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Post Stage Analysis

The Queen Stage lives up to its billing; Carlos Sastre wins the sufferfest; Menchov looks good in Pink

9 Big Photos from Stage 16sirotti

May 25 update: Everyone predicted that today's mountain stage finishing on the Monte Petrano would reshuffle the general classification of this Giro Centenario. Russian Denis Menchov of Rabobank ably defended his race lead against determined attacks by Carlos Sastre of Cervélo TestTeam, Ivan Basso of Liquigas-Doimo, and Danilo Diluca of LPR Brakes. Menchov's position looks increasingly impregnable, as the Giro approaches its finale. Thanks to a big attack on the final climb, Carlos Sastre moved up to the podium today, while Ivan Basso tried to improve his position, but could not gain time over Menchov or Diluca. It was a rough day for American Levi Leipheimer of Astana, who suffered badly on the final climb of the day, and dropped to sixth in the general classification. As Stefano Garzelli put it after the stage, "Today, those who could attack, attacked."

The Story

Michele Scarponi and Francesco De Bonis of Diquigiovanni-Androni made the first move today, and attacked after just 2 kilometers of racing. Quickly, a big breakaway formed, containing 20 riders. After 20 kilometers of racing, the break had built up a gap of just over 2 minutes. Over the first two climbs of the day, several riders riders dropped out of the early break, including Thomas Danielson and Bradley Wiggins of Garmin-Slipstream. Over the top of the Monte Nerone, the third climb of the day, the break held 3:45 over the main field. Always on the front, Rabobank continued to control the race. There remained approximately 80 kilometers to race.

With two climbs left to ride, the Monte Catria and the Monte Petrano, there were two groups on the road. The escape now numbered 16 riders and included: Renaud Dion of AG2R-La Mondiale, Jaroslav Popovych of Astana, Francesco Bellotti of Barloworld, Matthieu Sprick of BBox Bouygues Telecom, Arnold Jeannesson of Caisse d'Épargne, Angel Gomez Gomez of Fuji-Servetto, Damiano Cunego of Lampre-Ngc, Kjell Carlström of Liquigas, Gabriele Bosisio of LPR Brakes, Dario Cataldo of Quick Step, Mauricio Ardila Cano of Rabobank, Michele Scarponi and Francesco De Bonis of Diquigiovanni-Androni, and Jens Voigt of Saxo Bank. The break combined riders seeking a stage win with team-mates of "the bigs" in the general classification who wanted team support up the road for the big climbs to come. With 75 kilometers to go, the break held a gap of 3:45.

Between the Monte Nerone and the Monte Catria, with just over 50 kilometers to race, came a short, steep uncategorized climb, the Moria. On the Moria, Michele Scarponi of Diquigiovanni-Androni and Damiano Cunego of Lampre-Ngc attacked from the break. Jaroslav Popovych of Astana and Gabriele Bosisio of LPR-Brakes soon bridged across. The members of the break clearly had differing agendas. Cunego and Scarponi took turns on the front, in the hope of staying away for a stage win. Bosisio and Popovych skipped turns and sat on, ostensibly with their team's general classification goals in mind. In the flats following the Moria, this dynamic showed especially clearly as Cunego and Scarponi did much of the work. With 50 kilometers to race, the break held 5:26 over the main field. Still, Rabobank did the pace-making in the group of favorites.

On to the Monte Catria, the second to last climb of the day. The break, still containing Scarponi, Cunego, Popovych, and Bosisio held an advantage of 4 minutes over the main field at the base of the climb. Rabobank continued to work on the front, and Menchov still had two team-mates for support, with Mauricio Ardila also on the way back from the early breakaway. All of the race favorites remained in the front group.

In the early kilometers of the Catria, Damiano Cunego attacked from the breakaway, hoping to lose some of his companions. Scarponi could not follow the acceleration of Cunego, but Popovych and Bosisio came across. No doubt Cunego would have preferred to leave Popovych and Bosisio behind, since neither rider had done much to contribute to the pace-making in the break. C'est le velo.

Back in the main field, the early slopes of the Monte Catria had begun to shrink the group. White jersey Thomas Lövkvist was an early casualty. Lövkvist finished almost 25 minutes down today in the end, and conceded the white jersey. On the front, Rabobank riders Mauricio Ardila and Laurens Ten Dam continued to do the pace-making for Menchov. Michael Rogers also dropped off the back, but rejoined the group thanks to the efforts of Morris Possoni. The gap to the break held around 4 minutes.

