came in at 50 seconds.

Few GC men put in any serious attacks on the stage. It didn’t led itself to that given the final climb peaked some 12 kilometres from the finish. You could say it was down to Sky’s hard tempo that left the rest unable to move, but Calmejane only lost a handful of seconds on the final climb. In reality, with a huge stage on Sunday, nobody wanted to burn out any matches. A sign of the the times in 2017 that monster efforts on back-to-back days are hard to make. Not with so much racing in the weeks ahead.

And so to Sunday and the action came thick and fast. The early break went up the road in the hopes of doing what Calmejane done the day before, but they wouldn’t last. That is except for Warren Barguil, but we’ll get to him. All the talking points revolved around those riding for the GC.

The first HC climb of this Tour was the Col de la Biche. Too far out for any damage on the uphill, but on the way back down, with wet patches under the tree canopy, a crash brought down Geraint Thomas. He was sitting second coming in but had to abandon with a broken collarbone. It left Froome down a crucial lieutenant.

Things settled over the Colombier but exploded on the Mont du Chat. By the time they would leave its viscous slopes, any dramas from days before would long be forgotten.

On the way up, Froome threw his arm in the air to signal a mechanical problem. At the same moment, his now nearest rival in the standings, Fabio Aru, nipped under his armpit and attacked. It was a blatant display of unsportsmanlike conduct as you’re like to see. A moment of panic descended over the face of Froome who must have had visions of Mont Ventoux in 2016 all over again. Was help not coming? Was he going to have to run again? I thought it myself, for an instant, before the team car came to his aid.

The others followed Aru and soon remonstrated with the Italian who relented his effort. Aru didn’t have to wait on Froome, but Aru shouldn’t have attacked him either. He would later claim that he didn’t know Froome had a problem, but unless he thought Froome was waving to fans, I’m not sure what else he thought was going on?

Froome soon regained contact. A video then emerged that appeared to show Froome shoulder barging Aru off to the side of the road. Froome would deny the intention, saying he lost his balance, but it didn’t look that way. It was the kind of response to the move by Aru that Bernard Hinault would have been proud of. It wasn’t violent, but there was a message in it.

The silly stuff ended there because then the attacks began. Each man appeared to take a turn to lay into the Sky leader, but each time he responded. And then he went himself and the group shrank to Aru, Romain Bardet, Richie Porte, Dan Martin and Rigoberto Uran. Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador were noticeable by their absence. Yet while the group had shrank, Froome was not out on his own as he might have been in the past with such an attack. Had this been a full blown effort, or only one to reduce the field? With a descent to come and a long run-in to the finish, did he want to be staking out alone? As it was, the small group hit the descent together with only Barguil still up the road.

Froome moved to the front on the descent and put the pressure on. I doubt the intention was to force anyone into a mistake that might lead to a crash, but if he could gap a few more rivals, he would take it. But the crashing did come and in horrific fashion for Porte and Martin. Porte overshot a turn and bounced across the road and into a rock face. Martin had nowhere to go and went down with him. The Irishman was up soon enough and on his way, but Porte didn’t move. It looked bad. Porte was out of the Tour, but it could have been a lot worse.

I’m not sure whether the crash unnerved Froome, but he scaled back his effort and it was the unflappable Bardet who took over. The Frenchman is one of the best descender’s in the pack and he knows these roads well. He had built up a healthy gap by the bottom, had the stage finished there and not with a flat 13.5km run in to Chambery, he might even have taken over the race lead.

Instead a pursuit ensued. Bardet put up a valiant effort and caught and past Barguil who dropped back to the chasing group. Froome, isolated and in yellow, should have had to chase alone, but instead Astana team mates Fuglsang and Aru, along with Uran, give him help. They reeled in Bardet and in the six man sprint, Uran hung on to the fast moving Barguil to take it in a photo finish. Uran’s victory was all the more special given that in an earlier crash he had broken his rear derailleur and was stuck with only two gears.

