Eneco Tour stage 3 & 4: Gilbert runs for the hills, Sergent beats the clock

In what is proving to be a closely fought race of seconds, Taylor Phinney conceded the overall lead to Philippe Gilbert after the Belgian champion proved uncatchable on a hilly finish in the Ardennes. In turn, Gilbert then produced an excellent ride against the clock in damp conditions to leave himself within striking distance of new race leader Edvald Boasson Hagen after today’s individual time trial. The Norwegian now holds a slender 12-second advantage heading into the weekend’s final two stages, which includes a concluding 22-climb route on Sunday where Gilbert is sure to attack again in pursuit of overall victory.

Stage 3: Heers to Andenne, 191.2km

It came as little surprise when Philippe Gilbert attacked on the penultimate climb of a stage ideally suited to his strengths. And it was equally predictable when he arrived at the finish in Andenne eight seconds ahead of a select group of favourites. In claiming Omega Pharma-Lottos’s third victory in a row (after André Greipel had won stages one and two), he also relieved BMC’s Taylor Phinney of the overall race lead.

The day’s 191km route into the Ardennes featured several of the climbs used in the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège one-day classics, including the fearsome Mur de Huy. However, it was situated near the midway point and therefore relatively unimportant in terms of deciding the day’s winner. More critical to the result were La Flîme and the Côte des Aguesses, both of whose summits would have to be tackled inside the final 6km of the race.

The ever-present Julien Fouchard (Cofidis) was once again in the day’s breakaway, joined by Alex Rasmussen (HTC-Highroad), Stefan Van Dijk (Verandas Willems-Accent) and Tom Veelers (Skil-Shimano), with the four riders building a lead of close to ten minutes at one stage. However, their advantage soon tumbled as BMC and Omega Pharma upped the pace in the peloton – a healthy gap of six minutes with 75km to go was halved shortly after the 55km mark and was down to a single minute with 33km to go. Fouchard and Rasmussen soon sat up and allowed themselves to be absorbed back into the bunch, while Dutchmen Van Dijk and Veelers held on until 17km to go.

Omega Pharma kept the pack together on the following climb of the Côte de Saint-Roch, with Edvald Boasson Hagen beating Gilbert to claim the maximum three-second bonus at the intermediate sprint point. In the subsequent lull, Euskaltl-Euskadi’s Gorka Izaguirre jumped clear but was easily reeled back in at the 10km banner just before the penultimate climb of La Flîme.

Garmin-Cervélo’s Murilo Fischer – always easy to pick out in the green and gold colours of the Brazilian champion – set the initial tempo on the climb. However, Gilbert’s teammate Jelle Vanendert, who won on Plateau de Beille at the Tour de France last month, soon took over, tapping out a stinging pace which soon exploded the peloton and reduced the lead group to ten riders as Phinney dropped away.

Everyone knew what was coming next and sure enough with 7km remaining – about 1km from the summit – Gilbert kicked hard and accelerated away from the other favourites as if they were standing still. As David Millar (Garmin-Cervélo) later tweeted:

I knew he was going to go. He even told me when and where. I still couldn’t do anything when he did.

Gilbert maintained his early season dominance in the Ardennes

Millar tried to lead the chase but Gilbert was off down the road, flying over the summit and increasing his lead to 20 seconds before his pursuers began to organise themselves more cohesively. Nonetheless, the Belgian champion still had an eight-second advantage as he started the final climb of the Côte des Aguesses, which he was able to maintain all the way to the finish to claim his 15th win of the year and take over the overall lead, courtesy of the ten-second time bonus for winning the stage.

Boasson Hagen finished in the group of 16 eight seconds back to move into second overall, just five seconds behind the new race leader. Millar was right behind him, moving up to third at 13 seconds. Phinney crossed the line in a larger bunch a further 29 seconds later.

Gilbert was pleased to have won a stage and taken the overall lead, although he expected to lose it in Friday’s individual time trial:

It’s super to win a stage of the Eneco Tour. It’s even better to take the overall lead, even if I do not expect to stay in white after the time trial on Friday.

