Benat Intxausti (Movistar) won a thrilling sixteenth stage of the 2013 Giro d’Italia, outfoxing Tanel Kangert (Astana) and Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) in a three-up sprint in Ivrea.
The Spaniard has already worn the maglia rosa at this year’s Giro, and today proved wily enough to thwart his breakaway companions.
The trio chipped clear of the maglia rosa group after a white knuckle descent of the third category Andrate, whose summit was reached after 220km of a gruelling 238km stage.
King of the mountains leader, Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani Valvole), had been the relentless star of the stage, joining a break of 15 riders who went clear after about 55km on the ascent of Mont Cenis.
Some 165km later, with just 20km remaining, the blue jersey holder was still launching from the front of an escape group diminished, after various shifts of composition, to just Pirazzi and three others: Movistar’s José Herrada, stage 11 winner, Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp), and Fabio Duarte (Team Columbia).
Pirazzi’s efforts were almost brought to nought just a kilometre later, when Italian champion, Franco Pellizotti (Andrioni) jumped from an already closing bunch, inspiring Lampre-Merida leader, Michele Scarponi to follow, and the Astana squad of race leader, Vincenzo Nibali, to chase down Scarponi. The net result was the final termination of the breakaway, just a few hundred metres from the Andrate’s summit.
Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) ended Pirazzi’s hopes of maximum KOM points by accelerating from the bunch as if it was going backwards, streaking past Pirazzi (though the Italian held on for second under the kite and five points) and beginning the treacherous descent alone.
His isolation didn’t last for long. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), the 2008 Olympic road race champion and a noted descender, soon hoved into Betancur’s snatched rearward view, prompting the Columbian, perhaps unnecessarily, to beckon the Spaniard forwards. Sanchez did not need a second invitation and swept past Betancur.
There followed one of many moments that will doubtless form the historical tapestry of the race, should Niabli win. With two fearsome descenders ahead, and each rider at his physical and mechanical limit on a road surface still drying in places, the maglia rosa somehow bridged across to the leading pair, seemingly for the sheer pleasure of doing so. Scarponi was the next to make it across the gap, and the quartet sped onwards.
Just four kilometres later, only nine kilometres from the finish, the maglia rosa and an elite group of pursuers, BMC Racing’s Cadel Evans among them, rejoined, and set about covering the flat ground to the finish in Ivrea.
Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini), winner of stage 14 and who had begun the day fourth overall, had lost contact on the descent, however, and was left with all the work to do in a chasing group dominated by Sky riders with little interest in helping him chase down a group containing their man, Rigoberto Uran.
The maglia rosa group was not an easy group to chase in any instance. A relentless series of attacks fired from its front as the best riders in this year’s race went full gas to the finish. First Scarponi, then Robert Gesink (Blanco Pro Cycling), then Pelizzotti attacked, while Niabli kept an untroubled watching brief.
Finally, four riders went clear with three kilometres to go: Kangert, Niemiec, Intxausti, and Gesink. The Dutchman was dropped with mechanical problems one kilometre later.
As the trio swept beneath the flamme rouge, a cat-and-mouse battle began, but with a Pellizotti-led bunch closing fast, Niemiec was first to blink, leading out the sprint, only for his two rivals to sweep past.
Intxausti took an easy victory over Kangert, but the 26-year-old Estonian champion has time on his side, and will doubtless receive other chances of victory, such has been the strength of his riding in support of Niabli this Giro.
The maglia rosa and his contemporaries, led by Navardauskas, swept in 14 seconds later, prompting only minor changes in the top 10 GC.
Giro d’Italia 2013 – stage 16 – result
1) Benat Intxausti (ESP) – Movistar – 5.52.48
2) Tanel Kangert (EST) – Astana – ST
3) Przemyslaw Niemiec (POL) – Lampre-Merida
4) Ramunas Navardausias (LTU) – Garmin-Sharp +14″
5) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing – ST
6) Franco Pellizotti (ITA) – Androni Giocattoli
7) Michele Scarponi (ITA) – Lampre-Merida
8) Rafal Majka (POL) – Saxo-Tinkoff
9) Jose Herada (ESP) – Movistar
10) Carlos Betacnur (COL) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
1) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana – 67.55.36
2) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +1.26
3) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Team Sky +2.46
4) Michele Scarponi (ITA) – Lampre-Merida +3.53
5) Przemyslaw Niemiec (POL) – Lampre-Merida +4.13
6) Mauro Santambrogio (ITA) – Vini Fantini +4.57
7) Carlos Betancur (COL) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +5.15
8) Rafal Majka (POL) – Saxo-Tinkoff +5.20
9) Benat Intxausti (ESP) – Movistar +5.47
10) Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +7.34