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Hansen wins wet, wild stage 7 at Giro d’Italia

Aussie gets emotional win in the rain; Hesjedal, Nibali, and Evans get big time gains on Wiggins

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Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) won stage 7 of the Giro d’Italia on Friday in Pescara, Italy. Hansen attacked from the day’s long breakaway to win solo after a wet, wild 177 kilometers.

Beñat Intxausti (Movistar) finished with the first chase group and pulled on the overall leader’s maglia rosa. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) moved up to second and third overall, five and eight seconds adrift, respectively. The Spaniard dedicated his day to his grandfather and his former teammate, Xavier Tondo, who died in 2011.

“I’m super happy. This tastes a bit different from a real victory, but it’s really important because grabbing the leader’s jersey in a grand tour is something unique,” said Inxausti. “It’s the reward for so many years of work, for all the work I did myself as well as the team, because all my teammates did superb work.”

Bradley Wiggins (Sky) crashed on the descent from the Cat. 4 San Silvestro climb and lost big time on the stage. He finished in a group with overnight leader Luca Paolini (Katusha), more than a minute down.

The Giro d’Italia continues Saturday with the 54.8km stage 8 individual time trial from Gabicce Mare to Saltara.

Hansen makes the break and thinks about the finish

Six riders made up the day’s long escape: Hansen, Dominique Rollin (FDJ), Emanuele Sella (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela), Ioannis Tamouridis (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Maarten Tajallingii (Blanco), and Pim Ligthart (Vacansoleil-DCM).

The group pushed out to more than seven minutes and Hansen said after the stage that with four short, categorized climbs ahead, he began to think about the finish.

“Normally I’m pretty good in a breakaway. When we had good time, I thought I had a good chance,” he said. “I don’t usually climb so bad, against specialists it’s another story, but in the breakaway, I’m not bad.”

The group carried more than two minutes onto the Cat. 3 Chieti-Pietragrossa with 39km to go.

Rigoberto Urán crashed on the steep Pietragrossa ramp after a rider in front of him slowed suddenly. The Colombian quickly remounted and stayed with the peloton.

Up front, Sella took top points at the day’s second of four categorized climbs to narrow his gap to mountains leader Giovanni Visconti (Movistar).

Fabio Taborre (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) launched a bid to bridge across to the breakaway with 35km to go.

Moments later, Hansen pushed the pace in the breakaway on the Chieti-Tricalle climb, splitting the group. Sella was the only rider able to follow, tucked in behind the big Lotto all-rounder on the climb.

Taborre pushed his way up the Tricalle ramp, just 100 meters ahead of the bunch. Behind him, the peloton exploded on the climb. Overall leader Paolini hung tight, six wheels from the back of the bunch.

Sella took top points on the climb and led down the upper portion of the descent, but the rain began to fall and trouble struck when he led into a tight, right-hand corner. Sella locked up his brakes and went down on the outside of the turn, leaving Hansen on his own.

The Lotto man continued on, but soft-pedaled and waited for his companion to rejoin him.

Sky led the bunch with three riders, Blanco and Lampre-Merida lined up behind them with 25.8km.

Taborre continued to push, joining Tamouridis 2:04 behind the leaders with 25.5km to go. Ligthart, Tjallingii, and Rollin were up the road a further minute.

Hansen went alone on the Cat. 3 Santa Maria de Criptis, less than 1:30 ahead of the peloton, and took top points on the climb. Sella was second over the line, but could not close the gap to Hansen. The Aussie was gone.

“Sella was the strongest rider on the climbs,” said Hanson. “I didn’t think he would expect a rider like me to ride on the climbs. I tried to break him mentally. I was surprised he cracked.”

Danilo Di Luca (Vini Fantini) surged partway up the climb and rode clear to Taborre, but Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) closed the gap quickly and split the peloton. The Vini Fantini breakaway man led over the top of the climb, with roughly 15 riders following. The peloton was soon back together. The three major GC favorites were each there: Nibali, Wiggins, and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp).

Up front, Hansen pushed hard down the descent to the day’s final climb, the Cat. 4 San Silvestro, searching for the line between speed and balance on the pooling tarmac. He held 2:05 on the peloton with 15km remaining.

“Lotto-Belisol’s won a stage here the last four years,” he said after the stage. “In the pre-race meeting, Marc Sergeant said, ‘One of you will win,’ and I thought, ‘why not me?'”

