Giro d'Italia 11: Gadret grabs first Grand Tour stage win

Contador finishes in top five and keeps maglia rosa

On an uphill drag to the line, with the steepest pitch inside of the final kilometre, John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale) rocketed out of a diminished peloton to take his first Grand Tour stage win.

The Frenchman overtook Daniel Moreno (Katusha), the last survivor of the day's decisive 11-man break, with 200m remaining and held off the charge of Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Italian champion Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) for the victory.

Gadret dedicated his win to Wouter Weylandt. "I thought all day of Wouter's funeral," he told the AFP news agency after the finish. "Although I am not a Belgian, I had to win for him. Cycling is a big family. Since his death I keep thinking about the crash. I wanted to do something to honour him, I am satisfied."

Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) finished fifth to defend his maglia rosa which for most of the day had "virtually" rested on the shoulders of Christophe Le Mevel as the Garmin-Cervelo rider had been in the day's escape group. Although at one point it looked as if the Frenchman would take over the race lead, all of the escapees would ultimately be brought back by the peloton. Le Mevel then lost several seconds in the finale and dropped from third overall at 1:19 to fourth at 1:28.

"The stage was hard. We managed to catch the break with Le Mevel. Other teams were interested in working then," said Contador to the AFP news agency.

Le Mevel said he joined the breakaway “on instinct”.  He gave it a good but unsuccessful try.  “The pink jersey doesn't want me.  In the end I look like a fool but I took a chance.  I'm disappointed.”

A "virtual" leader

It was a short but difficult stage from Tortoreto to Castelfidardo, with barely a flat metre to be found. The race profile was nothing but ups and downs and included four ranked climbs, all category four. Nobody assumed it would be an easy day.

The stage started with a moment of silence for Wouter Weylandt, who died last week in a crash in the Giro's third stage. The Leopard Trek rider's funeral was held today in his hometown of Gent, Belgium.

The aggression started early on with many attempts to break away, but it took a while for a group to succeed. And when the break of the day formed, it had a surprise in it: Christophe Le Mevel of Garmin-Cervelo.

Le Mevel, Daniel Moreno (Katusha), Marco Manzano (Lampre-ISD), Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas-Cannondale), Fabio Taborre and Carlos Alberto Betancourt (Acqua & Sapone), Simone Stortoni (Colnago-CSF Inox), Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank) and Ignatas Konovalovas (Movistar) successfully escaped with approximately 80km to go in the 142km-long stage. They were soon joined by Tiago Machado (RadioShack) and Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky) to form an 11-man break.

Le Mevel's presence caused some uncertainty in the group. He came into the stage in third place overall, only 1:19 behind maglia rosa Alberto Contador. The others in the break were worried that he might doom the group, but the Frenchman stayed with them. Contador and his Saxo Bank-SunGard teammates seemed satisfied with the state of things, and let them go.

As a result, Le Mevel was in the virtual lead all day - but only just - as their advantage never increased much above two minutes. Several times Contador could be seen in conversation with Garmin-Cervelo's David Millar and Murilo Fischer, with the speculation being that there was a discussion of whether the Spaniard would let Le Mevel take the lead in the race or not.

At the head of the race, the fireworks commenced when Moreno jumped out of the break just before the day's final classified climb, the Morrovalle at 115.9km. The Spaniard took top honours on the climb and instead of waiting around afterwards, he just kept going alone.

From there it turned into a game of counting the seconds: would Moreno stay ahead? And more importantly, what was the gap between Le Mevel and Contador?

The day's break had never functioned perfectly, and it didn't get better from here. Betancourt jumped out in chase of Moreno, but behind him the remaining nine seemingly couldn't coordinate their efforts. They soon caught Betancourt who struggled on one of the day's numerous little climbs.

Le Mevel then lead a group of four in chase, in a bid to grab the maglia rosa, or at least move up to second place in GC. But Moreno hung on to his lead, even building it up by a few seconds, while from behind the peloton came ever closer.

The Le Mevel group crossed the intermediate sprint 22 seconds after Moreno, while the peloton was 1:14 behind the lone Spaniard.

It was at this point that Konovalovas made his move. The powerful Lithuanian, the reigning and three-time national time trial champion, attacked the chase group and caught Moreno with 9.6km to go

At first Konovalovas zipped past him, but Moreno dug deep to join the Lithuanian. They built their lead up to over 30 seconds, while further back the peloton was finally giving furious chase. Even sprinter Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) took a turn driving the peloton, hoping to set up teammate Michele Scarponi for the taxing finale.

The last three kilometres of the stage were uphill, with a 10% section right at the end. The two leaders went into the final climb with an even larger gap, 45 seconds, while the peloton gobbled up the rest of the former break group, putting rest to Le Mevel's hopes.

With a furious tempo being set at the head of the peloton by Lampre-ISD, the break's once large gap dropped dramatically, reduced to only 11 seconds at the flamme rouge.

Moreno surged with 450 meters to go, dropping Konovalovas, after nervously looking back over his shoulder a number of times at the rapidly approaching chase.

Konovalovas fell back to the field, and with some 300 meters to go, Gadret jumped from the peloton and powered his way up the difficult final pitch. Moreno's bid for victory was dashed with 200m remaining as the Frenchman flew by to earn the biggest win of his career.

This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.

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