Enrico Battaglin of Bardiani-CSF sprinted to victory on a tough uphill finish to claim the 14th stage of the Giro d’Italia on Saturday as the race hit the first of the high mountains.
The Italian rider came from behind to overtake Jarlinson Pantano of Colombia in the final 50m and edge Sky Pro Cycling’s Dario Cataldo on the line after a climb to the sanctuary of Oropa, the scene of Marco Pantani’s memorable victory in 1999. Pantano was seven seconds back.
“I didn’t believe I could do it until the last kilometer. My legs were at their limits, I was tired too,” Battaglin said. “Then I saw that others too were breaking down. Then I gained some meters immediately, I gritted my teeth and I passed them in the last 20m.”
Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Rigoberto Uran of Colombia retained the overall lead, but saw his advantage cut on the 164km route from Aglie.
BMC Racing’s Cadel Evans — who wore the maglia rosa earlier in the race — gained five seconds and was 32 seconds behind Uran. Rafal Majka of Tinkoff-Saxo was third overall, 1 minute, 35 seconds behind.
“We lost a few seconds, but it’s no worry,” Uran said.
It was the second of three stages dedicated to Pantani, the Italian cyclist who won both the Giro and Tour de France in 1998. He was found dead in a hotel room on Valentine’s Day in 2004 and a coroner ruled he died from cocaine poisoning.
The race entered the mountains and Saturday’s route had four categorized climbs, including the steep final ascent.
The breakaway of the day was formed of 21 riders, but the peloton were happy to let them go, with none of the escapees less than half an hour behind Uran in the overall standings.
The first two weeks of the Giro had been littered with crashes and there was another one with about 102km remaining as the peloton went through a roundabout. No one was seriously injured, but Sky’s Kanstantsin Siutsou later quit the race. Orica-GreenEdge’s Pieter Weening — who won the ninth stage — also retired during the day.
The gap to the breakaway group went up to more than 10 minutes because of the crash, but it was back down to 9:29 at the start of the category 2 climb up to Alpe Noveis and the peloton had gained more than two minutes at the top of the ascent after a gradient of up to 16 percent.
Tinkoff-Saxo’s Nicolas Roche escaped from the break on the highest climb of the day, up the Bielmonte, which has a ski station at the summit. As he crested the top he had 10 seconds on the remainder of the original break, which was down to 12 riders.
The Irish cyclist was caught on the descent, and Giant-Shimano’s Albert Timmer and Manuel Quinziato of BMC Racing took over the lead, before the latter had a mechanical problem at the start of the final climb.
Timmer made an attempt to stay in front, but was caught with 2km remaining by Cataldo and Pantano.
Battaglin powered to catch the lead group inside the final kilometer and he surged forward again on the cobbled ramps up to the finish.
Strong climbers Nairo Quintana of Movistar and AG2R La Mondiale’s Domenico Pozzovivo will be looking to gain more time on Uran as the Giro stays in the mountains.