Lotto-Belisol’s Adam Hansen gave himself a fantastic early birthday present in Stage Seven of the 2013 Giro d’Italia. One day before his birthday, the big Australian joined a breakaway 30 km into the hilly 177-km Stage Seven and pressed on when all the others cracked, crossing the finishing line a minute ahead of the chasers. It is by far the biggest win of the 31-year-old Aussie’s career.
“When the breakaway formed, normally I’m pretty good in a breakaway—we had good time, so I thought, ‘Okay, maybe I have a chance,’” Hansen told Eurosport.com’s Dan Lloyd.
Hansen is huge for a cyclist, six feet tall and 160 pounds; normally dedicated climbers are much smaller and lighter—the less mass they have to pull uphill, the faster they can go. Nonetheless Hansen had the power to drop the finally breakaway companion, Emanuelle Sella, who is several inches shorter and several pounds lighter.
Hansen rode the final 20 km alone. He is a former Australian national time-trial champion, so putting in a huge solo effort to win a race is familiar to him.
When asked if he was surprised that he was able to drop the rest of the breakaway on the climbs, Hansen replied, “I don’t usually climb so bad. Against a specialist it’s one thing, but in a breakaway, normally I’m not such a bad climber.”
Lotto rider Lars Bak won this stage in 2012; Hansen felt he was carrying on the tradition.
“Lotto-Belisol’s won a stage here [in the Giro] the last four years and preparing for this race our race director said we should also win one stage, so I thought maybe I’m the lucky one.”
Hansen had to work hard for the win. The stage offered up hill after hill, all short but some with gradients up to 19 percent, and the final third of the race was wet. Hansen kept it upright while many others slid on the slick pavement, including Androni’s Emanuele Sella, who rode alone with Hansen from the 35-km mark but crashed twice.
Gravity and a lack of friction worked against two General Classification contenders: Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali, trying to gain time on a descent, hit the pavement, but still got back into the first chase group and ended up second in GC.
More seriously, Sky’s Bradley Wiggins crashed hard, and lost 1:32 in GC, dropping to 23rd. He hopes to make up a lot of time in the Stage Eight time trial, but 90 seconds is a lot to get back.
Movistar’s Benati Inxuasti took the overall race lead by five seconds over Vincenzo Nibali, as maglia rosa wearer Luca Paolini of Katusha couldn’t keep up over the hills and rode home in the third chase group with Wiggins.
2012 winner Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Sharp is third, eight seconds back.
Tough Stage, Tough Weather
Stage Seven, 177km from San Salvo to Pescara, was guaranteed to be tough even on a perfect day, and terrible on a bad day. Unfortunately for the peloton, Friday was a bad day.
With several climbs with stretches over 14 percent on a day of non-stop climbing (the unclassified Bucchianico (maximum gradient 15 percent,) Villamagna (5.6 percent, 11 percent maximum,) Chieti-Pietragrossa (11 percent average, 16 percent max,) Chieti-Tricalle (19 percent max,) Santa Maria de Criptis (16 percent max,) and San Silvestro (14 percent max,)) and equally tough descents, even the best climbers would be tested.
Add to that the rain which started falling in the final third of the stage, and it was a perfect recipe for pain and suffering.
Strategy played a big role. Would Katusha ride hard to protect the jersey one more day? Would Ryder Hesjedal or Vincenzo Nibali attack, trying to build up a cushion before the Stage Eight time trial, where everyone assumed Bradley Wiggins would gain time?
Or would a breakaway be allowed to succeed? Would the GC contenders decide to rest? Everyone expected Vini Fantini to ride hard, as the race took place in Abruzzo, their home region of Italy.
With so much uncertainty, no one wanted to let a break get away unless it was perfect, and with so many definitions of perfect, it took thirty kilometers of attacks and chases before six riders established themselves.
Emanuele Sella (Androni Giocattoli,) Maarten Tjallingii (Blanco,) Ioannis Tamouridis (Euskaltel Euskadi,) Dominique Rollin (FDJ,) Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol,) and Pim Ligthart (Vacansoleil-DCM) opened a gap of seven minutes 90 km from the finish; Sella, who was 56th at 6:52, became the virtual race leader, but the peloton was unworried; they knew the race would slow down in the final 60 km when the worst of the climbing started.
A few kilometers later the slick roads claimed their first victim: Pim Lithgart went down and damaged his bike (and tore a hole in his left elbow, but that didn’t slow him down.) He had to wait almost a minute for the team car to arrive so he could get a new bike. Once remounted he made a Herculean effort to re-catch the breakaway
The first of the categorized climbs started 60 km from the finish line, and the breakaway’s lead was cut in half before the second climb. Vini Fantini led the chase; the Italian team was upset that it hadn’t managed to get a rider in the break.
Another couple of riders crashed back in the peloton but continued, foreshadowing what awaited through the rest of the stage.
