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by Shane Stokes
May 28, 2014
One day after saying that he believed his form was on the up and that it was still possible to fight for a podium place or even the overall victory in the Giro d’Italia, Nairo Quintana proved the accuracy of that assessment when he stormed into the race lead in the race.
The Colombian rider was one of several who went clear on the descent of the Stelvio, opening a gap at a time when some later claimed a go slow had been agreed due to dangerous conditions.
A twitter message from the Giro d’Italia itself said that the descent had been neutralised, although the same account later apologised for what it said was inaccurate information.
Quintana, 2012 race winner Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp) and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) were amongst the group that pushed ahead and this trio then reeled in lone leader Dario Cataldo (Sky) on the day’s final climb, the Val Martello Martelltal.
Quintana did all of the work, dropping Rolland, and after briefly taking pulls with the Canadian on the flatter sections, pushed on alone towards the summit. He crossed the line eight seconds clear of Hesjedal and one minute 13 up on Rolland; Wilco Kelderman (Belkin), Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Fabio Aru (Astana) were first home from the group of main contenders, with this trio seconds apart and all three and a half minutes down.
White jersey Rafal Majka (Tinkoff Saxo) and race leader Rigoberto Uran (Movistar) were both just over four minutes back, with the latter slipping out of the race lead by one minute 41 seconds.
It was also a very significant stage for Evans, who is now third, three minutes 21 seconds back and is less than ten seconds ahead of Rolland and Majka. He had hoped for much more but had to dig deep on the final climb to limit his losses.
Aru, Pozzovivo and Kelderman hold places six through to eight, while Hesjedal is now ninth, but is still over four minutes off pink.
Quintana was below par earlier in the race but said on Monday that he felt his health was recovering and that he should be stronger as a result. He showed that today. “I’ve been recovering from the flu. As you can see, I still get coughing fits, but I can feel my body getting better,” he said.
“I think my rivals will attack on the coming climbs, but I have a great team, as you saw on the Stelvio, where almost all of us rode together as a signal unit. And I think they’ll help me control the race as far as Trieste.”
The 139 kilometre stage was already certain to be one of the toughest of the race due to the saw-toothed parcours, with the day’s climbs including the legendary Passo Gavia, which reached 2618 metres, the Passo Dello Stelvio, which at 2758 metres was the highest point of this year’s Giro, and the 2059 metres Val Martello Martelltal.
The latter was set to conclude the stage but there were debates about whether or not the scheduled route would be covered due to very difficult weather conditions. It ultimately went ahead and Colombia’s Robinson Chalapud led over the top of the Gavia. He and the other riders out front were hauled back on the descent, then a larger group raced clear.
This move contained Sky’s Dario Cataldo and he attacked on the Stelvio, being keen to try to turn around Sky’s Giro with a stage win. He took the Cima Coppi prize at the summit, an award marking the highest prime of the race, then pushed on down the descent.
Behind, Quintana was able to shake off Uran and most of the other contenders, with the only two GC riders able to stay with him being Hesjedal and Rolland. The trio rode together on the final climb, where they caught and passed Catalado.
Further back, Majka ramped up the pace with 6.4 kilometres to go and put Evans immediately in difficulty. At the same time Quintana continued to lead from Rolland and Hesjedal. The gap had gone out to over three minutes and the Colombian knew he was likely riding into pink.
With 5.5 kilometres left Quintana started to draw clear of the other two. Hesjedal moved past Rolland, who cracked, and tried to close the gap. After several hundred metres he managed to claw his way back on.
Behind, Majka pushed the pace once again, seeking to further distance Evans. The Australian rallied and inched closer to the group which also contained Maglia Rosa Uran, but then slipped back for good when the pace increased.
Hesjedal appeared to recover on the flatter sections and began working with Quintana. The gap was three minutes and seventeen seconds back to Uran at that point and it was clear the Colombian was losing his pink jersey.
The road pitched up again inside the final kilometre and on the steeper roads, the lighter Quintana stretched out his advantage over Hesjedal.
He continued to pull ahead and reached the line eight seconds ahead of Hesjedal; Rolland came in one minute twelve seconds back.
Behind, Pozzovivo attacked and drew closer to Wilco Kelderman (Belkin), while further back Aru (Astana) did what he could to narrow his gap to the Italian. They each came in with several seconds between them. Uran and Evans lost more time and dropped to second and third overall as a result.
There are several tough stages ahead but, for now at least, Quintana appears to be in the driving seat and moving closer to the first Grand Tour win of his career.