Millar magic on Contador's day

Spain’s Alberto Contador secured his second Giro d’Italia triumph after finishing third on stage 21, an individual time trial won by Britain’s David Millar.

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Wearing only pink, Contador (Saxo Bank) completed the 26 kilometre course around sunny Milan 36 seconds down on Garmin-Cervelo’s Millar, who set a strong time of 30 minutes 13 seconds over a flat but technical route.

Italy’s Michele Scarponi (Lampre) protected his second place on the podium despite finishing 10 seconds slower than compatriot Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) in the decisive time trial.

Scarponi completed the three week race 6:10 slower than winner Contador, with Nibali taking third place at 6:56.

Frenchman John Gadret (AG2R-La Mondiale), an unfancied time trial rider, limited his losses to secure a fourth place in the overall standings, 10:17 down on the maglia rosa, while Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) completed the top five, 11:05 down.

Riding the course almost two hours earlier than the top GC contenders, 34-year-old Millar put on a stellar display of time trialling, looking comfortable and assured throughout his ride.

Millar held the best time at the first intermediate check after 8.9km until Contador, riding last as race leader, topped his effort by a slender one second. The Scot had a small slump over the second third of the course, coming over the 18.1km check six seconds down on Dane Alex Rasmussen (HTC-Highroad).

But a superlative final third saw Millar claw back the time lost to Rasmussen, who he beat by seven seconds across the line.

It was Millar’s 10th stage win on a Grand Tour, but his first individual scalp on the Giro, three years after picking up the team time trial stage in the 2008 edition of the race.

Assured of the overall victory, 28-year-old Contador, the 2008 winner, took his foot off the gas as he entered the centre of Milan, dropping to 17 seconds behind Rasmussen’s benchmark time at the 18.1km check.

Entering the final straight, Contador rode the final 150 metres of the 94th Giro d’Italia with his arms aloft as he celebrated a career sixth Grand Tour victory.

Having asserted his authority as early as stage 9 of the race, when he picked up the pink jersey after riding solo to victory atop Mount Etna, Contador looked in complete control throughout the race.

Two stage victories and four second-place finishes showed just why the Spaniard is regarded as the best rider of his generation.

However, his critics will still point to the up-coming summer hearing with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which will decide Contador’s fate after the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) appealed against the Spanish cycling federation’s decision to clear the former Astana rider after he tested positive for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol during last year’s Tour de France.

Felix Lowe / Eurosport

Climb every mountain…Vasili 'That one was for Tondo'

 Kiryienka remembers Tondo with win

Movistar’s Vasili Kiryienka raised both hands to the sky in memory of the late Xavier Tondo as he crossed the line to win stage 20 of the Giro d’Italia at Sestriere.

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The Belarusian won the penultimate stage of the Giro after a superb solo ride over the two climbs of the day, the precipitous Colle delle Finestre and the steady ascent to Sestriere in the Italian Alps.

Kiryienka’s team-mate Tondo was killed last Monday in a freak domestic accident when he was trapped between his garage door and his car before heading out for a training ride.

The victory marked the first opportunity a Movistar rider has had to dedicate a victory to Tondo – although Spain’s Alberto Contador, the race leader, did pay his respects to his fellow countryman after winning Tuesday’s individual mountain time trial.

Kiryienka was part of a 13-man breakaway which formed on the initial flat part of the 242km stage from Verbania to the popular ski resort near the French border.

The group, which also included stage 18 winner Diego Ulissi and the race’s most combative rider in RadioShack’s Jaroslav Popovych, built up a large lead of 12:30 before the feeding zone.

But hard work on the front of the peloton by Liquigas, AG2R and Saxo Bank saw the gap whittled down to just six minutes at the foot of the first category Colle delle Finistre climb, 45km from the finish.

With the lead dropping fast, Kiryienka took matters into his own hands, breaking clear on his own and riding solo over the narrow gravel track to the summit.

Venezuela’s Jose Rujano (Colnago) – who won a similar stage to Sestriere in 2005 in devastating fashion – attacked from the main pink jersey chasing group, catching all the remaining escapees by the time he reached the summit, 3:45 down on the lone leader.

The 29-year-old Kiryienka increased his lead on the quick descent and started the final ascent to Sestriere with a large 4:20 minute advantage over Rujano and Carlos Betancourt (Acqua & Sapone).

Despite the win all but assured, Kiryienka kept his focus with an assured display of climbing – and it was not until the finishing straight that the all-rounder showed a bit of emotion.

After shaking the hand of his directeur sportif, Kiryienka took a drink, put on his sun glasses and then broke out in a big grin. Crossing the line after six hours and 17 minutes in the saddle, Kiryienka then pointed to his sponsor’s logo and a black ribbon in memory of Tondo, before raised both hands towards heaven.

It was Kiryienka’s second career win in the Giro following success in stage 19 of the 2008 edition.

Rujano took second place, 4:43 behind, before Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) came home a further six seconds down.

