COLOMBIAN rider Rigoberto Uran won the first big mountain stage of the Giro d’Italia yesterdday, and Vincenzo Nibali held on to the overall lead after the tenth leg.
Pre-race favourite Sir Bradley Wiggins dropped further behind on the steep, uphill finish, while defending champion Ryder Hesjedal dropped out of contention on the first climb.
The 26-year-old Uran, who rides for Wiggins’ Sky team and won the best young rider’s jersey during last year’s race, won in four hours, 37 minutes and 42 seconds over the 167-kilometre (104 miles) leg from Cordenons to Altopiano del Montasio, which featured two difficult climbs, including a long, gruelling uphill finish. It was Uran’s first victory in a Grand Tour.
“It nice to finally be able to finish off a victory,” he said.
Another Colombian, Carlos Betancour, finished 20 seconds behind in second. Nibali, an Italian with Astana, won a sprint for third, 31 seconds back to keep the pink jersey.
Mauro Santambrogio was fourth and 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans was fifth, both also 31 seconds back. Wiggins finished in tenth place, 1:08 back.
Nibali earned an eight-second bonus for finishing third and increased his lead over Evans to 41 seconds. Uran moved up from ninth to third, 2:04 back. Wiggins remained fourth but now trails by 2:05, while Robert Gesink of the Netherlands is fifth, 2:12 behind. Michele Scarponi, the 2011 Giro winner, dropped from fifth to sixth. “Today could have been a difficult day because it followed a rest day,” Nibali said. “Wiggins lost some time. I was worried about Scarponi, but he also lost something. At this point, I think Evans becomes one of the most dangerous opponents. I have a decent lead on Uran and just as much on Wiggins. I think we’ll keep an eye on both of them. I won’t know Sky’s strategy but we’ll try to figure it out.”
Henao, another strong Colombian climber for Sky, is 19th overall. “We had three cards to play – me, [Sergio] Henao and Wiggins – and it worked for me today,” Uran said. “We have the strongest team. Both Henao and I know that our job is to help Bradley. But then, of course, we’ll see day by day what happens.”
The first climb over the Cason di Lanza pass lasted 14.5 kilometres (nine miles) at gradients as high as 16 per cent with snow lining the road. The finishing climb to Montasio, in the Giro for the first time, lasted 21.9 kilometres (13.6 miles) with stretches at 20 per cent gradients.
Earlier this year, fans were allowed to send in messages for the stage via Twitter, which were printed on the road leading up to Montasio, which is located in the northeastern corner of Italy.
The stage began with a 13-man breakaway, which fell apart on the first climb. Nibali had a tyre puncture but quickly caught back up to the main pack with the help of his teammates.
On the finishing climb, Sky rode up front to set up Uran’s attack with eight kilometres (five miles) to go. Stage 11 today is a 182-kilometre (113-mile) leg from Tarvisio to Vajont featuring two category-2 climbs. The race ends on Sunday in Brescia.