I expect to lose two to three seconds per kilometre. It will be very difficult. For me, David Millar and Edvald Boasson Hagen are the two super-favourites. I will do my best to try to limit the damage.

Stage 3 result:

1. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 4:54:53

2. Grega Bole (Lampre-ISD) +0:08

3. Ben Hermans (RadioShack) same time

4. Koen De Kort (Skil-Shimano) s/t

5. Linus Gerdemann (Leopard-Trek) s/t

Stage 4: Roermond, 14.7km individual time trial

Having held the lead for much of Monday’s prologue before eventually finishing seventh, RadioShack’s Jesse Sergent came out on top after a challenging 14.7km individual time trial in Roermond which was made doubly difficult by sporadically rainy conditions. As expected Edvald Boasson Hagen assumed the overall lead, but Philippe Gilbert rode well to limit his losses to set up an exciting final two days.

The route for this short time trial was particularly technical, featuring several narrow twists and turns, roundabouts and short cobbled sections. Rain showers which fell in the middle and late in the stage left several corners particularly damp, with considerable variation in conditions at different locations and times. Vacansoleil’s Jens Mouris, who had crashed heavily during the previous day’s stage, set the early lead time of 18:25. This stood for a considerable spell until HTC-Highroad’s Alex Rasumssen (fourth in the prologue) clocked 18:09. But the Dane’s benchmark held for only a few minutes until Sergent blitzed the course, recording 17:55 to become the only man to dip under 18 minutes.

Sergent stormed to his second win of 2011

Gilbert’s Omega Pharma teammate Jurgen Roelandts slotted into third with 18:15, but that was as close as anyone would get to Sergent’s time as rain started to fall again. Prologue winner Taylor Phinney, hampered by wetter conditions than the later runners, was eighth fastest in 18:25.

Third-last man on the road David Millar, who started the day just 14 seconds off the lead and was harbouring hopes of a big performance to catapult him into overall contention, could only manage 18:37 in the difficult-to-read conditions. He later admitted he had been too slow through the corners to set a really challenging time.

That left only the final two. Boasson Hagen attacked the course hard but without taking undue risks on the damper corners, finishing one position and two seconds behind Phinney with a time of 18:27. And finally Gilbert, equally powerful but less smooth, rode one of his best time trials to limit his deficit to Boasson Hagen to just 17 seconds. He lost the overall lead, but at 12 seconds behind – with a ten-second bonus for a stage win – he will rate his chances of retaking the lead and claiming overall victory on Sunday.

Stage winner Sergent had hoped for a high finish, but was pleasantly surprised with his victory:

I did not expect this at all. After my seventh place in the opening prologue, my confidence was up and I was hoping for a top five today. But my bad luck of yesterday became my good luck today. I only had 2km on wet roads.

Boasson Hagen said that he had highlighted this stage as his time to take the overall lead:

I had planned to take the overall jersey today. I was feeling quite good, but it was hard in the wet to go as fast as someone else did; but I managed to take the jersey, and that was the main goal, so I’m really happy with that.

However, he recognised that he would face a tough battle to hold Gilbert at bay, particularly on Sunday’s tough rolling stage:

12 seconds lead on Gilbert with two stages to go – I don’t know if it will be enough. But I’ll do all I can to win this Eneco Tour.

Tomorrow starts and finishes in Genk, with only two relatively mild climbs towards the end which are unlikely to see significant time gaps. However, Sunday’s concluding stage features 22 climbs with three short climbs in the final 15km which should provide the springboard for one final all-out attack by Gilbert to try to seize the overall win.