Contador finished in a select chasing group of riders, just under six minutes off the pace, to retain his maglia rosa ahead of Sunday’s final stage, a 26km individual time trial in Milan.

The Saxo Bank rider leads Michele Scarponi (Lampre) by 5:18 and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) – who lost 26 seconds to his rivals on the final ascent – by 6:14.

Despite failing to pick up any further points on Saturday, Italian Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) secured the overall green jersey as best climber.

Felix Lowe / Eurosport

With a little help from my friends…Stage 19 of the Giro

 

Italy’s Paolo Tiralongo broke Astana’s duck with victory in stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia – thanks to a little help from a former team-mate.

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Race leader Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) caught Tiralongo within the closing 500m of the 209-kilometre stage in northern Italy, but allowed his old friend to take the summit win in the small alpine village of Macugnaga.

The riders were team-mates last year at Astana, with Tiralongo a key component in Contador’s third Tour de France win.

The 33-year-old Italian broke clear of the pink jersey group on the second of two climbs – a long category three ascent with a maximum gradient of 12 per cent – 6km from the finish.

In reaction to numerous counter attacks from the likes of John Gadret (AG2R) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Contador broke clear of the chasing group with just one kilometre left to ride, catching Tiralongo on the closing straight.

But instead of riding past the Italian to secure his third stage victory of the race, Contador instead paced his companion to the line, allowing Tiralongo to take the biggest stage win of his career.

It was Contador’s fourth second-place in this year’s Giro: after being beaten fair and square by compatriot Oscar Gatto (Farnese Vini) in stage 8, Contador gifted successive wins to Jose Rujano (Colnago) and Igor Anton (Euskaltel) in stages 14 and 15.

The Spaniard’s graciousness and magnanimity will go a long way to win over the home fans, who have now celebrated three Italian stage wins in succession.

Tiralongo’s triumph was born out of clear frustration; 24 hours earlier, the Italian finished fifth in stage 18 despite a huge effort to chase down the leading group of three riders.

On Friday’s rain-lashed stage 19, Tiralongo succeeded in breaking clear on the final climb at the second attempt.

Fierce work on the front of the peloton – split by a crash which forced the retirement of HTC pair Marco Pinotti and Craig Lewis – by Katusha and, in particular, Italy’s Danilo Di Luca, had seen the day’s two remaining escapees – Jerome Pineau (Quick Step) and Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini) – reeled in with 14km remaining.

With Katusha momentarily taking their foot off the gas, Tiralongo spotted his opportunity. Thwarted at the first attempt, the Astana rider went again just moments later – and soon held a 30-second lead over the peloton with just 3km to ride.

But Katusha’s trump card Rodriguez finally made his move. The Spaniard appeared to have Tiralongo in his sights before Contador suddenly intervened, countering an attack by Gadret, passing the pair of them, and joining his former team-mate’s wheel.

The intervention probably ensured Tiralongo’s chances of holding on – and it was a fitting finale to see the maglia rosa allow his former gregario take the spoils.

The emotional Sicilian crossed the line after almost five and a half extremely wet hours in the saddle. Another Sicilian, Vincenzo Nibali (Liqugas) took third place, three seconds down, while Gadret and Rodriguez took fourth and fifth, at six seconds.

Contador leads Italy’s Michele Scarponi (Lampre) by 5:18 going into Saturday’s stage 20, which finishes with the legendary climb to Sestrieres. Nibali completes the provisional podium, 5:52 down.

The Giro finishes on Sunday 29 May with a 26km individual time trial in Milan.

Felix Lowe / Eurosport

Eros take Stage 18…

Giro d’Italia – Capecchi cruises to stage 18 win.
Stage 19 Live today on British Eurosport from 13.30

Italy’s Eros Capecchi (Liquigas) outsprinted compatriot Marco Pinotti (HTC) and Belgian Kevin Seeldraeyers (Quick Step) to take stage 18 of the Giro d’Italia in San Pellegrino.

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Capecchi made light work of the final sprint, reacting to Pinotti’s lead-out and powering across the line in pole position after an undulating 151-kilometre stage in northern Italy.

The three riders were part of a large group which formed as the race passed through the narrow cobbled streets of Bergamo, 55km from the finish.

Six riders then made a second selection before the Capecchi trio broke clear on the slopes of the second category Passo di Ganda climb.

Pinotti, who wore the pink jersey early in the race following HTC’s victory in the opening team time trial, led the leaders over the summit with a 15-second advantage over lone chaser Gianluca Brambilla (Colnago).

Brambilla was caught by another Italian, Astana’s Paolo Tiralongo, on the descent – but the duo were unable to make any headway and were soon riding more than a minute off the pace.

With Pinotti the best-placed rider in the GC – almost half an hour down – the Saxo Bank-Sungard team of maglia rosa Alberto Contador had no interest in chasing down the break.

As the three leaders entered the final kilometre in San Pellegrino, Capecchi lurked at the back while both Pinotti and Seeldraeyers toyed with each other on the front.

