David Zabriskie stayed atop for just one day. No more than 24 hours after capturing the overall leadership thanks to a superb TTT performance, the Team CSC rider had to yield the jersey to young Italian talent Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), who soloed to victory in Wednesday's stage two, going from Cervia to Faenza over 199.3 km. and raced in Dantesque (or maybe just "Belgian") weather conditions (e.g. even more rain and fog than yesterday).
Nibali - nicknamed "Lo Squalo dello Stretto" ("The Shark of the Strait", as his Sicilian hometown Messina is located on the western shore of the narrow Strait bearing the same name, and dividing Sicily from the Italian mainland) attacked the field, along with Paolo Bettini and first GC leader Graziano Gasparre (Amore & Vita McDonald's) with about 33k from to the line; then immediately dropped his two breakaway mates, caught and easily passed four more early fugitives, and continued his winning march to the line. Bettini got a top three result, and also Giro d'Italia contender Damiano Cunego - showing better legs than twelve months ago at this stage of the season - has got some reasons to be satisfied with his (top 10) performance and the second place overall he's currently sitting in. Phonak did fine too, as they got three man in the top spots of the day: the Gutierrez Cataluña brothers and Canadian Ryder Hesjedal.
The action got started minutes after 10:30 AM local time, without Tenax's Massimo Codol, but with 197 other riders, and among them the Barloworld, Miche, Tenax, Naturino, Selle Italia and Amore & Vita-McDonald guys that underwent blood tests earlier in the morning (all results were negative thankfully).
Miche's Ukrainian Yuri Metlushenko was first over the line at the end of the first lap of the Cervia Circuit featuring the early kms of this leg. He repeated victory at the next Hot Spot Sprint (lap three), while Fabio Borghesi of the lesser-known continental team OTC Doors-Lauretana took the last "Traguardo Volante" at the end of the fifth lap. Borghesi and Ivan De Nobile (Team Universal Caffè-C.B. Immobiliare) were also protagonists of the first attack of the day, but couldn't take more than twenty seconds out of the bunch, who closed down on them by km. 29. The following move, coming from a five-strong group with yesterday morning's half-stage winner Danilo Napolitano (Lampre) as well as Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto), Kasper Klostergaard (Team CSC), 1999 World U23 Champion Leonardo Giordani (Naturino) and Latvia's Raivis Belohvosciks (Team Universal Caffè), was quickly nullified too.
Napolitano didn't give up his fighting attitude, and had a shot at breaking away again at km. 86, this time with Belarus' Aliaksandr Kuchynski (Ceramica Flaminia) and Colombian Luis Felipe Laverde (Panaria) as partners. The Italian fastman and the South-American didn't have legs good enough for them to stay clear, and were soon swallowed up by the the pack. The same didn't happen to the East-European, who was joined up front by another rider from the former USSR: Lithuania's Dainius Kairelis (Amore & Vita-McDonald's), winner of the 2003 Baby Giro.
While Levi Leipheimer and the lesser-known Italian Riccardo Chiarini of Team Androni Giocattoli were dropping out of the race, the leading duo made it to the line at Faenza for the first time, with a slender margin over closest chasers Angelo Furlan (Selle Italia-Serramenti Diquigiovanni) and Mauro Facci (Team Barloworld), and the bunch a few more seconds behind. In the first lap of the final circuit around Faenza the Italians caught the leading pair to set up a four-strong breakaway. The quartet did work well together, and the gap unsurprisingly rose to more than five minutes with 60 km. to go, on the way to third passage over the line at Faenza.
As the end of the stage was getting closer, the gap unsurprisingly kept coming down, and the quartet split in two, with the previous chasing efforts taking their tolls on both Facci and Furlan, unable to follow Kairelis and Kuchyinski any longer. In the meantime 1984-born Nibali pulled away from the bunch at the foot of the Monte Trebbio and started his show under the rain, first with Bettini and Gasparre as partners, but soon later all by himself.
