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SAN PELLEGRINO TERME, Italy (VN) – Sometimes the best racing in the Giro d’Italia happens before RAI begins to broadcast the race. That was certainly the case in Thursday’s short but explosive 151km 18th stage from Morbegno to San Pellegrino Terme.
With time running out for teams hunting for stages, the attacking began from the gun as riders fought to get into a breakaway or to chase one down they might have missed. The pace was fast and furious as a series of attacks unfolded without success in the first two hours of racing.
“It was non-stop attacks, because every team wants to get in it because it’s at the end of the race and it has a good chance of staying away,” said Garmin-Cervélo’s Peter Stetina, who tried several times to sneak away. “It was technical, but it wasn’t hilly at the start, so we could go fast. There was never the right combination of riders or teams and no one was ever satisfied. It was one of those days.”
By the time a break pulled clear coming into the day’s main hurdle in the second-category Passo di Ganda at 120km, the peloton had barely raced two hours.
In the end, the winners crossed the line 20 minutes earlier than projected, with an average speed of 45.157kph.
“That was the fastest day in a stage race I’ve ever had,” said stage runner-up Marco Pinotti (HTC-Highroad). “The first two hours were like a classic. It was so fast.”
It wasn’t easy on anyone. Race leader Alberto Contador at one point looked around and didn’t see many Saxo Bank-Sungard jerseys as the bunch barreled through the hilltop town of Bergamo at 91km.
“The stage was incredible. We raced 54kph in the first hour and 51kph in the second,” Contador said. “There was a moment when it was complete chaos. Finally a group got away and there was no one dangerous in it, and things started to calm down a little bit. It was another day of expending a lot of energy, very demanding, but we got through it.”
Stage-winner Eros Capecchi (Liquigas-Cannondale) said he tried three times to attack until finally finding the winning group as the peloton barreled toward the Ganda climb.
“The first two hours were at 50kph, it was something impressive,” Capecchi said. “It was if the race was under a spell, so I said to myself, if there’s going to be a break, it won’t come until the final climb. I tried two or three times early, then I waited to try again.”
One reason for the dogfight was the ongoing battle between Astana and Movistar for the team classification. Astana started the day, leading Movistar by 4:14, so neither team was going to let the other get into a move without putting one their riders in the break.
“It was amazing today. We arrived to the feed zone and we had barely finished digesting breakfast. It was a terrible fight and, in our case, a huge war with Astana for the team classification,” said Luís Pasamontes, who did manage to work into the day’s final move. “They marked us a lot and this really affected the breakaway attempts.”
Astana won the battle of the day, placing Paolo Tiralongo fourth at 1:20, which Pasamontes struggled on the final climb to settle into 13th at 4:34 back. That allowed Astana to widen its lead Movistar to 7:30.
With two more road stages on tap, this bitter battle between Movistar and Astana should keep things exciting long before the TV coverage ramps up each afternoon.