Following Pinotti’s lead, Capecchi then upped his tempo, sprinting clear with 150m to spare and taking the stage with apparent ease. It was the 24-year-old from Castiglione del Lago’s biggest career win – and a second for a Tuscan rider after the victory on Wednesday of Lampre’s Diego Ulissi.

Brambilla and Tiralongo came home in that order, 1:22 off the pace, while Britain’s Russell Downing (Team Sky) led the rest of the initial break over the line, 4:35 down.

Race leader Contador arrived in the peloton 6:04 in arrears to retain his maglia rosa going into the third to last stage of the race.

After two consecutive summit finishes, the Giro concludes on Sunday with a shortened 25km individual time trial in Milan.

Felix Lowe / Eurosport

Ulissi wins stage 17 amid controversy – Sir Paul Smith hands out the Pink Jersey!

Giro d’Italia – Ulissi wins stage 17 amid controversy, Contador receives the Maglia Rosa from fashion guru Sir Paul Smith.

Italian youngster Diego Ulissi was awarded victory in stage 17 of the Giro d’Italia after compatriot Giovanni Visconti was relegated to third place for irregular sprinting.

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Farnese Vini all-rounder Visconti reacted angrily after apparently being boxed in on the closing straight of the 230-kilometre stage from Feltre to Tirano, pushing his rival from Lampre twice and gesticulating to his compatriot before crossing the line in first position.

Ulissi finished second and Spaniard Pablo Lastras (Movistar) took third, although race commissaires quickly decided to demote Visconti to third place for dangerous sprinting, gifting the win to the 21-year-old Ulissi.

The three riders were all part of a 16-man group which broke clear of the peloton 55km into the undulating stage in northern Italy.

Coming into the closing straight, all three riders – along with Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Lotto) – were competing for victory after building up a small lead over the remaining escapees.

Ulissi opened up the sprint and Visconti quickly took his wheel on the right hand side of the road. But then Italian national champion Visconti swung across the road, nipping in front of Lastras and behind Ulissi, to take a different line by the crash barriers on the left.

Believing his fellow Italian to be still riding to his right, Ulissi veered to the left making it very hard for Visconti to continue his drive to the line.

In response, the Farnese Vini rider twice pushed Ulissi with his right hand before swinging an arm in disgust and then crossing the line in pole position. Losing balance, Ulissi was forced to swing to his right and almost collided with Lastras before coming home to take second.

An irate Visconti, talking to reporters after the finish, claimed he had shouted at his countryman to warn him of his line and had acted the way he had through necessity. He also claimed Ulissi had ridden all day with a “bad attitude”.

“I was coming twice the speed as him and I would not have managed to get to the line if I didn’t do what I did,” the 28-year-old said. “He’s a young rider and he had a bad attitude all day long. I’m happy I beat him but I am sorry because these things should not happen on the Giro.”

Moments later, race commissaires announced that Ulissi was to be granted the win and Lastras second-place after Visconti was disqualified to third.

It was a controversial end to another hot and long day in the saddle which saw maglia rosa Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank SunGard) preserve his 4:48 minute lead over Italian Michele Scarponi (Lampre) in the overall standings.

The breakaway – which also included riders such as Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Slipstream) and Kanstantsin Siutsou (HTC-Highroad) – built up a maximum lead of around eight minutes before the second category Passo del Tonale.

With one of their men – Spaniard Jesus Hernandez – in the break, the Saxo Bank team of Contador had little interest in chasing down the leaders. Instead duties were left to the Liquigas team of third-placed Vincenzo Nibali, who was touted prior to the stage as a possible attacker on the final descent to the finish.

Liquigas upped the tempo, but by the start of the final climb – the third category ascent to Aprica – it was clear that the break would stick. Multiple attacks ensued, but nothing definitive, meaning the streamlined group started the 15km descent to the finish as one.

A big dig by Lastras, 5km from the finish, brought about the decisive split in the group, teeing things up for a mouth-watering sprint finale which was somewhat soured by the histrionics of Visconti.

The Giro continues on Thursday with the 151km stage 18 from Morbegno to San Pellegrino Terme.

Eurosport.

Giro d'Italia Stage 16- Unstoppable Contador marches on

Back after a rest day, the Giro marches on. We have been folowing the Eurosport reports for the 2011, but please take time to take a look at this La Gazetta dello Sport page for a comprehensive round of the race so far. http://www.gazzetta.it/Speciali/Giroditalia/2011/en/
Spain’s Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) all but sealed the Giro d’Italia with a dominating win in stage 16, a 12.7km uphill time trial in the mountains of northern Italy.

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Contador finished the demanding route from Belluno to Nevegal a huge 34 seconds ahead of Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali just moments after the Liquigas rider had clocked what looked set to be the fastest time.

The Spaniard now leads Italy’s Michele Scarponi (Lampre) by 4:58 in the overall standings with five stages left to race.

But Contador’s second stage victory in this year’s Giro was far from rudimentary: 13 seconds down on Nibali at the first time check after the initial 5.3km technical flat section, the 28-year-old looked to be under severe pressure on the ascent to Nevegal.

