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Giro d’Italia stage 8: Gatto gets the cream as Contador shows his claws

Stage 8: Sapri to Tropea, 217km

True to his name, Oscar Gatto looked like the cat who got the cream after the eighth stage of the Giro d’Italia, a long and predominantly flat run from Sapri to Tropea. Setting himself up perfectly to attack on a short, steep, twisting climb in the penultimate kilometre, the Farnese Vini rider successfully held off no less a pursuer than Alberto Contador to claim by far the biggest win of his career in famous fashion. Contador gained 17 seconds on the other top contenders, while Pieter Weening remains in the maglia rosa as the race heads to Sicily and the daunting slopes of Mount Etna.

Opportunities for the sprinters in this year’s race are few and far between, and even on a day such as this one which was designated as ‘flat’, the Giro organisers threw in a vicious sting in the tail, a 800-metre long, 8% hillside climb which required the riders to negotiate two hairpin turns and all but guaranteed there would be no bunch sprint. Although a reduced sprint finish was still a distinct possibility, the harshness of the climb also favoured an attack from a punchy climber or Classics rider. Paolo Bettini had won here in 2005 with just such a late attack.

Consequently, any breakaway was even more likely than usual to be doomed to failure, but the long odds did not prevent Mirko Selvaggi (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Leonardo Giordani (Farnese Vini) from providing the hare for the peloton to chase down the Calabrian coastline. The pair sprang away within the first couple of kilometres and built a maximum advantage of over 11 minutes. They would lead for over 200 kilometres, but the sprinters’ teams always had the chase in hand and duly caught the duo with 7.5km remaining.

Stage 8 followed the Calabrian coast road from Sapri to Tropea (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

Sky and HTC-Highroad were prominent at the front of the peloton in the closing kilometres as the sprinters vied for position approaching a difficult, technical finish on narrow roads. After a couple of tight bends as they entered Tropea around two kilometres from the finish, the route took the riders up the side of a steep hill with two tight switchbacks which compelled everyone bar the leaders to come to a virtual standstill to negotiate the hairpin bends. Anyone not in the first dozen places or so would have been hopelessly out of position to contest the finish.

Gatto's attack gave him a well-deserved stage win

One rider who was well placed, however, was Gatto. With the peloton strung out along the road behind him, the 26-year old attacked shortly after the second switchback with 1.5km to go and catapulted himself clear of the field.

With the other top contenders seemingly happy to ride to the finish together, Contador was the only rider to respond – and even then not until the Italian had pulled out a massive lead – chasing him through the streets of the town and closing down the gap, but never enough to seriously threaten for the stage win. Gatto took first place by at least five metres over Contador, while Alessandro Petacchi won the sprint for third five seconds behind, consolidating his lead in the points competition.

The stage winner said that he had identified this stage as one where he could have an impact, but that his attack had been unplanned:

I just went purely on instinct. It was something that just happened on the spur of the moment.

Having broken free of the chasing pack, he was surprised to see who his sole pursuer was:

I turned around four times. The first time, I didn’t see anybody. The second time, I saw a Saxo jersey, but I said to myself  “that can’t be him.” Then I looked again and I saw it was him alright.

At that point, I just said to myself, “Vai Oscar, and don’t think about who’s behind.” Then, the last time I looked around I saw that I was going to win. Of course having Contador chasing behind added a little to the win.

Contador said his unexpected attack was similarly spontaneous:

It was not planned this morning. I was in a good position, I decided why not, try. When I saw some space, I just decided to go solo to the finish.

Including the 12-second time bonus for finishing second, Contador gained 17 seconds on his rivals and catapulted himself from ninth to fifth overall, 13 seconds adrift of leader Weening but one ahead of Michele Scarponi and 11 ahead of Vincenzo Nibali.

Stage nine is the first giant of this year’s Giro. Starting in Messina and finishing 169km later atop Mount Etna, the stage takes in two ascents of Europe’s most active volcano, which has not featured at the Giro since 1989. On the first climb the peloton will ascend the slightly easier north side (18.0km with an average gradient of 6.1%), while the second ascent to the finish tackles the south face, covering 19.4km at 6.2%, and topping out at 1,892m.

The final climb is likely to descend into a free-for-all as the top contenders test each other’s form, safe in the knowledge that the first rest day follows immediately after. Don’t be surprised if Liquigas put in a big effort on behalf of Nibali. He is from Messina, knows the climb inside-out and the steadiness of the gradient will play to his strengths.

Stage 9 profile

Stage 8 result:

1. Oscar Gatto (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) 4:59:45

2. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) same time

3. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) +0:05

4. Alexander Kristoff (BMC) s/t

5. Roberto Ferrari (Androni Giocattoli) s/t

General classification:

1. Pieter Weening (Rabobank) 28:09:49

2. Kanstantsin Sivtsov (HTC-Highroad) +0:02

3. Marco Pinotti (HTC-Highroad) +0:02

4. Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Cervélo) +0:05

5. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) +0:13

6. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +0:14

7. Pablo Lastras (Movistar) +0:22

8. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:24

9. Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank) +0:28

10. José Serpa (Androni Giocattoli) +0:33

Points classification:

1. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) 64 pts

2. Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Cervélo) 48

3. Roberto Ferrari (Androni Giocattoli) 44

4. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 40

5. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) 38

Mountains classification:

1. Bart De Clercq (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 11 pts

2. Martin Kohler (BMC) 10

3. Federico Canuti (Colnago-CSF Inox) 9

4. Gianluca Brambilla (Colnago-CSF Inox) 8

5. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) 7

Links: Giro d’Italia official websiteSteephill.tv

Giro d’Italia recaps

Stage 1: Pinotti swaps red, white and green for pink

Stage 2: Petacchi celebrates, Cavendish remonstrates in ham-fisted Parma finish

Stage 3: Weylandt’s death casts a long shadow

Stage 4: Peloton rides in tribute to Weylandt

Stage 5: Weening takes maglia rosa as Millar bites the dust

Stage 6: Ale-Jet runs out of gas as Ventoso wins uphill drag

Stage 7: De Clercq claims first professional win by a whisker

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

16 Responses to Giro d’Italia stage 8: Gatto gets the cream as Contador shows his claws

  1. Kitty Fondue says:

    Thinking tomorrow might be a real rip-roarer of a stage, esp between Nibali, Scarponi and Contador.

    • Tim says:

      It absolutely should be spectacular. Nibali will attack without question. It will be interesting to see who is able to follow.

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