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With a great solo attack on the Tre Monti climb, Zakarin dropped his rivals in a 7-rider breakaway before completing a time trial to win stage 11 of the Giro d’Italia; Contador defended his lead

Photo: Sirotti

ALBERTO CONTADOR

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CARLOS ALBERTO BETANCUR

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FRANCO PELLIZOTTI

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GIRO D'ITALIA

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ILNUR ZAKARIN

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20.05.2015 @ 17:38 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

A few weeks after his breakthrough victory in the Tour de Romandie, Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) continued his excellent first season at the WorldTour level when he completed a fantastic solo ride to win stage 11 of the Giro d’Italia. Having made it into a 10-rider breakaway after a hectic start, the Russian dropped his rivals on the penultimate stage before time trialling his way to the finish before Carlos Betancur (Ag2r) beat Franco Pellizotti (Androni) in the sprint for second. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) tested his rivals and defended his overall lead.

 

Last year Ilnur Zakarin got a lot of attention for his strong performances in the Tour d’Azerbaijan and Tour de Slovenie. His good results earned him a contract at the WorldTour level with the Katusha team but he flew under the radar as he headed into the season.

 

However, the Russian has been unstoppable in the first part of the year and has confirmed his huge potential as a stage race rider. It all started with a solid performance in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco where he got close to winning the queen stage but it was his results in the Tour de Romandie that really marked him out as a future star.

 

Despite being up against riders like Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali, Zakarin came away from the WorldTour race with a hugely surprising overall victory. The result suddenly elevated him to an outsider status for his debut grand tour, the Giro d’Italia.

 

In the early part of the race, it seemed that there is a limit to his current capabilities as he quickly dropped out of GC contention. However, he is now back at his best level after he took a fantastic solo victory in today’s very hard stage 11 of the Italian race.

 

Zakarin had joined forces with Carlos Betancur, Franco Pellizotti, Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r), Ruben Fernandez, Benat Intxausti (both Movistar), Marek Rutkiewicz (CCC), Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Diego Rosa (Astana) to form a very strong 10-rider break after a hectic and fast start to the race. As they hit the tough finishing circuit around the Imola racetrack, Rutkiewicz, Fernandez and Montaguti were dropped and things were not looking too good for the break as Orica-GreenEDGE were chasing hard in the peloton.

 

At the start of the penultimate lap of the 15.4km finishing circuit, the fron group had an advantage of 1.45 over the diminished peloton that was led by Luke Durbridge. Rutkiewicz and Montaguti were 19 seconds behind while Stefan Küng (BMC) who had made an attack on a descent, was 35 seconds head.

 

As they started to climb the Tre Monti, Durbridge swung off and left it to climbers Simon Clarke and Esteban Chaves to set the pace for Orica-GreenEDGE. They quickly bright Küng, Montaguti and Rutkiewicz back but they didn’t get much closer to the front group.

 

As the break hit a steep section near the top of the climb, Zakarin made a strong solo move and no one had any respond. As he won the KOM sprint at the top, he had an advantage of a few seconds over his chasers from which Intxausti beat Betancur in the sprint to take the KOM jersey back. At this point the peloton was still 1.18 behid.

 

Zakarin did an amazing descent and as he crossed the line to start the final lap, he was already 40 seconds ahead of his chasers while the peloton was at 1.20.

 

At this point, a small drama took place as Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep) crashed on the wet finishing straight. The Colombian was quickly back on his bike though and with the help of his team car, he made it back to the peloton on the lower slopes of the descent.

 

The gap had now gone out to 1.25 while the chasers had lost 56 seconds. Chaves and Clarke blew up and as Paolo Tiralongo hit the front for Astana to control the situation, it was clear that the break would stay away.

 

Zakarin was first at the top of the climb and had now distanced the peloton by a massive 1.45. Intxausti launched a small attack but he was quickly brought back.

 

In the peloton, Alberto Contador suddenly tried a surprise attack that saw Fabio Aru drift back in the peloton. Instead, it was sprinter Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) who shut it down.

 

Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) both ride aggressively on the descent but as they hit flatter roads, Luis Leon Sanchez set a slower pace for Astana. Maciej Paterski (CCC) attacked and he was joined by Phillippe Gilbert (BMC) to form a duo that gradually edged closer to the chasers where Hesjedal was riding hard to maximize his time gains.

 

However, no one was going to catch Zakarin who held everybody off to take a huge solo win. Betancur beat Pellizotti in the sprint for second while Paterski and Gilbert made it to the line in 8th and 9th. Lobato won the sprint of the peloton.

 

Contador got safely through a hard and wet day and so defended his 3-second lead of Aru. He faces another tough stage tomorrow as the course for stage 12 has a very hilly finale. After a completely flat first part, the riders go up three short climbs before they get to the bottom of the Monte Berico, a 1.2km climb with an average gradient of 7.1%, where the puncheurs hope to sprint for the win.

