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Italian national champion Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) was relegated after he appeared to have won the 17th stage of the Giro d’Italia on Wednesday, with a sprint between four riders who emerged from a large break that characterized the 230-kilometer race from Feltre to Tirano.
Visconti’s win, however, was negated after the UCI race jury ruled he had inappropriately pushed Lampre’s Diego Ulissi as the two neared the finish line. Ulissi launched his sprint with 150 meters to go and appeared to be gradually drifting toward the barriers as Visconti was attempting to come past on his left side. Visconti pushed Ulissi to the side, breaking the Lampre rider’s concentration and allowing the Italian champion to slide past and grab the win.
After the finish, the sprint triggered a heated discussion, and while it appeared that the race jury had initially found that Visconti was justified in trying to push the Lampre rider out of his line, a subsequent announcement declared Ulissi the winner of the stage, with Visconti relegated to third, behind Movistar’s Pablo Lastras.
Visconti was clearly angered at the finish line, calling Ulissi “a youngster who acts bad in the bunch and has a few things to learn.” He later defended his sprint, saying he was closed down by Ulissi as he tried to come up the left side of the road.
The ‘polemic’ added some fireworks to a hot, fast stage that saw no major shakeups in the overall standings, with Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) defending his pink jersey with just four days left in the 2011 Giro. Contador finished comfortably with the peloton as it crossed the line nearly 3:00 after the winners finished. Contador continues to hold a comfortable lead in the overall standings and had a relatively easy day in the peloton, enjoying a nearly five-minute lead over his nearest competitors.
Another break, but this time success
Odd as it may seem, Wednesday’s 230km stage with a Category 1 climb two-thirds of the way into the ride, was viewed by many in the peloton as an opportunity to “take a break,” after last weekend’s brutal series of mountain stages and Tuesday’s steep, uphill time trial.
With the GC picture largely settled, except for a battle for second place between Michele Scarponi (Lampre) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), the stage appeared to be perfect for a group of stage hunters to move out of the peloton in search of a win.
That was, indeed, the case, but it took more than 50 kilometers of attacks, counter attacks and new attacks before the day’s escapees finally moved ahead of the field. Joining Ulissi, Visconti and Lastras were Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Cervélo), Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Robert Kiserlovski (Astana), Kanstantsin Sivtsov (HTC-Highroad), Jesus Hernandez Blazquez (Saxo Bank-Sungard), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Alberto Losada Alguacil (Katusha), Ben Gastauer (Ag2r La Mondiale), Hubert Dupont (Ag2r La Mondiale), Mathias Frank (BMC) and Fabio Taborre (Acqua & Sapone).
Out of that group, Sivtsov was the highest ranked on GC, starting the day in 12th place, 10:58 out of first. His efforts would eventually move him into fifth place in the overall standings. His presence in the break didn’t cause a major panic in the peloton, but it did mean that Nibali’s Liquigas team assumed most of the day’s chase duties in order to keep the gap manageable and to keep the HTC rider from working his way into the top three.
While riders in the break largely cooperated over the day’s major climb, the Passo Deltonale, the unity began to unravel when the escapees reached the Category 3 climb to Aprica, just 18km from the finish. Despite a series of strong attacks on the climb, only Le Mevel was shed from the group.
It wasn’t until the final few kilometers – out in the flats on the way to Tirano – that a group of four emerged with a significant advantage over the rest of the break. Ulissi, Visconti, Lastras and Omega Pharma’s Bakelants entered the final kilometer with a solid 15 seconds on their pursuers. They soon turned their attention to each other and Ulissi was the first to attack with more than 700 meters remaining.
He was quickly reeled in and slipped to the back of the group, recovered and then launched another attack up the left side with 150m to go. Ulissi appeared to gradually drift toward the barrier, but it was not overt foul. Visconti, attempting to pass the Lampre rider on the left found himself boxed in and smacked Ulissi on the back, causing the Lampre rider to look over, move to the right and apparently opening the way for Visconti to grab the win.
“I was in the lead position and I was doing my own my sprint,” Ulissi said. “I didn’t move off my line by one centimeter. I felt him hit me and then scream at me. But I did nothing wrong. I was trying to make a clean sprint after being in the breakaway. I made a clean sprint.”
Apparently the race jury agreed and Visconti was relegated to the back of the group of three. After reviewing the video for several minutes, the jury found that Visconti twice smacked Ulissi on the hip and then lifted his hand off the bars to give a “che cazzo!” gesture before darting across the line “victorious.”
“Visconti made an error by raising his hand off the bars,” said two-time Giro winner Paolo Savoldelli. “Had he not panicked, he could have probably won the stage anyway, or had Ulissi disqualified instead of him.”
Lastras was left with nothing despite being one of the motors of the big group that peeled away in the 230km stage from Feltre to Triano.
He was hoping to claim victory to pay homage to Movistar teammate Tondo, who died Monday in a freak accident when he was crushed in a parking garage at Sierra Nevada. A funeral was held for Tondo on Wednesday, but Lastras came up just short in his bid for victory for his fallen teammate.
“(VIsconti) came across me as well. The sprint seemed a little strange to me. The jury decided, I don’t know. I think that Visconti, along with me, was the strongest rider in the breakaway,” said Lastras.
“These are the things of cycling.”