SESTRI LEVANTE, Italy (VN) – Some say there are no miracles in cycling, but NetApp nearly pulled one off on the road to Assisi on Tuesday.
The upstart squad almost nailed a huge victory in its grand tour debut in Tuesday’s 10th stage when Bartosz Huzarski dashed to second place, just two seconds behind stage-winner Joaquim Rodríguez.
Everyone expected Rodríguez to win, but nearly everyone was surprised to see Huzarski stab his bike across the line for a tidy second place to give the German-registered NetApp team some well-deserved publicity.
“It was a very good day for us. I didn’t expect that I could have such a good final. I felt good and I am very happy with the result,” Huzarski told VeloNews. “Rodríguez is so strong in the finale like this, so to be second to him, it’s almost like a victory.”
The 31-year-old Polish rider is one of the key members of the NetApp team; the professional continental squad in its third season earned its first grand tour invitation for this year’s Giro.
Huzarski, who rode in the Giro once before with ISD-Neri in 2009, is hoping that the result helps motivates his teammates going into the decisive second half of the Giro.
With five major mountain stages left to go in the closing nine days, NetApp will be trying to ride into the breakaways, hunt for that elusive stage win and get as many riders as possible to Milano.
“Like all the small teams that start in the Giro, it’s very important for us. We are very happy to be here. So far, the race has been going well for us. We are looking forward to the coming stages,” he said. “It’s going to be very hard to win a stage. We are slowly going to the front, trying to get into the breakaways. Maybe with a little luck, it is possible. We are very motivated. We are still going to try.”
Huzarski has been one of NetApp’s strongest riders this season, riding to second overall at Coppi e Bartali and already posting two top-10s in the Giro.
First career grand tour stage-win for Bak
Lars Bak (Lotto- Belisol) timed it just right to deliver a dramatic solo victory out of a winning breakaway to secure his first career grand tour win in Thursday’s 12th stage.
Bak surged with less than 2km to go to catch his attacking rivals off guard. A solid time trialist, the hard-working Bak buried his head and drove home his first victory in three seasons.
“I tried to save my energy for the end,” he said. “I could see that Sandy Casar was the strongest in the breakaway. I had the luck and the perfect timing. When the others hesitated a little bit, I got 200 or 300 meters and I knew they could not close the gap. Sometimes you need a bit of luck.”
Bak, 31, has been a solid worker for such teams as CSC, High Road and now Lotto. André Greipel asked Lotto brass to pick him up so he could work for him in the sprints.
“I think I have 10 pro wins, and all of them have come when I have attacked in the final two or three kilometers,” the tall Dane said. “I always believed I could win a big race. I have been close before in the Vuelta and the Giro. Today is a dream come true.”
Bak overcame a broken hand earlier this season, which derailed his spring classics campaign. Now he’s hoping to earn a ticket to the Tour, where he wants to help Greipel take on Cavendish.
“André already beat Cav last year,” Bak said. “I hope to be selected for the Tour. We will have a great team, with André in the sprints and Jurgen (Van den Broeck) for the GC. This team has believed in me. I am so happy to give them something back.”
‘Purito’ plays poker with jersey
Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) was back on the podium Thursday afternoon to receive his pink jersey, but it’s thanks to Liquigas-Cannondale that he still has it.
Katusha was playing poker with the pink jersey, letting the breakaway open up enough time to allow Sandy Casar to take the virtual jersey. As Valerio Piva told VeloNews yesterday, the team was not averse to letting the jersey riding away today.
But Liquigas-Cannondale put legs on the front of the bunch over the day’s final climb to assure that Rodríguez would still be in pink, and keep the pressure on Katusha to control the race.
“We could see that other teams were not helping us control the stage. Smukulis crashed, so we decided to step back a bit and make the others work,” Rodríguez said. “Astana and Liquigas have to help us control the break.”
Asked whether that was a curse or a blessing, Rodríguez said he’s not afraid to carry the weight of the race.
“Our team is very strong. The Russians on the team are doing a great job protecting me on the flats, and then we have Moreno and Losada for the mountains,” he said. “We are taking the Giro as serious as it needs to be.”
Stage winner: Lars Bak (Lotto-Belisol) wins out of a breakaway for first career grand tour stage win
Pink leader: Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) keeps pink; Sandy Casar (FDJ-BigMat) rises to third at :22 back
Blue climber: Michal Golas (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) ends Miguel Rubiano’s six-day run in the KOM jersey
Red points: Mark Cavendish (Sky) defends the points jersey on his first full day in the jersey
White young: Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale) continues to lead young rider’s GC
Weather: chance of rain
The Giro’s summer holiday could come to an end as a cool front blows in. Temperatures are expected in the mid-60Fs, mostly cloudy skies and a chance of afternoon showers.
Tomorrow’s stage: Sprinter’s last chance?
The 95th Giro continues Friday with the shortest stage of this year’s edition. The 121km course starts in Savona in the Giro’s last view of the beach and climbs the Cat. 4 Montezemolo climb at 31.7km that should see the day’s main breakaway taking shape.
With five major mountain stages looming in the closing eight stages, the sprinter teams will be under the gun to set up their fastmen in what is likely the last shot for the pure sprinters in the pack. After some nasty finales in the last few sprints, everyone should be happy to see a mostly flat, dead-straight approach with 3km to go all the way to the line.
Expect to see some of the bigger stars to hit the “sprinter express” out of the Giro to regroup for the Tour de France.