Giro d’Italia stage 15: Nieve wins marathon stage, Contador sails serenely on

Stage 15: Conegliano to Gardeccia/Val di Fassa, 229km

Mikel Nieve gave Euskaltel-Euskadi only its second ever Giro d’Italia stage victory, 24 hours after Igor Antón had broken the Basque team’s duck on the Zoncolan. Nieve, who celebrates his 27th birthday next week, rode solo to bridge the gap to long-time leader Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) and was strong enough to hold everyone at bay all the way to the end to take a fine win at the end of a 7½-hour stage ahead of Garzelli and Alberto Contador. The race leader survived an audacious downhill attack by Vincenzo Nibali to extend his overall lead by a further minute. Going into tomorrow’s rest day, the Spaniard now leads by a seemingly impregnable 4:20 over new second-place man Michele Scarponi.

After a series of early attacks on the Piancavallo, the first of five tough climbs, 18 men broke away from the peloton. The group, including both Nieve and Garzelli, built an advantage of over ten minutes before the second climb, and although the breakaway fractured on the way up, it regrouped on the descent.

Next up was the Passo Giau, whose summit at 2,236m is the highest point – the Cima Coppi – of this year’s race, offering double points in the mountains classification. Vacansoleil-DCM‘s Johnny Hoogerland was the first to attack on the lower slopes of the 15.9km climb, pulling out a 20-second advantage before Garzelli and Nieve set off in pursuit. The former caught the Dutch rider first and powered over the summit to claim the points which would ultimately move him to the top of the King of the Mountains ranking. Nieve followed some 45 seconds later, and set off in pursuit of the 2000 Giro winner.

The peloton climbs the Passo Giau, the highest point of this year's race (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

Behind them Contador, José RujanoJoaquim Rodríquez and David Arroyo had accelerated off the front of the peloton, putting Nibali into difficulties as they crested the summit 9:30 behind Garzelli. However, the Liquigas-Cannondale leader was able to reconnect on the twisty, rain-slick descent, and then continued to attack, forcing Contador and the others to chase hard.

However, Nibali was soon put into the red on the penultimate, rain-swept climb of the Passo Fedaia as Contador turned the screw to gap the struggling Sicilian. Meanwhile Garzelli was seven minutes up the road, with Nieve still in hot pursuit. Nibali crossed the summit around a minute behind the Contador group, but a ferocious display of descending and overtaking on the fast (and thankfully dry) descent allowed him to make the junction to the maglia rosa once again.

Nieve's biggest career win came at the end of a brutal 7 ½ hour stage

After a pursuit lasting more than 50km, Nieve finally caught Garzelli just before the start of the final 6.2km, 10.0% Gardeccia climb and soon left the veteran Italian in his wake. Still 6½ minutes behind, the maglia rosa group saw Rodríquez again initiating the first attack. Contador and John Gadret went with him, and as the former looked back to see Nibali unable to follow, he kicked savagely to devastating effect, leaving everyone gasping in his wake. Scarponi and Gadret eventually set off in pursuit, but Contador was already 100 metres away up the road. It was the stage’s defining moment. Nibali’s shoulders visibly slumped, a beaten man, and he would continue to slide away, losing valuable time to effectively end his challenge for the general classification.

With some of the climb’s steepest slopes coming near the end Nieve emptied the tank and barely had the energy to make it across the line after 7 hours and 27 minutes of punishing riding. The equally exhausted Garzelli was 1:41 behind, having done just enough to keep the dancing Contador at bay. Although the overall leader looked comparatively fresh, the closing kilometres had been a struggle even for him, as a fast-closing Scarponi almost succeeded in bridging the gap as he hurtled across the finish and into second place overall.

Nibali finished with Rodríquez, both losing nearly two minutes to Contador, with the former dropping behind Scarponi into third spot. In total, only 19 other riders finished within ten minutes of the winner Nieve, with last man Matt Wilson five seconds short of 45 minutes down.

After the stage Nieve, whose primary role at the Giro has been to support Antón, told the media that his own team leader had suggested he try to get in an escape:

At the morning meeting before this stage, Igor told me to break away. He said that I was able to win a stage as well, that’s what pushed me into trying.

