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by Shane Stokes
May 31, 2014
Nairo Quintana moved a giant leap closer to winning his first Grand Tour when he raced to victory on Friday’s mountain time trial at the Giro d’Italia. The Movistar rider made the most of the steep uphill sections between Bassano del Grappa and Cima Grappa, covering the 26.8 kilometre distance in a time of one hour five minutes 37 seconds and fortifying his overall lead in the race.
Putting in an impressive final two kilometres, the Colombian rider finished 17 seconds in front of the rider who looked for much of the stage that he was en route to the victory, Astana’s Fabio Aru. Former race leader and Quintana’s closest overall challenger Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma Quick Step) was unable to get back the time he hoped to reclaim, instead conceding another one minute and 26 seconds to his compatriot.
Frenchman Pierre Rolland (Europcar) battled hard but was powerless to stop Aru from taking over his third place overall, thus slipping off the podium.
Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) also saw their own podium hopes fade, netting fifth and seventh on the stage and ending up fifth and sixth in the general classification.
As for Cadel Evans, the BMC Racing Team rider had hoped to make up some of the time he had conceded in recent days but while he was able to move forward from his ninth place overnight, his eleventh on the stage only put him seventh in the overall standings.
He said afterwards that he would keep trying, but with Saturday’s stage the sole change to move up the general classification, he needs a massive performance on the Zoncolan to gain the three minutes nine seconds he needs to move into the top five.
Quintana said he was determined to prove a point against the clock. “I took the questions the press has been asking me seriously, and said to myself ‘today, I have what it takes to win the Giro,’” he stated. “I didn’t want to say so before, but [mountain time trials] are my speciality so I couldn’t let this stage go without winning it, especially on the day my family came from Colombia to visit me. It gave me strength. So too did the work of the team who helped me prepare for today’s stage.”
He knows that the Giro d’Italia underlines his pedigree and also his potential in future three week races. “Before last year’s Tour, I was an unknown,” he said. “Now I’m confirmed as a contender. The Tour gave me the opportunity to show the world who Nairo Quintana is.
“I’ve done it again here, and now the world knows that I’m capable of competing for Grand Tours. This race is fabulous: I love the Italian spectators and the Italian mountains.”
Orica GreenEdge’s Michael Hepburn was the first rider to hold provisional lead in the time trial, starting second on the stage and covering the distance in one hour 17 minutes 21 secs.
Bardiani CSF riders Nicola Boem, Sonny Cobrelli and Stefano Pirazzi all took turns at leading the race, but Lotto Belisol’s Tim Wellens then took over when he went below one hour and ten minutes. This mark stood for some time, with Sky’s Dario Cataldo going within ten seconds but being unable to better the time.
His team-mate Sebastian Henao was more successful, going twelve seconds faster and taking over in the hotseat. However he didn’t have long in the top spot, with first Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli) and then Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) improving his mark.
The latter caught Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp) during his ride, the Canadian delayed somewhat by a mechanical, while a storming Fabio Aru (Astana) caught Rafal Majka (Tinkoff Saxo) for three minutes and took over with the quickest time.
The rider who was battling him for third place overall, Pierre Rolland (Europcar) battled in trying to save as much as time as possible, but conceded one minute 40 seconds and with it that podium place.
Uran was next home, sprinting in for provisional second, one minute and nine second back. However it was too soon for Aru to celebrate; Quintana had gone faster at the calculated time checks and sprinted in with a time seventeen seconds faster, netting the stage and adding to his overall lead.
Aru would have liked to have taken his second stage win of the race but accepted the result. “I am pretty happy,” he said. “I think I worked really, really hard this winter on time trialling and everything. It has been in my dreams to do such a fantastic Giro d/Italia.”
He is now one minute 38 seconds up on Rolland in the overall standings and will fancy his chances of taking a podium spot when the race ends in Trieste on Sunday. There is a key stage to go, however, with the summit finish of Monte Zoncolan offering the chance of another big shakeup on Saturday.
Quintana makes clear that if he gets the opportunity, he’ll take it. “I’ve reconnoitred the start of the Zoncolan. I like it a lot: It’s pretty demanding, but those are the mountains I like,” he said. “I couldn’t see it all because when I went there, months ago, it was covered in snow.
“We’ll see how the team is tomorrow – from what I’ve seen, it will be very good. We’ll see how the race goes, and if I feel good, why not try for the stage win, or help a team-mate: don’t forget, one of my team-mates [Igor Antón] has already won on the Zoncolan.”