The stopwatch told the damage. Martin, Quintana and Simon Yates all lost 1 minute 15 seconds while Contador lost 4 minutes 19 seconds. Beyond that, and I mean, way beyond Contador’s time, seven men came in outside the time limit. The biggest name was that of Arnaud Demare who took three team mates with him. His green jersey ambitions gone.

It was a rough day for some, an awful day for others, and for the likes of Froome, Aru and Bardet, a day of close calls and drama but no major loses. People will debate the inclusion of such descents in the race long into the night. But descents have always been in the Tour. It’s up to each rider to decide how to race them and nobody has to take risks. Luck comes into it – ask Dan Martin about that – but the Tour is a rounded test of fitness, attrition, nerves and skill.

As the tears streamed from the exahusted face of Barguil who thought he had won the stage, so the rest of us tried to catch our breath. There had been non-stop action and drama. Those who said they were turning off after the disqualification of Peter Sagan might be regretting that now. That controversy seems a long time ago and yet we’re only nine stages in. The Tour has always been about the mountains and today proved why. The riders have earned their rest day now, and to tell you the truth, I’m glad of it too!

Standings after stage 9:

1. Chris Froome (Sky) in 38h 26’28”

2. Fabio Aru (Astana) +18″

3. Romain Bardet (AG2R) +51″

4. Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale) +55″

5. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) +1’37”

6. Dan Martin (Quickstep) +1’44”


8. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +2’13”
12. Alberto Contador (Trek) +5’15”

Understandabe confusion reigned on all sides over ‘neutralization’ of Stelvio descent but the strongest rider is still in pink

“Attention: A communication to directeur sportives. The management of the organisation have planned to put ahead of the head of the riders, depending on the situation, of course, after the top, to place in front of various groups an organisation moto with a red flag. All to avoid having attacks on the descent and after this to ensure that the riders remain in their positions and to prevent taking big risks and, for all, to remain in this position until the security agents lower the red flag.”

That is a transcript of the message delivered in English, Italian and French to the teams as the race went up the Stelvio yesterday ahead of the now infamous descent that has thrown this Giro into controversy.

The word ‘neutralized’ is never mentioned but you can see why some riders may have thought they were all set to take it easy. The boss of RCS that organises the Giro, Mauro Vegni, has said the teams and riders misunderstood the message and that there was no neutralization of the descent, saying that “We decided to place the bikes to indicate the trajectory.”

The result however was confusion as several big name riders, as well as those from the earlier break, continued to press on down the mountain with Nairo Quintana, Ryder Hesjedal and Pierre Rolland, among others, eking out a 1 minute, 30 seconds (give or take) advantage over the pink jersey of Rigoberto Uran by the foot of the mountain. By then it was very much race on. The gap never came back and only increased as they went up the final climb, and by the top we had a new leader in this Giro.

None of what happened should be blamed on Quintana, Rolland or Hesjedal for going ahead however, just as Uran and the rest should not be blamed for being left behind. It’s clear that serious confusion reigned and I think if there is any blame it should fall towards the organisation whose communication was about as clear as the field of vision as the sleet fell on the Stelvio. And even at that, with no defined rules or regulations by the UCI, the organisation appeared to be winging it.

What is clear is that the UCI are going to have to look at how these messages are relayed and make clear what the exact course of action is. Do they use specific flags to denote what is going on, like in Motorsport? Or do they use officially agreed upon wording so everyone knows exactly what is expected? Should a red flag mean the stage has been temporarily stopped? Should a yellow flag mean go slow? Should a [insert colour here] mean the stage has been neutralized and as such a maximum speed of, say, 25 km/h is being enforced?

Of course, the problem yesterday was always going to be the fact that different riders were on different parts of the road when word went out and interpretation of those words began and without proper regulation for such a scenario it is hard to neutralize such a stage mid-race without everyone together. Dario Cataldo was up front alone, there were scatterings of riders behind him and there was likely even more small pockets of riders off the back of the main group also. Can they realistically place a motorbike in front of all of them? I doubt it. You come over the climb 1 minute down on the main pack, you’re going to descent hard to get back on, not ride down at the same pace of the main group and hit the valley floor having to start your chase.