Stage 4 result:

1. Jesse Sergent (RadioShack) 17:55

2. Alex Rasmussen (HTC-Highroad) +0:14

3. Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:20

4. Vladimir Isaichev (Katusha) +0:27

5. Lars Boom (Rabobank) +0:27

General classification:

1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) 13:49:06

2. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:12

3. David Millar (Garmin-Cervélo) +0:18

4. Taylor Phinney (BMC) +0:27

5. Jos Van Emden (Rabobank) +0:47

Points classification:

1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) 92 pts

2. Taylor Phinney (BMC) 70

3. André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 60

4. Alex Rasmussen (HTC-Highroad) 49

5. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 47

Link: Official website

Eneco Tour recaps

Prologue: Phinney delivers on his promise with prologue win

Stage 1 & 2: Greipel doubles up but Phinney retains overall lead


Giro d’Italia stage 21: Millar wins stage, Contador wins overall – at least for now

Stage 21: Milan, 26km individual time trial

Britain’s David Millar (Garmin-Cervélo) claimed victory in the final stage of this year’s Giro d’Italia, an individual time trial in Milan. Alberto Contador took no risks in finishing third to secure overall victory by more than six minutes. It was his second Giro win in his first participation since taking the maglia rosa in 2008 but – unsatisfactorily – can only be regarded as a provisional victory until his hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is concluded.

Millar, the 56th out of 159 riders to set off on the shortened and largely straight 26km course, recorded a time of 30:13 to finish seven seconds ahead of Alex Rasmussen. The 26-year old Dane had been the fifth man to ride the course, but proved HTC-Highroad‘s strength in depth when it comes to time-trialling, despite the absence of specialists Marco Pinotti (retired, stage 19) and Tony Martin (not present).

The quality of the pair’s times was underlined as rider after rider failed to get close to the top of the timesheets – indeed, only four other men would record times within 60 seconds of Millar’s benchmark. Contador’s Saxo Bank Sungard teammate Richie Porte, who wore the maglia rosa last year, managed 30:56, while RadioShack‘s Yaroslav Popovych was a further 12 seconds behind. But only Contador himself, the last man off the start ramp, seriously threatened to displace Millar. The champion-elect was a second faster at the first checkpoint, but lost time steadily after that as he refused to take any unnecessary chances and eventually slotted into third spot, 36 seconds behind.

Millar's victory was his first individual Giro win

It confirmed Millar’s first individual stage win at the Giro (he also won the team time trial in 2008), and his ninth at a Grand Tour.

The other key point of interest was whether Vincenzo Nibali could overhaul a 56-second deficit to Michele Scarponi to snatch second spot. It always looked like a tall order – Nibali is considered to be a better time-trialist, but not by that much – and Scarponi was able to pace himself to manage the gap comfortably. In the end, he conceded just ten seconds of his buffer, and was a deserving runner-up. Depending on the outcome at CAS, he could yet be declared the overall winner.

Other than that, there was little change at the top of the general classification. Fourth and fifth-placed men John Gardet and Joaquim Rodríquez were known to be mediocre performers against the clock on flat courses, but had enough of an advantage over those behind them to preserve their positions, despite finisging 71st (2:51 down) and 40th (2:14) respectively.

However, José Rujano, the comeback story of this year’s Giro, conceded sixth to Roman Kreuziger after his 15-second overnight advantage proved to be nowhere near sufficient. And Mikel Nieve also slipped out of the top ten, swapping places with Kanstantsin Sivtsov, one of the stars of the first half of the race.

Contador won both the overall and the points competition (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

In addition to winning the overall classification, Contador won the points competition (by an enormous margin over Scarponi), while 2000 overall winner Stefano Garzelli had already confirmed his second mountains title in three years.

Overall the quality of the racing has been good, although it was a shame that the vast majority of the big Tour de France contenders elected to miss the Giro. The opening week saw the tragic death of Wouter Weylandt in a crash on stage three, and much of the final week largely became an exercise in watching Movistar constantly placing riders in breaks in the hope of gaining a win to dedicate to Xavier Tondó, which was finally achieved in last-gasp fashion with Vasil Kiryienka‘s victory yesterday (Saturday). But the middle portion of the race during which the overall result was shaped featured some incredible spectacles on a succession of some of the toughest climbs anywhere on the cycling calendar. And there can be no argument whatsoever that the strongest rider finished in the maglia rosa.

