May 18, 2011

Garmin-Cervélo’s Christophe Le-Mével rode into the “virtual pink jersey” after sneaking into the day’s main breakaway at the hilly 11th stage at the Giro d’Italia in a daring bid to capture the elusive maglia rosa.

The breakaway was eventually reeled in and Alberto Contador retained the Giro’s leader’s jersey, but Le-Mével wasn’t afraid to lay it on the line. He eventually slipped from third to fourth overall at 1:28 back, but the Frenchman said it was more than worth it.

“I have been trying every day to get this pink jersey! Today I knew was the last chance, because tomorrow is a sprinter’s stage and then we move into the big mountains. The others like Contador and Nibali will be at the front. It was so close,” Le-Mével said after the stage. “I knew it was a good chance today. It was very difficult to get into the breakaway. There were many attacks. When I finally made it into the escape, I dared to dream it was possible. But I think the others behind me were afraid to let me get too much time. Not Contador, but the others who are thinking of a top-5 or a top-10. There are many teams who still want a good GC placing and they didn’t want to give me more than two minutes.”

There were many early attacks, including attempts by Garmin-Cervélo riders David Millar and Cameron Meyer. Le-Mével’s group didn’t pull clear until 65km into the 144km stage that rolled through several hilltop towns and narrow roads in a spectacular route similar to the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race held each spring.

Le-Mével’s group opened up a two-minute-plus gap on the main pack, putting the Frenchman into the “virtual” race leader’s jersey. Teams collaborated in the chase, however, and the gap slowly dwindled until it was caught in the closing kilometers.

“I lost a few seconds on the final climb to the finish line, but it was worth it. I could have been in the pink jersey and you don’t get anything in the Giro unless you’re willing to risk it,” Le-Mével said. “I lost a position on GC, but now it’s a matter of seconds. There are still a half-dozen guys within one minute of each other, but after the hard mountains ahead of us, it will be a question of minutes, not seconds.”

Millar escaped serious injury when he crashed at about 30km when he was trying to bridge out to one move early in the stage. He suffered cuts and scrapes, but was able to finish the stage without serious injury. Matt Wilson, who is recovering from a hard spill Saturday, also made it through the rollercoaster stage.

“It was a very nice try today by Christophe. He showed that he has panache and is not afraid to attack. He has been close to the jersey all week. It’s a shame for him that he could not get the jersey, because he really deserved it,” said Garmin-Cervélo sport director Lionel Marie.

“The team raced well today and everyone was very active in the stage. Dave crashed, but he was not hurt too badly. Matt (Wilson) also made it through today, so we still have everyone together as we get closer to the mountains.”

The 94th Giro continues Thursday with a long, flat stage in what will be the last chance for the sprinters. Marie said the team will try to conserve its energy ahead of the first of a long string of mountain stages that begins Friday.

More photos from the Giro d’Italia:
[flickr-gallery mode="tag" tags="2011, giro, italy" tag_mode="all"]