Stage 15: Forlì - Blockhaus
By AFP & Cyclingnews.com
Sunday, May 24, 2009 4.00pm
Tough stage takes its toll on peloton
Italy's Leonardo Bertagnolli of the Diquigiovanni team broke away to win the 15th stage of the Tour of Italy on Sunday.
Russia's Denis Menchov of Rabobank held on to the leader's pink jersey after a race that took place amid soaring temperatures and featured a spirited attack from Italy's Ivan Basso.
Belgium's Serge Pauwels nosed ahead of a group of pursuers on the line to take second place, less than a minute behind the winner of the 161km course.
Bertagnolli broke clear from Pauwels with 12km to go, the 25-year-old Belgian having been the only rider from the initial breakaway to stick with the Italian during the closing stages of the arduous race.
Bertagnolli said: "I was relieved to find myself out on my own as I was worried about a sprint finish.
"With a 30sec lead I thought I'd be okay but when the gap closed I started asking myself questions. Happily things worked out well.
"I know the road well as I live in Russo, which is only 15km from here."
It was a long hot day for Rabobank, protecting leader Denis Menchov
With 40km to race, Basso launched an attack from the head of the peloton on the slopes of Monte Casale after his team isolated his rivals with a sudden burst of acceleration.
Basso's compatriot Stefano Garzelli was the only man to follow him and the duo quickly closed the gap on a group of 16 riders who had broken away within the first hour of the race.
The gap between Basso and his direct rivals in the general classification peaked at 1min 10sec on the approach to the summit of Monte Trebbio before being whittled away on the road down to the rolling plains of Faenza.
The pair were eventually swallowed back into the main group with 15km remaining.
Menchov found himself marooned without team support in the group chasing Basso, but the Russian managed to keep his main challenger Danilo Di Luca in his sights.
Lance Armstrong lost ground on the last two climbs but limited his loss of time on the favourites to just one minute.
Bertagnolli's victory was the 31-year-old's first in the Giro d'Italia, having been recruited by Diquigiovanni at the beginning of the month in anticipation of the race. His most notable successes to date include a stage win at the 2005 Tour of Spain and victory in the 2007 San Sebastian classic.
Monday's 16th stage, considered the race's most gruelling, is a mountainous 237km trek through the Apennines between Pergola and Monte Petrano.
© AFP 2009
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