This is for sure the hardest day I’ve had in my career so far. With all these climbs and the wind, the stage was like an eternity. I completed the stage just as I could. I was extremely tired. I couldn’t even find any strength to put my arms up in the air. I felt the last kilometre would never end.

Contador agreed about the severity of the stage, coming as it did at the end of a draining week:

It was the hardest stage of my life. It was hard, super-hard. There were some moments when I was completely isolated, 50km from the finish line. I played with the interests of the others in my favour and measured by strength. I believe that I met the objectives to open more differences and further distance my rivals.

Nibali stood by his brave but ultimately futile attack, insisting that it was more important to race for first place than to defend second:

I attacked to try and do something on the biggest and most prestigious mountain stage of the Giro. I wasn’t racing for second place but for first place. I attacked Contador to try and tire him but he had help from [Movistar’s Pablo] Lastras because I think Arroyo wanted to try and win the stage.

When I was caught I suffered on the Fedaia but I knew the descent was difficult and that I could get back on again. When I caught them at the bottom I think they were stunned because they rode hard to stop me getting back. They were disappointed to see me again but I dug deep on the climb to the finish and I’m proud I was still there.

I honestly didn’t have the legs I had yesterday but I tried to stay with Scarponi on the final climb. The stage was long, hard and cold and so I also knew the others would fade too during the stage. That’s what happened. It didn’t work out as perhaps we hoped but I was still up there. So I’m happy with my ride.

And although Scarponi had a successful day, minimising his losses to Contador  and moving up to second overall, he accepted that the race is now Contador’s to lose:

Contador is so strong, he must really have to have a bad day if he could lose this Giro. I will keep fighting to Milan, but Contador looks good, you have to admit.

However, Contador is still taking nothing for granted:

People keep saying I’ve got the Giro sown up but I don’t agree. I would have been happy if I’d been told I’d have these time gaps after two weeks of hard racing but the race is far from over, there is still a long way to go to Milan and there are too many hard stages coming up to say that I’ve won it yet. On this Giro you can’t relax for a minute.

The riders can, at least, rest up tomorrow and enjoy the final rest day. On Tuesday, they will face the first of two individual time trials – the second being the final stage in Milan – with a 12.7km climb to the ski resort of Nevegal. The stage actually starts with a short descent before a punishing middle section which averages over 10% before easing off, with a false flat that leads to one final kick up in the final 500 metres or so. The quickest men will look to stop the watch inside 30 minutes, and it is likely that by the end of it Contador will have further consolidated his advantage.

Stage 16 profile

Stage 15 result:

1. Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 7:27:14

2. Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) +1:41

3. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) +1:51

4. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +1:57

5. John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale) +2:28

General classification:

1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 62:14:42

2. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +4:20

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +5:11

4. John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale) +6:08

5. Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +7:03

6. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) +8:39

7. Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) +8:46

8. Roman Kreuziger (Astana) +8:58

9. Joaquim Rodríquez (Katusha) +9:20

10. David Arroyo (Movistar) +9:30

Points classification:

1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 133 pts

2. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) 87

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) 75

4. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) 73

5. John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale) 71

Mountains classification:

1. Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) 62 pts

2. Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 39

3. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 38

4. Gianluca Brambilla (Colnago-CSF Inox) 27

5. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) 26

Links: Giro d’Italia official

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

Stage 8: Gatto gets the cream as Contador shows his claws

Stage 9: Explosive Contador erupts on Etna

Stage 10: No tow required as Cavendish opens Giro account

Stage 11: Gadret times his finish to perfection

Stage 12: Cavendish doubles up and retires from the Giro

Stage 13: Contador’s gift leaves Rujano singing in the rain

Stage 14: All pain, few gain as Antón triumphs on the ascent to Hell


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

9 Responses to Giro d’Italia stage 15: Nieve wins marathon stage, Contador sails serenely on

  1. Tim, I just want you to know that I’m depending on your excellent reports for my Giro coverage this year. My wife and I are out on our own rides every day at the moment (yesterday we completed the gruelling 16.8km stage from Amsterdam to a lunch appointment in Hoofddorp) and didn’t return until after the stage was over.

    Please keep up the great work!

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