Pirazzi emerges to win Giro Stage 17

Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox) won stage 17 of the Giro d’Italia on Wednesday.

The Italian was part of a large breakaway group of 26 riders that formed nearly two hours into the 204-kilometer stage from Sarnonico to Vittorio Veneto. Pirazzi and four others eventually made their way to the front of the race, and with a kilometer left he attacked and held on to win.

Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol) took second and Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff-Saxo) was third.

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) retained the pink leader’s jersey, holding a 1:41 advantage over Rigoberto Uran and a 3:21 gap over Cadel Evans (BMC Racing).

With the peloton well back at 10 minutes, it was clear in the final 25K that someone in the breakaway would most likely win the stage. Just before the summit of the final climb of the day, the Category 4 Muro di Ca’ del Poggio, Pirazzi nearly caught Thomas De Gendt (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), who had attacked the break with 30K left.

The summit of the 1.3K climb, which averaged 15 percent and maxed out at nearly 20 percent, stood 20K from the finish line in Vittorio Veneto.

De Gendt and Pirazzi flew down the ensuing descent, which was made difficult because of a rain-slicked road. Once the road flattened out the pair began working together as they tried to remain in front.

Three riders joined them at 13.5K to go: Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r La Mondiale), McCarthy, and Wellens. With a chase group behind this newly formed quintet, the leading men kept their momentum going and rode away with the stage.

With just over a kilometer remaining and with no one going for it, Pirazzi attacked up the right side of the road and immediately opened a gap. The four behind him failed to organize a real chase until the final 100 meters, at which point it was too late. Pirazzi raised his arms in triumph as he crossed the finish line, for his first win after five years as a pro. He then threw his arms into a defiant gesture, which he later apologized for.

“It had become a five-year obsession,” Pirazzi said. “I always knew a win would come, and I was sick of the criticism: ‘Pirazzi gets it wrong, Pirazzi’s attack comes to nothing.’ Eveyrone has his way of riding. I’ve always tried to put on a show. I turned pro very young and I had to learn the ropes. Winning today was very important for me, and, in my emotion, I made a gesture on the finish line. I regret it now and I would like to apologise.”

De Gendt attacks

With 30K to go De Gendt made his move as he attempted to solo his way to victory. It was a tactical move, De Gendt thinking that if he could make it over the Muro di Ca’ del Poggio in the lead, he would have a legitimate chance of holding off the 25 chasers in the group behind him.

His legs moving up and down like pistons, De Gendt hit the lower slopes of the climb and immediately slowed up as the road got steeper and steeper. He was quickly in the small chainring and tried desperately to hold onto his lead.

The chase group fractured under the stress of trying to reach De Gendt before it was too late and was strung out single-file all over the road. Pirazzi caught him and the pair navigated the descent together. Later, they were joined by the three others in the final five-man break that would reach the finish line first.

“In the first hour, it was very fast and intense,” Pirazzi said. “There were attacks on the climbs, and that’s how I got into the breakaway. In the closing kilometers there was five of us. On paper I was the slowest, but after many hours of riding at high speed, the others lacked their usual finishing speed."

"De Gendt frightened me more than the others. When he goes, it’s difficult to bring him back. When he attacked, I spoke to my teammate [Nicola Boem] and told him to try to bring him back, and then I tried to save as much energy as possible for the finish. I attacked with 2.5K to go, but they chased me down. I attacked again 1.2K from the line, and stayed away. I chose the right moment.”

GC contenders stay safe

With three consecutive days in the mountains starting Thursday, the contenders to win the overall title stayed safely tucked away in the main field on Wednesday. Quintana -- who seized the race lead amid Tuesday’s confusion over possible neutralization of the field on rainy, snowy roads -- stayed behind his teammates all day at the front of the peloton. Uran and Evans did the same thing, staying on teammates’ wheels.

With the wet roads late in the race on Wednesday came slick racing conditions, something that has plagued this Giro from the opening day in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Several times, Movistar and BMC riders could be seen waving their arms at the riders behind them to keep speeds slow around wet corners.

The field was mostly intact until about two hours into the stage, at which point the breakaway group began to form. But the main pack was happy to let the escapees ride alone, as it made no real effort to chase them down.

The Giro resumes with Thursday’s stage 18, 171K journey from Belluno to Rifugo Panarotta that contains three categorized climbs: a Category 1 in the opening third of the stage, followed by a Category 2 and then a Category 1 summit finish.