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Giro d’Italia stage 18: Capecchi finally puts Liquigas in the winner’s circle

Stage 18: Morbegno to San Pellegrino Terme, 151km

Vincenzo Nibali‘s hopes of overall victory may have vanished, but his Liquigas-Cannondale team salvaged a measure of pride as Eros Capecchi proved the strongest in a three-up sprint to give the team their first win in this year’s Giro d’Italia. It was only the 24-year old’s third professional victory.

The profile of the stage from Morbegno to San Pellegrino Terme, the town famous for its bottled water, was essentially flat until the last 40km. However, the peloton was in no mood to allow a break go too early, completing the first hour at 53kph and clamping down on every escape attempt until close to the halfway point. Finally, a group of 19 riders formed and was allowed to extend a comfortable lead over the main bunch.

The break continued together until it hit the slopes of the day’s one major climb, the second category Passo di Ganda. This 9.2km. 7.3% climb has a fairly steady gradient for most of its length, with the final 2km being its toughest stretch, featuring a leg-sapping 15% section. Six men – Jérôme Pineau and Kevin Seeldraeyers (both Quick Step), Russell Downing (Sky), Gianluca Brambilla (Colnago-CSF Inox), Marco Pinotti (HTC-Highroad), and Capecchi – initially rode clear of their breakaway comrades on the lower slopes of the climb. However, the pace proved to be too much for Pineau, Brambilla and Downing, leaving Capecchi, Seeldraeyers and Pinotti to forge ahead.

The peloton skirts along the edge of Lake Como during stage 18 (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

The leading trio rode together over the summit with Brambilla clinging grimly on about 20 seconds behind. Meanwhile, the peloton was happy to follow four minutes back, with Giovanni Visconti launching a solo attempt to bridge the gap to the leaders in the hope of redeeming himself for his bungled sprint yesterday.

With Brambilla gradually falling back, he was subsequently joined by Astana‘s Paolo Tiralongo, but the pair were unable to make any inroads on the front three. Behind them, the peloton were now in cruise control as they allowed the gap to the leaders to slip out beyond seven minutes.

In the closing kilometres on the run in to San Pellegrino, the cat-and-mouse started in earnest. Having tried an exploratory dig three kilometres out, Pinotti subsequently found himself trapped at the front and unable to drop back behind the others. At one stage, the trio came to a virtual standstill before a resigned Pinotti set off again. Around the final corner with 250m left, he was left with no option but to open up the sprint, setting himself up as an easy target for Capecchi, who came around him and easily hit the line first.

An emotional and exhausted Capecchi said he was delighted with his win, having struggled to find form so far during this Giro:

I haven’t had a lucky Giro. I wasn’t going as well as I wanted. To win this stage brings me incredible joy.

All the major contenders – including the top three Alberto Contador, Michele Scarponi and Nibali – arrived safely in a group of over 60 riders 6:04 behind the winner. The top of the general classification remains unchanged. Of greater interest for Contador, though, was the news that the Court of Arbitration for Sport has agreed to postpone the UCI and WADA‘s appeal in his clenbuterol doping case until at least mid-July, which opens the door for him to compete in the Tour de France.

Stage 19 will be a more challenging day for the peloton as it concludes with a summit finish. However, a big attack from one of the top riders is unlikely as the final climb is not that challenging and many will want to save energy for the more difficult Sestriere climb on Saturday. The day’s 209km route from Bergamo to Macugnaga takes in the first category Mottarone (13.8km, 6.2% average gradient) about two-thirds of the way through the stage, an awkward and variable climb which touches gradients as high as 14% early and late in the climb, but also features a short descent midway, before the final 4km averages around 9.5%. The stage ends on the Macugnaga, a seemingly interminable (28.2km) but mild (3.9%) mountain, which is steepest at the beginning before a long and relatively straightforward ascent to the summit finish. It should be yet another opportunity for a breakaway rider to make a name for himself.

Stage 19 profile

Stage 18 result:

1. Eros Capecchi (Liquigas-Cannondale) 3:20:38

2. Marco Pinotti (HTC-Highroad) same time

3. Kevin Seeldraeyers (Quick Step) s/t

4. Gianluca Brambilla (Colnago-CSF Inox) +1:20

5. Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) s/t

General classification:

1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 71:45:09

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) 29

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

Stage 17: Ulissi wins, Visconti relegated when push comes to shove

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

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