With 2 kilometers to go to the summit, Popovych attacked the break. Clearly, the Astana strategy had now changed, as Popovych looked to be playing for a stage win. Cunego went easily across to Popovych. Likewise for Bosisio. Cunego crested the summit of the Monte Catria first, and with 35 kilometers to go, the threesome held 3:15 over the Menchov group. On the technical descent, Popovych attacked again, and soon built up an advantage of 30 seconds over Cunego. It was all bad luck for Gabriele Bosisio, who slid out in a corner and never rejoined the break. In the flats on the way to the Monte Petrano, Popovych continued to build up his advantage over Cunego, and it was soon clear that the Lampre rider would not make it back across. With 15 kilometers to go, Popovych held an advantage of 5 minutes over the group containing all of the race favorites. Levi Leipheimer flatted on the descent, but made it back to the gruppo maglia rosa without too much difficulty.

The race coursed through the historical center of the city of Cagli, then a right turn to the final climb of the day, the Monte Petrano. Popovych remained out in front, but his advantage was shrinking all the time. As the climb approached, Liquigas took over the pace-making with Kjell Carlström driving hard on the front. Ardila and Ten Dam, their legs done, went out the back, and left Menchov alone to defend his race lead. From the back, a Serge Pauwels of Cervélo TestTeam rider came up the outside, and set a furious pace. Plainly, Carlos Sastre had plans today, though for now, he sat at the back of the group. Marzio Bruseghin and Michael Rogers, meanwhile, went out the back.

The first big move came from Ivan Basso. Menchov covered. Diluca quickly rode across with Garzelli. A quartet of "bigs" sat off the front of the favorites group: Basso, Menchov, Diluca, and Garzelli. Lance Armstrong came across to join them, while steadily, Carlos Sastre bridged. Always tranquilo, the Spanish climber. Obviously in difficulty, Levi Leipheimer dropped off the wheel of Sastre.

Then, it was six at the front: Basso, Menchov, Diluca, Garzelli, Armstrong, and Sastre. Upon joining the group, Sastre attacked. Again, Menchov covered, bringing Diluca with him. Armstrong went out the back, and drifted downslope to help Leipheimer. Up front, Diluca attacked, Menchov now following. Behind, Sastre and Basso worked together to close the small gap, the two diesels not quite able to respond to the speed of Diluca. Soon, it was four at the front: Menchov, Diluca, Sastre, and Basso. These four riders have five grand tour wins among them. Ahead, Popovych still held a gap of around 3 minutes and continued to play for the stage win. By the roadside, a fan in a fuzzy white bunny costume ran along the roadside, surely a hallucinogenic sight for the riders by now approaching their seventh hour in the saddle.

After a brief truce among the awesome foursome, Carlos Sastre attacked hard. No one reacted. Soon, Ivan Basso began to ride, while behind him Menchov and Diluca played a game of bluff. Diluca then attacked, but Menchov followed without difficulty. Locked together, the top two in the general classification began to work together to bring back Basso and limit the gap to Sastre. Diluca did much of the work here. After all, the attack from Sastre more directly threatened Diluca's position in the general classification than it did that of Menchov.

Inside 3 kilometers to go, Sastre caught Popovych and ended the Astana rider's hopes of a stage victory. Still, Basso continued to resist the Diluca-Menchov group, but his advantage was shrinking all the time. Further down the mountain, the podium hopes of American Levi Leipheimer evaporated, as the gap to Sastre surpassed 2 minutes. The race had shattered, its shards scattered on the steep road of the Monte Petrano.

Inside 1.5 kilometers to go, Basso's bid for freedom ended. Together rode Diluca, Menchov, and Basso. Ahead, Sastre still held an advantage of approximately 30 seconds, and could count on gaining the time bonus at the line. After just over 7 hours in the saddle, Carlos Sastre took the stage win. Behind him, Menchov opened up a big sprint and crossed the line second, taking the time bonus. Diluca finished third, Basso fourth. Stefano Garzelli , on another good day, came across next, leading Franco Pellizotti of Liquigas-Doimo and Francesco Masciarelli of Acqua e Sapone. The threesome gave up 1:20 to Sastre today. Tadej Valjavec of AG2R-La Mondiale followed up yesterday's day out in the breakaway with an eighth place finish today, and continues to climb the general classification. Levi Leipheimer and Lance Armstrong finished together at 2:51.

