In a tense finish to stage 18 of the Giro d’Italia, it was Eros Capecchi (Liquigas-Cannondale) who held his nerve in San Pellegrino Terme to seal victory in the sprint ahead of local rider Marco Pinotti (HTC-Highroad) and Kevin Seeldraeyers (Quick Step).
The win was no more than Capecchi deserved for his generous efforts throughout the stage: it was under his impetus that the trio put daylight between itself and an earlier 20-man breakaway on the slopes of the day’s main obstacle, the Passo di Ganda, and then his lengthy turns on the protracted descent to San Pellegrino ensured that they stayed clear.
Capecchi also showed considerable nous in what was always going to be a tactical sprint between three riders with no discernible finishing speed. While the 24-year-old appeared to be the most nervous of the winning group in the finale, constantly turning to check on the whereabouts of Pinotti, he cleverly manoeuvred himself into the ideal position in the finishing straight.
Pinotti led under the red kite, and decided to take a punt on leading out the sprint, and with Seeldraeyers glued to the Italian’s wheel, Capecchi was in danger of being squeezed out. However, on the final left hand bend 200 metres from home, he nudged his way between Pinotti and Seeldraeyers and into the box seat. From there, it was a formality, and Capecchi careered past Pinotti to take the win.
On crossing the line, Capecchi skidded to a halt and lay flat on the roadside as the emotion of the occasion threatened to overcome him. Back at Liquigas this season after a three-year hiatus with Saunier Duvall and Footon-Servetto, the trusted gregario was keen to soak up his day in the sun.
“It’s been a difficult Giro for me up to now, I haven’t succeeded in going as well as I wanted to, but now this is an uncontrollable joy,” Capecchi said, before dedicating his triumph to his late grandmother and cousin.
Bergamo native Marco Pinotti coveted this stage of the Giro above all others and though disappointed to miss out on glory on his training roads, he consoled himself with having played such a prominent role. He also explained why he chose to lead out the sprint after leading under the red kite.
“I was lucky to get into the right break, because everybody was trying to get clear,” he said. “I knew that after the last bend there was a slight descent, so I led it out and gave everything, but in a finish like that it was always going to be difficult for me.”
While Liquigas-Cannondale were able to celebrate their first success at the Giro thanks to Capecchi, team leader Vincenzo Nibali resisted the temptation to try and put maglia rosa Alberto Contador under pressure on the descent of the Ganda.
On a day marked by searing speeds in the opening hours of the stage, and ultimately run off at an incredible 45.186kph, the main contenders were happy to settle for a truce ahead of the return of the high mountains tomorrow. It was notable, however, that Contador’s Saxo Bank team was once again content to leave the marshalling of the peloton to Liquigas and Lampre-ISD.
Deignan breaks the deadlock in Bergamo
On one of the few apparent transition stages on this Giro, the tired legs in the gruppo would have been bracing themselves for a brisk beginning to proceedings in Morbegno on Thursday, but they could hardly have anticipated that it would take quite so long for the day’s break to establish itself.
The expected flurry of attacking materialised as soon as the flag was dropped, but with so many riders sensing that this was their last chance to shine at the Giro, it proved nigh on impossible for escapees to gain any purchase on their accelerations. Instead, the bunch covered a lung-burning 53km in the first hour and the rapid pace was to continue all the way to Bergamo, almost 100km into the day’s racing.
Eventually, it was a combination of the sharp cobbled climb to the city’s picturesque old quarter Bergamo Alta and the efforts of Philip Deignan (RadioShack) that split the peloton and triggered the events that would lead to Capecchi’s victory.
With the pace already high on the approach to the climb, Deignan picked his way to the front as soon as the road kicked up in earnest, and soon the peloton was strung out in his wake. When the Irishman turned around at the top of the climb, he found that a strong 20-man group had formed on his wheel, and they took advantage of a brief moment of confusion behind to press clear on a descent familiar to tifosi from the Tours of Lombardy of a decade or so ago.
A weary peloton was content to leave them to it, and in spite of its failure to collaborate smoothly, it was soon apparent that the day’s winner would emerge from that group. Among those to survive the ferocity of Deignan’s forcing through the narrow streets of Bergamo were Carlos Sastre (Geox-TMC), Oscar Gatto (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli), Gianluca Brambilla (Colnago-CSF), Russel Downing (Sky), Bram Tankink (Rabobank), Jerome Pineau (Quick Step) and Paolo Tiralongo (Astana), as well as Pinotti, Seeldraeyers and Capecchi.
While one might have expected the sizeable front group to stay together until the Ganda, the attacking continued on the approach to the climb, as they never succeeded in establishing any real rhythm. With 43km to go, a move featuring Pineau, Seeldraeyers, Capecchi, Pinotti, Downing and Brambilla ghosted clear, and with chaos reigning behind, they had a lead of a minute on their erstwhile breakaway companions at the foot of the Ganda, with the peloton a further three minutes back.
Capecchi forces the issue
Once on the slopes of the Ganda, Eros Capecchi was instantly to the fore, and he took responsibility for the lion’s share of the pace-setting on the way up the climb. His pressing quickly dislodged Downing and Pineau, and a kilometre later, Brambilla wilted under that pressure.
Pinotti and Seeldraeyers held firm however, with the former also putting in more and more lengthy turns of his own as the trio approached the summit of the category two climb, with 30km still to race.
Over the top, they had 20 seconds on Brambilla, and 1:20 on lone pursuer Paolo Tiralongo, whose strength on the ascent will have left him balefully rueing the fact that he missed out on the winning move. Back in the peloton, meanwhile, Liquigas were attempted to hinder the chase, although in truth there was precious little urgency in Lampre-ISD’s pursuit in any case, and the gap stretched out beyond six minutes.
While Brambilla and Tiralongo joined forces on the technical early part of the descent, they made no inroads on the gap to the leading trio, and when Capecchi put in a couple of monster turns in the final 10km as the roads became wider and straighter, they must have realised the game was up.
Wisely, the front trio continued their collaboration until the success of their break was assured with 3km to go. From that point on, the anxiety rose and the pace dropped accordingly, as the three non-sprinters faced off.
With Pinotti so keen to impress on home roads, and Capecchi doing little to hide his strength, Seeldraeyers threatened to spring an upset in the streets of San Pellegrino. But it never materialised, and instead it was Capecchi who took out the sprint to add sheen to Liquigas-Cannondale’s solid but uninspired Giro.
Whether his leader Nibali can follow that lead in the coming days remains to be seen, but opportunities are fast running out for the home challengers to derail the Spanish domination of this Giro.
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.