Giro d'Italia - Nieve doubles Euskaltel's tally

Sun, 22 May 17:01:00 2011

Spain's Mikel Nieve made it two wins in two days for Basque team Euskaltel-Euskadi by taking stage 15 of the Giro in the Dolomites.

- 0

The 26-year-old climber rode to a wonderful solo win atop the gravel-tracked Gardeccia-Val di Fassa after almost seven and a half hours in the saddle.

It was Euskaltel's second win in as many days after Igor Anton's stage 14 victory on Saturday ended the Spanish team's 17-year wait for a maiden scalp in the Giro d'Italia.

Italy's Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone), who earlier in the day won the prestigious Cima Coppi prize awarded to the rider who crosses the race's highest peak in pole position, finished second, 1:41 down on Nieve.

Race leader Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) survived a series of attacks from his rivals on the GC to finish a strong third, 10 seconds down on Garzelli.

Italy's Michele Scarponi (Lampre) moved into second-place in the GC after taking fourth place, just six seconds down on the pink jersey.

The big losers of the day were Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) and Anton after they were distanced on the last two of five gruelling climbs on what should prove to be the race's toughest day.

Nibali had asked serious questions of Contador after he dropped the Spaniard on the long descent from the snow-capped Passo Giau - at 2,236 metres, the highest point in the 94th edition of the Giro.

Giro d'Italia Last minute

But despite building up a 35 second lead, the reigning Vuelta champion struggled on the vertiginous slopes of the Passo di Fedaia, crossing the summit almost a minute down on his main rivals.

Nibali managed to catch the pink jersey chasing group on the last wet descent of the day, but struggled to keep the pace on the final 6km climb to the finish.

Losing a further 1:42 to Contador at the finish, Nibali was also leapfrogged by Scarponi in the GC. Scarponi is now Contador's closest rival in the standings, 4:20 down, with Nibali dropping to third, at 5:11.

Anton, who rose to third place after Saturday's stellar performance on Monte Zoncolan, finished well off the pace and sinks to fifth in the GC, at 6:52.

Both Nieve and Garzelli were part of an initial 18-man breakaway which formed on the first climb of the day, the first category Piancavallo.

The break worked well together, building up a lead of more than 12 minutes before Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) went on the offensive at the start of the Passo Giau climb.

The Dutchman, who is fast building a reputation as a thrilling if unpredictable breakaway artist, looked a good bet to become the first Dutch rider to win the Cima Coppi prize.

But Garzelli, winner of the illustrious title in 2009, had other plans. The 2000 Giro champion attacked alongside Nieve, catching the rapidly tiring Hoogerland 3km from the summit.

Garzelli then dropped Nieve before crossing the summit with a lead of 45 seconds. With the rain lashing down, Nieve cut the deficit on the descent and the two riders started the final climb of the day side by side.

Sensing Garzelli had run out of steam, Nieve rode off alone in pursuit of glory. And despite the late fireworks by the pink jersey group behind, the man in orange kept his cool to complete the 229km stage in a time of 7:27:14.

The win was his second in Grand Tours following victory in stage 16 of the 2010 Vuelta. He now rises to sixth on the GC, 7:03 behind Contador.

After a rest day on Monday, the Giro resumes on Tuesday with the 12.7km mountain time trial from Belluno to Nevegal.

Felix Lowe / Eurosport

Not already a Yahoo! user ? to get a free Yahoo! Account