Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) won stage 6 at the Giro d’Italia on Thursday, a 257-kilometer route that culminated in a steep finishing climb at Montecassino.
Matthews pulled around Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) on the final left turn with 40 meters left in the stage and easily sprinted to the win. Matthews remains the overall race leader, holding a 21-second lead on Evans and a 1:18 gap on Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
Matthews and Evans were part of a small group that jumped ahead at the base of the 8.5km finishing climb that featured seven hairpin turns and grades as high as 10 percent. The group opened a gap of around 40 seconds on a pack of chasers that included Nairo Quintana (Movistar), a pre-race favorite.
Eventually the front group was whittled down to four riders, with Evans leading the charge at the flamme rouge. Matthews was glued to his wheel and it was obvious that he was looking for the stage win. With Evans in no hurry to seize the pink jersey, he paced Matthews up the final section before his countryman passed him and grabbed the win. Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol) placed second in the stage ahead of Evans.
“I felt really good coming into the climb,” Matthews said in a team release. “When BMC hit the front, it was all about being in the right position. I knew I had the chance to win when we came into the last kilometer and still felt pretty good.”
Late crash fractures peloton
With 11K left, just after the speeding peloton swallowed up a four-man breakaway that spent much of the day at the front of the race, several riders went down in a series of crashes. More rain created another slippery surface and, with brakes and wheels coated with water the ability to stop quickly was virtually impossible.
One rider skidded out on the left side of the road, which caused a few others to hit the pavement hard and tumble into the grass. Moments later, more riders found themselves on the ground just up ahead at a roundabout. There was carnage everywhere, with ripped jerseys and bib shorts, bloodied bodies and twisted bikes strewn across the road.
“It was a terrible crash,” said Belkin Sports Director Frans Maassen. “It was a big mess. It seemed almost every team had riders involved.”
Four Belkin riders were caught up, and two of them -- Steven Kruijswijk and Rick Flens -- were hospitalized.
Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) was the most seriously injured. He was lying motionless on his right side but was talking to medical personnel, a pained grimace on his face. Minutes later, he was strapped to a board, placed on a gurney, and loaded into an ambulance.
Caruso’s teammate Joaquim Rodriguez, a pre-race GC favorite, was part of the pileup as well and abandoned the race.
Uran was also involved in the crash, although he came away relatively unscathed.
“The crash happened in the front of the group because we were all up there,” Uran said in a team release. “All of the GC guys went down or were held up except Evans. Fortunately, I only have a few scratches and a contusion on my left side, the elbow and hip specifically. Fortunately it is nothing serious.”
On the climb to Montecassino, TV cameras showed several riders with torn race kits. Svein Tuft (Orica), who led the race after the opening-day team time trial, had blood on his left arm from above his elbow down to the base of his hand.
Five Movistar riders, including Quintana, were part of the chaos. None of them abandoned, although Andrey Amador sprained his cervical spine.
“I have several blows over my body: the shoulder, the elbow, my hip, both knees ... to be honest, it was inevitable to crash. I think more than half of the bunch hit the ground,” Quintana, who sits 2:08 behind Matthews, said in a team release.
“It’s quite a gap we have to Evans, but as I said, I’m thankful I don’t have any serious injuries.”
Marco Bandiera (Androni Giocattoli), Edoardo Zardini ( Bardiani-CSF), Andrea Fedi (Neri Sottoli) and Rodolfo Andres Torres (Colombia) broke free of the peloton shortly after the stage began in Sassano. The peloton gave them a long leash and they eventually held a 7:00 gap.
In the final third of the stage, however, the peloton ramped up its chase of the leaders. The gap was down to 4:00 with 50K left, and that was cut in half at the 25K mark. With 18K standing between the riders and the finish line, it was clear the four-man group would not last. They shook hands with each other a few minutes later.
At just over 12K to go, the foursome moved to the right side of the road to make way for the peloton, which was moving at top speed. Moments later, the crashes disrupted the race and forced the peloton into several groups, many of which limped their way to the finish.
The Giro picks up with Friday’s stage 7, a 214km trek from Frosinone to Foligno with a lumpy profile.