Vini Fantini’s Fabio Taborre attacked on the next climb, the painful Chieti-Pietragrossa, hoping to bridge to the breakaway. More riders hit the deck on this climb, including Sky’s Rigoberto Uran, second in GC. He picked himself up and continued, uninjured.
Taborrre, who had failed to make good on his attack on the climb, tried again on the descent from Pietragrossa but he still couldn’t bridge the now-two-minute gap to the escapees.
The breakaway fractured on the next climb, the Chieti-Tricalle. Adam Hansen and Emanuelle Sella pushed on, while the other four couldn’t hold the pace. Sella crashed on the descent; Hansen held up a bit to let him catch up, knowing two would be stronger than one. Sella rejoined Hansen 27 km from the finish, but the Lotto rider looked stronger.
There were more crashes in the peloton; FDJ’s Arnold Jeannesson went down, but not only got back up, he managed to finish eighth. Not all would be so lucky.
Behind the two leaders Fabio Taborre toiled on, now riding with dropped breakaway rider Ioannis Tamouridis. Tamouridis couldn’t keep up after the 20-km mark, and the Vini Fantini rider continued on alone.
Up front, Adam Hansen dropped Sella at the same point; the former Australian time trial champion now had a 20-km time trial to ride to win his first Grand Tour stage.
Attacks and Disasters
Just inside the 20-km mark, Vini Fantini leader Danilo Di Luca attacked, trying to salvage something for the local-based team. He was immediately marked by Vincenzo Nibali, Michele Scarponi of Lampre, and Robert Gesink of Blanco, all riders intent on limiting GC threats. Taborre eased up, expecting to ride in support of his team mate, but Di Luca didn’t persist.
Di Luca attacked again at the 14-km mark, when Astana’s Tanel Kangert made a move. The Vini Fantini rider didn’t have the legs, so Kangert pressed on alone, likely setting up support for his team leader, Vincenzo Nibali.
Sure enough, Nibali attacked on the next descent. He didn’t make it more than 1100 meters before he too skidded and crashed on the wet roads. Katusha’s Yuri Trofimov also crashed avoiding the fallen Astana rider.
Two minutes later Hansen crested the final climb. He had four kilometers of downhill and three kilometers of flat road ahead, and a three minute lead. He was on his way to victory unless he too hit the deck.
Emanuelle Sella, who was still chasing the race leader, went down for a second time just past the peak. Another Katusha rider fell, and then Bradley Wiggins fell.
Wiggins’s crash was the hardest of the day; the Sky team leader got up seemingly favoring his left elbow. He rode on, but at a greatly reduced pace until he hit the final few flat kilometers, when to team mates, Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran, paced him back to the pink jersey group.
Unfortunately for both Wiggins and Luca Paolini, the maglia rosa wearer was not able to match the pace of the serious GC contenders. This group was third on the road.
Most of the riders hoping for a podium spot in Brescia at the finish of the race were in the first chase group. Cadel Evans, Ryder Hesjedal, Robert Gesink, Michele Scarponi, and Vincenzo Nibali were all in this group.
Nibali and Hesjedal ended up second and third in GC behind Movistar’s Benato Inxuasti, who was also in the first chase group. Evans and Gesink came in sixth and seventh. All are more than a minute ahead of Bradley Wiggins.
The pink jersey group came in a minute-and-a-half after the first chase group, with Paolini and Wiggins right at the back.
An Unusual Time Trial
Bradley Wiggins has turned in some phenomenal time trial performances, but usually on standard TT routes—relatively flat, and about 20 km in length. The Stage Eight time trial is not standard, and Wiggins might not be able to turn in his usual exceptional performance.
Stage Eight is 54.8 km long, with a lot of lumps in the first 2o km, a decent hill just past the middle, and a kick-up in the final four kilometers.
Riders will have to measure their energies perfectly to avoid leaving time on the road in the first fifty kilometers or burning out on the final four-km climb.
Add to that the route is twice as long as usual, and even riders who are expert time trailers might misjudge. If, on top of that, the weather is inclement, the challenge will increase further. Bradley Wiggins looked very unhappy in the cold, hard rain of Stage Seven. How would he respond to similar conditions in Stage Eight.
Ryder Hesjedal can ride a very good time trial. In fact, he won the 2012 Giro d’Italia by riding a very good time trial. Sky has the stronger team for the mountain stages, but neither Chris Froome or Ritchie Porte are at the Giro; both are saving their legs for the Tour de France in June and July.
Will Wiggins have enough firepower to make up ninety seconds in the mountains if he can’t make it up in the time trial? Is Sky strong enough, and organized enough, to keep Wiggins protected so he can attack on a few select stages and put time into his rivals?
Is Garmin-Sharp strong enough? With Christian Vende Velde and Tom Danielson to match Sky’s Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao, the two teams might be more equal on the road than in reputation.
Stage Eight will be an important stage in the course of the 2103 Giro.