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John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) won stage 5 of the Giro d’Italia Wednesday in Matera, Italy. A crash in the final kilometer interrupted the sprint, but Degenkolb was able to close a big gap in the final 100 meters for his first career Giro stage win.
Angel Vicioso (Katusha) was second on the stage, with Paul Martens (Blanco) third.
“I looked back and there was just [Elia] Viviani behind me,” said Degenkolb. “I went full-gas to make it to the finish and catch the guy from Bardiani back. In the end, I couldn’t see anything, I was so empty.”
Luca Paolini (Katusha) retained his overall lead ahead of Thursday’s 169km sixth stage from Mola di Bar to Margherita di Savoia.
Riding toward the rain
On a day that was likely headed for a reduced bunch sprint, five riders made the long escape: Brian Bulgaç (Lotto-Belisol), Thomas Gil (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela), Alan Marangoni (Cannondale), Ricardo Mestre (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Rafael Andria (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia). The weather turned foul at the finish and organizers shut down television operations as the finish-line area flooded.
As the sun began to peak out, the riders pushed inside 50km to go, the breakaway carrying just north of a six-minute advantage. With 22km to go, however, the breakaway was disintegrating and the gap was just 19 seconds. Andria fell back to the peloton, but Bulgaç, Marangoni, and Mestre continued on. The pressure was on from behind, however, and the escapees were soon back in the bunch.
Reset for the final KOM
Pablo Lastras (Movistar) pushed the pace at the front to set up his KOM-leading teammate Giovanni Visconti. Tom Danielson and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) followed. The pace distanced a number of sprinters, and even former Giro champion Stefano Garzelli (Fini Fantini-Selle Italia), but Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) held tight with at least one teammate.
“It was really, really on the limit. It was really hard in the end,” said Degenkolb. “I had to suffer a lot to come to the finish today.”
Stefano Pirazzi (Bardani Valvole-CSF Inox) made it even harder when he attacked high up on the climb. Ben Gastauer (Ag2r La Mondiale) soon joined him and Danielson led the chase in the peloton. Pirazzi surged again on the steep upper ramps and took top points at the KOM line. Visconti was third and defended his jersey.
Behind them, Cavendish battled the gradient at the top of the climb, with three teammates and roughly eight other riders with him. The former world champion weaved from gutter-to-gutter to the summit, 57 seconds behind the leaders.
Over the top of the climb, Pirazzi went back to the peloton, but Gastauer continued on. Robert Vrecer (Euskaltel) soon joined and the pair had 12 seconds at the bottom of the descent. Movistar’s GC captain, Juanjo Cobo, has had a Giro to forget and continued his bad fortune with a crash on the way down. He was back up quickly, but standing by his bike, waiting for the team car.
Bardiani’s work nearly pays off
Moderate roads lied ahead and Bardiani Valvole took up the pace-making in the bunch for Tour de San Luis stage winner Sacha Modolo. Lars Bak (Lotto) attacked up the left side of the road and quickly bridged across to the escape. He shot through the leading pair and the trio began pushing their advantage out.
Rigoberto Urán (Sky), second overall, punctured with 13km to go and took a wheel hand-up from teammate Danny Pate. Meanwhile, the Omega Pharma group was unable to drag Cavendish back onto terms with the peloton. It would not be a day for the pure sprinters.
The pressure from Bardiani was high and when the three escapees were nearly within arm’s reach of the bunch, a number of riders attacked across the gap. That move was short-lived, however, and a peloton of roughly 60 riders neared the top of the ramp leading into Matera, 6km from the line.
Blanco and BMC Racing each took up position at the front of the bunch. Hubert Dupont (Ag2r La Mondiale) attacked and carried a handful of seconds over the top, with 4.6km remaining. Blanco’s Robert Gesink and BMC Racing’s Cadel Evans were both inside the first five riders.
Up front, Dupont pushed on, but with 3km to go, he was back in the peloton.
BMC Racing continued to press at the front, seemingly eager to keep Evans out of trouble in the technical, wet run-in to the line. The red jerseys faded as soon as they rode through the 3km to go kite and Bardiani Valvole took up the point.
Marco Canola (Bardiani Valvole) led into a tight, left-hand corner with 1km to go. Luka Mezgec, Argos’ final leadout man, was in second wheel when he crashed hard on the rain-slickened road, delaying the riders behind him. The crash sprung Canola and he entered the finish straight with a 100-meter gap. Argos director Addy Engels said after the stage that initial evaluations determined that Mezgec was ok following the crash.
Daniele Bennati (Saxo-Tinkoff) was among the sprinters caught out behind the crash.
“In the finale, Bennati was in an excellent position and ready to sprint it out when they crashed right in front of him with 60 kph,” said Saxo director Dan Frost. “He and ‘Rafa’ [Rafal Majka] were forced to hit the brakes and slowly roll across the finish line. Luckily, we avoided crashing but I would have loved to see ‘Benna’ up there with the best of them today.”
Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma), ordinarily in the leadout for Cavendish, took advantage of the delay at the front.
“When Mezgec crashed, I was lucky that I was coming from behind,” Trentin said. “I had time to avoid the crash as riders fell in the middle of the road. Coming from behind, I had good speed and I entered in the group of [teammate Michal] Golas at about 350 meters to go.”
Canola pushed on, appearing nearly empty as he forced his way toward the line. Canola looked back to the left and saw Degenkolb, a five-stage winner at the 2012 Vuelta a España, coming. Still, he pushed on.
Sensing his chance, Degenkolb rose from the saddle and sprinted. He came onto the right hip of the Italian and then dropped him.
“I was realizing a dream,” said Canola. “I was on the front for my teammates and after the penultimate corner I understood there was a crash behind me. I started to push with all of myself, I thought to win, but the last meters more steep [sic] was too hard and the chasers caught and passed me. It’s a pity because we did a great race. However I’ll try again in the next days.”
Vicioso nipped Martens at the line for second, just ahead of Sergio Henao (Sky). Trentin was fifth.
Canola could not hold second, and plummeted to 12th on the stage, behind Golas.
“The last kilometer was unbelievable, just incredible, really,” said Degenkolb.