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Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) won stage 17 of the Giro d’Italia on Wednesday in Vicenza. Visconti escaped over the only categorized climb on the 214-kilometer route from Caravaggio to Vicenza and won his second stage of the race solo. It was Movistar’s third consecutive stage win and fourth of the race.
Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp) was second and Luka Mezgec (Argos-Shimano) was third.
I am back to the rider I knew I was,” said Visconti. “Your head can make you feel good, but it can also hold you back. After my victory up the Galibier [on Sunday], I now have such good sensations. I was tired yesterday, but today the legs felt good again.”
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) retained the overall lead with four days of racing remaining. The Sicilian leads second overall Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) by 1:26 and Rigoberto Urán (Sky) by 2:46.
The 96th Giro d’Italia continues Thursday with the 20.6km stage 18 time trial from Mori to Polsa. The climbing time trial is the first of three consecutive stages that will decide the final general classification of the race.
An early breakaway and a long, flat road
The day’s long breakaway formed almost from the start, with a four-man group cutting loose: Miguel Angel Rubiano (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela), Gert Dockx (Lotto-Belisol), Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEdge), and Maxim Belkov (Katusha).
The escapees pushed out to a maximum advantage of 4:40, Astana taking up its position on the head of the peloton for Nibali.
With the Cat. 4 Crosara climb looming, Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Argos-Shimano, and Cannondale traded pulls at the head of the peloton and the gap was under three minutes with 40km to go.
The leaders took 1:10 onto the short Mossano ramp, 29km from the finish.
Belkov dropped off the pace and Rubiano, Durbridge, and Dockx were soon alone at the front, pushing their advantage out to 1:20. Behind them, Omega Pharma and Vini Fantini-Selle Italia set the pace, the latter’s Danilo Di Luca looking hungry for an attack.
The winning move on the Crosara climb
The escapees kept pushing across the flat run-in to the Crosara climb, 22km from the finish. They carried a one-minute advantage onto the 5.3km, 6.7-percent ramp, Rubiano leading the way.
Dockx soon dropped off the pace in the breakaway. Durbridge was next and with 21km to go, Rubiano was alone.
Vini Fantini finally attacked with Alessandro Proni and Di Luca with 22km to go. Proni led “The Killer” away from the peloton and when he was empty, Di Luca continued on and soon rode past Dockx.
The peloton was 15 seconds behind with 20.7km to go. Rubiano was 25 seconds ahead of Di Luca. The Colombian pushed up the climb, his mouth hanging open.
Lampre-Merida led the peloton with three riders and they soon overtook Dockx and Durbridge. With 20.5km to go, Rubiano was the lone survivor of the breakaway.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) held tight in the peloton, 10 or so wheels from the front, but began to drop off the pace near the top of the climb. He had two teammates with him, though they appeared to be struggling more than the points classification leader.
Di Luca drew even with Rubiano with 19.7km to go. Stage 15 winner Visconti attacked from the bunch and quickly rode across to the pair, making three leaders with more than 2km left to climb..
Still, Lampre chased with Astana’s Tanel Kangert leading Nibali just behind the blue and pink jerseys.
Visconti upped the pace and dropped Di Luca. Rubiano struggled to stay on the Italian’s wheel on the false flat 1.8km from the summit and he came unhitched before the rode fell away for the 8km descent to the final approach to the finish.
“I saw Di Luca and Rubiano ahead,” said Visconti. “I caught them and dropped them on the climb. I dropped Rubiano because he is fast in the sprint. Then I just gave it full gas on the descent and flat.”
Visconti pushed hard down the descent, dropping down into a low tuck on his top tube at every opportunity. The twisting, single-lane descent tested his bike-handling skills and he took every risk for his second stage win of this Giro.
Rubiano continued to chase, but Visconti was out of sight with 12km to go. The Vini Fantini-led peloton caught him soon after and Visconti was the lone escapee.
Visconti pushes the final approach to Vicenza
The former Italian champion jumped out of corners on the descent as though he were racing a criterium, catching and passing race motorcycles and support cars. He held 29 seconds when he reach the 8.2km flat leading to Vicenza.
Cavendish was over a minute behind the peloton and would not see the front of the race again.
Wilco Kelderman (Blanco) rolled off the front of the group with 8.5km to go, but Fabio Felline (Androni Giocattoli) countered.
Visconti was still 23 seconds clear with 6.7km to go. He leaned over his handlebars, his forearms pressed onto his bars, his hands wrapped around the fronts of his brake levers.
“Today was something spontaneous,” said Visconti. “It was bold to attack the way I did. I put my head down, kept calm, and decided to pedal full-gas. The kilometers slipped by.”
The peloton caught Felline and a Euskaltel-Euskadi rider countered. Franco Pelizotti (Androni Giocattoli) followed, with another rider on his wheel. The move split the bunch into at least three groups, but roughly 40 riders came back together with 2.5km to go.
Nibali stayed to the left in the first chase group, 10 wheels from the front, tucked in between two Astana teammates.
Visconti clung to his 23-second advantage with 4.5km to go. The pain showed on his face, but he continued to churn out a high cadence.
Michele Scarponi (Lampre), Nicola Boem (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox), and an FDJ rider jumped, but the group soon drew them in. With 1.5km to go, Visconti led the chase group by 23 seconds.
Visconti kept pressing, pushing his speed to the maximum through the final corners. He rode onto the finish straight with enough room to celebrate and pumped his fist as he took his second stage of the 96th Giro and Movistar’s third in a row.
“When I saw the neutral service car behind me, I knew I’d won it,” said Visconti. “The cheering of the crowds made the hairs stands on the back of my neck. On the final corner, with 200 meters to go, everything around me was like a dream — beautiful. In the final 50 meters, I was already thinking of the photograph in tomorrow’s papers, the photo I’ll put on the wall at home. What more could I ask for?”
Navardauskas took the group sprint for second, raising his arms to appear as though he thought he’d won his second stage of the race.
Mezgec was third, just ahead of Pozzato.
Nibali finished in the group, along with his top GC rivals, to protect the maglia rosa ahead of Thursday’s uphill time trial.
“Tomorrow is a very important stage,” said Nibali. “It will go a long way toward deciding the GC. I usually do well in climbing time trials. I will have the advantage of starting last, so I will know the time gaps to my rivals. I’d like to win a stage before the Giro is over, but the most important is to defend the pink jersey.”