Diego Ullissi (Lampre Merida) claimed his second stage victory of the 2014 Giro d’Italia with a perfectly timed attack at the end of a gripping and hugely demanding eighth stage from Foligno to Montecopiolo.
The Tuscan pounced after a late flurry of attacks in the final kilometre after long-time leader Julien Arredondo (Trek) had been caught with 1,500m remaining by Pierre Rolland (Europcar). But the Frenchman was himself overwhelmed by the remorseless pursuit of an elite chasing group that contained new maglia rosa, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), in the last few hundred metres.
Ulissi, 24, still basking in the glory of his victory on stage five, and who had followed the wheels of Dani Moreno (Katusha) and Robert Kišerlovski (Trek) before launching his own, decisive attack, said the victory had surprised him.
“I’m absolutely euphoric for this wonderful day,” he said. “Today, I really didn’t expect to win. It was a difficult race today, because we were takling about climbs that were really too hard for my characteristics, but of course I’m really, really happy.”
Astana leader, Michele Scarponi, riding with the number one dossard of absentee team-mate, Vincenzo Nibali, the 2013 champion, on his back, lost heavily today, with the gap to an elite group including all his GC rivals at one stage extending to more than 18 minutes. He crossed the line some 9.39 after Ulissi, and now languishes in 41st position on GC, with an 11.38 deficit to Evans.
Tomorrow’s ninth stage looks set to deliver another day of enthralling racing, with the 172km run from Lugo to Sestola, like today, billed as a day of medium mountains.
The stage in detail
Arredondo rode alone beneath the 10km to go kite, his diminutive frame rocking over his tiny bicycle. Rolland trimmed his lead to less than a minute for the first time, while the group of maglia rosa, Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE), toiled some 18.08 in arrears.
Arredondo was first on to the second category Village del Lago, a climb of just over 1km, reached after 169.3km of racing. The Colombian had done enough to begin the following day’s racing in the blue jersey of king of the mountains leader, but rode with the air of a man for whom the stage victory mattered more.
Stefano Pirazzi began his own solo pursuit with 6km remaining, and nearly came to grief on a storm grate on a tricky descent, but swerved at the last moment to remain upright. Between Pirazzi and Arredondo, Rolland continued his remorseless pursuit, trimming the Colombian’s advantage to just 38 seconds. Arredondo’s directeur sportif, Luca Guercelina, pulled alongside his pint-sized rider to warn him of the danger behind.
That danger, however, would come no more from Pirazzi, who was recaptured by the favourites’ group with the 5km to go kite in sight. Arredondo’s sole concern became the Frenchman in green, and television close-ups revealed the pain etched on his face.
A relentlessly changing gradient added to the riders’ suffering. Arredondo rose briefly from the saddle as he rode away from the 4km to kite, but the effort, however brief, exacted a heavy toll on the tiny South American, who looked close to cracking. Rolland, also visibly suffering, claimed more time on his rival, and cut the Colombian’s lead to 30 seconds.
Kanstantsin Siutsou (Team Sky) launched from the front of the chasing group, but his gesture had the look of a futile effort and he was quickly brought to heel. The real battle was being conducted far up the road. As Arredondo passed beneath the 3km to go kite, his lead was just 10 seconds. Three hundred metres later and the catch was made. Rolland pedalled straight past, but Arredondo managed to latch on to the Frenchman’s wheel. Rolland rose from the saddle to try and shed the Colombian, but his effort was in vain.
Of greater significance for the race, and for the chances of the two exhausted leaders, was the action unfolding in the favourites’ group. Tinkoff Saxo’s Rafal Majka attacked, but a watchful Steve Morabito (BMC Racing) closed the gap for leader Evans. Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) clung on at the rear of the group, but Majka’s effort had a greater effect on Rolland and Arredondo. Rolland looked close to stopping, but seconds later it was Arredondo who cracked. They had been forced to ride at their maximum by the relentless pace of the big names behind and were now very visibly paying the price.
Rolland made one final attack to break Arredondo, but slumped back into the saddle just seconds later and blew out his cheeks. Arredondo was soon back in the group of the favourites, which exploded into life again, this time under the force of an attack from Mikel Landa (Astana). The flurry instantly trimmed 10 seconds from Rolland’s advantage, and while the sight of the flamme rouge inspired the Frenchman to renewed effort, the writing was on the wall.
Daniel Moreno (Katusha) struck the first blow, charging clear of the favourites’ group with 350m to go and almost instantly passing the exhausted Rolland. If the Spaniard thought he had the stage won, however, he was to be sorely disappointed. Robert Kišerlovski (Trek) passed him just seconds later, but the Croatian champion too would taste the bitter gall of defeat. Ulissi had followed Kišerlovski from the group, and sensing that his rival’s effort was fading with just 100m of the 179km stage remaining, launched his own decisive bid for victory.
Giro d’Italia 2014: stage eight – result
1) Diego Ulissi (ITA) – Lampre-Merida – 4.47.47
2) Robert Kiserlovski (CRO) – Trek – ST
3) Wilco Kelderman (NED) – Belkin +6″
4) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar – ST
5) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +8″
6) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – ST
7) Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
8) Rafal Majka (POL) – Tinkoff-Saxo +14″
9) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +17″
10) Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) – Garmin-Sharp +20″
1) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing – 34.22.35
2) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +57″
3) Rafal Majka (POL) – Tinkoff-Saxo +1.10
4) Steve Morabito (SUI) – BMC Racing +1.31
5) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +1.39
6) Diego Ulissi (ITA) – Lampre-Merida +1.43
7) Wilco Kelderman (NED) – Belkin +1.44
8) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +1.45
9) Robert Kiserlovski (CRO) – Trek +1.49
10) Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +1.50