Giro Notebook stage 14: Amador scores for the Ticos; Pozzovivo still believes; Schleck, Cav hang tough

Amador scores for the Ticos; Schleck still suffering; Cavendish vows to stay in the Giro

CERVINIA, Italy (VN) — Andrey Amador (Movistar) made history Saturday by becoming the first Costa Rican to win a grand tour stage with victory in the 206km 14th stage from Cherasco to Cervinia.

Amador was part of a big, eight-man group that held a 10-minute lead over the first of two Cat. 1 climbs. He attacked off the descent of the Col de Joux to pass Jan Barta (NetApp) and eventually out-kicked Barta and Alessandro De Marchi (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) to win, also fending off a hard-chasing Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda).

“We knew that today and tomorrow would be good opportunities that a breakaway would stay clear,” he said. “I rode the first 10km of the final climb alone, trying to conserve my energy because I knew they could catch me. We were all very tired in the end, but I had enough legs to win. I am very happy.”

Amador has a unique background. His mother is Russian, his father Costa Rican and his grandparents Spanish. A pro since 2009, this was Amador’s first professional win and he delivered it in style with a gutsy ride.

“Of blood, I am Costa Rican. We are a small country, but cycling has a following there,” he said. “When I was 12, I received a mountain bike as a Christmas present and I entered the world of cycling. In 2007, I went to Spain to race as an amateur, and after two years, Eusebio (Unzue) offered me a contract at Movistar. And here we are now.”

Saturday was Amador’s third breakaway effort of the week and the hard effort paid off.

The last couple years were tough, though. Over the winter of 2010, he was beaten up and left for dead after thugs stole his Pinarello bike back in Costa Rica. Then last season, he broke his clavicle and missed a planned Giro start. After becoming the first Costa Rican to race the Tour de France last summer, he crashed out with a broken ankle.

“The incident happened a long time ago. It’s all forgotten,” he said. “I have come into this season more concentrated and now I am seeing the results. I am very happy right now with this victory after being third the other day.”

Pozzovivo likes his chances

Domenico Pozzovivo (Colnago-CSF) could be the big surprise in this year’s Giro d’Italia.

Already a winner of stage 8 at Lago Laceno, Pozzovivo believes he has more in the tank.

“I believe I have possibilities for the final podium,” Pozzovivo told VeloNews. “I am in good form this year and I have already won a stage. Now I can ride with the idea of fighting for the GC.”

Giuseppe Martinelli, the veteran sport director at Astana, has already said that the puckish Italian climber is someone to watch during this year’s Giro.

“For me, the big surprise of this Giro could be Pozzovivo,” Martinelli told VeloNews. “He’s on very good form and could be a danger man for the favorites. We cannot let him get away from us on the big climbs.”

The 5-foot-5 Pozzovivo, who tips the scales at 118 pounds, is enjoying his best season since turning pro, winning a stage and the overall at the Giro del Trentino in the build-up to the Giro d’Italia.

Pozzovivo said he hopes to make it to Monday’s rest day with all options on the table.

“The final time trial will not be so decisive as in years past,” he said. “The final weekend’s stages will decide everything. Whoever has the legs on those days can win. I hope to be close to the podium.”

Pozzovivo is not your typical cyclist. He showed off his piano playing skills on live Italian TV and he undertook post-graduate studies at university.

Pozzovivo ended Saturday’s stage still in contention, riding across the line with the favorites in 12th, at 46 seconds back, to slot into 10th overall, 1:21 behind Ryder Hesjedal. Let’s see if he gets the calculus correct for a run at the final podium.

Schleck endures tough day

Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) gutted through a tough day in the saddle Saturday. Still nursing a sore shoulder and back from his crash Thursday, Schleck was dropped early on the Col de Joux climb but later latched on to the group coming up the Cervinia climb.

Looking dazed at the finish line, Schleck managed to cross the line 11th, at 46 seconds back, with the same time as the favorites and settled into 15th overall, 2:20 off the pink jersey.

“Today was very difficult,” Schleck told VeloNews at the finish line. “I have a lot of pain. It was not easy.”

Sprinters head for greener pastures

With only two stages remaining that are tailored for the sprinters (stages 16 and 18), many of the Giro’s fast men packed their bags Friday night to reload for the Tour de France and Olympic Games.

Mark Renshaw (Rabobank), J.J. Haedo (Saxo Bank), and Brett Lancaster and Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) were among the sprinters that did not start Saturday’s climbing stage. French sprinter Arnaud Demare (FDJ-BigMat) later abandoned during the stage.

Mark Cavendish (Sky) is still in the Giro, at least for now, living up to the promise he made Friday that he would not leave the race. Cavendish has won points jerseys at the Tour de France and Vuelta a España, and could complete the grand tour sweep if he can make it all the way to Milan in the red jersey.

“It wasn’t so hard in the climb today. It’s more difficult here at the finish line than during the stage,” Cavendish said when he was mobbed by journalists after finishing in the gruppetto. “I plan to stay in the Giro. I felt OK today. The Giro is a beautiful race and I want to try to get to Milan.”

Race Notes

Stage winner: André Amador (Movistar) wins the first grand tour stage for Costa Rica
Pink leader: Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) recaptures lead, now :09 ahead of Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha)
Red points: Mark Cavendish (Sky) defends the points jersey
Blue climber: Marcus Golas (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) defends the KOM jersey, despite missing out on the breakaway
White young: Rigoberto Urán (Sky) slots into the lead

Weather: More rain on horizon
Cool, rainy weather is expected for the afternoon, with temperatures at the finish line in the high 50s F, mostly cloudy skies and a 50-percent chance of afternoon showers.

Tomorrow’s stage: No walk in park
The 95th Giro d’Italia continues Sunday with a challenging, potentially explosive stage with the second-straight mountaintop finale. The 169km route from Busto Arsizio to Pian dei Resinelli starts off relatively mild, with 70km of rolling terrain until the base of the Cat. 1 Valico di Valcana climb, the most difficult so far in this Giro. The 11.6km climb has an average grade of 8.1 percent and features ramps as steep as 17 percent. Anyone who loses contact here will have a tough time getting back.

After a harrowing descent, there’s an unrated climb ahead of the Cat. 3 Forcella di Bura at 124km, and the Cat. 2 Culmmie Di San Petro at 144km. From there, it’s straight down to the base of the final, second-category climb to the summit.

The final, 7.8km climb averages 7.8 percent, with a steep wall of 12 percent right at the base. The twisting climb features no less than 15 switchbacks and will favor the likes of Rodríguez and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD).

There are no finish-line time bonuses, something that will favor the race leader who can follow wheels without the danger of losing seconds on placement.