And even if they could place motorbikes in front of every group, who dictates what speed each individual motorbike goes at? You can see where there’s more questions than answers and why perhaps in the moment, with the temperatures dropping, with visibility poor, sleet falling and time gaps between various groups unreliable, so much miscommunication and confusion reigned in the giving of the message by the race officials and receiving of that message by the riders.

To me unless the whole pack is together, it’s very hard to suddenly decide to neutralize a section of the course. Perhaps if they have some flag that denotes a maximum speed limit to be adopted by all riders, though how do you police that? Maybe all they could have done was stop the race, get the riders to the bottom of the hill and then set those that were ahead of the peloton off again with the time time gaps in which they crossed the summit.

Just a few ideas, though whether the UCI decide to change the method in which they relay information to the riders during dangerous sections of a course in the future remains to be seen. One things that has been suggested after the fact is that they strip time from Quintana, but how much time? Do they have exact gaps from the bottom of that descent? And where exactly would the end of the neutralized section have been … when Quintana had a 1-20 lead or at a point in which he lead by 1-40? Back tracking in this way to recover a mistake, if indeed it’s decided there was a mistake, would be like going back to a football game that had finished and scrubbing out the goal because they later found out it had been scored by the number 9 in an offside position.

As it is though, I still think the strongest man is in pink today. Quintana came off that descent with a 1-30 gap over Uran but put another 2-40 into him on the final climb. His deficit to Uran coming into yesterday’s stage was 2-40 and Quintana got the time bonus on top of that for the win. Had he stuck with a ‘go-slow’ group down that mountain instead of pressing on, he may have been even fresher to attack that climb. Tactics would have shifted, of course, and he may not have attacked from the bottom of the final climb to get such a gap, but I still think we’re seeing the man in Pink that was headed that way anyway.

People might complain that Quintana has moved into Pink in a hollow kind of way, but I disagree. Had he took 5 minutes out of Uran on the descent and then clung on to retain 2-40 of that lead at the finish, then yes, but Quintana put in one of the great riders in the history of the Giro yesterday, neutralization or not. Forget what he gained coming down the hill, it was how he increased his lead on the final climb with conditions improving and Hesjedal and Rolland taking minimal pulls on the front that was truly inspirational. It’s a shame about the shambles, but it was still an epic stage to watch and nobody will say they turned off their televisions, or even moved off the edge of their seats, because they felt Uran and those taking it slowly were hard done by.

In the long run, this saga will only remain a problem and a talking point beyond that of fond historical memories if Uran starts taking back time on Quintana in the next few days and loses this Giro by less than 90 seconds. Nothing against Uran, but maybe it would be best now if Quintana went and put another two or three minutes onto his current advantage and left this incident as a non-factor in the big picture of this years Giro, which otherwise has been superb.

Quintana does one of the great rides in the most brutal of conditions to win the stage and move into the Pink jersey

Nairo Quintana, pre-Giro favorite who looked to be in a little trouble just a few days ago, pulled out what will surely go down as one of the great rides in the history of this great race to win stage 16 and turn a 2 minutes, 40 seconds deficit to fellow Colombian Rigoberto Uran into a 1 minute, 41 seconds lead in this race in one of the most difficult, yet brilliant, stages of cycling you’re ever likely to see.

The 139 kilometres they raced may not have sounded extremely challenging but when faced with the three climbs they had to go over — the Passo di Gavia, the Stelvio and Val Martello — there was no doubt today was always going to be one of the hardest stages. But only when the weather was factored in did the stage go from tough to brutal and left many debating whether they should just cancel the stage as the snow fell and the temperatures plummeted.

There was talk for a while that the descent of the Stelvio had been neutralized by race officials, though that was later denied, yet confusion reigned and is likely to reign into the night as to how it was supposed to be raced. Naturally therefore the stage was blown wide open on that Stelvio descent with Nairo Quintana, Pierre Rolland and Ryder Hesjedal going on the attack in tricky conditions while their rivals felt the need to exercise caution. It’s not yet known whether those left behind thought racing had ceased — though no doubt many of them will claim they did — while those who took advantage will claim it was game on for an epic encounter.