 

A hilly course

After yesterday’s flat stage, the riders were back in the hilly terrain on stage 11 which brought the riders over just 153km from Forli to Imola. The first half was very tough with five short, steep climbs while the second half was made up of almost four full laps of a 15.4km finishing circuit on the Imola racetrack. The circuit included a 4.4km climb with an average gradient of 4.1% and then descended for the final 7.6km to a flat finish.

 

The riders had cloudy weather when they gathered in Forli for the start. There were no non-starters as they headed out for their neutral ride after many riders had done a warm-up to prepare for what was expected to be a very fast start to the stage.

 

Points for Nizzolo

That turned out to be true as the riders took off an amazing speed. When they got to the first intermediate sprint after just 7.6km of racing, no one had managed to escape and this meant that the sprinters could go for the points. Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) was first across the line followed by Elia Viviani (Sky), Nicola Boem (Bardian), Maxim Belkov (Katusha) and Eduard Grosu (Nippo-Vini Fantini).

 

As they got to the bottom of the Passo del Trebio, it was still all together. Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) used the climb to give it a go but he was quickly brought back. Instead, Diego Rosa (Astana) got clear and he stayed clear for a few kilometres before he was also brought back.

 

The break is formed

Near the top 10 riders got an advantage and that group was quickly whittled down to just four riders: Rosa, Benat Intxausti (Movistar), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo). They crested the summit with a 15-second advantage over the peloton which was led by Tinkoff-Saxo.

 

That group got bigger as four riders got across and it even swelled to 11 riders. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r), Franco Pellizotti (Androni), Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r), Sylvain Chavanel (IAM), Ruben Fernandez (Movistar), Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) and Marek Rutkiewicz (CCC) were the riders that joined the move but Chavanel was quickly distanced. Simone Stortoni (Androni), Darwin Atapuma (BMC) and Fracis Mourey (FDJ) all tried to join the move but they failed.

 

Betancur goes down

The 10-rider break had to fight hard to get an advantage. At the 44km mark, they were 53 seconds ahead and 2km later they had increased it to 1.19. In the peloton Tinkoff-Saxo set the pace and they allowed it to go out to 2.05 after 48km of racing. Since then the gap has continued to grow and it is now 3.02.

 

Tinkoff-Saxo allowed the gap to go out to 3.50 as Matteo Tosatto led them down a wet descent where Betancur had a small crash. However, the Colombian was quickly back on his bike as they hit the bottom of the second categorized climb.

 

BMC take control

Here BMC showed their intentions as Marcus Burghardt and Brent Bookwalter started to chase hard for the American team. While they brought the gap down, Fernandez tried to lead Intxausti out for the KOM sprint but it was Betancur who led the group across the line, followed by Intxausti, Kruijswijk and Pellizotti.

 

Lot of riders were getting dropped from the peloton which was still 3.35 behind as they crested the summit. Meanhile, Rosa beat Montaguti and Rutkiewicz in the final intermediate sprint.

 

The peloton splits

On the wet descent, Burghardt and Bookwalter rode very fast and this made the group split to pieces. At the bottom, the first group was only made up of BMC and Tinkoff-Saxo riders. A group with Astana and Etixx-QuickStep made it back and later a bigger group led by Sky also rejoined the maglia rosa. However, half of the peloton had been distanced and never made it back.

 

Tinkoff-Saxo tried to exploit the situation by having Christopher Juul working with Bookwalter and Burghardt. When he stopped, Sky came to the fore with Bernhard Eisel taking a few turns.

 

Geniez tries to rejoin the peloton

The gap had gone down to 1.45 as they hit the Tre Monti climb for the first time with 55km to go.  FDJ were leading a second group and now tried to send captain Alexandre Geniez across as the Frenchman joined forces with Simon Geschke (GiantAlpecin).

 

At the top of the climb, the gap was still 1.35 and now Tinkoff-Saxo came to the fore to stay safe on the descent. However, they quickly disappeared and instead Bookwalter, Burghardt and Küng were back on the front for BMC.

 

The front group splits up

At the first passage of the finish line, the gap was only 54 seconds while the peloton – led by Trek – was much further back. Geniez and Geschke made the junction as they again started to climb while Fernandez was dropped from the front group.

 

On the steepest part, Intxausti made a big acceleration that split the group. Initially only Betancur, Hesjedal and Zakarin could keep up with him but Pellizotti was quick to make it back. Later Kruijswijk and Rosa also rejoined the group while Montaguti and Rutkiewicz combined forces further back.

 

The faster pace had increased the gap to 1.40 and now BMC decided to play their next card. Instead of leading the chase, they sent Küng off in an attack and he quickly got an advantage of 30 seconds. That forced Orica-GreenEDGE to hit the front with Durbridge and moments later they crossed the finish line to start the penultimate lap and the exciting finale.

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