The snow and rain might have stopped for Stage Sixteen of the Giro d'Italia, but they still started in winter. When the peloton rolled out of Valloire for their 238km (148km) jaunt to Ivrea, the roads were clear, but the Col du Mount Cenis, their entry point to France on Sunday, was still covered in snow as they returned to Italy on the same road. The race started by climbing a mountain, traversed flatter roads before hitting a stiff 6.4km long climb shortly before the finish.
The pack took an hour to warm up, so no attacking as the riders shook out their legs. The slower the start, the better it is for sprinters like Cannondale Pro Cycling's Elia Viviani and Omega Pharma-Quickstep's Mark Cavendish. But the race sprung to life 46km (28.5mi) in, well before they hit the lower slopes of the Cenis.
22 riders got away, including the contenders for the blue King of the Mountains jersey. It was a big group, the kind that had most teams represented, and in it, a chance to stay away all day. A fact not lost on Cannondale Pro Cycling's Damiano Caruso, starting the day in eighteenth overall. While it had offensive possibilities, as he was the best-placed rider on the general classification, it was also necessary as Team Blanco's Wilco Kelderman, a rider placed just below Caruso was also in the split.
Despite their size, the Astana team of race leader Vincenzo Nibali kept the break close, never letting their lead get past six minutes.
As the lead started to drop, the Katusha and RadioShack teams went to the front to finish off the break for good. Both teams had riders whom Caruso could leap over if the break held an advantage all the way to Ivrea.
As the race hit 40km (25mi) to go, the lead was down to 90 seconds. Some of the escapees decided that wasn't enough of a cushion, and the break started attacking itself, picking up the pace and sending riders off the back. After mixing in with several of the attacks, and putting in a few of his own, Caruso decided to call it a day and faded to the pack.
Caruso's return to the field wasn't enough for Katusha and RadioShack. Kelderman was still out there, in a smaller, but more determined move. Stefano Pirazzi, the holder of the Maglia Azzura was in there as well.
As they hit the final climb of the day, the break was blowing apart as the favorites started attacking the climb and blowing apart the peloton. Pirazzi yo-yoed between getting dropped and attacking, and put in one last attack as the field started catching up to him. He looked like he might get those final points after all, but then White Jersey Carlos Betancur of AG2R attacked out of the field, past Pirazzi, and over the top first.
As Betancur started careening down the sinuous descent, Euskatel's Samuel Sanchez few out of the pack to join him. Then Maglia Rosa Nibali crossed to them, and everyone had to take amazing risks just to get down the mountain with the leaders.
On the flats before the finish, the lead group took turns attacking, all in hopes of dislodging Nibali for a few seconds and winning the stage. With everyone so aggressive, the attacks largely neutralized themselves.
But with just over 2km (1.2mi) remaining, Movistar's Benat Intxausti, Astana's Tamel Kangert, and Lampre's Prezemyslaw Niemiec got a small gap. As both Kangerd and Niemiec had teammates behind, the chase was muted.
Niemiec lead out the sprint, he was chased by Kangert, and Intxausti countered off of Kangert to win the day. Fourteen seconds behind, the Nibali group came in, none making any time on the leader.
Caruso, his ambition checked by the reality of the chasing peloton, found himself in diffculty on the final climb of the day and lost seventeeen minutes, dropping from 18th to 24th overall.
Caruso's escape was the team plan for the stage. Directeur Sportif Stefano Zanatta explained, "We thought was the good day for a break today. A huge group was the ideal situation, thus the escape was the right thing was to try. Caruso was our best chance, but the peloton didn't allow them the gap they needed. We knew that was a risk but we have to try to win. This is the leitmotif of our Giro. We're disappointed in the result and for Damiano's new position in the GC, but for sure he has the potential to achieve more than top 15." Caruso reiterated his boss' sentiment. "I tried to do my best but the result was not what we expected. There was the chance, and I did all that I could to be with the protagonists. Don't need to highlight how much I'm disappointed."
Tomorrow's Stage 17, the 214km (133mi) ride from Caravaggio to Vicenza is known to stagers as a "transition day." It takes you from one objective to the next. The guys going for the overall probably won't be looking for a way to gain time. But with a largely flat run until one hill just before the finish, the sprinters who feel good enough to climb for a few minutes might want this one. It will be hard into the climb, and depending on how that goes, the finish will be either a full-on bunch gallop or a small escape. Cannondale Pro Cycling's Viviani has been riding carefully the past few days and he could be ready for another chance to show the field a clean set of wheels.
Giro d'Itala 2013
Valloire to Ivrea 238km
1. Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team in 5:52:48
2. Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team at same time
3. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre-Merida same time
4. Ramunas Navardauskas (Ltu) Garmin-Sharp 0:00:14
5. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team same time
Stage Results Cannondale Pro Cycling
57. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) 0:06:31
65. Alan Marangoni (Ita) same time
110. Fabio Sabatini (Ita) 0:10:53
116. Cameron Wurf (Aus) same time
129. Elia Viviani (Ita) 0:16:16
134. Cristiano Salerno (Ita) same time
144. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) same time
162. Damiano Caruso (Ita) 0:17:17
165. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) same time
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 67:55:36
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:01:26
3. Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:02:46
4. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-Merida 0:03:53
5. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre-Merida 0:04:13
General Classification Cannondale Pro Cycling
24. Damiano Caruso (Ita) 0:27:00
69. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) 1:45:51
84. Cristiano Salerno (Ita) 2:03:19
87. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) 2:06:22
104. Fabio Sabatini (Ita) 2:22:03
114. Alan Marangoni (Ita) 2:34:45
117. Elia Viviani (Ita) 2:36:13
120. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) 2:36:39
126. Cameron Wurf (Aus) 2:41:44