Giro d’Italia 2017
The 29-year-old Movistar rider held off a late rally by Bahrain Merida’s Visconti to secure the biggest win of his career in an enthralling 189km stage through Puglia in southeast Italy.
Visconti, a former team-mate of Izagirre, crossed the line for second place at five seconds, while Spanish veteran Sanchez of Astana came home just ahead of the returning peloton, which was dragged up the final ramp by Italy’s Enrico Battaglin of LottoNL-Jumbo just 12 seconds adrift.
Despite cutting his knee in a small fall earlier in the stage, Luxembourg’s Bob Jungels finished safely in the top 10 just behind the likes of Thibaut Pinot, Adam Yates, Steven Kruijswijk and defending champion Vincenzo Nibali; the Quick-Step Floors rider retained his six-second lead over Welshman Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) in the fight for pink.
Played out under a soaring sun in bright blue skies, Stage 8 was a tale of two halves with a flat opening 85km followed by some rolling coastal roads through the achingly beautiful Gargano National Park.
It took a 16-man break 60km to form as the peloton rampaged along at top speed to cover a staggering 56km in the first frantic hour of racing. The combined efforts of wildcard teams Gazprom-Rusvelo and Wilier-Selle Italia – neither of whom represented in the leading group – meant the advantage never stretched out much beyond two minutes ahead of the first climb.
With the gap tumbling, Sanchez went for broke with an early attack on the Cat.2 Monte Sant’Angelo, which he crested with a lead of one minute over a splintered chase group, which by now had shed members while being swelled by new arrivals from the pack.
Three of those new faces were Italian duo Visconti and Conti and Spaniard Izaguirre, who together formed the back bone of a chase group that reeled in Sanchez with 66km remaining.
As the new-look leading group of 15 riders saw their advantage over the pack edge above the four-minute mark, Conti was propelled into the virtual maglia rosa. Trailing Jungels by 2:10 at the start of the stage, the 24-year-old Italian from UAE Team Emirates had good reason to believe he was destined for the podium – if not as Italy’s first stage winner of the race, then as its new leader.
But once Quick-Step Floors and Katusha combined in the chase following the Cat.4 Coppa Santa Tecla climb – crested once again by Sanchez in pole position – the lead started to drop quickly, despite Jungels taking a tumble when clipping the wheel of a team-mate.
Fifteen soon became five as Izaguirre, Sanchez, Conti, Visconti and Gregor Muhlberger of Bora-Hansgrohe dropped their fellow escapees on the rolling approach to the finish – along roads that hugged the coastline and gazed out over the turquoise Adriatic Sea glistening in the sun.
Muhlberger was dropped on the Coppa del Fornaro climb inside the final 10km as the others took turns in attacking off the front. Meanwhile, Spain’s Mikel Landa (Team Sky) was the first of the big GC favourites to test his legs with a little dig near the summit.
With Landa’s cameo brought to a swift end, the gap was reduced to just 35 seconds when the four leaders hit the foot of the final uphill rise into Peschici. His dream of pink shattered, Conti led the quartet through a tight hairpin bend just inside the final kilometre – but the young Italian skidded out on the hot road to make it a three-horse race.
The host nation’s hopes were further scuppered when Spaniards Izaguirre and Sanchez rode clear of Visconti as the narrow road snaked its way through white-washed houses and a sea of spectators. While Visconti rallied to pass a tiring Sanchez, the 34-year-old – a double stage winner in the 2013 Giro – did not have the legs to catch Izaguirre.
But the Basque climber defied the final double-digit gradient to take the biggest win of his career after a thoroughly absorbing four hours and 25 minutes in the saddle.
After the damp squib that was Mount Etna, Stage 9 should serve up the first major summit meeting between the big race favourites. The short 149km stage from Montenero di Bisaccia concludes with the gruelling ascent of Blockhaus, where the consistently high gradient over 13km should force the GC favourites to show their cards.
Stage eight results
1 Gorka Izagirre (Movistar) 4hrs 24min 59sec 2 Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain) +5sec 3 Luis León Sánchez (Astana) +10sec 4 Enrico Battaglin (Lotto-NL) +12sec 5 Michael Woods (Cannondale) ST 6 Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) 7 Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain) 8 Adam Yates (Orica) 9 Steven Kruijswijk (Lotto-NL) 10 Bob Jungels (Quick-Step)
1 Bob Jungels (Quick-Step) 28hrs 20min 47sec 2 Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) +6sec 3 Adam Yates (Orica) +10sec 4 Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain) +10sec 5 Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R) ST 6 Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) 7 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) 8 Bauke Mollema (Trek) 9 Andrey Amador (Movistar) 10 Thibaut Pinot (FDJ)