By the 24k-to-go point, the Sicilian had closed down the gap on both Furlan and Facci, and brought the gap to the leading pair down to 01'42". While the two Italians were being pulled back into the first chasing bunch (with Cunego, Bettini, Evans, Pellizotti, Hesjedal and a dozen more guys - but not Zabriskie, who leaded Nibali by 15" at the stage start) Kuchynski dropped Kairelis by his wheel. But neither of them could stop The Shark of the Strait today: Nibali was a man on a mission, and after mercilessly picking up the poor Lithuanian and dropping him, the boy targeted the Belarusian. And hit the target in the closing km. of Monte Trebbio, with 18 km. remaining and an advantage of 01'40" over the Bettini/Cunego/Hesjedal group.
Kuchynski could just come first across the top of the climb, but had to wave white flag as the Liquigas rider, a pro since the past season, launched another attack on the Trebbio descent. Nibali quickly gained a dozen seconds, that went up to 25" with 6 km. to go and 31" three - pan flat - kilometres later. No one was going to chase him down. A couple more minutes, and The Shark of the Strait could finally raise his fin ... er, arm, and celebrate his first success in the pro cycling ranks, coming after top five performances at the recent Paris-Nice and GP Chiasso. Kuchynski's combative attitude was rewarded with a second place finish, a podium spot in the overall standings and the leadership of the King of the Mountains Classification, while The Cricket drove the next bunch to the line 42" behind Nibali.
"This victory brought a big satisfaction to myself and the whole team, that notched up its first success of the season. The squad has worked a lot today, and I've given everything I could. When I attacked on the climb I saw that my legs were fine. Bettini gave up immediately, but I went on. My intention was to close down the gap to those up front and stay with them, but then I noticed that their legs were not that fresh, so I put the pace up late in the race, and managed to solo to the line" said the winner in after-race interviews, before dedicating his success to basically half of the world's population (but especially to himself ...).
With the man from Messina holding the leadership of a race for the first time (as a pro rider at least), the Coppi & Bartali International Week is back tomorrow, and offers a tricky stage of 166 km. from Scandiano (near Reggio Emilia) to Fiorano Modenese (near Modena), with the route steadily going up and down and three categorized climbs - none of them as demanding as today's Monte Trebbio - on the menu.
Stage 2 (Cervia to Faenza, 199.3 km): Top 10 Results
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita - Liquigas) - 05h18'20" (37.574 kph)
2. Aliaksandr Kuchynski (Blr - Ceramica Flaminia) - at 20"
3. Paolo Bettini (Ita - Quick Step Innergetic) - at 42"
4. Ignacio Gutiérrez Cataluña (Spa - Phonak Hearing Systems) - s.t.
5. Andrea Tonti (Ita - Acqua & Sapone) s.t
6. Ryder Hesjedal (Can - Phonak Hearing Systems)
7. Josè Enrique Gutiérrez Cataluña (Spa - Phonak Hearing Systems)
8. Josep Jufre Pou (Spa - Davitamon-Lotto) - s.t.
9. Damiano Cunego (Ita - Lampre-Fondital) - s.t.
10. Peio Arreitunandia (Spa - Barloworld) - s.t.
Settimana Int. Coppi & Bartali - GC after Stage 2: Top 10 Places
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita - Liquigas) - 07h44'39" (37.574 kph)
2. Damiano Cunego (Ita - Lampre-Fondital) - at 50"
3. Aliaksandr Kuchynski (Blr - Ceramica Flaminia) - at 51"
4. Josep Jufre Pou (Spa - Davitamon-Lotto) - s.t.
5. Christophe Brandt (Bel - Davitamon-Lotto) - s.t.
6. Mario Aerts (Bel - Davitamon-Lotto) - s.t.
7. Cadel Evans (Aus - Davitamon-Lotto) - s.t.
8. Vladimir Miholjevic (Cro - Liquigas) - at 52"
9. Franco Pellizotti (Ita - Liquigas) - s.t.
10. Sergio Ghisalberti (Ita - Milram) - s.t.
Settimana Coppi & Bartali - Stage 1A
Settimana Coppi & Bartali - Stage 1B