This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Movistar's Giovanni Visconti produced a superb stage-winning performance to claim what was probably the best win of his career as he finished alone in falling snow on the Col du Galibier. Visconti was one of a small group of riders who jumped away near the top of Mont Cenis in the search for mountains points and then increased their advantage on the descent off that climb and the run through the valley to the foot of the Col du Télégraphe. Visconti went clear of the group on the Télégraphe, cleared the summit with a lead of 40 seconds and maintained his advantage all the way up to the finish next to the Marco Pantani monument, 4km below the programmed finish.
"I can't still believe I won in such a mythical climb like this. It's been a really hard year for me and I gave everything in of my heart for this victory," said Visconti.
Giovanni Visconti wins stage 15
"I didn't have any energy left for the finale, so it was my mind that got me through the climb today. It's a honour for me to win in front of the Pantani monument. I was born on January 13 like him, and I'm sure he helped me a bit today. This is the real me, not the rider you saw over the past one and a half years. All my team-mates and the staff were so happy for me because they know what I've gone through. [Movistar manager] Eusebio Unzué was always there supporting me and used to repeat a sentence I tried not to forget: 'The one who is strong will always remain strong.' I kept it in mind for every single metre today.
"This is a proof of sacrifice paying off, giving you a reward sooner or later. I hope this victory will be a turning point in my career, because I'm who goes well when they are confident. I hope I won't be fighting 'only' for national championships, but also for other kinds of races. For the time being, I don't expect anyone will sleep better than me tonight. This one is for my family, my kids. They are my life, my oxygen. I won thanks to them."
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) easily nullified all attempts to threaten his race lead, finishing in a group with all of his major rivals a minute down on Visconti. A number of riders tried to escape from this group, including Nibali himself at one point, but none of them managed to make an attack stick in the freezing conditions.
Snowy conditions on the Galibier
The icy weather not only resulted in the stage finish being moved several kilometres down the Galibier, but also led to a truce being declared in the peloton until the summit of Mont Cenis was almost in sight. Nearing it, mountains leader Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani Valvole) and Robinson Chalapud (Colombia) went clear. They were caught on the descent off the climb by a chase group that included Visconti, Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge), Matteo Rabottini (Vini Fantini) and Paolo Longo Borghini (Cannondale).
Their lead rose to almost six minutes as they approached the Col du Télégraphe. Weening tried hard to escape the group on this climb, but Rabottini and Visconti came back up to him. Visconti responded with an attack of his own and pushed his lead out to 42 seconds crossing the Télégraphe.
He sped down into Valloire, which sits in the dip between this pass and the Galibier, then started up the 13km ascent to the snow-shrouded finish. Rabottini made a vain attempt to chase down Visconti, but eventually fell back to the maglia rosa group, which was closing in rapidly behind.
Nibali’s Astana team-mates never looked in danger of losing control of that group. They were happy to let Robert Gesink (Blanco) go clear on the Télégraphe and allow Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel), Robert Kiserlovski (RadioShack) and Sergio Henao (Sky) to join him, holding them at around 30 seconds before steadily reeling them in. Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel) showed his form is getting better day by day with an attack from 5km out, but he too ended up back with the Astana-led group.
Coming into the final kilometre, four riders did finally manage to slip away from Nibali and his henchmen, among them the two riders battling for the young rider jersey. Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff) held it, but lost out in the sprint for second on the stage to Carlos Betancur (Ag2r) and for third to Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre). The 12 bonus seconds Betancur gained enabled him to leapfrog Majka into the white jersey for stage 16 on Tuesday.