Spaniard Alberto Contador took a massive step towards his second Giro d’Italia triumph by increasing his overall lead on Fabio Aru after an epic 16th stage won by fellow Spaniard Mikel Landa.
Astana rider Landa claimed his second win of the race in winning the 174km ride from Pinzolo to Aprica in the Italian Dolomites, which took in no less than five categorised mountain passes including the notoriously difficult Mortirolo.
In what proved to be another small humiliation for his team leader Aru, Landa came over the finish line in 5hr 02min 51sec to move up to second place overall at 4min 02sec behind Tinkoff-Saxo’s Contador, who settled for third place at 38sec behind on the wheel of Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk.
— Giro d’Italia (@giroditalia) May 26, 2015
Astana team leader Aru finished nearly three minutes off the pace to drop to third at 4:52 behind Contador, raising further doubts about Astana’s leadership with several mountain stages on the menu before Sunday’s final to Milan.
Contador emerged a step closer to his second pink jersey after Astana ultimately paid the price for attacking the Spaniard when he suffered a puncture on the descent of the Aprica, with a little over 60 km remaining.
But with the Mortirolo to come and Contador having raced the notorious climb on his way to overall victory in 2008, Aru was a long way from safety.
Contador was 50secs behind but more worryingly for the Spaniard, on his own after losing his teammates one by one.
But Contador set about cutting his way through as the stragglers dropped from the earlier front group.
Although Aru was forging on with Landa, the Italian was soon to be left on his own too.
Contador finally closed the gap 5km before the summit, prompting Landa to counter the Spaniard and leave his tiring team leader behind.
— Steven Kruijswijk (@s_kruijswijk) May 26, 2015
By the summit, Contador, Landa and Kruijswijk held nearly a minute’s lead on Yuri Trofimov and Ryder Hesjedal, with Aru’s deficit now at nearly two minutes.
The gaps remained largely the same after the descent, with Aru suffering his own mechanical problem. Aru fought to limit the damage, but the grimaces on the Italian’s face spoke volumes.
Landa pulled ahead of Contador in the final metres to put a silver lining around Astana’s now seemingly doomed bid to top the race podium.
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.