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Giro d’Italia stage 17: Ulissi wins, Visconti relegated when push comes to shove

Stage 17: Feltre to Tirano, 230km

On a day on which the leaders were happy to neutralise racing among themselves, Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) literally took a hands-on approach to the final three-man sprint for victory, pushing Lampre-ISD‘s Diego Ulissi out of the way before edging across the finish line first. His joy was short-lived, however, as the race commissaires – correctly – rapidly relegated him to third and awarded victory to the 21-year old Ulissi, who became the youngest Giro d’Italia stage winner for 16 years.

The day’s 230km stage took the peloton westwards through the Dolomites, with two categorised mountains, the testing Passo del Tonale (15.2km, 6.0% gradient) and the longer but more benign Aprica (15.4km, 3.1%). The profile favoured a breakaway and sure enough, after a rapid first hour in which the peloton covered nearly 48km, a group of 16 eventually broke free, The escapees included three of the top 16: HTC-Highroad‘s Kanstantsin Sivtsov, AG2R La Mondiale‘s Hubert Dupont and Garmin-Cervélo‘s Christophe Le Mevel, as well as Italian national champion Visconti, Ulissi,Movistar‘s Pablo Lastras and Omega Pharma-Lotto‘s Jan Bakelandts. But with Sivtsov the best placed on general classification in 12th, a massive 12:05 behind, the Saxo Bank Sungard team of overall leader Alberto Contador were happy to let others, predominantly Vincenzo Nibali’Liquigas-Cannondale, set the pace at the front of the peloton.

The peloton climbs the Passo del Tonale in pursuit of the day's breakaway (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

The break established a lead of over 7½ minutes as the peloton set about bringing the gap back down, but over the top of the Passo del Tonale the leaders, now numbering 14, still had a 6:10 advantage as they headed towards the last climb of the day. Dupont, knowing he would stand no chance in a sprint finish, tried a number of attacks on the Aprica but was brought back on each occasion as the breakaway crested the summit 19km from home with a healthy lead of nearly four minutes.

Ulissi may be just 21, but he showed considerable smarts to claim a controversial win

On the fast and twisty descent, the leaders strung out in a long line, but it was not until they were back on the flat that the elastic finally snapped, and Lastras, Bakelandts, Visconti and Ulissi forced a decisive split with less than 4km to go The quartet were able to pull out a comfortable enough lead to engage in a private game of cat-and-mouse in the final kilometre. Ulissi feinted to the head of the group, then dropped to the back.

With just over 200 metres to go, Ulissi, Visconti and Lastras were all lined up behind Bakelandts, ready to pounce as they each waited for someone to make the first move. Ulissi eventually jumped, positioned close to the barriers on the left of the road. Visconti chose not to attack on the open side of his compatriot, but instead attempted to dive into the narrow gap between Ulissi and the barrier, in an apparent attempt to both cut Lastras off and to shelter from the wind which was coming from the right. Ulissi drifted slightly over but did appear to leave just enough space for Visconti, who twice placed a hand on his back to firmly shove him out of the way. For one terrifying moment it looked as if Ulissi might come unseated right in front of Lastras, but he managed to maintain his balance and the Spaniard took avoiding action. Gesticulating angrily, Visconti barged through and was first across the line, edging out Ulissi, with Lastras – who had been hoping to win for deceased teammate Xavier Tondó –  perhaps a wheel’s length further back.

It was inevitable that the commissaires would review the finish, and it came as little surprise when they decided that Visconti had won through inappropriate use of his hands, awarding the stage to Ulissi and bumping the original winner back to third. At 21 years 314 days, the young Lampre rider became the youngest Giro stage victor since Filippo Casagrande, who was just 21 days younger when he won in 1995.

If he had been watching at home, Mark Cavendish would no doubt have allowed himself a wry smile and commented that, if it had been him rather than the Italian national champion, he would have been thrown out of the race for dangerous riding. Had he done so, he would have had a point. For all Visconti’s protestations afterwards, it was fairly evident that Ulissi had done little wrong and that his decision to aim for the narrow side meant he had been inadvertently baulked. Such is a sprinter’s lot sometimes. It happens.

