This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) won a crash-affected fifth stage at the Giro d'Italia from Cosenza to Matera with Angel Vicioso (Katusha) finishing in second and Paul Martens (Team Blanco) in third. Luca Paolini (Katusha) avoided going down in the pile-up and retained his overall lead in the race for another day.
Degenkolb had started the day as a pre-race favourite, his punchy sprint and climbing ability enough to pinpoint him as the man to beat should the race be decided by a sprint. When the sprinters with weaker climbing legs were distanced on the penultimate climb of Montescaglioso, Degenkolb marshalled his lead-out train to the front. Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) had long since been dropped but Elia Viviani (Cannondale), Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) and a number of other gallopers remained and were targeting victory.
However on the late corner disaster struck as one of Degenkolb's lead-out train, Luka Mezgec, lost his front wheel on the wet road and skidded into the barriers. The screech of brakes and locked wheels immediately followed as the a dozen or so other riders crashed and the majority of the bunch was held up.
Marco Canola (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox), who had led the peloton through the turn, looked back to see just Degenkolb in the distance chasing him. The Italian bolted forward, aware that the biggest win of his life awaited if he could just hold on. It looked possible until the final 200 meters, when the German bulldozed past to take his first Giro d'Italia stage win.
"My lead-out man crashed along with some other guys," said Degenkolb of the hectic finale. "There was one guy in front from Bardiani (Canola). I looked back and there was just Viviani behind. Then I went full gas to the finish to catch the Bardiani rider."
"In the end I couldn't see, I was so empty. It was a great job from my team. We had the confidence and we took the responsibility. It was really hard in the end. It would have been not that hard but I had to suffer a lot to get to the finish today."
How it happened
Luca Paolini (Katusha) rides in the pink jersey
After four days that had seen three race leaders, fireworks from the GC contenders and murmurs of a Colombian conspiracy at the heart of Team Sky, the peloton was looking to take a welcome breather during the stage and for those that have followed this pulsating race to take stock.
Bright sunshine greeted the peloton in Cosenza and when the early move of Tomas Gil (Androni Venezuela), Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani Valvole), Alan Marangoni (Cannondale), Ricardo Mestre (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Brian Bulgac (Lotto Belisol), and Rafael Andriato (Vini Fantini Selle Italia) sailed clear inside the first five kilometres it was time to sit back as the race hugged the Ionian coast and headed toward Matera.
But this is the Giro, a race that doesn’t do relaxing and certainly not predictable. As the peloton sauntered through Rocca Imperiale, the heavens began to open. The showers weren’t constant but they were enough to keep the intensity brewing and the nervousness in ferment.
The break opened a nine-minute gap but by the time the race began to move inland, towards the two final strappi that decide the nature of the finishing group the gap was down to less than four minutes.
Mark Cavendish’s Omega Pharma QuickStep comrades were missing from the front but with only one sprint stage so far in this year’s race there was no shortage of teams willing to take control. Argos-Shimano and Orica-GreenEdge combined to dismantle the final hopes the break may have had and by the time the tiring six had reached the slopes of the Montescaglioso they were sitting ducks and quickly swept up.
The sprinters’ teams huddled around their protected riders, eager for the pace to remain constant rather than breakneck and when Movistar and Garmin-Sharp began forcing the pace it briefly looked as though another GC battle could erupt. Ryder Hesjedal sat in third wheel as at the back rider after rider began to fall by the wayside.
Cavendish misses out
Mark Cavendish’s leadout man Geert Steegmans was among the first to sit up but with under one kilometre of the climb to go Cavendish began to slip back too. The sprinter had wisely started the climb near the front and he lasted longer than former Giro winner Stefano Garzelli (Vini Fantini) but with 500 metres remaining the former world champion’s shoulders began to buckle and weave, a sign that fatigue would end his chances. A number of teammates waited for him going over the top of the climb and they started to chase. But it was game over when they failed to get back on and the Manx Missile would have to save his speed for another day.
Garmin-Sharp by now were in full swing, Tom Danielson making an appearance before a mechanical forced him into the red. Pirazzi picked up the maximum points on offer as the road bent upwards but the peloton would not let anyone get away.
BMC took up the reigns on the twisting descent and Pirazzi and two breakaway companions were brought back on the long drag to the finish. Danielson suffered his problems at this point as Matteo Rabottini jumped clear. The Vini Fantini rider was unable to draw out more than a handful of seconds and when Dupont tried a similar counter attack with five kilometres to go BMC ushered their bodies to the front with Cadel Evans in close quarters with his GC rivals.
Argos-Shimano, who had taken a back seat over the top of the climb, remerged as the peloton hovered up Dupont and it looked as though Degenkolb, Vicioso and Viviani would fight out the sprint. But in a split second there was a crash. The wet roads, a tight left-hand corner and the riders went down like dominos. Suddenly Degenkolb’s job had suddenly become much easier but also longer as he was forced to sprint for 800 metres. The expected winner, perhaps, but in unexpected circumstances.
Giro BikeRadar challenges
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