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Powering away from a five-rider break, Wellens won the first mountain stage at the Giro d’Italia; Fuglsang, Zakarin, Dumoulin, Siutsou and Pozzovivo were the best of the GC riders while Nibali, Landa and Valverde showed signs of weakness

Photo: A.S.O.

GIRO D'ITALIA

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ILNUR ZAKARIN

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JAKOB FUGLSANG

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LOTTO SOUDAL

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TEAM SUNWEB

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TIM WELLENS

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TOM DUMOULIN

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12.05.2016 @ 18:10 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Tim Wellens continued the magic Giro d’Italia for Lotto Soudal by making it two in a row for the Belgian team as he came out on top in the first mountain stage of the race. Having taken the initiative at the midpoint of the stage, the Belgian dropped his four companions on the final climb and held off the favourites to take the first grand tour stage win of his career. In the battle for the GC, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), Kanstantsin Siutsou (Dimension Data) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r) turned out to be the strongest as they dropped pre-race favourites Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Mikel Landa (Sky) who all showed signs of weakness.

 

Two years ago Tim Wellens made his grand tour debut at the Giro d’Italia and rode a very aggressive race. However, the final bit was always missing and he left the race without the elusive stage win but with two promising second places.

 

Last year Wellens wanted to continue his progression by taking a maiden grand tour stage win at the Tour de France but the race ended as a huge disappointment for the Belgian who was far from his best level. Hence, he chose to return to the formula that had worked in the past as he made the Giro his grand tour goal for the 2016 season after a solid spring campaign.

 

Wellens had already given it a try in stage 4 but he came up short against Diego Ulissi on the final climb. Today he had his second chance when the race headed into the mountains for the first time and he made no mistakes as he rode to an impressive solo win.

 

Further back, the GC battle was on and it was Astana that took the race on from the bottom of the climb. However, the outcome wasn’t what they had expected as Vincenzo Nibali showed signs of weakness after having tried a solo attack and instead it was the earlier move from Jakob Fuglsang that worked as the Dane finished second and move into second in the GC.

 

In general, the pre-race favourites all fared worse than expected as Alejandro Valverde, Nibali and Mikel Landa all lost a few seconds in the uphill sprint from the peloton. The big winners were Fuglsang, Ilnur Zakarin, race leader Tom Dumoulin, Kanstantsin Siutsou and Domenico Pozzovivo who all rode away earlier on the climb and put time into all their rivals by making it to the finish to sprint for second.

 

Wellens had made his move at the midpoint of the stage when the peloton suddenly slowed completely down at a point when they had nearly caught early attackers Eugert Zhupa (Wilier) and Alessandro Bisolti (Nippo-Vini Fantini). Together with Laurent Didier (Trek) and his teammate Pim Ligthart, he quickly bridged a five-minute gap and as the peloton showed no initiative at all, their gap even went out to more than nine minutes before Orica-GreenEDGE started to chase.

The Australian team stopped their work as they approached the climb but it was a short break as Lampre-Merida again started to chase with Matej Mohoric and Sacha Modolo. At the same time, the front group hit the climb where Ligthart swung off after having emptied himself for Wellens. At this point, the gap was still around 5.30.

 

The fight for position got really intense in the peloton when Jos van Emden (LottoNL-Jumbo), Mohoric and Andrey Zeits (Astana) sprinted against each other in the approach to the climb. Further up the road, Didier launched the first attack from the front group. He stayed in front for a few hundred metres until Zhupa bridged the gap.

 

Wellens had looked like he was suffering but suddenly he came flying, sprinting past the leaders. Didier gave chase while Bisolti and Zhupa didn’t even try to follow. However, the former slowly bridged the gap to the Luxembourger.

 

As soon as the peloton hit the climb, Astana made the race hard with Davide Malacarne and Valerio Agnoli. The peloton exploded to pieces as Carlos Betancur (Movistar) and Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini) were some of the first to lose contact.

 

With 13km to go, Wellens was 4.40 ahead of the splintering peloton where Astana decided to play their next card. Jakob Fuglsang launched a strong attack and as no one reacted, he immediately got a big advantage.

 

David Lopez (Sky) tried to join the Dane but as Georg Preidler started to chase for Giant-Alpecin, he was quickly brought back. Instead, Kanstantsin Siutsou (Dimension Data) took off and while Tobias Ludvigsson took over for Giant-Alpecin, the Belarusian bridged across to Fuglsang.

