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Giro d'Italia

True to his word, Domenico Pozzovivo attacks in 1st mountain test

The diminutive Italian promised to give it a go on Saturday, and he did, taking time from many of the top favorites

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OROPA, Italy (VN) — Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) provided something to cheer about for the grappa-drinking locals on the slopes above Biella. In addition to a stage win with Italian Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani) in the shadow of Oropa’s Sanctuary, they celebrated little Pozzovivo’s attack on the Giro d’Italia’s race leader.

“Everyone was asking the favorites if we’d attack this morning,”said  the 5-foot-5 rider from Basilicata. “I told those who asked that if I’m in my usual condition, I’d attack. And I did.”

With a breakaway still up the road, Pozzovivo shot clear from Giro leader Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). Somewhere around 4.7km from the finish, where the road tips up at 10 percent grades, he left the Giro’s top three in his wake: Urán, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo). Only Nairo Quintana (Movistar), the Colombian climber who placed second overall in the Tour de France last year, latched on.

“Maybe it was too soon, but since that the others appeared to be on their limits, I went,” Pozzovivo said between coughs. “Quintana followed, but that’s just it, he followed. He never gave me a hand, and only came around to sprint.”

Quintana led the overall favorites to the finish line at the foot of the UNESCO World Heritage site. He left Pozzovivo and Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) behind by four seconds, Majka by eight, Evans by 20 and Urán by 25.

“Besides Quintana, the others I saw were pretty much all out,” Pozzovivo said. “Above all, I saw Evans a little fatigued through the day, but he defended himself well.

“It looked easy for Urán today, but maybe he paid a little in the end. I wish I could’ve put more time into Majka to take his third spot, but he’s a fighter who never seems to give up.”

Pozzovivo remained fourth overall, now 2:11 behind Urán, and 36 seconds behind Majka. More importantly, for those fans standing on the roadside, he represents Italy’s best chance to win the 2014 Giro.

Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) is focusing on the Tour de France this year. Astana also has Fabio Aru, but he has less experience and trails further at seventh overall, 3:16 back.

Pozzovivo, who was kissed and sent off by his girlfriend in Agliè on Saturday, took confidence from his and his team’s performance. Ag2r has protected him well and sent its men to the front at the right time. On Saturday, the team set a high pace near Favaro for Pozzovivo’s attack.

“My team is backing me, you saw it again, that’ll be important for the next week,” he said. “We are chipping away at the Giro’s pink jersey. You have to do that in modern cycling because it’s too hard to take off from the base of the climb. The teams are too organized and they can pull you back when they want. Already going at five kilometers out is a risk.”

He expressed confidence in a podium place and even in his overall chances, but he added that nothing is secure until he reaches the top of Monte Zoncolan next Saturday.

To get there, Pozzovivo must keep “chipping away” over the Alpine stages in the last week of the Giro.