Giro d'Italia: Benat Intxausti wins stage 16 while Nibali retains leads

Spain's Benat Intxausti won stage 16 of the Giro d'Italia in a sprint finish as Italy's Vincenzo Nibali maintained overall control of the race.

The Movistar rider, who wore the pink jersey in stage eight, outsprinted Tanel Kangert and Przemyslaw Niemiec.

Nibali finished 13 seconds back along with his main rivals Cadel Evans and Rigoberto Uran but Mauro Santambrogio - fourth at the start - lost time.

Britain's Mark Cavendish, on his 28th birthday, retained the points jersey.

Analysis

"It was a fantastic day of racing. We drove the final 25km of the stage on our way to the commentary box and you could see it was going to be tough. It was only a category three climb but I am still not sure how they worked that out because it was savage, especially coming at the very end of a long stage.

"It stepped up and ramped up and, every time you thought you were at the top, it went up again. On the way down it was technical and twisty with lots of water and debris coming off the fields on to the road, and it was rutted in places too.

"We knew it would be good racing but then the last 6km were on open flat roads which meant it was difficult to stay away, but the lead group ended up smashing each other to pieces. It was every man for himself

"I was surprised Mauro Santambrogio was left behind. I imagine it was the climb that did for him because he cannot have lost so much time on the descent, although the narrow roads would not have helped if he was not in a good position at the top of the hill.

"Team Sky's Rigoberto Uran is well set in third but he should really be right up there with Cadel Evans in second, if not ahead of him, if he had not gone back to help Bradley Wiggins in stage seven. He lost almost a minute-and-a-half to Vincenzo Nibali and Evans that day. In hindsight, they probably wish they hadn't done it."

A large 22-man group had gone clear early in the 238km stage, when a number of separate breakaway attempts ended with an organised bunch forming on the way down from the summit of Mont Cenis, 65km in.

The presence of Italy's Damiano Caruso, nine minutes and 57 seconds behind Nibali in the general classification, among the escapees meant they were never going to be allowed to stay clear and the biggest gap they opened up was five minutes and 20 seconds.

That lead group began to fracture as they entered the town of Ivrea for the first time, and they were all but swallowed up by the time they reached the top of Andrate - a short but sharp climb 20km from home.

Carlos Betancur and Samuel Sanchez burst clear on the descent but they were hauled in by Nibali, closely followed by Evans and Uran, who responded when 2011 Giro winner Michele Scarponi attacked.

Santambrogio, however, did not make the break and ended up losing more than two minutes on his rivals for the podium places.

"Scarponi went for it and I had to keep him under control," Nibali said afterwards, "but this wasn't supposed to be a difficult stage and it turned out being tougher than anybody expected.

"He's clearly come out of Monday's rest day feeling ready to go on the warpath.

"It was a very dangerous descent, with rivulets of water in some places and dry in others, so I preferred to be in front anyway, but it was not easy."

As the road flattened on the return to Ivrea, Astana's Tanel Kangert and Lampre-Merida's Niemiec attacked along with Intxausti and Robert Gesink with 3km left.

Gesink's hopes were ended by a mechanical problem and it was left to Intxausti to time his sprint to perfection on the home straight to give his Movistar team a second successive stage win.

"I kept a cool head, let them do the work, and then with 300 metres to go I thought, 'It's now or never'," Intxausti explained.

The Basque rider dedicated his first Grand Tour stage win to his friend and team-mate Xavi Tondo, who died at the age of 32 in 2011.

"It's just two days before the anniversary of his death," Intxausti added, "and for sure he would be celebrating it if he were around still."

Cavendish finished halfway down the field but still kept the points leader's red jersey going into Wednesday's stage 17 from Caravaggio to Vicenza - where he might have hopes of a fifth stage win of this Giro if he can negotiate another short but steep climb and descent near the finish line.

Stage 16 result:

1. Benat Intxausti (Spain / Movistar) 5:52:48"

2. Tanel Kangert (Estonia / Astana)b ST

3. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Poland / Lampre)

4. Ramunas Navardauskas (Lithuania / Garmin) +14"

5. Cadel Evans (Australia / BMC Racing)

6. Franco Pellizotti (Italy / Androni Giocattoli)

7. Michele Scarponi (Italy / Lampre)

8. Rafal Majka (Poland / Saxo - Tinkoff)

9. Jose Herrada (Spain / Movistar)

10. Carlos Betancur (Colombia / AG2R)

General classification after Stage 16

1. Vincenzo Nibali (Italy / Astana) 67:55:36"

2. Cadel Evans (Australia / BMC Racing) +1:26"

3. Rigoberto Uran (Colombia / Team Sky) +2:46"

4. Michele Scarponi (Italy / Lampre) +3:53"

5. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Poland / Lampre) +4:13"

6. Mauro Santambrogio (Italy / Vini Fantini) +4:57"

7. Carlos Betancur (Colombia / AG2R)+5:15"

8. Rafal Majka (Poland / Saxo - Tinkoff) +5:20"

9. Benat Intxausti (Spain / Movistar) +5:47"

10. Domenico Pozzovivo (Italy / AG2R) +7:34"