Mikel Nieve made an audacious solo attack with some 60 clicks to ride in the first foray into the Dolomites, was eventually caught, persevered on the mighty Giau and placed a remarkable 12th on the stage. As a result, the Euskaltel leader made a big jump on GC.
It was reminiscent of the epic breakaway he completed in the 2010 edition of the Vuelta a España: Amets Txurruka gave Nieve a lead-out worthy of a sprint train on the third to last climb with the break some 1:40 up the road, Nieve broke clear, reeled in the break with consummate ease, but was, unlike two years ago, never given much leeway by a obstinate Liquigas. Nieve's gap never stretched beyond 1:10, and he was caught, along with the remnants of the early break, on the Forcella. Impressively, he managed to handle the pace, and somehow managed to distance the likes of Henao, Moreno, Cunego, Intxausti and De Gendt on the slopes of the Giau. Eventually he crossed the line in 12th place, in a small group 1:22 in arrears, and thus rose to 16th on GC, passing Gianluca Brambilla and Astana's Kreuziger (who's implosion on the Forcella ruled him out of the running for overall honours).
It was an astounding performance from the Euskaltel leader. First of all, attacking the peloton solo approximately 60 click from the line with three mountains left to climb takes some guts. It was a bold move, and one unlikely to work out, but it's the kind of move that makes the team stand out in a Grand Tour and animates the racing. It obviously didn't work out, but I still reckon it was worthwhile - chapeau!
Then managing to cling onto the lead group on one of the Giro's hardest stages and finishing among the first chase group showed Nieve is in peak form. Additionally, he seems to possess the ability to pace himself on the climbs and ride smartly - much like a certain Samuel Sánchez.
The Leitza-native is now 16th overall - a single minute behind tenth-placed Henao.
Honourable mentions go out to Amets Txurruka, who gave it his all for his captain and still managed to finish 25th, and the team as a whole. The pace-setting at the head of the pack to set up Nieve was the work of a well-oiled machine and it worked out perfectly. More of that, please!
Speaking post-stage, Nieve intimated jumping clear of the peloton relatively early was planned.
"We took a risk and were ambitious", he told the team's website. "In the meeting prior to the race we talked about going for broke from afar. No one went with me though, and it was impossible to make it on my own."
Stage 17 results:
- (1, Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha), 5:24:42)
- 12, Mikel Nieve, 1:22
- 25, Amets Txurruka, 8.36
- 45, Iván Velasco, 21:01
- 67, Juan José Oroz, 26:35
- 148, Adrián Sáez, 38:26
- 149, Jon Izagirre, s.t.
- 154, Miguel Minguez, s.t.
- 156, Pierre Cazaux, s.t.
- 158, Víctor Cabedo, s.t.