While the weather may have played a big part in the staggering fact that only 36 men finished within half an hour of Quintana, there is little doubt that it was his pure ability to also go uphill in these conditions that truly swung the balance of this Giro.

When himself, Hesjedal and Rolland hit the bottom of the Stelvio they carried a two minute advantage over the rest … a lead so great on a descent that it has fueled the argument that the race had been neutralized but left me arguing that upon seeing these three contenders head on down the hill why wouldn’t you go with them and debate the neutralization later? If indeed there was any agreement to ‘take it easy’ which given the official results would suggest that officially, there was not.

It mattered not however, because once they all got off the descent and the charge up to Val Martello began, Uran, devoid of team support, followed the Tinkoff-Saxo team as they tried to haul back, without success, the deficit to the three up the road, who were quickly reigning in the loan survivor of an earlier attack, Dario Cataldo, and gunning towards stage glory. Rolland and Hesjedal have been fine opportunists in this Giro, using every chance they can get to take back time and it was no great shock that in the midst of this confusion they would be seeking the advantage. And why not Quintana too, who has hooked up with Rolland on a few occasions now in this Giro, to get in on the act and take back from Uran what he had lost in the individual time-trial last week?

If their lead was two minutes going onto the climb, then it says something to Quintana’s form as this race progresses that he only increased that with pedal stroke, coming home more than four minutes ahead of Uran. That Quintana put two minutes into Uran alone on the climb when he came into the stage 2-40 off his lead, suggests that had he waited on the descent, further conserving his energy, he might well have overturned that 2-40 on the climb to Val Martello alone anyway.

I find it hard to argue that the best man isn’t tonight in the pink jersey. Especially when you go about acquiring it in such fashion.

And make no mistake about it, Quintana didn’t ride the coat tails of his fellow escapees here, the lions share of work was done by the Colombian as Hesjedal and Rolland fought to hang on. On several occasions Hesjedal was dropped when the gradient percentage ramped up into double figure only to claw, in true diesel fashion, his way back on when it leveled off a little. It looked for a while as though Rolland would take the tow to the top and out sprint Quintana for the stage, but surprisingly it was he that fell away first as Hesjedal continue to go mind over body to keep on the flying Quintana’s wheel.

Into the final kilometre and things kicked up again and this time Quintana shedded Hesjedal for good, winning solo, though only 8 seconds up on the Canadian. Rolland rolled in 1-13 behind with Wilco Kelderman the first of the chasing pack to come home 3-32 down. He was followed in by Domenico Pozzovivo at 3-37, Fabio Aru at 3-40, Rafal Majka at 4-08 and Uran on the wheel of Sebastian Henao at 4-11. Struggling more still in the conditions was Cadel Evans who finished at 4-48 but has done just about enough to maintain a podium position in the general classification.

Quintana now leads that classification over Uran by 1-41 with Evans at 3-21. Rolland has jumped into fourth, five seconds behind Evans and should continue to move up, while Majka sits fifth at 3-28 and Aru in sixth at 3-34.

And following his inspired ride to stay as close to the wheel of Quintana as possible, Ryder Hesjedal moved into the top ten overall in 9th place, 4-16 down though I can’t help think what might have been had stage 1 not gone so badly for his Garmin team?

That wet day in Belfast, Garmin lost 2-31 to Movistar when Dan Martin slipped on a manhole and brought down the majority of his team forcing the likes of Hesjedal to wait until the minimum compliment of riders could get themselves together and finish as a team.

But had Garmin remained upright, they were on pace to set one of the better times and Quintana’s Movistar team finished 55 seconds behind the winning time posted by Orica Greenedge, as such, Garmin might well have put 30 seconds into Movistar. A lot of if’s and but’s here that mean nothing because crashes are a part of cycling and the times all count, but without that stage 1 nightmare that also took Dan Martin out of the Giro, Hesjedal might have been going to bed tonight a single minute off the race lead with five days to go.

And one minute that includes the 41 seconds lost to Quintana in the individual time-trial, though that was a straight up battle in which the time swings went fair and square.