Constantly in and out of the saddle, and looking far from his usual composed self, Contador nevertheless put in a titanic display as he rode through throngs of local fans who had been bolstered by the strong performances of both Scarponi and Nibali.

Another Italian, Acqua & Sapone’s Stefano Garzelli, had earlier moved into the provisional lead after a solid ride – only to see his hopes of winning a second successive Giro mountain time trial stage dashed by Venezuelan climber Jose Rujano (Androni Giocattoli).

Three minutes later, Nibali crossed the line to shave five seconds off Rujano’s effort – before Scarponi, in the red points jersey, rode into second place, four seconds behind Nibali.

With no intermediate time check after 5.3km, Nibali looked set to open up his account for this year’s race – especially in the light of Contador’s apparent unease.

But the fact of the matter was further proof of Contador’s total dominance in the 94th edition of the race: the Spaniard not only entered the closing straight with a chance to win, he did so with an almighty cushion.

The 34-second advantage he had over Nibali at the finish was bigger than any time gap on the day – and all but assured Contador’s second Giro triumph and his sixth Grand Tour victory.

Speaking to reporters after his latest epic performance, Contador dedicated his win to compatriot Xavier Tondo, the former Movistar rider who was tragically killed on Monday in a freak domestic incident.

Contador now leads Scarponi by 4:58 in the GC, with Nibali completing the podium 5:45 down.

The Giro continues on Wednesday with an undulating 230km stage 17 which features the second-category Passo Tonale but finishes after a quick descent into Tirano.

Felix Lowe / Eurosport 

It's Euskatel again! – Stage 15 of The Giro

You wait seventeen years to win a stage at the Giro d’Italia and then two come along together…Contador still in Pink and a rest day on Monday, back for a time trial on Tuesday.

Spain’s Mikel Nieve made it two wins in two days for Basque team Euskaltel-Euskadi by taking stage 15 of the Giro in the Dolomites.

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It was Euskaltel’s second win in as many days after Igor Anton’s stage 14 victory on Saturday ended the Spanish team’s 17-year wait for a maiden scalp in the Giro d’Italia.

Italy’s Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone), who earlier in the day won the prestigious Cima Coppi prize awarded to the rider who crosses the race’s highest peak in pole position, finished second, 1:41 down on Nieve.

Race leader Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) survived a series of attacks from his rivals on the GC to finish a strong third, 10 seconds down on Garzelli.

Italy’s Michele Scarponi (Lampre) moved into second-place in the GC after taking fourth place, just six seconds down on the pink jersey.

The big losers of the day were Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) and Anton after they were distanced on the last two of five gruelling climbs on what should prove to be the race’s toughest day.

Nibali had asked serious questions of Contador after he dropped the Spaniard on the long descent from the snow-capped Passo Giau – at 2,236 metres, the highest point in the 94th edition of the Giro.

But despite building up a 35 second lead, the reigning Vuelta champion struggled on the vertiginous slopes of the Passo di Fedaia, crossing the summit almost a minute down on his main rivals.

Nibali managed to catch the pink jersey chasing group on the last wet descent of the day, but struggled to keep the pace on the final 6km climb to the finish.

Losing a further 1:42 to Contador at the finish, Nibali was also leapfrogged by Scarponi in the GC. Scarponi is now Contador’s closest rival in the standings, 4:20 down, with Nibali dropping to third, at 5:11.

Anton, who rose to third place after Saturday’s stellar performance on Monte Zoncolan, finished well off the pace and sinks to fifth in the GC, at 6:52.

Both Nieve and Garzelli were part of an initial 18-man breakaway which formed on the first climb of the day, the first category Piancavallo.

The break worked well together, building up a lead of more than 12 minutes before Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) went on the offensive at the start of the Passo Giau climb.

The Dutchman, who is fast building a reputation as a thrilling if unpredictable breakaway artist, looked a good bet to become the first Dutch rider to win the Cima Coppi prize.

But Garzelli, winner of the illustrious title in 2009, had other plans. The 2000 Giro champion attacked alongside Nieve, catching the rapidly tiring Hoogerland 3km from the summit.

Garzelli then dropped Nieve before crossing the summit with a lead of 45 seconds. With the rain lashing down, Nieve cut the deficit on the descent and the two riders started the final climb of the day side by side.

Sensing Garzelli had run out of steam, Nieve rode off alone in pursuit of glory. And despite the late fireworks by the pink jersey group behind, the man in orange kept his cool to complete the 229km stage in a time of 7:27:14.

The win was his second in Grand Tours following victory in stage 16 of the 2010 Vuelta. He now rises to sixth on the GC, 7:03 behind Contador.

After a rest day on Monday, the Giro resumes on Tuesday with the 12.7km mountain time trial from Belluno to Nevegal.

