Stage seven was the first mountaintop finish of the 2012 Giro d'Italia, meaning that anyone who couldn't make it up the hill fast enough wouldn't have the descent and the closing flat to try to make it up. This wasn't lost on any of the contenders, and the result was the first real display of power and gamesmanship from the top GC riders. The Italians in the race put in extra effort today, and Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) made the most of it, sneaking by countryman Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) for the stage win. It's Scarponi who's in contention for the overall, though, and he was able to gain valuable time over his opponents. Team BMC didn't make much noise on the day; while there were some red and black jerseys present towards the front at the finish, with Thor Hushovd out of the race and Phinney in questionable condition, the Santa Rosa based team is struggling not to just to achieve something at the Giro, but to figure out exactly what they might achieve.
A four man breakaway spent most of the day in front of the peloton, getting up to six minutes ahead with around 65km to go. That was when the peloton decided it was time to go to work, though, and that gap had nearly been cut in half within 20km. It was a blistering pace in the bunch, with Katusha, Lampre-ISD, and Garmin-Barracuda all taking turns pulling. Those are teams with GC contenders to protect, after all, so it is only fair that they do the hard work of reeling in the break. The breakway, of course, wasn't so happy about being chased down, and nobody was more cross about it than Italian Matteo Rabottini( Farnese Vini). Even as the break realized they would be caught, Rabottini jumped off the front, attacking his fellow escapees. This didn't sit well with them, as working together would yield better results, but Rabottini was more interesting in a desperate shot at glory. Stefano Pirazzi (Colnago) and Jose Herrada (Movistar) eventually chased him down, and with about 10km to go he cracked and could push no further. He finished in the bunch.
With upstarts like Rabottini and Herreda dealt with, the GC contenders moved into position for the finish. They were in a tight bunch when Scarponi and Tiralongo made their move with about 500m to go, and at that point they were close enough that Scarponi wasn't going to gain much on their time. Ryder Hesjedal was one of those who knew he was safe, and the pink leader's jersey moves from his teammate (who had cracked on the climb) to his shoulders, where he becomes the first Canadian to ever wear the Maglia Rosa. The GC standings after stage seven:
1) Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Barracuda 26:16:53
2) Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:15
3) Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:17
4) Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin - Barracuda 0:00:21
5) Peter Stetina (USA) Garmin - Barracuda 0:00:26
6) Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team
7) Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Astana Pro Team 0:00:35
8) Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:40
9) Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Katusha Team 0:00:45
10) Dario Cataldo (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quickstep 0:00:46
That's a tight pack at the front, and as the race continues through the mountains each of those men will have plenty of opportunity to impose his will on the others.
For 2012 Giro d'Italia previews, recaps and more, stick with SB Nation Bay Area. And as always, cycling blog Podium Cafe has all the analysis and information you need.