 

With 10km to go, Wellens was 4.00 ahead of Fuglsang and Siutsou who had put 40 seconds in the peloton. Bisolti had rejoined Didier but as they were already 1.40 behind the Belgian, it was evident that they were out of contention. The Italian would later drop the Luxembourger who was also passed by Zhupa

 

Movistar finally started to chase when Jose Herrada and Javier Moreno hit the front and later Manuele Boaro also came to the fore for Tinkoff. Nonetheless, Siutsou and Fuglsang maintained a 40-second advantage.

 

With 6km to go, Moreno clearly upped the pace for Movistar and so Fuglsang and Siutsou started to lose ground. They passed the 5km to go banner with an advantage of 30 seconds and went straight past Didier.

 

With 3km to go, Wellens ended the steep section with an advantage of 2.55 over Fuglsang and Siutsou who had also passed Bisolti and Zhupa, the latter having been the nearest chaser of Wellens for a little while. Moreno was still doing all the work in the peloton that quickly brought back the remnants of the early break.

 

When the gap to Fuglsang and Siutsou was down to 20 seconds, Nibali suddenly launched a strong solo attack that apparently caught everyone by surprise. He quickly got a gap but as Mikel Nieve started to chase for Sky, the move was ultimately futile.

 

That’s when Dumoulin suddenly came flying out of the peloton, sprinting past Nibali. Pozzovivo joined the Dutchman and Zakarin also bridged the gap. While Wellens passed the flamme rouge, strong pulls by Dumoulin allowed the trio to catch Fuglsang and Siutsou just before they entered the final kilometre.

 

In the peloton, Etixx-QuickStep were doing the chase work but they were losing ground to the five chasers who were mostly led by Dumoulon and Zakarin. However, there was no one stopping Wellens who had plenty of time to celebrate the biggest win of his career.

 

As the road got steeper in the final kilometre, Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) and Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani) attacked from the peloton but it was Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) who surged clear, followed by the Pole, Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale). Further up the road, Fuglsang narrowly held Zakarin off in the sprint for second, putting three seconds in to Dumoulin and five seconds into Siutou and Pozzovivo.

 

Chaves reached the finish five seconds later. Uran and Majka were four seconds further adrift while Valverde won the sprint from the peloton, gaining seven seconds on Nibali and Landa.

 

With the strong performance, Dumoulin retained the lead and now has a 26-second advantage over Fuglsang, with Zakarin sitting in third two seconds further adrift. He should have an easier day tomorrow in stage 7 where the riders face a rolling course. However, there’s just one categorized climb 40km from the finish and as the final part of the stage is downhill and flat, it is expected that the sprinters will get another chance to shine.

 

The first mountain stage

After yesterday’s sprint stage, it was finally time for the first mountain stage when the riders tackled 157 hilly kilometres from Ponte to Roccaraso. After a flat start, the rider went up the category 2 Bocca della Selva climb before they descended to a rolling section. In the end, they tackled a 16.8km category 2 climb that averaged 4.8% which was very irregular and had a relatively easy final 4km at 3.5% before it ramped up for the final 500m.

 

It was a rainy day when the riders gathered for the start but luckily the conditions were dry when they rolled out for their neutral ride. All riders that reached the finish yesterday, were present.

 

Three riders take off

Right from the start, Giacomo Berlato (Nippo), Marco Coledan (Trek) and Daniel Martinez (Wilier) took off and they were quickly joined by Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) and Artem Ovechkin (Gazprom) to form a strong quintet. They had opened a 7-second advantage at the 3km mark and it went out to 16 seconds three kilometres later. Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini) was very active in an attempt to bridge the gap but it was all in vain as things came back together at the 10km mark.

 

Alexandr Kolobnev (Gazprom), Alessandro Bisolti (Nippo) and Eugert Zhupa (Wilier) were the next riders to get a significant advantage and they were allowed to get clear. While the peloton almost came to a standstill, the advantage grew very quickly and when Kolobnev rolled across the line to win the first intermediate sprint after 25.2km of racing, it was already more than 4 minutes. Zhupa and Bisolti were next across the line before Arnaud Demare (FDJ) beat Sonny Colbrelli (Badiani) in the battle for the remaining points.

