Ulissi doubles up as Jungels shines in pink
Italy's Diego Ulissi took his second win of the Giro d'Italia in a three-way sprint at Asolo with Andre Amador and the maglia rosa Bob Jungels in an exciting Stage 11 that saw Dutchman Tom Dumoulin abandon through injury.
Ulissi, the 26-year-old livewire from Lampre-Merida, outfoxed his rivals after joining Etixx-QuickStep's Jungels and Movistar's Amador on a short climb into the finish town at the conclusion of the 227-kilometre stage from Modena.
An otherwise pan-flat ride through the plains of the Po sparked into life with a back-loaded final 25 kilometres that featured a double-digit fourth-category climb, a technical, twisting descent and a series of rolling hills on the approach to Asolo – the Veneto town where Vincenzo Nibali won his first stage in the Giro d'Italia back in 2010.
It was that man Nibali, the 2013 champion from Astana, who broke clear on the descent of the Forcella Mostaccin climb with Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Colombian Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) once a three-man break had been swallowed up on the decisive climb.
The trio had been reeled in by a reduced peloton with 14 kilometres remaining when Amador – trailing Jungels by just 26 seconds in the overnight standings – took advantage of a slight lull to ping off the front and put the pink jersey under serious pressure.
Jungels led the chase with true panache, catching the Costa Rican and driving a fast pace as the pair held back a swelling peloton into which many sprinters had managed to return after being tailed off on that earlier climb or by a nasty pile-up that split the pack inside the final 30 kilometres.
With the road heading back uphill into Asolo, Ulissi sprung clear from the pack to join Jungels and Amador on a cobbled section of road in the town centre. The Italian then used his experience to sit on Jungel's back wheel before darting ahead on the home straight to snare the sixth Giro stage scalp of his career.
Amador pipped Jungels for second place to move two seconds closer to the Luxembourg national champion in the overall standings – but Jungels defended the maglia rosa with honour and deservedly stretched his lead over his other rivals by 17 seconds, with third place Valverde now 1:07 down on the race summit and level on time with fourth-place Nibali.
“I knew I couldn’t let Amador go like he did yesterday and once I joined him we pulled together and looked good,” 23-year-old Jungels said. “It was a shame that Ulissi caught us because he was always favourite for the stage win.”
An early 10-man break was thwarted by Ulissi’s Lampre-Merida team as the riders covered a staggering 51.5 kilometres in the opening hour of a stage played out under sunny skies in northern Italy.
Three riders eventually managed to extricate themselves from the peloton after 85 kilometres, with local lad Liam Bertazza (Wilier Triestina-Southeast), Russian Anton Vorobyev (Katusha) and Norway’s Vegard Stake Laengen (IAM) managing to build up a maximum lead of 11 minutes as the race head north and past Bertazza’s home town of Este.
But the gap came tumbling down once Lampre-Merida, Trek-Segafredo and Gazprom-RusVelo committed men to the front of the pack, with only a nasty pile-up 28 kilometres from the finish momentarily slowing the chase.
Many of the key sprinters – including Frenchman Arnaud Demare (FDJ) and Australian Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) – were caught up in the crash, which also saw Italian GC outsider Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2R-La Mondiale) lose ground on his rivals and Australia’s Leigh Howard (IAM Cycling) fall into a roadside stream.
The subsequent climb of Forcella Mostaccin did for the break, with Laengen the last man to be caught just ahead of the summit with 19 kilometres remaining. Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) led the pack of main favourites before Nibali edged clear with Valverde and Chaves on the descent.
ULISSI TIMES IT RIGHT
Amador’s attack forced an isolated Jungels to take things into his own hands, the race leader finding no allies in the leading group as he singlehandedly closed the gap himself.
Rather than sit up, Jungels then pushed on with Amador – the top two on GC also the top two on the road. Their advantage, however, never crept much above 10 seconds – so when Ulissi, fresh after being paced up the climb by team-mates Matej Mohoric and Valerio Conti, decided to pounce, they were easy pickings for the in-form Tuscan.
Colombian Carlos Betancur tried to latch on to his wheel but the Movistar rider was unable to bridge over. Ulissi caught the leaders with four kilometres remaining on the cobbles in the old town before a final drop to the finish.
Jungels drove the trio under the flamme rouge and even opened up the sprint in the closing metres but it was Ulissi who had the sprinting pedigree to take a hard-fought – but logical – win.
“I’m happy for myself and for the team because they all worked very hard closing down the early break, which had 10 riders, and then the second break,” Ulissi said.
“It was hard to compete with the GC favourites on the climb and I have to than Mohoric and Conti for helping me there. I was able to save some energy and use it in the final sprint.”
The 99th edition of La Corsa Rosa continues on Thursday with the entirely flat 182-kilometre stage from Noale to Bibione – a final chance for the sprinters before the race enters the high mountains.
Felix Lowe - @saddleblaze