Tanel Kangert (Astana) attacked from the bunch and went solo. Behind him, Peter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge), Scarponi, and Robert Kiserlosvski (RadioShack-Leopard) launched. With the latter two outside GC contenders, the move sparked a reaction from Blanco. Steven Kruijswijk led the chase for teammate Robert Gesink in the peloton.

Meanwhile, Hansen had 1:15 on Sella and 2:47 on Kangert with 9km to go.

Nibali rolled past the Blanco tandem on the left on the descent with 8.5km to go and quickly distanced them. Yuri Tofimov (Katusha) followed and the surge put stress on the peloton and a number of riders overshot a left-hand corner, one man from Androni Giocattoli going down.

But soon it was Nibali’s turn to hit the pavement. As soon as he laid his bike into a wet, left-hand bend, the Sicilian was down, sliding 30 feet across the road. Tofimov went down as well. The pair remounted, their advantage erased.

“I didn’t even expect the second crash, but when it is wet and cold, I am one of the riders who goes better,” said Nibali. “Today was a very important finish, but there are still two weeks of racing left to this Giro, and a lot can happen.”

Wiggins crashes on the San Silvestro descent

Hansen kept pushing up front on the San Silvestro, holding roughly 50 seconds on Sella over the top. Sella crashed again on the descent, however, and the Weening group caught him.

“The whole time I didn’t believe it,” said Hansen. “I thought the bunch would come back. When I heard my lead was still two minutes 30 seconds with 6km to go, I thought, ‘it’s real, this time I’m bringing it home.’”

The peloton was just behind the chasers heading through the slick, right-hand bend and it was soon just Hansen alone off the front.

That’s when disaster struck for Sky’s Tour de France champion. Wiggins went down in the same spot Sella had trouble and quickly remounted. He gingerly pushed on, appearing to take no risks on the descent as he rode behind his GC rivals.

Lampre took up the pace-making in the reduced peloton and drove hard for Pescara. Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) was in the group, as were second overall Intxausti, Hesjedal, and Nibali.

“The finale was really hard because of the rain,” said Intxausti. “Nibali attacked and then crashed, I didn’t really know if Urán was behind, but I did know Paolini had been dropped.”

Urán and Sergio Henao dropped back to Wiggins and paced the 2012 Tour champion. Up ahead, Blanco took over the work in the small GC group, pushing for the line with roughly 30 riders. They were putting time into Sky’s captain ahead of Saturday’s stage 8 time trial — the day Wiggins was expected by many to take pink.

Hansen wasn’t thinking about any of this, however. The race for the overall wasn’t important. The biggest win of his career, the day before his 32nd birthday, was.

“We thought today would be the best day to be in the break,” he said. “This is the biggest win of my life. It’s a very special day. Tomorrow is my birthday, this is a good present for myself. This means a lot to me, I was very emotional when I crossed the line. I never thought this would ever happen.”

Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox led out the sprint and Enrico Battaglin was second. Di Luca was third, leaving no bonus seconds for the top GC men. From then, the clock ticked in wait for Wiggins and the pink jersey.

Wiggins joined a group of roughly 20 riders on the run-in to the finish and crossed the line on the same time of Paolini, more than a minute down on the big GC group. The time loss dropped Wiggins to 23rd overall, 1:32 down on Intxausti.

“This won’t change my goals and we will race the same way, trying to get a stage win and reaching as high as possible overall,” said Intxausti. “I don’t know still the gaps for tomorrow’s time trial, but we were all close before today and keeping the maglia will be hard, especially with the likes of Nibali or Hesjedal. But I’m confident I’ll do well.”

Wiggins was seen after the finish icing his right knee. Sky boss Dave Brailsford called Friday’s stage a setback, but said that Wiggins was not injured.

“Bradley’s fine. There’s no physical injury,” he said. “Ultimately, when you have difficult conditions like these and hard racing this type of thing can happen. It’s the Giro. You can have good days and bad days and you have to wait until the end to tot them all up and see where you are.

“It’s a setback, but Brad’s still very much in the hunt. We’ve now got to take each day as it comes, focus on fully recovering tonight and hitting the time trial hard tomorrow. We’ll see where we are tomorrow night and take stock of the situation then.”