Felix Lowe / Eurosport 

Anton at the top of Monte Zoncolan first for stage 14

It was a tough finish to Stage 14, with the long climb up to the summit of Monte Zoncolan, just as the heavens opened on the riders. You can watch Stage 15 live today on Eurosport from 13.00

Spain’s Igor Anton was first to the summit of the legendary Monte Zoncolan to win a shortened stage 14 of the Giro d’Italia ahead of compatriot Alberto Contador.

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Italians Vincenzo Nibali and Michele Scarponi took third and fourth respectively on a day when Contador once again strengthened his grip on the maglia rosa.

Basque rider Anton (Euskaltel) attacked inside the closing seven kilometres and rode alone to the summit of the much-feared climb to take the biggest win of his career.

Anton becomes the first non-Italian to win on the vertiginous slopes of the Zoncolan since it made its Giro debut back in 2003.

Amid boos from the fervent home crowd, race leader Contador (Saxo Bank) crossed the line 33 seconds behind Anton and six seconds ahead of Nibali (Liquigas).

Reigning Vuelta a Espana champion Nibali had been distanced on the early part of the climb before clawing his way back onto Contador’s wheel with 4km left to ride.

The pair rode together until Contador put in a dig inside the closing kilometre, increasing his lead over the young Italian to 3:20 in the overall standings.

Another home favourite, Lampre’s Michele Scarponi, found himself distanced by the three leading riders on the final climb, before suffering a mechanical problem with his chain.

Finishing fourth, Scarponi lost 1:12 to the stage winner and now drops to fourth place in the GC at the expense of Anton, who now lies just one second behind Nibali.

Russian Denis Menchov (Geox) finished the stage in fifth place, 1:20 down, while stage 11 winner John Gadret (AG2R) was sixth, at 1:38.

Saturday’s stage was shortened from 220km to 190km on Friday night after race organisers decided to pull the controversial climb and descent of the Monte Crostis.

Confusion reigned during the race prior to the ascent of the Zoncolan when the route was altered yet again following alleged protests at the foot of the Monte Taulis, a short second-category climb that has been introduced to replace the Crostis.

As a result, a further 20km was taken off the stage. This led to an initial panic from the peloton, who had let a three-man breakaway ride 12 minutes up the road.

Some frantic pace setting by the Liquigas team of Nibali saw the advantage whittled down to just three minutes at the foot of the day’s showpiece finale.

Italian rookies Gianluca Brambilla (Colnago) and Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini) were first to be caught, the veteran Dutchman Bram Tankink (Rabobank) managing to hold on until the final five kilometres before being swept up by Anton and his pursuers.

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) had made an early break on the 18 per cent gradient slopes of the Zoncolan, but the Spaniard soon tired once Anton made his move.

Until the closing two kilometres, Anton never rode more than 30 metres further up the road than race leader Contador. But the 28-year-old turned on the style towards the finish, opening up a comfortable cushion before saluting the tifosi as he passed triumphantly under the banner.

Twelve months ago, Ivan Basso won convincingly atop the Zoncolan on his way to the overall victory in Milan.

This year, the pink jersey seems destined to adorn the shoulders of the ruthless Contador all the way to the finish.

The Giro continues on Sunday with a long 229km trek from Conegliano to Gardeccia-Val di Fassa. The route includes the Giau, the race’s highest point, as well as the dreaded Fedaia climb and the gruelling summit finish.

Felix Lowe / Eurosport 

Some frantic pace setting by the Liquigas team of Nibali saw the advantage whittled down to just three minutes at the foot of the day’s showpiece finale.

Italian rookies Gianluca Brambilla (Colnago) and Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini) were first to be caught, the veteran Dutchman Bram Tankink (Rabobank) managing to hold on until the final five kilometres before being swept up by Anton and his pursuers.

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) had made an early break on the 18 per cent gradient slopes of the Zoncolan, but the Spaniard soon tired once Anton made his move.

Until the closing two kilometres, Anton never rode more than 30 metres further up the road than race leader Contador. But the 28-year-old turned on the style towards the finish, opening up a comfortable cushion before saluting the tifosi as he passed triumphantly under the banner.

Twelve months ago, Ivan Basso won convincingly atop the Zoncolan on his way to the overall victory in Milan.

This year, the pink jersey seems destined to adorn the shoulders of the ruthless Contador all the way to the finish.

The Giro continues on Sunday with a long 229km trek from Conegliano to Gardeccia-Val di Fassa. The route includes the Giau, the race’s highest point, as well as the dreaded Fedaia climb and the gruelling summit finish.

Felix Lowe / Eurosport

Rujano wins stage 13 – But Bertie in control overall

Today’s stage live on British Eurosport at 13.00

Alberto Contador strengthened his grip on the maglia rosa by finishing second to Jose Rujano in a mountainous stage 13 of the Giro d’Italia.

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The Spaniard attacked on the final ascent to Grossglockner in the Austrian Alps, shedding all his rivals except the pint-sized Venezuelan climber.

With one stage victory already in the bag, Contador (Saxo Bank) allowed Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) to come through and take the win after a rain-lashed finale.