So now we wait. Contador dominated the opposition on the road – winning two stages and finishing second four times, gifting wins to others on two of those occasions – but it remains to be seen whether his victory will be allowed to stand. His CAS hearing, originally scheduled for mid-June, will not be concluded until after the Tour, which he should now be eligible to compete in. Regardless of the result of the hearing, it is a hugely unsatisfactory state of affairs from a fan’s point of view, particularly when you consider the alleged doping offence occurred more than ten months ago. And it is a sad reflection on the state of the sport that the level of dominance which Contador exhibited over his rivals must inevitably be tainted with suspicion. In cycling, seeing isn’t necessarily believing.

In the meantime, the Tour de France is now only five weeks away. There is plenty of great racing to be seen between now and then – the Dauphiné kicks off next weekend, for starters – so we can but hope that racing rather than doping attracts the greater attention between now and then.

Stage 21 result:

1. David Millar (Garmin-Cervélo) 30:13

2. Alex Rasmussen (HTC-Highroad) +0:07

3. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) +0:36

4. Richie Porte (Saxo Bank Sungard) +0:43

5. Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack) +0:55

General classification:

1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 84:05:14

2. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +6:10

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +6:56

4. John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale) +10:04

5. Joaquim Rodríquez (Katusha) +11:05

6. Roman Kreuziger (Astana) +11:28

7. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) +12:12

8. Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) +12:18

9. Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank) +13:51

10. Kanstantsin Sivtsov (HTC-Highroad) +14:10

Points classification:

1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 202 pts

2. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) 122

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) 121

4. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) 107

5. John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale) 97

Mountains classification:

1. Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) 67 pts

2. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 58

3. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) 43

4. Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 39

5. Gianluca Brambilla (Colnago-CSF Inox) 29

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

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

Stage 18: Capecchi finally puts Liquigas in the winner’s circle

Stage 19: Rain cannot dampen Tiralongo’s day in the sun

Stage 20: Victorious Kiryienka pays tribute to Tondó

Giro d’Italia stage 16: Contador victory confirms Giro rivals are racing for second

Stage 16: Belluno to Nevegal, 12.7km individual time trial

A commanding 34-second win by Alberto Contador in today’s mountain time trial underlined his dominance over the Giro d’Italia field and confirmed that, barring a major mishap, he will be crowned champion for the second time in Milan on Sunday. The remainder of this final week is now likely to boil down to a battle between Michele Scarponi and Vincenzo Nibali for the runner-up spot and the competition for the minor jerseys.

RIP Xavier Tondó, seen here competing for Cervélo at the 2010 Giro. (image courtesy of brassynn)

The day began with a minute’s silence to mark the death of Xavier Tondó. The popular 32-year old Movistar rider was killed in a freak accident yesterday (Monday) when he was crushed against his own garage door by a car.

The 12.7km parcours from Belluno up to the resort of Nevegal started with a short descent on twisty but fairly wide roads out from the middle of town before gently rising to the intermediate checkpoint after 5km. The steep part of the climb came after that, a punishing middle section which averages over 10% before easing off towards the end.

With the 165 starters setting off in reverse order of the general classification, Rabobank‘s Stef Clement set the early benchmark with a time of 30:08. Nearly 70 more riders would pass the finish line before Movistar’s Branislau Samoilau became not only the first man to better Clement, but also the first to dip under the half-hour mark by stopping the clock at 29:54. Italian national time trial champion Marco Pinotti (HTC-Highroad) and Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone), with a new best of 29:41, beat Samoilau’s time, but the Belarusian would not be surpassed again until the top eight set off.

Unsurprisingly, given the nature of this year’s race, which has seen the top of the general classification dominated by the strongest climbers, the top of the order in this mountain time trial would closely resemble the GC. After ninth-placed Joaquim Rodríquez (Katusha) had registered 30:00 dead, good enough for 11th at the end of the day, six of the top eight overall would finish in the day’s top seven (along with Garzelli). The only exceptions were Sunday’s winner and overall fifth-placed man Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) – whose mediocre 31:14 was only 36th-fastest – and AG2R‘s John Gadret, fourth overnight, who was surprisingly only 16th-fastest, having finished an impressive third on the equivalent stage last year.

