Nieve soloes to stage 13 win as Amador moves into pink
Andrey Amador made history as the first Costa Rican to lead a Grand Tour on a day Spaniard Mikel Nieve saved Team Sky's Giro d'Italia with a fine solo win in Cividale del Friuli.
Nieve, Sky's veteran Basque climber, broke clear of a large leading group on the second of four categorised climbs in the frantic 170-kilometre stage 13 in Friuli, the semi-autonomous region of north-east Italy near the Slovenian border, to secure his second career stage win on the Giro after holding off a chasing Giovanni Visconti (Movistar).
The 31-year-old's victory was a welcome tonic to the British Team Sky, who lost their leader Mikel Landa to illness earlier in the week to see their chances of a high GC finish in the 99th edition of La Corsa Rosa go up in smoke.
In that fight for pink, Luxembourg's Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep) lost the race lead after being dropped by the race favourites on the 16% maximum gradient of the tough final climb. Amador, the only Central American on cycling's WorldTour, finished with the race favourites 1:17 down on Nieve and made history when Jungels came home 50 seconds adrift.
Amador, 29, now leads Jungels by 26 seconds on GC with Italy's Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) rising to third after the Italian pipped rival Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) for third place on the stage to snare four valuable bonus seconds.
The likes of Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge), Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2R-La Mondiale) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) all finished in the same group to preserve their strong positions on GC.
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“I didn’t think it would happen. I’m really happy to have this jersey,” said the new race leader Amador, before admitting: “I’m not a real climber and I didn’t have the legs I wanted today.”
Amador, whose mother is a Russian immigrant who moved to Central America after marrying his Costa Rican father, dedicated his maglia rosa to his home nation.
“This jersey is dedicated to everyone in Costa Rica who stayed up to support me late into the night. I hope this does a lot to promote cycling back there.
“The team couldn’t have done a better job today: we had men in the break and, of course, Alejandro [Valverde] is very strong and in a good position, too.”
Andre Amador shows off his maglia rosaAFP
Giovanni Visconti, Jose Joaquim Rojas, Jasha Sutterlin and Carlos Betancur were the Movistar men in an initial huge group of 30-odd riders that formed after the first intermediate sprint, which was won by Frenchman Arnaud Demare (FDJ). Austrian Stefan Denifl (IAM Cycling) soloed clear of the escapees on the Cat.1 climb of Montemaggiore some 115km from the finish.
The break fragmented on the climb as some riders dropped back and others joined from the main pack – all while Denifl rode on alone to crest the summit more than a minute clear. Visconti contrived to crash on a tight bend having pipped Italian Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini) for second place in the battle for the blue jersey. The Italian recovered and the roles were reversed over the next climb, the Cat.2 ascent to Crai – although without the dramatic tumble this time round.
Despite holding a decent advantage over his pursuers, Denifl, who had struggled on the tight turns of the technical descent, sat up and was reabsorbed by a 24-man break, which held a lead of around three minutes on the main pack – whereby putting Italian double stage winner Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) into the virtual pink jersey.
But after a flat drag ahead of the third climb of the day, the race exploded into action in the Cat.1 Cima Porzus climb inside the final 40 kilometres with Nieve soloing clear and the Astana team-mates of Vincenzo Nibali blowing the pack to pieces with an infernal pace on the 8.9% slopes.
Visconti was one of a handful of riders – including Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale) and Matteo Montaguti (Ag2R-La Mondiale) – to try and chase down Nieve. But the Basque climber held his nerve over the two final climbs, crossing the finish line 43 seconds clear of Visconti, the only remaining escapee not caught or passed by the big race favourites.
BIG WINNER OF THE DAY
Andrey Amador made history for Costa Rica but the 29-year-old (incidentally the oldest maglia rosa so far in this Giro) had been knocking on the pink door for a while now. Instead, the ride of the day came from Mikel Nieve, who turned things round for Team Sky following the shock departure of Mikel Landa earlier in the week.
“It was a plan that after Mikel Landa abandoned we had the obligation to win a stage. Today it was possible and we tried full gas since the start,” said Nieve, who was joined in the initial break by team-mates Seb Henao and Christian Knees.
“We will try again [for a stage win]. We won today, tomorrow is also hard, and we will try during all the mountain stages. Our priority now is to win stages.”
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Just why did Stefan Denifl sit up? The Austrian was riding 1:30 clear of the break and over three minutes ahead of the race favourites when he sat up and waited for his pursuers on the side of the road during the descent of the second climb to Crai. Perhaps he was under team orders from IAM Cycling, who didn’t think he could make it stick? But the decision seemed all the more bizarre given Denifl’s strong sixth place finish on the stage, the 28-year-old arriving with the pack of favourites.
For some the 210-kilometre stage 14 from Alpago to Corvara in the Dolomites is the queen stage of the race thanks to its succession of five peaks each of which are over 2,000 metres above sea level. If there’s no summit finish, then a cruel 19% ramp still follows a fast downhill before the road rises gradually to the line. Sit tight, buckle in, and enjoy the ride.
Felix Lowe - @saddleblaze