It was a monumental performance by Contador, who now leads Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali by 3 minutes 9 seconds in the overall standings.

Frenchman John Gadret, winner of Wednesday’s stage 11, came home 1:27 down on the two leaders, two seconds ahead of his AG2R-La Mondiale team-mate Hubert Dupont and Spain’s Igor Anton (Euskaltel).

A group containing Contador’s main rivals for the GC – including Roman Kreuziger (Astana), Michele Scarponi (Lampre), Denis Menchov (Geox) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) – crossed the line 1:36 down.

Three lower category climbs preceded Friday’s showdown ascent to the tallest peak in Austria. A group of 16 riders broke clear after 40 kilometres of the 167km stage, building up a maximum lead of just over five minutes before the first major test of the day.

Hard work on the front of the peloton by Anton’s Euskaltel team saw the group’s advantage cut to less than two minutes before the final climb of the day.

Astana’s Robert Kiserlovski had broken clear on the penultimate climb of the day but was soon caught by former pink jersey Pieter Weening (Rabobank) and Cayetano Sarmiento of Acqua & Sapone.

But both riders stood no chance staying out ahead once the race’s main contenders played their hand.

Rujano put in the initial attack, taking only Scarponi and Anton with him. Keeping calm, Contador reeled them in before launching his own devastating blow. 29-year-old Rujano was the only rider who could match his pace, and the pair rode over the climb’s first summit with almost a minute over their pursuers.

Wet conditions meant the likes of Nibali – an excellent downhill rider – could not take back any time before the final 5km rise to the finish.

Contador rode most of the final section on the front before allowing Rujano through to take the win. It was the Venezuelan’s second stage victory in the Giro, the first coming back in 2005 in Sestrieres.

The Giro continues on Saturday with a brutal 210km ride which includes the controversial Monte Crostis descent and a summit finish atop the legendary Monte Zoncolan.

Its Cavendish again! – Stage 12 of The Giro

Giro d’Italia – Cavendish doubles up on stage 12

Britain’s Mark Cavendish won stage 12 of the Giro d’Italia with a perfect sprint into Ravenna.

The Manxman benefited from another superb lead out by his HTC-Highroad team-mates, beating Italians Davide Appollonio (Sky) and Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) to take the 184-km pancake-flat stage through the Emilia-Romagna region in north Italy.

Shielded by his team-mates on the front of the peloton as it snaked into the famous comune town, Cavendish avoided a crash on a tight bend within the final kilometre before launching his triumphant sprint from the slipstream of Mark Renshaw.

Both Appollonio and Petacchi reacted well but could not match the 25-year-old for pace, finishing second and third respectively.

Roberto Ferrari of Androni Giocattoli came fourth and Quick Step’s Gerald Ciolek took fifth, while Spain’s Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) finished safely in the main pack to retain the maglia rosa ahead of the forthcoming mountains.

“We knew about the tight bends – we had seen it in the route-book – and so we made sure we were on the front of the bunch,” Cavendish said after his second win in three days. “Mark Renshaw did a perfect job. The whole team was incredible. I had a quick look behind and went for it. There was no real opponent for me today.”

Four riders – Michal Golas (Vacansoleil), Davide Ricci Bitti (Farnese Vini), Stef Clement (Rabobank) and Miguel Minguez (Euskaltel) – had broken clear of the peloton after just a handful of kilometres on the road.

The quartet built up a maximum lead of five minutes before Cavendish’s HTC team masterminded its inevitable demise, 12km from the finish.

The win marks the end of Cavendish’s race; along with most sprinters – such as the points jersey leader Petacchi – he will leave the Giro now that the final flat stage has been completed.

“I’m going home this evening,” Cavendish confirmed. “The last week has no sprints. I’m a professional and I need to recover for the Tour de France.”

Friday’s 167km stage 13 sees the riders head into the Dolomites and culminates with a brutal summit finish atop Austria’s Grossglockner, a huge 2,137 metres above sea level.

The opening stage in the Dolomites is the first of eight mountainous stages, including a summit finish at the revered Monte Zoncolan and an individual time trial up to the ski resort of Nevegal.

The Giro concludes on Sunday 29 May with a 31.5km individual time trial in Milan.

Felix Lowe / Eurosport 

“We knew about the tight bends – we had seen it in the route-book – and so we made sure we were on the front of the bunch,” Cavendish said after his second win in three days. “Mark Renshaw did a perfect job. The whole team was incredible. I had a quick look behind and went for it. There was no real opponent for me today.”

Four riders – Michal Golas (Vacansoleil), Davide Ricci Bitti (Farnese Vini), Stef Clement (Rabobank) and Miguel Minguez (Euskaltel) – had broken clear of the peloton after just a handful of kilometres on the road.

The quartet built up a maximum lead of five minutes before Cavendish’s HTC team masterminded its inevitable demise, 12km from the finish.

The win marks the end of Cavendish’s race; along with most sprinters – such as the points jersey leader Petacchi – he will leave the Giro now that the final flat stage has been completed.