First to ride the course from the top eight was Astana team leader Roman Kreuziger, who stopped the watch at 29:44 to slot in behind Garzelli. Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC), an accomplished time-triallist, was three seconds slower, which would be good enough for seventh. And then, surprisingly, stage 13 winner José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli), for whom this Giro has been something of a renaissance, went fastest with 29:34. Nieve and Gadret then failed to trouble the top of the timesheets, setting the stage for the top three.

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) set off like a man possessed, with his body and bike screaming ‘maximum attack’ as he flew through the corners on the way out of Belluno. He set what would stand as the fastest time at the – relatively meaningless – intermediate check, and kept the power down all the way up to the finish to set a stunning time of 29:29, taking 12 seconds off Garzelli. He was followed by Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD), whose relatively languid pedalling style was no less effective. It was touch and go all the way along the final kilometre, but he would fall just four seconds short of Nibali – still good enough to be the third best time.

That left only the maglia rosa, Contador. Hustling along the road with his customary high-cadence, low-geared rhythm, he was 13 seconds down at the check-point but kept calm and dosed his effort up the climb perfectly, eventually becoming the only man to break the 29-minute barrier. His winning time of 28:55 was a massive 34 seconds faster than Nibali, and he extended his overall lead over Scarponi to a massive 4:58.

Contador reacquianted himself with the pink jersey before dedicating his win to Xavier Tondó (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

Overall, however, there was little change in the order in the GC, with the differences between most riders being a matter of a few seconds. Rujano’s strong performance moved him above Nieve into fifth, while Igor Antón pushed David Arroyo out of the top ten.

Contador dedicated the win to Tondó:

His death has affected me deeply. Xavi was a good friend and in the last few races we always worked together for the victory. He was a very good guy, always happy and he was an incredible person. This victory is for him.

Nibali pronounced himself pleased with second place on the stage, and conceded that he is now racing only for the runner-up spot:

I did my best today, I could not do better. With second place more than five minutes before Contador, we have to say that now we are racing for second place.

Scarponi too admitted that the best man had won, but vowed to keep fighting to the end:

It’s clear that Contador is at another level. I will keep fighting. There are still some hard stages ahead of us. I would like to win a stage, but winning the Giro is complicated. I will try to remain optimistic.

However, Garmin-Cervélo’s David Millar summed up the race situation most succinctly when he said:

Alberto — you cannot touch him. He’s on a different level. It’s a race for second. No one else has a chance.

Stage 17 takes the peloton westwards for 230km across the northern edge of the country from Feltre to Tirano. This long day takes in a pair of categorised mountains, the testing Passo del Tonale (15.2km, 6.0% gradient) and the longer but more benign Aprica (15.4km, 3.1%). The descent from the final climb leads into a short, 7km run to the finish. Overall, the stage probably favours either a break or a small bunch sprint, although it would not be a surprise to see Nibali attack over the final summit and use his descending skills to look for either a stage win or at least an opportunity to close the 47-second deficit to Scarponi. It should be a relatively easy day for Contador and his Saxo Bank Sungard team.

Stage 17 profile

Stage 16 result:

1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 28:55

2. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:34

3. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +0:38

4. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) +0:39

5. Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) +0:46

General classification:

1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 62:43:37

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Roman Kreuziger (Astana) +9:47

9. Joaquim Rodríquez (Katusha) +10:25

10. Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +10:58

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

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

Giro d’Italia stage 5: Weening takes maglia rosa as Millar bites the dust

Stage 5: Piombino to Orvieto, 191km

On the first day of racing after the crash on Monday which claimed the life of Wouter Weylandt, Rabobank‘s Pieter Weening claimed a fine solo victory in Orvieto after launching a perfectly timed attack nine kilometres from the finish. On an exciting and eventful day of racing which saw Weening’s teammate Tom Slagter hospitalised with a broken jaw after another nasty crash, it was a welcome return to racing after a sombre day yesterday.

Weylandt’s friend Tyler Farrar and the eight remaining Leopard Trek riders retired from the race overnight, having crossed the finish line arm-in-arm in yesterday’s emotional and cathartic neutralised stage. BMC’s Martin Kohler launched a successful early solo attack, building a maximum lead of 12:50 before the Garmin-Cervélo team of maglia rosa David Millar decided it was time to reel him back in. By the time he reached the Croce di Fighine, the second of two categorised mountains 40km from home, his advantage had been pegged back to five minutes.

