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Andrew Hood’s Giro d’Italia notebook: Menchov slides as Contador flies

The GC hopes of Denis Menchov and Joaquim Rodriguez took a blow as the pair ceded terrain in the brutal pace up the dusty steeps of Mount Etna.

Both lost more than two minutes as Alberto Contador confirmed his status as the man to beat. The Russian, who won the Giro two years ago, crossed the line at 2:16 and slipped to 20th overall at 3:18 back. Rodriguez, who was hopeful of making a run at the pink jersey after his strong Vuelta ride last fall, lost 2:21 on the day and fell to 22nd at 3:34 back.

Menchov’s Geox-TMC squad also saw stage-hunter Fabio Duarte pack it in Saturday. “This was my first Giro and I really expected a lot from myself, but also to help Menchov and Sastre,” Duarte said. “It’s a shame to have to leave the Giro, but it just wasn’t possible to continue.”

Also leaving the Giro Saturday was Chris Butler (BMC), who was diagnosed with a hairline fracture of his right pelvic bone from a crash on Monday. Butler crashed on Monday’s third stage, but did not learn the full extent of the injury until X-rays were taken after he finished Saturday’s 217-kilometer race. BMC Racing Team Chief Medical Officer Dr. Max Testa said Butler did not want to stop. “But it would be worse if he crashes again, and, because of the pain, he was riding completely twisted,” Testa said. “We’ll keep him off the bike for a few days, the put him on a rehabilitation program and hopefully he’ll be back in a few weeks.”

Riis happy with Contador’s exploits

Saxo Bank-Sunguard boss Bjarne Riis was happy with how star handled the proceedings in Sunday’s showdown on Mount Etna.

”It was such a remarkable and convincing attack from Alberto who did exactly what we had planned this morning and he executes the plan with perfect precision and flew away on the steepest part of the climb,” Riis said after the stage. “It’s an important win for Alberto, for the team and it’s a huge signal to everyone that Alberto is ready for everything. Now, we’re looking forward to celebrate the jersey on tomorrow’s rest day and we will take the race day by day from then on.”

Riis was right in the middle of the action when he gave Contador a well-executed bike shove after Contador switched bikes in a planned switch with about 30km to go.

McEwen, Brown miss time cut

The remaining sprinters will have two less rivals when the mass gallops resume next week after veteran Australians Graeme Brown (Rabobank) and Robbie McEwen (RadioShack) missed the time cut in Sunday’s two-climb stage up and down and up again Mount Etna.

The pair crossed the line at nearly one hour behind winner Alberto Contador at 59:35 back, well beyond the time cut.

How tight was the time cut? Well, the final group of riders to cross the line without being eliminated came in at 26:35 back, missing elimination by a scant 30 seconds. Last across the line was Mark Cavendish, who is still looking for his first stage win of this Giro. Also in the group were Mark Renshaw, Adam Blythe and Danilo Napolitano.

The jerseys

PINK: Alberto Contador ended Pieter Weening’s four-day run in pink. The Dutchman was dropped with about 15km to go and dropped to 32nd at 6:42 off the pace.

RED: Contador also grabs the red points jersey from Alessandro Petacchi, who slipped into second with 64 points to Contador’s 65.

WHITE: Roman Kreuziger (Astana) moved solidly into the young rider’s jersey.

GREEN: Filippo Savini (Colnago-CSF Inox) snagged the climber’s jersey after taking points over the first passage up Etna.

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