 

A slow start

With 125km to go, the gap had gone out to 6 minutes and this was the signal for Giant-Alpecin to kick into action. The German team hit the front and started to control the situation with Cheng Ji and Tom Stamsnijder.

 

At the bottom of the first climb, the gap had gone out to 6.30 after a slow start as the riders only averaged 36.5km/h during the first hour. It reached a maximum of 6.52 but 2km from the top, Giant-Alpecin had reduced it to 5.52.

 

Movistar split the field

Bisolti beat Kolobnev and Zhupa in the KOM sprint before Cunego made sure to stay in the blue jersey by winning the sprint from the peloton, holding off Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani) and Julen Amezqueta (Southeast). Rain had started to fall heavily and this made the descent treacherous. Movistar decided to try to split the field and while Jose Joaquin Rojas went full gas in the wet conditions, the front trio were very cautious. Hence, the gap melted away and with 85km to go, the advantage had been reduced to just 1.10.

 

The front trio split up on the descent as Zhupa turned out to be the fastest on the descent and he reached the bottom with a 50-second advantage over the peloton which had brought back Kolobnev and split into several groups, with around 80 riders in the first bunch. Ryder Hesjedal (Trek) had been caught out but as Movistar calmed down, things came back together.

 

Wellens takes off

Bisolti rejoined Zhupa and while Rory Sutherland set a slow pace for Movistar, the gap started to grow. In fact, the Spanish team stopped their work and as the peloton came to a standstill, Zhupa and Bisolti rode hard to extend their advantage. As they entered the final 75km, they had pushed it out to 2.30.

 

The slow pace opened the door for new attacks and it was the Lotto Soudal pair of Tim Wellens and Pim Ligthart who decided to take an opportunity. Laurent Didier (Trek) joined them and as the peloton didn’t react, they were allowed to go clear.

 

A relaxed pace

With 67km to go, the three chasers were 2.10 behind the leaders while the peloton was 2.20 further adrift. Meanwhile, Giant-Alpecin slowly started to up the pace, with Bert De Backer hitting the front.

 

Ji and Stamsnijder again hit the front for Giant-Alpecin but they were definitely not chasing. Hence, the gap went out to more than 5 minutes.

 

A quintet is formed

Ligthart, Wellens and Didier showed impressive strength to bridge across to the leaders with 63km to go, making it a front quintet that entered the final 60km with an advantage of 4.45. Meanwhile, Alexei Tsatevich (Katusha) and Valerio Agnoli (Astana) hit the deck in a crash that didn’t do any major damage.

 

Ulissi wanted to win the stage and so Lampre-Merida hit the front with Roberto Ferrari, Sacha Modolo and Matej Mohoric, starting to reduce the gap, while Valverde had a small setback as he suffered a puncture and was forced to chase, with Rojas and Jose Herrada working hard to make him rejoin the group. It was a short-lived effort though and they quickly stopped again, meaning that De Backer was back on the front for Giant-Alpecin when the gap had reached six minutes with 51km to go.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE start to chase

Giant-Alpecin had no interest in catching the break and so the gap had gone out to 6.20 with 45km to go. Ten kilometres later it was a massive 8.15 and the peloton was showing no sign of desire to break the lull.

 

With 33km to go, the gap was more than nine minutes and this was the signal for Orica-GreenEDGE to kick into action. Sven Tuft, Michael Hepburn and Sam Bewley started to chase hard and they quickly shaved a minute off the advantage. Meanwhile, Manuel Bongiorno (Bardiani) hit the deck in a solo crash but he was quickly back in the peloton.

 

The sprinters are dropped

With 30km to go, the gap was down to 7.30 and now the slightly rising roads were taking their toll. Elia Viviani, Marcl Kittel, Matteo Trentin, Fabio Sabatini, Nicola Ruffoni, Jack Bobridge and Caleb Ewan were among the first to lose contact.

 

The escapees entered the final 20km with an advantage of 6.50 and were losing ground when the peloton suddenly stopped again. Hence, the gap again grew a bit when Ligthart led Zhupa and Wellens across the line in the final intermediate sprint at the bottom of the climb. Moments later, Ligthart swung off, signaling the start of the exciting finale.

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