France’s Nacer Bouhanni sprinted to his second win of this year’s Giro d’Italia on stage seven in Foligno as Michael Matthews finished fourth to retain his overall lead.
FDJ rider Bouhanni sat in the slipstream of his rivals heading into the final 500m and then timed his burst perfectly to beat Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) into second by less than the width of a wheel and Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano) into third.
Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) was the next man over the line and although he missed out on bonus seconds, he retains his 21-second lead over fellow Australian Cadel Evans (BMC) in the general classification.
The stage only came down to a sprint after the peloton had belatedly prevailed in a nip-and-tuck battle with the day’s five-man breakaway, who had threatened to stay clear all the way to the finish but were eventually caught with less than 3km remaining.
Matthews said afterwards: “It was a little bit more technical than we originally thought, but we tried to be on the front of the bunch with about 5km to go, and from then on it was trying to stay at the front for as long as possible. I didn’t quite have the legs after yesterday to get over Bouhanni.”
Breakaway falls short
Although the stage had a flat finish, there was a hint of a chance for a successful breakaway and Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp), Robinson Chalapud (Colombia), Winner Anacona (Lampre-Merida), Bjorn Thurau (Europcar) and Nicola Boem (Bardiani-CSF) duly forged ahead of the pack.
They were only allowed a maximum gap of just under eight minutes, but when they still had 5min 20sec in hand going into the final 50km, staying clear became a realistic possibility.
A subsequent climb shaved a minute off the lead, but the peloton by now was worried and FDJ, Cannondale and Giant-Shimano all moved to the front of the bunch in a bid to step up the chase.
They made the catch in the nick of time, and FDJ were rewarded for their contribution with a fine display from team leader Bouhanni, who sheltered behind Mezgec before emerging from the Slovenian’s slipstream to claim victory.
Bouhanni said: “I started to sprint with about half a bike behind Luka Mezgec. I was closed in at the corner, but with 30m to go I managed to get in front and just take the win.”
Stage seven result
1 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) FDJ, 5:16:05
2 Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Trek Factory Racing, same time
3 Luka Mezgec (Slo) Giant-Shimano, st
4 Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge, st
5 Roberto Ferrari (Ita) Lampre-Merida, st
6 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Sharp, st
7 Enrico Battaglin (Ita) Bardiani-CSF, st
8 Boy van Poppel (Ned) Trek Factory Racing, st
9 Ivan Rovny (Rus) Tinkoff-Saxo, st
10 Elia Viviani (Ita) Cannondale, st
1 Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge, 29:34:19
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC, +21sec
3 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step, +1:18
4 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo, +1:25
5 Steve Morabito (Swi) BMC, same time
6 Matteo Rabottini (Ita) Neri Sottoli, st
7 Ivan Santaromita (Ita) Orica-GreenEdge, +1:47
8 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana, +1:51
9 Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Belisol, +1:52
10 Ivan Basso (Ita) Cannondale, +2:06