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At the end of a very fast stage, Rogers seizes his moment at the top of the final climb, attacks on the descent and holds off the select group of favourites to take his first individual grand tour stage victory

Photo: Sirotti

CADEL EVANS

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ENRICO BATTAGLIN

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GIRO D'ITALIA

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MICHAEL ROGERS

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SIMON GESCHKE

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21.05.2014 @ 17:34 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) got the most beautiful comeback to cycling after his provisional suspension for a positive clenbuterol test when he won today's 11th stage of the Giro d'Italia. At the end of a very long and fast stage, the Australian took off at the top of the final climb and as none of the fast riders had many domestiques left, he held off the chase to take a beautiful solo  victory. Cadel Evans (BMC) finished safely in the group of favourites to defend his overall lead on the eve of the time trial.

 

One month ago Michael Rogers' career was in limbo after a positive clenbuterol test from the Japan Cup had caused a provisional suspension and the Australian started to get frustrated as no news emerged on the matter for a long time. Finally, he was cleared of any wrongdoing when the UCI ruled that there was a great likelihood that the test result was caused by food contamination and he lined up at this year's Giro d'Italia with just one race day in his legs.

 

Today he proved that he has certainly not missed much of his training during his suspension when he took his first ever individual win in a grand tour. Despite riding in service of Rafal Majka, he seized an unexpected opportunity when the mammoth 249km stage 11 panned out much differently than most had predicted.

 

With a hard climb in the finale but a long, easy descent to the finish in Savona, this was not a stage for neither the sprinters not the GC riders. Hence, the entire peloton headed into the stage with the expectation that a breakaway would stay away.

 

After a brutal first two hours of the race that saw the riders ride at an impressive average speed, a 14-rider group finally took off and quickly got a 5-minute advantage. It seemed that they would decide the stage winner while the peloton could save themselves for tomorrow's time trial.

 

However, Androni had different plans as they had missed the move and by the time they hit the bottom of the final climb, they had brought the gap down to less than a minute. Despite the many attacks on the ascent, things got back together shortly after the summit.

 

At this point, the peloton had been whittled down to just a select group of favourites and the only fast rider that had made the selection was Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani). However, the Italian only had Edoardo Zardini to support him and none of the GC riders had any interest in keeping things together for a sprint.

 

Rogers saw his opportunity and accelerated in the first part of the descent and before the chase got organized, he opened a 45-second gap. Zardini and Riccardo Zoidl (Trek) did their best to catch him but against the multiple TT world champion they had no chance.

 

Simon Geschke (Giant-Shimano) rejoined the group and so Georg Preidler gave the chase new momentum, brining the gap down to 15 seconds with 2km to go. However, Rogers dug deep and held off his chasers to take the big road race win of his career.

 

10 seconds later Geschke was left wondering what might have been when he beat Battaglin in the sprint for second.

 

The BMC team kept Cadel Evans safe all day and the Australian crossed the line with all his main rivals to defend his 57-second advantage over Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). He faces a much sterner test tomorrow in the race's first individual time trial that is held on a 41.9km route from Barbaresco to Barolo. It is by no means flat and has several rolling sections and technical descents, offering the riders one of their first big tests of the race.

 

One for a breakaway

After yesterday's mostly easy day, things were expected to be completely different when the Giro continued with its 11th stage. At 249km, it was the second longest of the stage and brought the riders from Collechio to Savona on the Ligurian coast. The first 66.1km was one long, gradual uphill to the top of a category 2 climb that preceded a descent back to a rolling and flat run along the coast. The stage ended with a 45km loop in the hilly hinterland around Savona that brought the riders up a rather steep category 2 climb and descended back to a flat finish in the Ligurian city.

 

As Orica-GreenEDGE already reported yesterday, the peloton was rider down compared to yesterday as Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) chose to head home to recover from the injuries he sustained in a crash three days ago. The remaining riders prepared themselves for a try war as most riders expected that this could be a day for breakaway, meaning that almost all teams planned to go on the attack.

 

A brutal start

As expected, the first part of the race was extremely fast and the racing extremely aggressive. Despite the gradual uphill, the riders covered an impressive 49kph in the first hour of the race while attacks flew in both side of the roads.

 

After around 20km of racing, a crash brought down Fabian Wegmann( Garmin-Sharp) and unfortunately the German was unable to continue. Meanwhile, the attacking continued with BMC riding very attentively near the front.

 

Roche shows his intentions

As the riders for to the bottom of the first climb after almost 60km of racing, it was still all together and as the aggression continued on the ascent, it was no surprise to see that riders started to fall off the pace.

 

The first promising attack was launched by Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar) who were joined by Alexandre Geniez (FDJ). While Michele Scarponi (Astana) was dropped from the splintering peloton, more riders bridged across and as they crested the summit, a 22-rider group had formed.

 

A dangerous group

KOM leader Julian Arredondo (Trek) was one of the riders that was part of the move and he crested the summit in first position ahead of Bjorn Thurau (Europcar) and Roche. After another rider had bridged across, the rest of the 23-rider group was made up of Jose Herrada (Movistar), Carlos Quintero (Colombia), Andre Cardoso (Garmin), Steve Morabito (BMC), Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff-Saxo), Dario Cataldo, Kanstantsin Siutsou, Philip Deignan (all Sky), Moreno Moser (Cannondale), Francesco Bongiorno, Sonny Colbrelli, Edoardo Zardini (all Bardiani), Matteo Bono (Lampre), Serge Pauwels (OPQS), Mauro Finetto (Neri Sottoli), Davide Malacarne (Europcar), Vladimir Gusev (Katusha) and Simon Geschke (Giant-Shimano).

 

With Morabito sitting in 5th overall, the group never got more than 30 seconds and the speed was fierce as they headed down the descent. A crash involving Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) and Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEDGE) split the peloton even further and unfortunately the Australian was forced to abandon.