Of course, what is still to come in this Giro favours Quintana so a one minute deficit to the young Colombian may not have changed the direction in which this race is headed anyway, but it’s nice for Canadian cycling fans to speculate what might have been. That said, the potential podium is still a very realistic possibility, stage 1 crash or not, because Hesejdal today sits only 55 seconds behind a tiring Cadel Evans in 3rd.

Six men abandoned the stage (including Thomas Dekker, Alessandro Petacchi and Michele Scarponi), which given the conditions and the 167 that started (Edvald Boasson Hagen did not take to the start) it’s surprising that it wasn’t more. I’m not exactly sure what the cut off time was, but I have to figure discretion will be shown by the race referees, especially given this whole ‘neutralized’ debate, not to mention the fact that if the cut off was 30 minutes, only 37 men would be taking to the start tomorrow.

It was one of the great rides today by Nairo Quintana … attacking on the descent in freezing conditions and blitzing the final climb as a chasing pack of high quality riders only continued to lose time to him. It was the stuff of Merckx and it was the stuff that very well could win him the 2014 Giro d’Italia.

Result:

1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in 4-42-35

2. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp) in 8 sec

3. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) + 1-13

4. Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) + 3-32

5. Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) + 3-37

6. Fabio Aru (Astana) + 3-40

7. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) + 4-08

8. Sebastian Henao (Sky) + 4-11

9. Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) + s.t.

10. Cadel Evans (BMC) + 4-48

Overall:

1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in 68-11-44

2. Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) + 1-41

3. Cadel Evans (BMC) + 3-21

4. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) + 3-26

5. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) + 3-28

6. Fabio Aru (Astana) + 3-34

9. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp) + 4-16

Pierre Rolland’s Giro: If only he could time-trial

A rest day today and how they need it given the past couple of stages. Uran comes into it with the Pink jersey on his shoulders and while he’s look a little vulnerable on the climbs he has limited his losses to mere seconds which he will accept having taken minutes out of everyone else in the individual time-trial.

One man who has looked good on the climbs and if not a contender for the GC due to his 4 minutes, 47 defect to Uran, then certainly a stage winner, is Frenchman Pierre Rolland, who is looking every bit the rider the French thought they had found when he won that stage to L’Alpe d’Huez in the 2011 Tour de France and finished 10th overall and 1st in the young rider classification.

So how come Rolland is facing such a gap to Uran if he’s climbing so strong? He never lost any time to him in any of the crashes earlier on the Giro, always finishing in groups with the Colombian. Well, the answer lies against the clock.

In the team-time-trial to start this Giro back in Belfast Rolland’s Europcar team had a nightmare ride and the Frenchman lost a whopping 1 minute, 43 seconds. As I said back then, you cannot win the Giro on an opening stage team-time-trial, but you sure can lose it and it looked right away as though that time loss would be problematic to Rolland.

For all his climbing ability, Rolland has never been strong against the clock. He reminds me of a certain Richard Virenque in that regard — and only that regard, thankfully. Able to soar in the mountains and always willing to go off the front in search of a stage win or mountains classification points, but too weak against the clock to ever win a Grand Tour.

And so it is in this Giro for Rolland. On stage 8 he lost 16 seconds to Uran when his aggressive climbing caught up with him just before the line, but it was the individual time-trial were his Giro aspirations likely vanished when Uran took a devastating 3 minutes and 46 seconds out of him. That left him 5-45 behind Uran on GC and essentially left looking for stage victories.

On stages 14 and 15 he went about trying to do just that, getting in on the attack early and then riding with Ryder Hesjedal one day and Nairo Quintana the next after they had bridged across to him. Neither resulted in a stage victory — often the early break had gone far enough ahead to leave any gap impossible to close — but it did chip away a little at Uran’s lead. 38 seconds on stage 14 and 20 seconds on stage 15. Just under a single minute all in; still 4-47 behind with just four big mountain stages to go. Rolland is going to have to hope Uran falls apart in this final week but that would still leave six very good riders ahead of him to overcome to have any hope of winning this Giro.

