Spaniard Alberto Contador failed to commemorate the memory of stricken Marco Pantani but held off the threat of rival team Astana to stretch his lead over Fabio Aru on the 15th stage of the Giro d’Italia Sunday.
Contador came over the finish line of the 165km ride from Marostica to Madonna Di Campiglio in third place at five seconds behind stage winner Mikel Landa with Aru finishing a further second behind to remain second overall but see his gap on Contador grow to 2min 35sec.
A day after regaining the race lead from Aru following his third place finish on the 14th stage time trial, Contador further underlined his status as race favourite with a commanding performance on the first day of climbing in the spectacular Dolomites.
Contador’s Tinkoff team had shouldered the burden of setting the pace on the penultimate climb, the 8km-long Passo Daone – a strategy which left two-time race runner-up Rigoberto Uran struggling to keep pace.
Tinkoff’s tactic also produced the unwanted result of leaving Contador isolated among several Astana riders for the final climb, after Australian teammate Michael Rogers had trailed behind before the race through the valley.
— Giro d’Italia (@giroditalia) May 24, 2015
However Contador, a former two-time winner of the Tour de France who also won the Giro in 2008, acquitted himself handsomely on the final climb to Madonna di Campiglio – the scene of Italian Marco Pantani’s infamous exclusion from the race in 1999, an incident which is widely believed to have led to the former champion’s downfall and death from acute cocaine poisoning in a Rimini hotel room in February 2004.
Contador, who is bidding to become the first man since deceased Pantani in 1998 to complete the Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double in the same year, did not have to fret until the final 3km when an acceleration by Landa sparked the hostilities.
Contador was soon on the Spaniard’s wheel but despite pulling in front the race leader struggled to stretch his lead.
Aru and Trofimov soon pedalled their way back to the leading pair with just over two kilometres remaining. Landa tested his fellow Spaniard with another burst of speed but, again, Contador countered the move.
— Giro d’Italia (@giroditalia) May 24, 2015
Trofimov then launched a futile attempt for the stage win when he seared past his fellow leaders at the one kilometre to go flag, but the Russian did not have the legs to open up a telling gap.
With Trofimov tiring and the finish line in sight, Landa seized his chance and accelerated past Trofimov in the last few hundred metres to claim his maiden Grand Tour victory.
Contador finished third at five seconds behind Landa to collect a time bonus which could prove useful over the coming days of climbing in the mountains.
On Monday the peloton will enjoy their second and final rest day of the race before tackling arguably the hardest stage of this year’s 98th edition on Tuesday, a 174 km ride beginning in Pinzolo which features six climbs including the final punt to the summit finish at Aprica.
The race finishes next Sunday in Milan.
Spaniard Alberto Contador bounced back from a crash on Friday to retake the overall lead in the Giro d’Italia after Saturday’s 14th stage.
The 32-year-old, who won the Italian race in 2008, finished third on the day but picked up three minutes on overnight leader Fabio Aru during the 59.4km time-trial which was won by Sky’s Belarus rider Vasil Kiryienka.
— Giro d’Italia (@giroditalia) May 23, 2015
Contador, the 2007 and 2009 Tour de France winner, is now in solid position at the top of the overall standings and 2min 28secs ahead of Italy’s Aru heading into Sunday’s rolling 15th stage.
It was Kiryienka’s third stage win on the Giro and first in the time-trial although he was a bronze medallist in the world championship race-against-the-clock in 2012.
Italian Astana rider Fabio Aru took over as leader of the Giro d’Italia from crash victim Alberto Contador on Friday after the rain-hit 13th stage was won by Sacha Modolo.
Italian Modolo hung on in a sprint finish on his home stage to edge countrymen Giacomo Nizzolo and Elia Viviani at Jesolo.
A mass crash less than 5km from the line saw long time race leader Contador fall off his bike and the 40 seconds dropped on Aru saw the pink jersey handed to the Italian by 19secs.
Australian Richie Porte also took a tumble and lost over two minutes and is now well down the rankings and out of contention at nearly six minutes off the pace.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) May 22, 2015
Aru, who finished third overall last year, takes the leader’s jersey for the first time in his career.
“It’s a great feeling to finally wear the pink jersey,” said Aru. “I’ve waited since the beginning of the race to finally take the lead and now I can look forward to the time-trial.
“It was very hard, in bad weather, on a route that was flat but with lots of roundabouts and other paraphernalia. I was always at the front, in a good position to avoid possible falls, and what happened, happened.
“Now I’m just thinking of tomorrow. It is going to be a very important stage. I will give it everything. But the Giro ends next Sunday in Milan, not before.”
On a day of steady rain and run over 147km of flat racing, a trio of Italian Marco Frapporti, Frenchman Jerome Pineau and German Rick Zabel opened up an escape before being reeled in towards the finale.
The accident then played havoc with the chances of several contenders, before the rest of the pack raced for home.
It then came down to a long sprint finish that Modolo won by half a bike length after being led in by two of his Lampre team-mates.
“Finally I’ve won a stage, my great companion, colleague and friend, Max Richeze, gave me the perfect lead-out, and I just finished off the work of my team,” said Modolo.
“At Fiuggi, I was disappointed with myself. At Forli the breakaway made it so I didn’t get the chance to sprint, so it was destiny that I would win my home stage.
Contador lost leader’s jersey at a grand tour for first time in his career, but he can take back 19sec, and more, in tomorrow’s TT #Giro
— Neal Rogers (@nealrogers) May 22, 2015
“I have so many friends standing at the barriers from San Vendemiano, my home village, that this experience is unforgettable.”
Contador was grimacing as he crossed the line, perhaps in frustration, although there were obvious concerns he may have reinjured the shoulder he dislocated on stage six.
Contador said: “I don’t think I lost too much but of course those seconds cost a lot to get back. The thing that worries me most is my injury. The shoulder hurts, but I want to think positively.”
Today will feature a tough 59.4km time-trial from Treviso to Valdobbiadene and is guaranteed to shake up the overall standings and give Contador a chance to recover his lost time.