Caleb Ewan wins dramatic sprint as Jungles stays in pink – Giro d’Italia 2017

Giro d’Italia 2017

Stage 7

Australia’s Caleb Ewan held off a late surge from Fernando Gaviria and Sam Bennett to win Stage 7 of the Giro d’Italia in Alberobello.

Ewan put his opening week frustration behind him with a timely reminder of his class in a frantic finale to an otherwise largely dour 224-kilometre stage from Castrovillari in the south of Italy.

The 22-year-old pocket rocket was led out perfectly by his Orica-Scott team-mate Luka Mezgec and made the most of his positioning as he swung around the final bend of a highly technical finish in pole position. Ireland’s Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Colombia’s Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) finished fast – perhaps even faster than Ewan – but ultimately ran out of road, with Ewan winning in a photo finish by half a bike wheel.

Germany’s Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) and Belgian Jasper Stuyven (Trek Segafredo) completed the top five, while Luxembourg national champion Bob Jungels of Quick-Step Floors – the maglia rosa – finished safely in the peloton to retain his lead in the general classification.

In a stage destined for the sprinters, three plucky riders threw caution to the not inconsiderable wind and broke clear from the gun. Italians Simone Ponzi (CCC Sprandi Polkowice) and Giuseppe Fonzi (Wilier-Selle Italia) were joined by Russian veteran Dmitry Kozonchuk (Gazprom-Rusvelo) as the race travelled – quite slowly – from Calabria to Puglia via the flat coastal road in the instep of southern Italy’s famous boot.

After suffering an early mechanical, Ponzi was distanced by his fellow escapees and soon dropped back to the peloton, leaving two riders out ahead to plough a lonely furrow in what looked like an unenviable task in almost 30-degree heat.

The gap never stretched beyond the best part of four minutes as the peloton – perhaps mindful of the collective miscalculations made one day earlier – kept a tight rein on proceedings.

Caleb Ewan crosses the line after a sensational sprint.

Kozonchuk took maximum points in both intermediate sprints while Ponzi redressed the balance by winning the only categorised climb – a small Cat.4 mound in the final third of the race.

The break was reeled in with 18km remaining – shortly after the riders had passed the first of the intricate cone-shaped trulli buildings for which the area is so famous.

There was a nervous moment on a blind right-hand bend as the peloton was required to take evasive action to avoid colliding with a flag-waving marshal doing his best to warn the riders of some rogue road furniture – and tensions continued to rise as the roads narrowed on the approach to the finish at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Alberobello.

On a final circuit around the town, Cannondale-Drapac’s Kristijan Koren attacked on an uphill rise but was reeled in by the Sky-led peloton with 3km remaining.

Orica-Scott and Bora-Hansgrohe then took over the reins in a bid to position their respective sprinters, Ewan and Bennett, favourably ahead of the finish.

Launching from the back wheel of Mezgec, Ewan went early to ensure he had the right line going into the final bend. Bennett was forced to one side of the road while Gaviria took the inside line – only to be slightly impeded by Bennett’s final lead-out man, Rudi Selig, after he had taken his foot off the gas.

In the end, it was the Colombian – sporting the maglia ciclamino – who finished with the most speed, but coming from the furthest back meant Gaviria could pip Bennett for second but not have enough to deny Ewan his maiden win on the Giro – two years after his first Grand Tour scalp on the Vuelta a Espana.

Saturday’s Stage 8 sees the riders head north up the Adriatic coast in a 189km ride from Molfetta to Peschici. Two lower category climbs precede a rolling finale which comes to a stinging conclusion with a technical uphill finish that peaks out with a 12% ramp in the final kilometre. While the sprinters may have little joy, Bob Jungels may also have to be on his toes to avoid losing the maglia rosa.

Stage seven results

1 Caleb Ewan (Orica) 5:35:18” 2 Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step) ST 3 Sam Bennett (Bora) 4 Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) 5 Jasper Stuyven (Trek) 6 Ryan Gibbons (Dimension Data) 7 Enrico Battaglin (Lotto-NL) 8 Rüdiger Selig (Bora) 9 Alexey Tsatevich (Gazprom) 10 Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain)

General classification

1 Bob Jungels (Quick-Step) 28:20.47sec 2 Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) +6sec 3 Adam Yates (Orica) +10sec 4 Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain) +10sec 5 Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R) +10sec 6 Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) 7 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) 8 Bauke Mollema (Trek) 9 Andrey Amador (Movistar) 10 Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing)

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