A happy Carlos Sastre told the press that today "was an important day." "This Giro is not finished," he said. Sastre also thanked his team for their hard work. The Spanish climber promised to try something on the Vesuvio and the Blockhuas, two climbs which should suit his characteristics well. For his part, Ivan Basso said he had tried everything, but Diluca and Menchov defended well. Like Sastre, Basso promised to try again on the Blockhaus and the Vesuvio. "We will see," he repeated. Sitting second in the general classification, Danilo Diluca believes that Menchov is "very strong." "It will be difficult to drop Menchov," he said. Diluca also explained that he worked in the chase today behind Sastre in part to build his advantage over Leipheimer who was behind on the climb. Sastre is clearly on growing form, observed Diluca, but the final crono suits Menchov. Like the others in the general classification, Diluca concluded, "we will see."

Here is the new general classification after today's hijinx:

1. Denis Menchov
2. Danilo Diluca 0:39
3. Carlos Sastre 2:19
4. Franco Pellizotti 3:08
5. Ivan Basso 3:19
6. Levi Leipheimer 3:21
7. Michael Rogers 5:54
8. Stefano Garzelli 8:21
9. David Arroyo 8:39
10. Tadej Valjavec 8:47

The general classification has changed noticeably after today's mountain stage, as everyone expected it would. Denis Menchov continues to occupy a nearly impregnable position at the top of the general classification. Danilo Diluca still needs 39 seconds to overtake him, and while he tried, Diluca could not shake the Russian today. Still, Diluca has two more mountain top finishes to go to try to win this Giro. The final crono in Roma will suit Menchov, though.

In third sits Carlos Sastre, who thanks to today's attack moves up the classification to third. Sastre said before this Giro that his goal was to finish on the podium. A few more attacks like today, and he may well succeed. He will need to attack again on the Blockhaus and the Vesuvio to better his position. He looks good to hold the podium, though he may not succeed in overtaking either Diluca or Menchov. We'll see soon enough.

Locked together in a tight three-way battle are Franco Pellizotti in fourth at 3:08, Ivan Basso in fifth at 3:19, and Levi Leipheimer in sixth at 3:21. Basso's form appears to be on the rise, while Leipheimer suffered badly today. Pellizotti did not have a great day, but could recover to defend his fourth in the coming days. The numbers deceive a little here, since Basso was clearly strongest on the road today, and seems to be coming into his best form now in the third week. He has promised to attack again on the Blockhaus. At the same time, Basso will need more time in hand ahead of Leipheimer before the final crono in Roma.

Looking further down the classification, Michael Rogers sits seventh at 5:54. Rogers has struggled in the past few climbing stages, and doesn't look likely to move up. Stefano Garzelli by contrast has been on a tear these past few stages and has moved himself up into the top ten, sitting eighth. He could overtake Rogers in the next few climbing stages, if he has a few more good days, as he is 1:30 behind the Australian.

The battle for the final top ten slots is also fierce with David Arroyo at 8:39, and Tadej Valjavec at 8:47. Valjavec has ridden himself up into the top ten on the strength of his breakaway effort yesterday and a good day in the mountains today. Marzio Bruseghin of Lampre-Ngc is currently eleventh, and trails Valjavec by 30 seconds.

Kevin Seeldrayers of Quick Step takes over the lead in the white jersey classification, after today's giorno no for Thomas Lövkvist.

Tomorrow, a rest day!

Course Preview

Stage 16: Pergola – Monte Petrano (Cagli)
Date: Monday, 25 May
Distance: 237 km.
Terrain:Climber country. Mountain-top finish!
GC Importance: This one counts. The climbers will be on the attack on this mountain-top finish, a steep 10 kilometers. There will be time gaps, I promise.

Monte delle Cesane 7.7km, 512m, avg. 6.6%, max. 18%
Monte Nerone 13.4km, 1025m, avg. 7.6%, max. 12%
Monte Catria 11.0km, 876m, avg. 8.0%, max. 13%
Monte Petrano 10.4km, 824m, avg. 7.9%, max. 13%

More mountains, oh my! Stage 16 heads into the mountains in the province of Pesaro-Urbino, not far from the Adriatic Coast. Here, rugged limestone peaks pockmarked with caves and sinkholes created by water run-off tower over the surrounding landscape. The stage summits four major climbs in rapid succession. Only the climbers will be smiling at the end of the day.

The stage sets off from the city of Pergola, set in the Cesano river valley. Pergola has cultivated vineyards since antiquity and is known especially for its white wine, Tristo di Montesecco. Vintners in Pergola retain their traditional practices, producing in small batches, and each July the city celebrates an annual wine festival. This year will mark the 308th edition of the festival. From Pergola, it’s all mountains to the finish, and the final climb of the day lies just outside the city of Cagli, which sits at the confluence of the Bosso and Burano rivers.

Profile Details. If there are any flat kilometers in this stage 16, I certainly don’t see them. Instead, the course climbs and descends constantly, with four difficult climbs on the profile. The finish line perches at 1101 meters above sea level on the Monte Petrano.

