Giro d'Italia 8: Gatto gets it

Contador surprises for second ahead of Petacchi

He's been threatening to strike on a Grand Tour scale for several years, and in Tropea this afternoon Oscar Gatto (Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli) pounced on an opportunity that beckoned in the final two kilometers of a 217km journey to win stage eight of this year's Giro d'Italia.

The two men he beat for the top step of the podium - none other than Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) and Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD), who finished the stage in second and third respectively.

It came at the end of a long - and ultimately successful - day for Italian ProConti squad Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli, which wasn't invited to last year's Giro and demonstrated its worthy of its place in la corsa rosa with Gatto's victory and Leonardo Giordani's presence in the two-man breakaway.

After working for team leader Giovanni Visconti during the opening week of this year's edition of the Giro, the riders of Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli were able to play other cards in today's stage and it worked, as Gatto recognized after the finish; he thanked them and his directeur sportif Luca Scinto.

"I'm a sprinter, but I've always liked finishes like this, slightly uphill and technically difficult," said Gatto after the finish.

"I threw away the first two years of my career but I'm starting to make up time now. I just didn't understand how much work I had to do to be a professional. I have to thank Luca Scinto because he's helped me a lot. This stage win is for him."

It was a brave move from someone confident in their ability; maybe a sign of his increased maturity and probably the result of greater faith in his ability, Gatto was able to repay Scinto's belief with his stunning late attack.

"I looked around once but didn't see anyone. Then when I looked again, I saw it was a Saxo Bank and thought, 'I wonder if it's Contador,' said Gatto.

"I was slightly worried because I knew I didn't have much left for an eventual sprint. But when I checked one last time near the line, I knew I'd got it and began celebrating."

"I felt good on the [final] climb and it was good having a teammate in the break for the day," he said. "A victory in the Giro is great but to finish in front of Alberto Contador makes it even better."

Contador's late jump from the pack to take second on the stage moved him into fifth on the general classification, 13 seconds behind overall leader Pieter Weening (Rabobank), with one of his biggest rivals, Michele Scarponi, a second behind in sixth. The top four places remain unchanged from yesterday.

"Today for me and the team it was simple, only the finish was going to be hard," said Weening. "There were a lot of climbers [in the front group] and I had to be in the front because there could have been a lot of time gaps.

"I still have good legs so we'll wait for the last climb up Etna and see what happens."

Raining on the fast men's parade

Gatto spoiled the party that was supposed to be that of the sprinters in Tropea with his attack late in the stage to hold on and take victory, and many were tipping Mark Cavendish to take line honors in the coastal city. Before the start he Tweeted that he had seen the finish and knew positioning would be important.

It wasn't to be however, as the HTC-Highroad sprinter was nowhere to be seen in the finale despite some solid work from his teammates in the last 40km; conversely, Petacchi proved that he's the best fast man at this year's race with his third place.

With a long and relatively flat parcours, today was chance for many of the big overall contenders to recuperate from a fast stage yesterday - acknowledged as such by the likes of Carlos Sastre and Contador - and save energy for tomorrow journey to Mt Etna, which has loomed large in the consciousness of the general classification hitters and promises to make for spectacular racing.

After just two kilometers, Giordani and Mirko Selvaggi (Vacansoleil-DCM) attacked, destined to spend the day toiling in isolation off the front of the bunch. Their endeavours netted them a maximum advantage of 10:50, which seemed a little generous, but it had been slashed to four minutes as the peloton passed under the banner indicating 35km remaining.

With 20km left to ride and the finish in Tropea beckoning, the break still held onto an advantage hovering around 2:30, an impressive feat given the length of the stage and the brevity of their stay within the bunch this morning. Given the fact that HTC-Highroad and Lampre-ISD were doing plenty of work to bring the plucky escapees back to the fold, the gap came tumbling down after this point.

And having spent all but 9.5km off the front of the bunch, Giordani and Selvaggi ended their adventure with a handshake and an embrace, sitting up with 7.5km remaining as the peloton pushed hard to sweep past the Italian duo.

The small climb that provided a finishing flourish to the day's long journey was a cue for Gatto to shoot from the pack solo and head for home, which he did, ensuring the efforts of Contador were only good enough for second place and the 26-year-old from Montebelluna could celebrate the biggest win of his career.

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