It’s extremely unlikely, though I do admire his willingness to keep trying and I hope he wins a stage for it. No doubt French cycling fans everywhere are hoping that if only he could improve his time-trialing just a little he might one day contend to become the first French Grand Tour winner since Laurent Jalabert at the Vuelta in 1995, and before that Bernard Hinault at the Tour de France in 1985.

Aru wins thrusting himself into GC contention; Quintana takes back seconds; Evans loses time

And suddenly Fabio Aru has thrust himself right into contention for this years Giro with a superb attack in the final kilometres of this summit finish to Montecampione to take 22 seconds out of Nairo Quintana, 42 seconds out of the Pink jersey of Rigoberto Uran, and 1 minute, 13 seconds out of Cadel Evans. He’s put himself into fourth place overall under two and a half minutes back on Uran who maintained (and extended thanks to him taking time on a tired looking Evans) his lead in this years race.

The early break once again tried to share the spoils of the stage but never carried enough of a lead into a long finishing climb. It was a day that was perfectly flat before the climb and so all eyes were on that final ramp into the sky. At one point Irishman, Philip Deignan, had a crack out of an ever decreasing lead peloton, but when the main contenders to win this Giro began to make their moves his lead was quickly overcome.

Once again the first to go was Pierre Rolland, and once again they let him go, though this time it took his second surge before he got a gap. Rolland came into today 5-07 down on Uran but again took time, but while those time gaps are limited to seconds rather than minutes and while Uran has so much competition around him to go chasing every move, Rolland will be allowed to chip away at his lead and perhaps look to win a stage before this Giro is done.

Shortly after Quintana made his bid but was followed by this time but Uran, who after yesterday, looked much stronger. It was Evans who once again looked like he was tiring out in this Giro. He couldn’t follow the crucial moves and finished in a small group containing Ryder Hesjedal who spent the majority of the final portions of the climb going off and on the back of what was left of the main pack. Hesjedal, like Evans in many ways, is a big diesel engine, he doesn’t react well to the quick changes in pace and prefers to grind up the hills in his own rhythm. It’s why when the pace went up, Hesjedal went back, but when those surges inevitably ceased and the contenders began to look at one another to pick up the slack that he got back on. Another like that is former two-time winner, Ivan Basso, but his glory days are behind him now and when those surges ceased, he couldn’t get back on. And so it was for Evans but as the kilometres closed in the pace remained high and so the gap continued to grow. Thankfully for him the metres ran out before the clock did serious damage but losing 31 seconds to Uran and dropping more than a minute behind him overall is not a good sign with the biggest climbing to come.

When Quintana kicked a second time Uran couldn’t react but the damage was limited to 20 seconds. Someone Quintana couldn’t shake was Rolland having earlier bridged across to his attack. Rolland is looking stronger by the day and those around him will be thankful that his gap to the Pink jersey is still just shy of five minutes.

The competition however remains fierce. Is there anyone in the top six of the overall — separated by a mere 2 minutes, 42 seconds — who cannot still win this Giro? Especially with all the climbing still to come? The past two days have shown that they’re only gaining seconds on one another and so Uran’s more than a minute lead on second place Evans is still an advantage, you have to think with the worst still to come and legs getting tireder, the gaps may increase and with it the chances for someone — maybe all of them on given days — to have a bad day and lose minutes.

Result:

1. Fabio Aru (Astana) in 5-33-06

2. Fabio Duarte Arevalo (Colombia) + 21 sec

3. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) + 22 sec

4. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) + s.t.

5. Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) + 42 sec

6. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) + 52 sec

9. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp) + 1-13

10. Cadel Evans (BMC) + s.t.

Overall:

1. Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) in 63-26-39

2. Cadel Evans (BMC) + 1-03

3. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) + 1-50

4. Fabio Aru (Astana) + 2-24

5. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) + 2-40

6. Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) + 2-42

An epic finish to a very unpredictable stage

The word’s ‘…I’ve ever seen’ are thrown around far too loosely sometimes, but believe me when I say it this time, I mean it: That was one of the best finishes to a stage I have ever seen. Not in the context of the general classification or even the entire final climb, but as a stand alone finish, it was epic. More twists and turns than the road itself and like this Giro as a whole, giving no clue as to which way it might go next.

