This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) thrilled the home crowd in Lecco by defeating Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) in a pulsating finish to stage 15 of the Giro d’Italia. It was a performance of daring and bravery from Rabottini, who led the stage from almost start to finish, and had enough left in his legs at the death to repel the challenge of the rampaging Rodríguez.
The Spaniard looked to have timed his finishing burst to perfection by catching Rabottini with just 400 metres left, but the Italian jumped onto the wheel of the Katusha leader as he tried to accelerate past him, then unleashed a final winning effort that he totally deserved after a gruelling 172km stage through rain and mist that featured four categorised climbs.
Rodríguez’s performance in finishing second was enough to snatch the leader’s jersey back from Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) with a week of racing left to go. Having lost the maglia rosa to the Canadian in yesterday’s 14th stage, the Katusha man’s determination to take it back proved decisive as the main group of contenders clawed back a deficit of several minutes on the final climb.
“After more than 150km in a break, winning in the sprint was an amazing feeling,” said Rabottini. “Like everyone I had come to the Giro hoping to win a stage... and I’ve done it! This is truly the best day of my life. I had [Farnese DS] Luca Scinto and [Farnese CEO] Valentino Sciotti in the team car cheering me on. When Rodríguez came up to me, I almost lost all hope, but I held firm and it went well. To whom do I dedicate this victory? To the child who is set to make me a father in two weeks and to my girlfriend.
Garmin’s Hesjedal was obviously disappointed to lose the lead, admitting he is looking forward to tomorrow’s rest day. “It’s gone,” he said of the pink jersey just after crossing the line. “Today was tough for everyone, it was a horrible day. I was not as good as yesterday. I’m glad it’s over and I hope to take advantage of the rest day and fight with the best again.
Rabottini broke clear with Ag2r’s Guillaume Bonnafond in the opening kilometres of tough mountain stage to Pian dei Resinelli, above Lecco. The pair quickly built up a substantial lead, which reached more than nine minutes after 50km had been covered. As they pressed on at the front, back in the bunch Fränk Schleck created the first headlines of the stage when he abandoned after 33km. He has been complaining of shoulder problems since his run-in with Alex Rasmussen a few days ago.
A second breakaway formed with 92km covered when Androni’s Emanuele Sella went away and was joined by Euskaltel’s Amets Txurruka. Over the course of the next few kilometres they were joined a string of other riders including Lampre’s Damiano Cunego, Rodríguez’s team-mate Alberto Losada, Movistar duo Marzio Bruseghin and stage 14 winner Andrey Amador and BMC’s Marco Pinotti.
These riders quickly gained several minutes of the maglia rosa group, making Damiano Cunego the leader on the road. Meanwhile, up at the front, Rabottini decided after the first of the four climbs that he would be better off without Bonnafond and moved clear of the Frenchman. There will still 75km to the finish.
The stage then became a tale of two pursuits. Rabottini was the hare being chased by the Cunego group, while the Liquigas-led peloton began to increase its pace heading over the second and third climbs.
At the top of that third climb, with the climb to Pian dei Resinelli still ahead of him, Rabottini’s advantage had been cut to less than three minutes as Txurruka, Amador, Cunego, Losada and Colnago action man Stefano Pirazzi led the chase. The peloton was almost another three minutes back.
The rain had made things difficult for the riders all day, and the tiring Rabottini fell victim to it when his rear wheel slipped away on some road markings and he slid down. Assisted by a spectator the Farnese man was quickly back on his way again, but the incident cost him vital seconds. Heading onto the final climb, with 7km left, his lead on the Cunego group was little more than two minutes, with what remained of the peloton closing fast.
The first move from this group came from defending champion Michele Scarponi, but the Lampre man could not stay clear. Rodríguez was the next to attack and this time no one was able to close down the gap. The little Spaniard flew through the remains of the group that had been chasing Rabottini and very soon had the plucky Italian in his sights too.
The odds looked good for Rodríguez to take a second stage win, but Rabottini found some final reserves from somewhere. With the crowd roaring him on, Rabottini surged through for a hard-fought and very worthy success. To Rodríguez went the maglia rosa and a huge confidence boost going into the rest day.