 

The break is created

Movistar brought the group back and instead a new move took off. Francesco Bongiorno (Bardiani), Moreno Moser (Cannondale), Francis Mourey (FDJ), Enrico Barbin (Bardiani), Yonathan Monsalve (Nero Sottoli), Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar), Romain Sicard (Europcar), Björn Thurau (Europcar), Georg Preidler (Giant-Shimano), Daniel Moreno (Katusha), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Phililp Deignan (Sky), Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff-Saxo) were the riders involved and finally the peloton decided to step off the gas.

 

The gap quickly started to grow and reached 1.40 after 95km of racing. Behind, the peloton was still split, with all the favourites gathered in a first chase group but as the pace went down, the two groups merged after a little more than 100km of racing. Meanwhile, the gap continued to grow, reaching 4.40 at the 118km mark.

 

Androni start to chase

The gap reached a maximum of around 5 minutes where it was kept stable for some time. This is when Androni decided to change the predicted script of the race and the Italian team suddenly put Emanuele Sella, Marco Bandiera, Manuel Belletti, Johnny Hoogerland, Marco Frapporti and Diego Rosa on the front in quest to reel the break in.

 

The sextet swapped turns on the front and the gap started to come down. With 79km to go, it was just 3.30 and despite not getting any help, the Italians showed no signs of giving up.

 

Morabito goes down

A big crash brought down the likes of Steve Morabito (BMC), Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Dennis Vanendert, Maxime Monfort (both Lotto Belisol), Ben Swift (Sky), Tony Hurel (Europcar), Davide Malacarne (Europcar), Simone Ponzi (Neri) and TIm Wellens (Lotto Belisol). Luckily, all got back on their bikes.

 

Evans briefly asked the Androni riders to wait for the wounded riders but they refused to do so. When Barbin beat Vorganov in the intermediate sprint - Moreno just rolled across the line in third - the gap had come down to 2.18.

 

Barbin sacrifices himself

With 53km to go, Deignan suffered a very untimely puncture and had to close a 30-second gap to get back on. In the break, Barbin, Rovny and Vorganov were now sacrificing themselves for teammates Bongiorno, Roche and Moreno respectively.

 

In the peloton, they battle for positioned had really ramped up and the Androni riders soon got swamped. Trek and OPQS battled for the front and it was the latter that strung out the group, with Julien Vermote setting the pace.

 

Bongiorno takes off

Iljo Keisse, Alessandro Petacchi and Jos Van Emden (Belkin) all took turns on the front before BMC took over. A fantastic effort by Manuel Quinziato brought the peloton onto the lower slopes of the climb with just a 40-second advantage.

 

Barbin fell off the pace, paying the price for his hard work, while moments later his teammate Bongiorno took off. Roche joined him and despite his best efforts, Bongiorno could not keep up with his Irish rival.

 

Arredondo makes his move

Bongiorno dropped back to Moreno and Preidler while Arredondo attacked from the peloton. With Robinson Chalapud (Colombia) in lone pursuit, the KOM leader quickly passed most of the early break, briefly resting a bit behind Bjorn Thurau and Romain Sicard before soldiering on.

 

In the peloton, Ben Hermans had set the early pace for BMC but it was now an impressive Samuel Sanchez who significantly whittled down the group. Ulissi paid the price for his earlier crash and got dropped with several kilometres to the top.

 

Arredondo the lone leader

Arredondo joined the front quartet and soon launched a new attack. Roche tried to join him but instead it was Preidler who did an impressive effort to rejoin the Colombian.

 

Sanchez' fast pace brought Thurau and Sicard and later also Chalapud back which opened the door for Zardini to take off. The Italian quickly passed Moreno and Bongiorno who were both caught by the peloton, and moments later he also left Roche behind.

 

Rolland attacks

Preidler was constantly dangling a few metres behind Arredondo but the Colombian repeatedly slowed down to wait for the Austrian. Meanwhile, Androni played their cards, launching Franco Pellizotti (Androni) off the front.

 

Pierre Rolland (Europcar) bridged across to Pellizotti while Alberto Losada (Katusha) tried to attack twice before finally getting clear. The Spaniard joined Pellizotti and Rolland and the trio worked excellently together to gradually get closer to the leaders.

 

Arredondo takes maximum points

With 1km to go, Arredondo finally dropped the hammer and rode away from Preidler to take maximum points on the climb. Just after the summit, Rolland, Losada and Pellizotti caught Preidler and moments later, they had also caught Arredondo.

 

The peloton was 25 seconds behind but Gianluca Brambilla (OPQS) went straight to the front and quickly shut the move down. Rolland, Arredondo, Pellizotti and Losada made a last dig but with 24km to go it was back together.

 

Rogers makes his move

Brambilla went back to the front but didn't set a hard pace. This opened the door for Rogers who attacked and quickly got a 30-second gap.

 

BMC had no interest in bringing him back and just controlled the pace until Zardini finally started to work for Bardiani, with his teammate Battaglin being the only really fast rider in the group. At that point, the gap was 45 seconds but despite his best efforts, Zardini didn't get any closer.

 

The chase gains momentum.

When he swung off, Zoidl took over for Trek but he couldn't bring the gap down either. The situation didn't change before Geschke rejoined the group, prompting Preidler to go straight to the front.

 

The Austrian worked with Zoidl and Zardini to bring the gap down to 15 seconds with 2km to go, neutralizing an attack from Matteo Rabottini (Neri) in the process. At this point, however, Preidler was left to do all the work and it was now clear that Rogers would stay away.

 

The Australian had plenty of time to celebrate his biggest road race win while Geschke had to be content with second after beating Battaglin in the sprint.

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