Enrico Battaglin was the man who won the day — the man who’s name will go into the record books — but it was more than he who made it what it was.

Men like Dario Cataldo who looked set to sprint Jan Polanc for the stage just a few kilometres further down the hill as the rest struggled to stay with them and who must have thought he had won when he came around the shoulder of Jarlinson Pantano only to have Battaglin come past him again all within the final hundred metres.

Men like Nicolas Roche who went off on his own on the second to last climb in a bid for solo glory only to get reeled in on the long descent to the foot of the final rise.

Men like Albert Timmer who attacked on that final descent, who pushed himself to stay clear on the final climb only to have the chasers behind catch him and leave him behind. He found reserves to come back, not once, but twice before finally falling short in the final half kilometre.

They all lit up the race to win the stage … remnants of the days early break that got enough time to stave off the pace of the GC men behind. And it was those GC men and the battle for the pink jersey that only added another dimension to a phenomenal stage. Pierre Rolland and Ryder Hesjedal are a number of minutes back overall and so were allowed to go up the road on the penultimate climb and they carried that lead over their rivals to the finish, but only just.

Nairo Quintana and Domenico Pozzovivo made their move on the final climb and the pink jersey of Rigoberto Uran could only look on. He stuck with Cadel Evans who himself got rid of Uran in the closing metres. Rafal Majka — one of the breakout performers of this years Giro — also got clear of Uran to gain back some time on the overall.

But the time gaps were small. Uran limited his losses and what looked like the potential for big gaps were kept to under 30 seconds. Quintana led home Pozzovivo by 4 seconds; 17 seconds behind Hesjedal; 13 seconds behind Rolland. Majka came home with another breakout performer, Wilco Kelderman, 8 seconds behind Quintana; Evans was at 20 seconds and Uran limped over the line an exhausted, but safe, 25 seconds back.

It’s becoming very apparent that Uran may well need every second that he gained on last Thursday’s individual-time-trial as those behind him look to chip away at his advantage each time the road goes upward. He looks as though he might just struggle a little against the likes of Quintana in the mountains. Whether his now 3 minute, 4 second lead over his fellow Columbian can hold remains to be seen.

One thing that isn’t in doubt in this years Giro is the unpredictability of it all. Nobody looks dominant; everyone looks like they’ll struggle on certain days. Some people are often quick to question the legitimacy of a big performance in cycling these days and slow to acknowledge the purity of a race like this. So let me say it, the style in which these riders attacked today, the way nobody could force home a decisive advantage, the way a surge only lasted for hundred meters or so before the rider had to continue in tempo, the way they struggled when they hit the wall, the suffering, it all paints a good picture of where the sport is at right now. We’re in the early days of the mountains and so everyone in GC contention is close to matching one another and everyone’s limit is not too far from the others. As legs grow tired and this race continues along those gaps may grow, but make no mistake, the all around suffering will grow with it and the outcome may well continue — like the final climb itself today — to surprise and change right until the final day.

We’re in for for a heck of a final week. Better them doing it that I, but I’m a lucky cycling fan for getting to watch it.

Result:

1. Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani-CSF) in 4-34-41

2. Dario Cataldo (Sky) + s.t.

3. Jarinson Pantano (Colombia) + 7 sec

4. Jan Polanc (Lampre) + 17 sec

5. Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) + 22 sec

6. Albert Timmer (Giant-Shimano) + 26 sec

13. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp) + 2-22

14. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) + 2-26

15. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) + 2-39

17. Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) + 2-43

18. Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) + 2-47

19. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) + s.t.

20. Wout Poels (OPQS) + 2-59

21. Cadel Evans (BMC) + s.t.

22. Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) + 3-04

Overall:

1. Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) in 57-52-51

2. Cadel Evans (BMC) + 32 sec

3. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) + 1-35

4. Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) + 2-11

5. Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) + 2-33

6. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) + 3-04

12. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp) + 6-13