With a brilliant bit of riding which caught the entire peloton off guard, Vacansoleil’s Thomas De Gendt won Stage 20 of the Giro d’Italia, and very nearly won the leader’s jersey, setting up a tight battle for the overall victory in Sunday’s Stage 21 time trialThe 25-year-old Belgian rider attacked just short of the crest of the Mortirolo climb, opened a five-minute gap on the descent and the gradual slopes up to the final climb of the day, and pushed on alone up the Passo della Stelvio, elevating himself from eighth to fourth in the General Classification and giving himself a great shot at winning overall in the individual time trial.
“I’m very happy to win on a legendary mountain climb like the Passo dello Stelvio,” De Gendt told velonation.com. “All the big names in cycling have won here too. I hope it’s a good sign for me. I think I’ve got a future in the Grand Tours.
“When I went on the attack my first thought was to make sure I had a bit of a gap at the start of the climb, to keep my eighth place overall,” he continued. “When I had three minutes and Cunego was a minute behind I started think of the stage victory. But it’s easy to lose five minutes on a climb like this and everything had to fall into place.
“I never thought of taking the pink jersey because I knew the others would go very fast in the finale. I’m happy with fourth or a place on the podium.”
De Gendt surprised everyone; while the GC favorites were watching out for Garmin-Barracuda’s Ryder Hesjedal, De Gendt, also an excellent time trialer, snuck away from the field. No one covered his attack because no one saw him as a threat; by the time he was flirting with taking over as virtual race leader, the GC favorites were locked into their strategies and could only hope the Vacansoleil rider wore himself out before he finished.
It didn’t happen; while De Gendt did lose two minutes of his lead in the final five kilometers, due to fatigue and pressure from Ryder Hesjedal, the Belgian rider stayed strong enough to guarantee himself a place on the podium, and to possibly challenge Hesjedal for the overall win. De Gendt will need to take a minute-and-a-half out of the Garmin rider, which is a lot to ask. Still, Hesjedal has been working a lot harder over the past several stages. Only tomorrow will tell how much each has left in the tank.
A Stage Designed to Upset GC
Stage 20 was a long hard climbing stage. 219 kilometers long and climbing five mountain passes, the route was perfectly designed for riders to attack and others to crack, upsetting the General Classification.
The stage started with a 14-rider break: Roman Kreuziger (Astana,) Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Barracuda,) Damiano Caruso (Liquigas,) Tom Slagter and Stef Clement (Rabobank,) Andrey Amador and Branislaw Samoilau (Movistar,) Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini,) Oliver Zaugg (RadioShack,) Matteo Carrara (Vacansoleil-DCM,) Mathias Frank (BMC,) Matteo Bono (Lampre,) Alberto Losada (Katusha,) and Jose Serpa (Androni.)
The breakaway had five minutes on the peloton after crossing the first three climbs—the Cat 2 Passo Tonale (10.1km long, 6.1k% average gradient, 8% max,) the Cat 3 Aprica (15.9km, 3.1% average, 9% max) and the Cat 3 Teglio (5.9km, 8% average, 15% max.)
The gap was down to three minutes when the break started the first real obstacle, the Cat 1 Mortirolo climb. This was a serious obstacle—11.4 km long with an average gradient of 10.5% average, with ramps up to 22%.
RadioShack’s Oliver Zaugg attacked the break one kilometer into the climb, soon joined by Movistar’s Matteo Carrara. Damiano Caruso, Christian Vande Velde and José Serpa took off after this pair.
Next: Rodriguez Attacks