Behind the squabble for the stage win, the overall contenders enjoyed a comparatively smooth run-in. The expected attack from Nibali on the descent from Aprica never materialised, and they mostly arrived in Tirano in a large bunch 2:59 behind the front three.

Overall, the only significant change in the general classification was that Sivstov, who finished ten seconds behind Ulissi, made up a large chunk of time to jump from 12th to fifth. Contador remains 4:58 ahead of Ulissi’s teammate Michele Scarponi in second.

After the stage, a happy Ulissi denied he had done anything wrong:

I knew Visconti was the fastest in the sprint but I thought carefully of how to try and beat him and can’t deny that I was used every trick in the book. I knew I had to try and surprise Visconti by going early and that’s what I did. I kept my line on the left and kept hoping the finish line would appear as soon as possible. I felt Giovanni touch me and he said I moved towards the barriers but I don’t think I did. I’ve seen a lot worse than that and the judges studied it and decided I’d won.

Visconti was still fuming, and called Ulissi a very naughty boy:

Ulissi has done his best to make me fall. I yelled at him ten times but he blocked me on the barricades. Had I not used my hands, I would have crashed. He behaved badly in the group today and proved to be badly educated. From a young rider, it shouldn’t happen.

He also maintained that morally he was the winner of the stage, even though his team manager admitted that it was right that he had been disqualified for taking his hands off the bars:

Today I’ve won, even if later the results will show that I’m third, but I’ve won.

Stage 18 from Morbegno to San Pellegrino Terme is a relatively straightforward 151km medium mountain stage, with just the second category Passo di Ganda to negotiate. This 9.2km. 7.3% climb has a fairly constant gradient for the most part, with the final 2km being its toughest stretch, featuring a 15% section which could provide the springboard for a late attack by one of the peloton’s braver descenders. More likely, though, it will be another day on which a breakaway of lowly-placed riders gets away and stays away.

Stage 18 profile

Stage 17 result:

1. Diego Ulissi (Lampre-ISD) 5:31:51

2. Pablo Lastras (Movistar) same time

3. Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) s/t

4. Jan Bakelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:04

5. Fabio Taborre (Acqua & Sapone) +0:08

General classification:

1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 68:18:27

2. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +4:58

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +5:45

4. John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale) +7:35

5. Kanstantsin Sivstov (HTC-Highroad)  +9:12

6. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) +9:18

7. Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +9:22

8. Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) +9:38

9. Roman Kreuziger (Astana) +9:47

10. Joaquim Rodríquez (Katusha) +10:25

Points classification:

1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 158 pts

2. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) 103

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) 95

4. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) 87

5. Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) 77

Mountains classification:

1. Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) 64 pts

2. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 53

3. Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 39

4. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) 29

5. Gianluca Brambilla (Colnago-CSF Inox) 27

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

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

Stage 15: Nieve wins marathon stage, Contador sails serenely on

Stage 16: Contador victory confirms Giro rivals are racing for second

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

8 Responses to Giro d’Italia stage 17: Ulissi wins, Visconti relegated when push comes to shove

  1. Sheree says:

    No time at all to watch yesterday’s stage, so it was good to be able to read your recap. The Italians will be pleased to have had another stage win. Surprised that Nibali didn’t attack on the Aprica descent to make up ground on Scarponi maybe he’s keeping his powder dry for an attack on another stage.

    • Tim says:

      I was also surprised that Nibali didn’t attack on the last descent. It looked to me as if the road down was super-fast to begin with, and then twistier towards the bottom – surely perfect for Nibali to have at least had a go at Scarponi, who is only 47 seconds ahead. I guess he is conserving his energies for a big attack, but surely it wouldn’t have cost him that much to have a dig downhill?

      I read somewhere that this year’s Giro has swung dramatically away from the pattern of recent years, where stage wins have been dominated by Italians. This year I think the current score is Spain 6 Italy 3, and this was the first time a home rider had won a mountain stage this year.

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