“I’m going home this evening,” Cavendish confirmed. “The last week has no sprints. I’m a professional and I need to recover for the Tour de France.”

Friday’s 167km stage 13 sees the riders head into the Dolomites and culminates with a brutal summit finish atop Austria’s Grossglockner, a huge 2,137 metres above sea level.

The opening stage in the Dolomites is the first of eight mountainous stages, including a summit finish at the revered Monte Zoncolan and an individual time trial up to the ski resort of Nevegal.

The Giro concludes on Sunday 29 May with a 31.5km individual time trial in Milan.

Felix Lowe / Eurosport

Giro d'Italia – Gadret gallops to Giro stage 11 win

France’s John Gadret launched a late attack in the closing kilometre of stage 11 in the Giro d’Italia to take the biggest win of his career in Castelfidardo.

The AG2R climber took advantage of an uphill finish to break clear of the peloton and sweep up escapee Daniel Moreno (Katusha) with around 200m to spare of the undulating 144km stage through the foothills of the Central Apennines.

Spain’s Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) finished in fifth place to retain his leader’s pink jersey ahead of the flat stage 12 to Ravenna on Thursday.

Gadret’s win under the blue skies and hot sun of central Italy was the first Grand Tour scalp in the veteran 32-year-old former cyclo-cross champion’s career after seven years as a professional.

With just Moreno and fellow escapee Ignatas Konovalovas (Movistar) out ahead as the peloton sped under the kilometre-to-go banner, Gadret moved to the front of the bunch alongside the stage favourites – which included local favourite Michele Scarponi (Lampre).

Once Lithuania’s Konovalovas was dropped by Moreno it looked like the Spaniard would hold on for the victory.

But Gadret jumped clear with less than half a kilometre to go, catching an exhausted Moreno and holding off a late charge from another Spanish rider from Katusha, Joaquim Rodriguez.

The pint-sized bald rider from Epernay took the stage with Rodriguez coming home for second and Italy’s Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini) taking third.

Four fourth category climbs and a constantly bumpy road which featured no flat sections longer than 3km made for a gruelling day in the saddle for the 188 riders remaining in the race.

An early eight-man break involving Angel Vicioso (Androni Giocattoli), Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre), Vasili Kiriyenka (Movistar) and Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) was not allowed to stay clear.

A similar fate hung over a second group of around 12 riders, of which Britain’s David Millar (Garmin-Cervelo) was the most notable presence.

But with 80km left to ride a breakaway finally stuck. Interestingly, amongst the 11 riders was Frenchman Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Cervelo), third in the GC at just 1:19 from overnight leader Contador.

Owing to Le Mevel’s presence, the group’s lead never crept above the three-minute mark, with the Saxo Bank team-mates of Contador marshalling the peloton and leading the chase.

On the final fourth category climb of the day, Moreno attacked from the breakaway and was joined by Konovalovas on the descent. The duo rode 30 seconds clear of the chasing group, who were gradually reeled in by the pursuing peloton.

With 5km left to ride it looked certain that the win would be decided between one of the two riders – but some fierce riding at the front of the bunch by the Androni squad of stage 3 winner Angel Vicioso saw the lead whittled down to nothing.

Sensing his chance to star, Gadret seized the opportunity and timed his successful break to perfection.

Frenchman Le Mevel lost 13 seconds at the finish and drops to fourth place on the GC.

The Giro continues on Thursday with the pancake flat 184km stage 12 from Castelfidardo to Ravenna – a final chance for the sprinters to grab a win before the race returns to the mountains.

Felix Lowe / Eurosport

Cav wins stage 10 – Bravo from Bar Italia!

Bar Italia favourite Mark Cavendish won the sprint to take Stage 10 after the rest day in the 2011 Giro d’Italia. Cav is a regular visitor to Frith Street and he can be seen here with owner Antony Polledri (right) at the UK press launch for the Giro earlier this year. This from Eurosport.

Britain’s Mark Cavendish broke his duck with victory in stage 10 of the Giro d’Italia, outsprinting rivals Francisco Ventoso and Alessandro Petacchi in Teramo.

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After an expert lead out by team-mate Mark Renshaw, the HTC-Highroad rider timed his sprint to perfection, latching on to Petacchi’s wheel before blistering to an effortless win in the 159-kilometre stage in the Abruzzo region.

Knowing he was beaten, Petacchi (Lampre) took his foot off the gas to allow Spaniard Ventoso (Movistar) to take second place.

Cavendish was quick to praise his team-mates after winning his first stage of what has proved to be a very testing race for pure sprinters.

“There are only three proper sprints in this Giro and to be fair I thought the win would come in the first sprint and not as late as now,” Cavendish told Eurosport at the finish.

“But the team stayed hungry and they all did an incredible job. We’ll target another one in Ravenna,” the 25-year-old added, referring to Thursday’s pancake-flat stage 12.

