Paolini wins stage 3 of the Giro d’Italia

Luca Paolini rides late, downhill attack to stage win and maglia rosa after fierce riding from Ryder Hesjedal and Vincenzo Nibali

Photo: Graham Watson

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Luca Paolini (Katusha) won stage 3 of the Giro d’Italia on Monday. Paolini attacked his way to victory in the 222-kilometer third leg, from Sorrento to Marina di Ascea, and pulled on the race leader’s maglia rosa as reward for his escape.

Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) led a chase group of GC favorites for second, with defending Giro champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) third.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” said Paolini. “My father, Giovanni, was in hospital today, for routine surgery. He managed to see some of the stage, and I spoke to him and dedicated the stage win to him. It was nice for me and for him because we are very close.”

Taborre takes a foray

The day’s long breakaway formed 2km into the stage, on the Amalfi peninsula. Fabio Taborre (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia), Willem Wauters (Vacansoleil-DCM), Manuele Boaro (Saxo-Tinkoff), Jarlinson Pantano (Colombia), Dirk Bellemakers (Lotto-Belisol), Jackson Rodríguez (Androni Giocattoli), and Bert De Backer (Argos-Shimano) were the men on the attack.

Sky took up its duty at the head of the peloton and led the bunch for much of the day to honor Salvatore Puccio’s maglia rosa.

Taborre struck out from the breakaway with more than 50km left to ride. With 52km to go, he had 22 seconds.

The five-man group was unable to match the Vina Fantini man’s pace and gradually fell back. With 37km to go, they were at 1:03. Six kilometers later, the gap was at 1:15.

Behind them all, the bunch began to tick up the pace. The peloton was less than two minutes behind when Taborre rolled over the top of the intermediate summit on the stage’s final climb, the Sella di Catona, 30km from the finish.

Garmin drops Puccio

Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) couldn’t hold the pace on the lower slopes of the climb, falling out of the back of the peloton. The former world champion appeared as though he may get a respite when Sky went to the front and slowed the bunch, but defending champion Ryder Hesjedal’s Garmin-Sharp team was having none of it. The sprinters would not have their day.

The team put three riders on the front and pressed the pace, but Hesjedal lost Ramunas Navardauskas when the Lithuanian was forced to scrub speed and rode into the grass after he caught a TV motorcycle in a right-hand corner.

Astana led onto the second pitch of the day’s final climb, Vincenzo Nibali in second wheel. Hesjedal was isolated and looked the group down. He found Bradley Wiggins (Sky) there, as well his maglia rosa teammate, Puccio. Robert Gesink (Blanco) made the split as well.

Hesjedal soon stopped looking, however, and surged with 26km to go. The Canadian rode through Taborre on his own and held eight seconds with 25km to go. Hesjedal was quickly out of sight on the narrow, winding road. Behind him, Tanel Kangert (Astana) led the chase for Nibali as the group ballooned.

With 23.5km to go, Hesjedal was back in the bunch and slotted into sixth wheel, alongside Wiggins. Meanwhile, Puccio sat at the back of the bunch and was soon riding on his own in the caravan.

Mountains classification leader Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) attacked high up on the climb to take full points at the day’s final KOM, but Wauters would leave the stage with the maglia azzurra. The Italian slowed and rejoined the bunch just beyond the summit.

Scarponi, Betancur among the GC casualties

With a technical descent ahead, Valerio Agnoli (Astana) jumped away, likely hoping to spring Nibali on the downhill. The Astana man soon had an unwelcome companion, however, in Hesjedal. Paolini also jumped across and the trio quickly had 30 seconds.

Blanco led the chase and the bunch was strung out on the twisting, single-lane descent. The gap dropped to a handful of seconds through a set of tight switchbacks inside 10km to go.

While the move didn’t appear to be headed for the line, it did accomplish the job of dispatching a number of outside threats for the general classification.

Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) crashed in one of the narrow corners, but appeared uninjured when he remounted moments later.

Hesjedal punched again at the front, Nibali pinned onto his wheel. Each time the Canadian surged, he dropped riders out of the lead group, which was roughly 25 riders with 9km to go.

Wiggins was in the group with teammate Rigoberto Urán. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) was there as well.

Urán went to the front ahead of the final pitch down to the finish, but Paolini saw an opening and attacked around the right side of the Colombian.

“My team car told me I had a few seconds advantage, but I knew there was a descent ahead, and I am a good descender,” said Paolini. “My head was clear and I descended to the best of my ability. I heard that there were falls behind me, but we were all on the limit on the descent.”

The road continued to descend nearly to the line and Paolini pressed through the corners with Gesink and Steven Kruijswijk leading the pursuit behind him. The Italian took every chance on the sinuous, urban descent into Marina di Ascea, but could not push ahead more than 10 seconds.

Back in the chase group, a rider — appearing to be one of Paolini’s teammates — dove hard into a left-hand corner. The move pushed the Blanco riders off their line and slowed the group. Kruijswijk, Gesink, and Scarponi came back around, but the move was enough to disrupt the Blanco riders, however, and the rider on the front crashed in the exit of the turn, taking down his teammate and Scarponi.

“I instinctively hit the brakes and I ended up on the ground,” said Scarponi.

Scarponi, the 2011 Giro champion, stood at the side of the road, his bike unrideable, as the Giro’s general classification rode away fro mhim.

The crash disrupted the chase enough to spring Paolini and the Italian pushed on toward the finish and his first career Giro stage win. Paolini started the day 19 seconds down on the GC and with the 20-second time bonus, he pulled on the pink jersey.

“I struggled on the last climb, which was climbed very fast; I gave my all and then I had a great descent,” said Paolini. “I rode today as a classic. … I knew that after our good ride in the team time tiral that I would take the pink jersey if I won.”

Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) led the chase through for second and a 12-second time bonus. Hesjedal was third, for an eight-second bonus, and sits seventh overall, 34 seconds behind Paolini.

“A small time bonus may not make a difference at the end of the Giro but it doesn’t hurt for sure,” said Evans. “Most of all, it’s a little bit of encouragement for everyone on the team.”

Wiggins is now second overall, 17 seconds behind the Italian, with Urán third, also at 17 seconds.

Scarponi lost one minute in his crash and subsequent mechanical.

“Today I lost time but I won’t admit defeat,” he said.

The 96th Giro d’Italia continues Tuesday with the 246km fourth stage from Policastro Bussentino to Serra San Bruno.

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