Millar toils in vain

Millar was dropped on this third-category climb, having earlier collided with Ángel Vicioso, who trailed him by just seven seconds at the start of the day, as they scrambled for bonus seconds at the day’s intermediate sprint. Both tumbled heavily to the ground but remounted with little more than road rash and bruised egos.

From the Fighine, nearly half of the final 40 kilometres were on three sections of strade bianche – dusty, unpaved white gravel roads – and a decisive split in the bunch appeared as a group of around 50 riders, including all the main contenders, went clear of the rest of the pack. Isolated from his teammates after being dropped, Millar eventually fought his way back to the front chase group, but the effort cost him dearly. Meanwhile, a series of attacks took place off the front of the favourites’ group, including a brutal but unsuccessful escape attempt by Vincenzo Nibali.

Stage 5 provided spectacular racing on the strade bianchi (image courtesy of official Giro d'Italia on Twitter)

Quick Step‘s Dario Cataldo and Rabobank’s Bram Tankink then fired off in pursuit of Kohler, but with around 25km to go first Cataldo slid off into a ditch and, a few hundred metres later, Tankink dropped his chain and watched helplessly as the chase group swept past. Weening then launched an attack of his own, and was joined by experienced cyclo-crosser John Gadret (AG2R LA Mondiale).

A bittersweet day for Rabobank

As his teammate up ahead pursued the leader, Tom Slagter crashed heavily with 15km remaining. He landed on his head but remained conscious, having fractured his jaw and needed facial stitches. He is being kept in hospital overnight.

Weening won his maiden Giro stage with a well-timed attack

Weening and Gadret made the junction to the tiring Kohler as they passed under the 10km banner. A kilometre later Weening accelerated, easing away from the other two who appeared to have no response and were gradually drawn back into the pursuing favourites’ group, which was being led by Lampre and Sky.

Nonetheless the Dutchman, riding in full-on time trial mode, powered on, holding a steady gap of around 40 seconds as he hit the final short but severe uncategorised climb – just 600m long but rising up to 12% gradient – 2km from the line. The climb slowed him virtually to walking pace but he held his nerve even as Sky’s Thomas Lövkvist launched an attack up the climb which was too much for the exhausted Millar, who plummeted out of the back of the group. Lövkvist’s attack was quickly pegged back, but the top riders were then content to keep a watchful eye on each other, allowing Weening to ride unchallenged to the finish to claim victory.

Geox‘s Fabio Duarte edged out Androni Giocattoli‘s José Serpa in the sprint for second as most of the main contenders – including pre-race favourites Nibali and Alberto Contador – finished eight seconds behind. A struggling Millar was 2:50 down and conceded the overall lead to Weening. Nibali is the best placed of the major contenders, 24 seconds down in sixth. Michele Scarponi is just two seconds behind Nibali, with Contador a further four seconds back.

Millar confessed he was unable to defend his jersey after his crash and the effect of allergies:

I have really bad allergies. I always get them in this part of Italy. I was blocked, it wasn’t possible [to defend the jersey].

Thursday’s stage six from Orvieto to Fiuggi is another day of medium mountains at 216km long. The riders will face an undulating profile with a sapping final 11km which features nearly 300 metres of steady climbing that will expose tired legs if the peloton attacks it at full racing speed. It is a good opportunity for a break to stay clear all the way to the finish.