The victory will be all the sweeter for Cavendish following claims made by Ventoso that the Briton should have been disqualified from the race for holding on to a team car during the gruelling ascent of Mount Etna on Sunday.

Cavendish finished stage 9 almost half an hour behind stage winner Alberto Contador – just 25 seconds within the cut-off time.

But Cavendish was quick to rubbish the Spaniard’s accusation, stressing his HTC team always practised fair play.

“I know what he (Ventoso) said,” Cavendish told Eurosport. “If I stop for a p*** or a wheel change I have the cameras in my face – and it’s always like that with me. Our team is currently leading the fair play standings. I know what I do and my team do too.”

Stage 10 was played out under stormy skies alongside the Adriatic coast. A three-man breakaway made up of Fumiyuki Beppu (RadioShack), Pierre Cazaux (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Yuriy Krivtsov (AG2R La Mondiale) quickly formed after a few kilometres of racing, building up a lead of six minutes.

Japanese rider Beppu, as well as his RadioShack team-mates, sported a sticker on his bike with the words “I ride for Wouter Weylandt” next to the 108 starting number of the late Belgian rider, who tragically died in a fall during stage three of the race.

The three escapees were reeled in with 12km left to ride, setting the scene for a bunch sprint. With straightforward flat finishes something of a rarity in the 94th edition of the Giro, the HTC team of Cavendish were never going to let the opportunity pass to give their man his best shot of victory.

Cavendish duly delivered to win the sixth Giro stage of his career. Contador (Saxo Bank-Sunguard) retained his overall leader’s pink jersey.

Wednesday’s undulating 142km stage 11 from Tortoreto to Castelfidardo includes four fourth category climbs and a handful of other minor hills, which should prove ideal terrain for a breakaway.

Bertie powers to the maglia rosa – Stage 9

Alberto Contador moved into the maglia rosa after winning stage nine of the Giro d’Italia with a trademark attack on the slopes of Mount Etna.

Contador (SaxoBank), Giro champion in 2008, started the stage fifth on general classification – the best-placed of the pre-race favourites after his late charge on stage eight – and 13 seconds behind overall leader Pieter Weening (Rabobank).

And the Spaniard launched a devastating triple attack 7km from the summit of Etna, disposing first of the chasing group, then Lampre rider Michele Scarponi, and finally Androni Giocattoli’s Jose Rujano to seize victory and take the leader’s jersey into the first rest day.

The three-time Tour de France champion, who remains the subject of a Court of Arbitration for Sport doping appeal, now leads the general classification by 59 seconds ahead of Kanstantsin Sivtsov (HTC-Highroad), with Christophe Le Mevel (Grmin-Cervelo) one minute, 19 seconds adrift.

The first major mountain stage of the 2011 Giro, the peloton left Messina with 169km ahead of them, first tackling the northern ascent of Etna, before descending towards the sea, turning back inland and climbing the volcano, Europe’s highest, from the south.

The race started with successive attempts to form a break, with Peter Kennaugh (Sky), Danilo Di Luca (Katusha), Luis Pasamontes (Movistar) and Simone Stortoni (Colnago) briefly escaping but without the firepower to stay away.

But Yaroslav Popovych (Radioshack), Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini), Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Alessandro Vanotti (Liquigas), Pablo Lastras (Movistar), Filippo Savini (Colnago-CSF), Mathias Frank (BMC) and Mikael Cherel (AG2R) soon made the decisive move to form a strong break.

Lastras was the danger man in the group, lying in seventh overall, just 22 seconds behind Weening. With the nine riders away, Maxim Belkov jumped off the front of the peloton in an attempt to bridge the gap, which stood at four minutes by the summit of the first ascent.

But, with Lampre, Liquigas and Astana all working on the front and after 45km riding solo, Vacansoleil rider Belkov was caught.

After a super-quick descent, the race turned back towards Etna and, with 25km remaining, the peloton began to chase the disorganised break, reducing the gap by more than a minute to three minutes, 15 seconds as the escapees rode under the 20km banner.

With the climb, averaging around six per cent, underway Di Luca dropped off the back and was soon joined by Cherel, Vanotti, Savini and Popovych.

Lastras too began to struggle and was left to carve a lone path through the lava fields, with Frank, Bakelants and Visconti pushing on and holding a one minute, 57 gap advantage that was to soon evaporate.

With the temperature sky high on the volcano’s barren slopes, Weening was spat out the back of the peloton, opening the door for a new leader.

And Contador seized his chance with both hands, attacking in the big ring with 6.8km to the finish, riding away from the group with Scarponi the only man to make the jump.

But Scarponi, in visible difficulty, was cast aside by the unstoppable Contador, who then towed Rujano, a climbing specialist, until 1.8km to go before dancing on the pedals for a third time and, teeth gritted, riding solo to the 1,892m summit.

Rujano rode valiantly to cross the line just three second behind Contador, while Stefano Garzelli took third, 50 seconds adrift, with Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), Roman Kreuziger (Astana), David Arroyo (Movistar) and Sivtsov recording the same time.