After a day’s rest the 2013 Giro d’Italia is back on, and the rest day seems to have helped most riders: Stage 16 showed how much action can be packed into a stage in a cycling race.
Beñat Intxausti brought his Movistar team an extra dose of Giro glory with his win in Stage 16. The team finished second in the Stage two team time trial, and Intxausti took the maglia rosa in Stage Seven. The team lost the jersey in the Stage Eight time trial, but won the stage with Alex Dowsett setting the winning time.
Now Intxausti has earned the team a second stage win with a well-timed sprint after joining, and then attacking the maglia rosa group on the descent from the day’s final climb.
Big Breakaway, Constant Attacks
A 22-rider break escaped after non-stop attacks in the opening 45 km. This group crested the day’s first climb, the Cat One ascent up the other side of Mont Cenis and back into Italy from France where the stage started.
This group stayed away through most of the stage, but was never given much of a gap because it contained Cannondale’s Damiano Caruso, who was 18th in General Classification, only 9:57 behind the race leader. Katusha and RadioShack led the chase, giving Astana a welcome rest, and probably both hoping for a stage win. Astana was ready to help if needed to keep Caruso from advancing in GC.
As the breakaway approached the final fifty kilometers, the gap started dropping sharply; the peloton wanted to catch the escapees before the day’s final climb, the Cat Two Andrate, which started 25 km from the finish.
The breakaway fragmented quickly as rider after rider attacked and was chased down. Finally five got away and the Caruso fell back to the peloton. RadioShack sat up but Katusha kept pushing, perhaps hoping to get a stage win for Luca Paolini.
Stefano Pirazzi of Bardiani Valvole made impressive attempts to snatch up King of the Mountain points, attacking consistently if briefly all the way up the final climb, while the peloton, again led by RadioShack caught all the escapees just before the summit.
Pirazzi attacked again a few hundred meters from the KOM banner, and Ag2r’s Carlos Betancur. Pirazzi wanted the points but Betancur was after a stage win; he passed the Bardiani rider and streaked down the descent, followed by Euskaltel’s Sammy Sanchez.
Pirazzi at least got enough points to stay in the King of the Mountain jersey, possibly right through to the finale in Brescia.
Vincenzo Nibali showed his tremendous descending skills, catching Sanchez and Betancur 13 km from the finish line. The rest of the favorites: Cadel Evans, Michele Scarponi, and Rigoberto Uran—bridged across a kilometer later, followed after another couple of kilometers by fifteen or so riders.
Interestingly Vini Fantini’s Mauro Santambrogio, third in GC, wasn’t in this lead group. He had gotten lost along the way and was leading a chase group more than two minutes back.
The rest of the race was a series of non-stop attacks—Stefano Pirazzi again, Sammy Sanchez, Beñat Intxausti, Lampre’s Michele Scarponi and Przemyslaw Niemiec, Astana’s Tanel Kangert, Blanco’s Robert Gesink, Saxo-Tinkoff’s Rafal Majka, Androni’s Franco Pelizzotti all launched attacks in the final eight kilometers, all of which were caught, bringing further attacks.
Finally, three km from the finish, four riders: Intxausti, Gesink, Niemiec, and Kangert—managed to get a small gap over the constantly attacking bunch behind. Gesink tragically dropped out 1.8 km from the finish with a mechanical failure, so the remaining three fought among themselves for the stage win. [Editor's Note: Race organizers later gave Gesink the same time as the rest of the breakaway riders, since his problem occurred within the final three kilometers of the stage.]
Intxausti found himself at the front 500 meters from the finish, so he slowed, to force someone else into the lead. Niemiec passed him 450 meters out, as the three eyed each other, looking for a chance to make a move.
Niemiec attacked 400 meters out; either he thought he saw some inattention or he figured he couldn’t afford to wait any longer. The Lampre rider was immediately chased by Astana’s Kangert, who caught him after a couple hundred meters.
After Kangert made the catch, he eased up for a fraction of a second, which was all that Intxausti needed. The Movistar rider turned on the after burner and blasted past Kangert on the left, and stayed ahead all the way to the finish line. Intxausti advanced one place in GC to ninth.
Kangert and Niemiec were close enough at the finish to be awarded the same time. The rest of the race leaders streamed home 14 seconds behind the three, not fighting very hard as all the bonus seconds had been taken.
If Beñat Intxausti was the day’s big winner, Mauro Santambrogio was the day’s biggest loser, dropping from fourth to sixth in GC and losing two minutes to the other GC contenders. Przemyslaw Niemiec was a winner as well, gaining 42 seconds as well as advancing from sixth to fifth.
Honorable mention goes to Robert Gesink, who always seems to have one bad day or some bad luck to keep him off the podiums at Grand Tours. After losing four minutes on the frigid Stage Fourteen, losing fourth overall, the Blanco rider tired to redeem himself in Stage Sixteen, only to be foiled by a broken bike.