Stage 6 profile

Stage 5 result:

1. Pieter Weening (Rabobank) 4:54:04

2. Fabio Duarte (Geox-TMC) +0:08

3. José Serpa (Androni Giocattoli) same time

4. Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Cervélo) s/t

5. Oscar Gatto (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) s/t

6. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) s/t

7. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) s/t

8. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) s/t

9. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) s/t

10. Roman Kreuziger (Astana) s/t

General classification:

1. Pieter Weening (Rabobank) 14:59:33

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

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

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

5. Pablo Lastras (Movistar) +0:22

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

7. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +0:26

8. Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank) +0:28

9. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) +0:30

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

Points classification:

1. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) 28 pts

2. Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Cervélo) 26

3. Pieter Weening (Rabobank) 25

4. Ángel Vicioso (Androni Giocattoli) 25

5. Fabio Duarte (Geox-TMC) 20

Mountains classification:

1. Martin Kohler (BMC) 10 pts

2. Gianluca Brambilla (Colnago-CSF Inox) 8

3. Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Cervélo) 5

4. Roman Kreuziger (Astana) 3

5. Sebastian Lang (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 3

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

Giro d’Italia stage 4: Peloton rides in tribute to Weylandt

Stage 4: Genova Quarto dei Mille to Livorno , 216km

Racing on the fourth stage of the Giro d’Italia was neutralised following the fatal high-speed crash suffered by Leopard Trek sprinter Wouter Weylandt yesterday.

David Millar, who yesterday became the first British rider ever to lead all three Grand Tours, consulted with Weylandt’s team on behalf of the peloton this morning to determine what to do. It was agreed that the stage would be neutralised and not count towards the overall classification. Instead everyone rode in tribute to the 26-year old Belgian, with the teams taking turns at the front to ensure a sensible pace.

Millar told the press before the start:

This is not a day to be fighting for position, but we do need to get to the finish as quickly as possible. We ride in tribute to Wouter.

What we do is very dangerous. This can happen every single day we race. That’s how crazy this sport is.

Leopard Trek general manager Brian Nygaard said the team would ride the stage in accordance with the wishes of Weylandt’s girlfriend An-Sophie De Graeve, who is expecting their first child in September, but that he would allow individual riders to make their own decisions about whether ot not to continue after that.

In a subdued atmosphere before the start the riders, each wearing a black armband, observed a minute’s silence and a military band played a bugle tribute. To share the workload, each team pulled at the front of the peloton for 10km in reverse order of the team classification, with the Garmin-Cervélo team of maglia rosa Millar taking the final turn. Leopard Trek rode the final kilometres to the finish together at the head of the peloton, just as the Motorola team of Fabio Casartelli did at the Tour de France in 1995. They were joined at the front by Garmin’s Tyler Farrar, a close friend of Weylandt. The line of nine riders crossed the finish with their arms around each other to the applause of a substantial crowd.

Leopard Trek and Tyler Farrar (third from right) cross the finish line together as the peloton pays tribute to a fallen comrade (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

Instead of the traditional jersey presentations after the stage, the Leopard Trek riders took to the podium for a further dedication to Weylandt.

Farrar has also decided to withdraw from the race. He lives in Weylandt’s home town of Ghent during the season, and the pair were friends and training partners. In a statement last night, Farrar said:

I am unbearably saddened by the loss of Wouter today. As many know, he was my friend, training partner, and in many ways, another brother to me. His death marks an irreparable change in my life but more importantly, in the lives of his family and most loved.

Wouter was one of the kindest, funniest, and most admirable people I have ever had the opportunity to know and his death is a tragedy to his family, his friends, and to the sport as a whole. I can only convey my deepest of sympathies to everyone who cared about him as deeply as I did, especially his family, his friends, his team and his fans – we celebrate his life and mourn his death in equal measure.

Wouter was and is the soul of this sport we all love – an athlete who sacrificed himself for the better of many and a champion who celebrated each glory as a victory for his family, his team, and his friends and fans.

I will remember him always, and will always strive to do him proud, as he has always done for the sport and people he loves.

Wouter Weylandt, 27/9/1984 – 9/5/2011 (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

Racing resumes tomorrow with stage five, a medium mountain stage of 191km from Piombino to Orvieto. The route includes two third-category climbs and a steep 600-metre kick-up with a maximum gradient of 12% two kilometres from the finish. This could favour a breakaway group or an attack by a punchy climber such as Euskaltel-Euskadi‘s Igor Antón, who has stated that his main focus for the race is stage victories rather than the overall.

After today’s introspection, the Giro goes on. Chapeau, Wouter.

Stage 5 profile

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

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