This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Spanish rider Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) took stage 10 of the Giro d’Italia in Assisi and also claimed the pink jersey as overall leader after an exciting climax to the afternoon’s racing in the historic Perugian town.
The final five kilometres provided some of the most intense racing of the season so far, with Rodriguez mastering the undulations best and coming home clear of Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp) and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar).
Race leader Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) fought bravely to the death but could only finish sixth, and the time bonus afforded to Rodriguez for the win meant that he leapfrogs the Canadian to the top of the overall GC by 17 seconds.
“It was an important stage win especially for the bonus,” Rodriguez said. “Some journalists told me about the finish here and I now realise that it is suited to me. When you get to a finish like this one you have to use it to your advantage.”
The locals found themselves slightly deflated at the start by the news that one of their heroes, Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia), had been forced to pull out of the Giro with a broken hand. Pozzato had declared himself to be in good form and capable of a stage victory, but stage 9’s crash close to the finish spelled the end of his race.
At the 10km point, a small breakaway group had escaped, and they built up a gap of almost two minutes: Guillaume Bonnafond (AG2R); Miguel Mínguez (Euskaltel-Euskadi); Francesco Failli (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia); Matthias Brandle (NetApp); and Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM). With the top 13 riders in the GC all within one minute of race leader Hesjedal, the big guns appeared happy to play a game of cat and mouse behind the breakaway leaders, keeping their cards close to their chests as the race meandered up and down the rolling hills.
By the 50km point, the gap had increased to 4:50 and it stayed fairly constant for the best part of 40km. But as the riders approached the intermediate sprint the gap began to reduce and it was Keizer who took it ahead of Minguez in second place.
With a third of the race left the gap was down to two minutes, with Katusha doing most of the work in the chasing pack as they looked to help Rodriguez in his quest for pink. Garmin-Barracuda were live to the situation and they bunched around Hesjedal, knowing that the Canadian’s lead in the GC might be under threat.
The gap between the leading quintet and the peloton was being reduced as steadily as the excitement was building ahead of the finale. With 30km to go Keizer and Brandle had become detached from the leaders and Rabobank’s Stef Clement burst from the peloton to join them. Keizer and Brandle spent the next few kilometres over the uncategorised climbs and descents hanging on to the coat tails of the three-time Dutch national time trial champion as they tried to bridge the gap back to Bonnafond, Minguez and Failli.
But with just over 5km left, the peloton had engulfed all of the leaders and the stage was set for a breathless finish to the stage. The riders charged up the initial first climb back to Assisi, which reached a gradient of 15 percent at its steepest. Hesjedal, now without the protection of his teammates, was battling gamely at the front alongside the likes of Rodriguez, Michele Scarponi and Rabobank’s Tom Slagter, who attacked to no lasting avail.
Before the fans had time to regroup their senses, the climb turned into a sharp and fast descent, with Sky’s Rigobert Uran and AG2R-La Mondiale’s John Gadret sweeping round the outside and bursting clear. Within a matter of minutes they were climbing again and Rodriguez, aided selflessly by his teammate Daniel Moreno, positioned himself perfectly and powered away to the line for a cosy victory and possession of the maglia rosa.