Mikel Nieve showed his form is right where it ought to be with a stellar ride to ninth on the Giro d'Italia's first hilltop finish.
As anticipated, Euskaltel finally came to live it Italy once the mountains beckoned after a timid first week of racing. Stage seven to the top of the short but steep Rocca di Cambio saw a lot of attacking action once the day's main break had been caught, and the Euskaltel riders were always there or thereabouts near the sharp end of the field. Izagirre, Oroz, Velasco, Cabedo and co. expertly shepherded Nieve and kept him out of the wind, and the team leader grabbed an impressive ninth place at just 11 seconds from winner Tiralongo on terrain that was everything but suited to him. A top ten placing on such terrain surely bodes well for the long and unforgivingly steep mountains to come later in the Giro.
Iván Velasco got through the first six stages unscathed, and showed his worth today with a solid ride to 38th, just 25 seconds back. Even more impressive was Víctor Cabedo who stayed with the first group for a long time and only ceded 1:47 by stage's end. For a first-year professional, in his first Grand Tour and struggling with allergies, that's not too shabby. Jon Izagirre looked strong early on, staying close to Nieve pretty much all the time, but struggled a bit on the last climb and ended up 1:44 down in 66th place. Amets Txurruka is still looking for his climbing legs after the travails of the team time trial, and crossed the line a big ten minutes down.
Talking post-race, Nieve was happy with the day's work.
"I felt good today, so I'm satisfied", he told the team's website. "But I still think we should take it day by day. Let's see how it unfolds tomorrow - it'll likely be as hard as it was today."
On GC, Nieve advanced to 59th - 3:18 down on new pink jersey Ryder Hesjedal.
Stage seven results:
- (1, Paolo Tiralongo (Astana), 5:51:03)
- 9, Mikel Nieve, 0:11
- 38, Iván Velasco, 0:25
- 57, Juan José Oroz, 1:00
- 66, Jon Izagirre, 1:44
- 68, Víctor Cabedo, 1:47
- 89, Amets Txurruka, 10:02
- 152, Pierre Cazaux, 17:21
- 164, Adrián Sáez, 21:47
- 175, Miguel Minguez, s.t.
Full results here.