The small teams were on full display today in a wet, difficult stage in Calabria, as Bardiani's Enrico Battaglin took a small-peloton sprint from Fabio Felline of Androni, after denying a massive attack from former Giro winner Danilo Di Luca. Battaglin accelerated up the right side of the peloton with 500 meters to go and stayed fully clear of Felline, Giovanni Visconti, and the heads of state for the win. Luca Paolini stayed with the head of the race and remains in the maglia rosa tonight.
Di Luca, the winner in 2007, took off after Sylvain Georges of AG2R on the final ascent of the Croce Ferrata, reeling in the Frenchman and drawing Colombia's Robinson Chalapud for company. On the 9km twisting, rolling descent in the pouring rain, Di Luca -- now with VIni Fantini -- launched one acceleration after another, with Chalapud drifting back and forth off his wheel, and Di Luca kept up the effort until 500 meters from the line, when he was swarmed by the two or three dozen riders comprising the final break. Di Luca will always be remembered for winning the Giro amid disgrace and doping suspensions, but the good side of Di Luca, the unfathomable aggression and will to suffer, were on full display today.
Bradley Wiggins, meanwhile, got held up behind a minor crash in the home stretch and conceded 17 seconds to his rivals up ahead. Often riders who crash inside of 3km are awarded the time of the group they were part of -- in this case, the leaders for Wiggins -- but the judges reviewed his case and determined he had let out enough of a gap to the group before the crash occurred. Oh, and last year Ryder Hesjedal won the Giro by 16 seconds. Just sayin.
- Enrico Battaglin, Bardiani
- Fabio Felline, Androni, s.t.
- Giovanni Visconti, Movistar, s.t.
- Rigoberto Uran, Sky, s.t.
- Arnold Jeanneson, FDJ, s.t.
- Luca Paolini, Katusha
- Uran, at 0.17
- Benat Intxausti, Movistar, at 0.26
- Vincenzo Nibali, Astana, at 0.31
- Ryder Hesjedal, Garmin, at 0.34
What's With All the Action?
It's been a lively couple of days in a portion of the Giro where you might not expect so. What's up? I can think of a few things.
- The Giro has changed formats from day to day, one day a sprint stage, one day a TTT, then some climbing moments. So each day brings in people who haven't had their moment yet. The "middle mountain" stages in prticular have been carefully drawn up to draw out some skirmishing. This is a Giro staple, one they've elevated to an art form in recent years, to the point where the Tour de France is doing more middle mountain stages.
- Time bonuses of 20, 12 and 8 seconds to the top three make it worth the while for lots of guys to get involved. Remember how last year's Giro was won by 16 seconds? It's especially interesting to see guys placing Wiggins under pressure in these tricky finishes, knowing he's the favorite and trying to take a bite out of the guy every chance they get. This is going to be a truly competitive Giro.
- It's the nature of grand tours. Every stage has some angle whereby someone considers it a big deal. Di Luca is a southern Italian, from Abruzzo (site of stage 5), and with cycling being a northern-dominated sport in Italy he can be expected to attack in the southern stages. Battaglin was working on his first stage win; Paolini his first turn in pink. Small teams on the big stage will do anything to get noticed. Bottom line: the riders make the race, and in the grand tours, there's usually a quorum for doing so.
Having reached its southernmost point, the Giro turns north, skirts along the sole of the boot, and rides gently to Matera, outside the regional capital of Taranto. [Cultural aside: Taranto has gifted the world the Tarantella and the word "tarantula." These are actually related developments; the bite of the local wolf spider, the tarantula, was known to send people into fits of frenzy, which were then transformed into the Tarantella folk dance. You've heard the Tarantella before. Trust me.]
The stage itself could get interesting. There's a bit of climbing to get from the seaside promenade to Matera, plus a climb of the Montescaglioso -- two rises that won't trouble the climbers but could put Mark Cavendish under pressure. Also the final 500 meters is slightly uphill. All of this favors a more versatile sprinter, and with a guy as prominent as Cavendish around, you can count on all the other sprinters' teams to band together in search of any sign of weakness in the Manxman. If Cav can win on this stage, he has a real shot at holding the Maglia Rosso Passione, the points jersey. And if not, well, that competition gets very complicated.