Fittingly, the stage begins with a climb to Monte della Serra in the opening kilometers. From there, it’s a bumpy ride to the first major climb of the day, the Monte delle Cesane. The climb begins at kilometer 73 in Fossombrone, a pastel colored red-roofed town set into the cliffs rising from the Metauro river. The Monte delle Cesane stair-steps, with long steep ramps punctuated by short sections of easier gradients. The climb lasts 7.7 kilometers and has an average gradient of 6.6%. The maximum gradient, a silly steep 18%, comes inside the first kilometer of climbing. With 1.5 kilometers to go, the gradient tilts up to 8%, then it relaxes. The road over the summit is very nearly flat. From the top of the climb, it is 157 hilly kilometers to the finish. We’re just getting started.

Eleven kilometers of descending follow the climb to the Monte della Cesane. The next 32 kilometers climb gradually, steadily rising to a quick climb to Rocca Leonelle at kilometer 125. A short descent and more steady climbing cover the the next 18 kilometers to the base of the second climb of the day at kilometer 143.

Sixteen switchbacks serpentine up the Monte Nerone. The stage reaches its highest point at the peak, 1417 meters above sea level, after 13.4 kilometers of climbing. The steepest section of the climb comes just past the first kilometer and hits 12%. The remainder of the climb oscillates between 7 and 9 percent gradients, with an average of 7.6%. A series of switchbacks wind around the upper reaches of the limestone peak, which bears a slight resemblance to Mont Ventoux.

The last kilometers of the Monte Nerone are above the tree-line and exposed to the elements. Wind could prove a decisive factor here. Television transmission towers announce the summit, and the road descends gently to a plateau lasting approximately 1 kilometer. Then, it’s a screaming fast descent to Pianello. The rode drops precipitously, 984 meters in 17 kilometers.

Between the Monte Nerone and the third climb of the day, the Monte Catria, the road is anything but flat. A short, steep climb summits in Moria, before dropping just as quickly to Cantiano. This bumpy interlude spans approximately 20 kilometers. Then, it’s time to climb again.

At kilometer 191 in the town of Chiaserna, the next major climb begins. The Monte Catria begins with a series of switchbacks, then straightens out to a 3 kilometer ramp, before finishing with three more hairpins. After 11 kilometers of climbing, the Monte Catria peaks at 1368 meters above sea level. The average gradient is 8 percent. The steepest section comes with 2 kilometers to go to the summit and pitches up to 13%. From the top, there remains 35 kilometers to race. The last ten of those kilometers are uphill.

The descent to the city of Cagli drops 1094 meters in approximately 24 kilometers. The race organizers describe this descent as “tortuous.” Sketchy bike handlers beware! The riders will have very little time to recover, as the final climb of the day begins immediately after the descent.

Voilà, the final climb of the day. From Cagli, there are ten kilometers remaining, all uphill to the finish. The Monte Petrano provides a fitting finale to this mountain stage: 10.4 kilometers of climbing at an average gradient of 7.9%. The steepest section of the climb comes at the beginning and hits 13%. A section of 10% comes right around 5 kilometers to go. Otherwise, gradients around 7% predominate. Did I mention that there are switchbacks? There are switchbacks, including one nearly 360 degree turn around kilometer 3. The final meters of the Monte Petrano actually flatten out just a tad, the last half kilometer has an average gradient of 4%. I doubt anyone will really notice. This is a finish for a scalatore puro, a pure climber.

Tactics Talk. Tactically, this stage is not especially complicated. It’s all about climbing. The non-climbers will find nothing to smile about here, but the climbers who may have lost time at Cinque Terre in the long crono will be glad to see the difficult uphill finish on the Monte Petrano.

These are climbs of significance, and the succession of uphill kilometers is an opportunity for the climbers, should they have the legs to seize it. An ambitious climber with stellar bike handling might try an early move on the Catria, but it is more likely that the real race will take place on the final climb of the day, the Monte Petrano.

Expect a relatively small group to reach Cagli together, as few teams will have the legs to support their team leaders over so many climbs so late in this Giro Centenario. Do or die, the pure climbers have to ride here. This stage is one of their last chances to win the overall.

Monte delle Cesane 7.7km, 512m, avg. 6.6%, max. 18%

Monte Nerone 13.4km, 1025m, avg. 7.6%, max. 12%

Monte Catria 11.0km, 876m, avg. 8.0%, max. 13%

Monte Petrano 10.4km, 824m, avg. 7.9%, max. 13%

Gavia (updates to this preview will be made during the race and especially the day before the stage with current analysis)

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