Santambrogio makes deal with Nibali, then earns a stage win

Italian attacked with Vincenzo Nibali on the finishing climb of stage 14, where Santambrogio was victorious

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BARDONECCHIA, Italy (VN) — Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) achieved his biggest career win Saturday in the Giro d’Italia’s cold run to Jafferau. The Italian from the Lake Como area, better known for his domestique work, attacked with overall leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) to conquer the 14th leg of the three-week race.

“I still hasn’t sunk [in],” the chubby-faced Santambrogio said in a television interview. “But to get up on the podium with the fans cheering was great.”

‘Un accordo’

Unlike when Eddy Merckx tracked down and passed José Manuel Fuente in 1972, the only other time the race visited Jafferau, Santambrogio’s move bore fruit. Though he snapped up the 20-second bonus for the stage win, he helped Nibali gain time and a 12-second bonus on his GC rivals.

The Italian duo seemed to have struck un accordo, Italian for “an agreement.”

Vini Fantini, who had the director of its Fast Web sponsor in the team car following the pair, won its first Giro stage. Santambrogio captured his biggest win since Tre Valli Varesine in 2009. And Nibali, with his gesture, gained an important ally.

“It would’ve been hard to follow him had he attacked me because he’s going well,” Santambrogio said. “I think he did well, he gained time and I won a stage.”

Santambrogio also gained time on his rivals and jumped up from sixth to fourth in the GC. He now sits 2:47 behind Nibali and only one second behind Rigoberto Urán (Sky), who is third.

Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) is second, 1:26 behind Nibali.

“To be fourth in [the] GC is good, but I’m not really here for the GC,” Santambrogio said. “I came to win a stage, which I have now.”

After years with Lampre and helping Evans at BMC, Santambrogio switched to Luca Scinto’s second division team for this season. He has raced hard since February to help the squad earn its Giro d’Italia and other wild card spots. His goal was a stage win — which he now has.

Santambrogio and Vini Fantini have seemingly made a deal with Nibali, who is down a teammate after losing Alessandro Vanotti to a crash in stage 14. Paolo Tiralongo and Fabio Aru are recovering from earlier crashes in the race, which puts Nibali at the mercy of other teams’ attacks.

Nibali’s squad is now running on Fantini wine. Not only can Nibali rely on Santambrogio, but also Danilo Di Luca and the entire neon-yellow team.

This is how cycling works, although it should not detract from Santambrogio’s win.

Out of the shadows

Santambrogio responded when Urán and Androni Giocattoli teammates Diego Rosa and Franco Pellizotti attacked. He followed Nibali on the toughest section from 2km out. And he made the final selection, dropping Evans with 900 meters left.

He led from 700 meters before the finish line, never once challenged by Nibali. He shook off his troubled past, which includes being named in the Mantova doping investigation, and could now ride into the top 3 in the GC.

“I was lost because I was in strong teams like Lampre and BMC. Having big champions and captains like Evans meant that I was always working for others and couldn’t show my real value,” the 28-year-old said. “Now that I have my own chances I can show what I was capable of.

“This [win] is thanks to [the team], which showed such belief in me. I’ve found myself again.”

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.