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Fabio Aru made up for the frustrations of recent days when he raced to victory on the penultimate mountain stage of this year’s Giro d’Italia on Friday. The Astana rider attacked the lead group 7.7 kilometres from the end of the stage to Cervinia, caught the earlier attacker Ryder Hesjedal, and then jumped him with 6.1 kilometres left.
He time trialed from there to the line, celebrating wildly at what is the second Giro stage win of his career. Hesjedal came in 28 seconds back with Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep) a further one minute ten back in third.
“I knew the final 100km by heart from the Tour of the Val d’Aosta, which was one of my favourite Under-23 races,” Aru said. “I feel very tied to this region.
“I didn’t know what to think in the final metres. For 20 days the team has always been close to me, even in the difficult moments, and today my team-mates made the race. The team was fantastic from start to finish, everyone one of them.”
Race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) appeared to have opted for an easier day than Thursday, sitting put in the chase group and opting to mark Aru’s team-mate Mikel Landa.
The latter felt compelled not to chase and had to watch the race disappear up the road ahead of him, simply following the wheels of those doing the chasing, Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Leopold Konig (Sky). That group was led in by his Astana team-mate Tanel Kangert, one minute 18 back, with Kruijswijk, Contador and Landa next over the line and Konig a further three second back.
As a result of the time gained, Aru moved back up to second overall, ending the day four minutes 37 seconds behind Contador and 38 seconds ahead of Landa, who is at five minutes 15.
Andrey Amador (Movistar) remains fourth while Konig’s effort on the climb sees him overtake Yuri Trofimov (Katusha) for fifth place. Hesjedal continues his rise up the general classification, going from ninth to seventh and thus displaying both Damiano Caruso (BMC Racing Team) and Kruijswijk.
“The team was good today, and I kept and eye on my closest rival, Mikel Landa,” said Contador. “You have to take a tactical decision in the end: Landa and Aru could have taken turns to attack all the way up the final climb. Obviously, I’d like to win a stage, but it is hard: the final group is always small and I don’t have team-mates with me because they work hard early in the stage, so the result today is perfect for me.
“Anyway, if you ask anyone which they would prefer, a stage win or the Maglia Rosa, they’ll say the Maglia Rosa, so I’m very, very happy because I’ve got through another very hard day. The final climb was very hard, and Aru was strong and took a great stage win. He’s second in the General Classification, and I wish him a great future.”
The feeling persists that Contador was likely saving energy after Thursday’s exertions and in advance of Saturday’s finish at Sestriere. He’s never won there, is still chasing a stage win in this year’s edition, and knows that triumphing on that mountain will be worth more than being first to the line on Friday.
“Tomorrow the stage is really nice, with a very hard climb, perhaps harder than the climbs today,” he said, looking ahead. “My job will be to withstand the attacks, and it might even be a day when I attack, you never know.”
His rivals can take that for granted; it’s very difficult to imagine him not trying to go clear and solo to what would be an iconic victory on the famed climb.
How it played out:
Stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia covered 236 kilometres and featured four climbs. The first of those, the Croche Serra (km 85.9) was only a third category ascent and was therefore of little concern to the GC riders. However the latter three were all first category mountains, with the Saint Barthelemy (km. 167.6), the Col Saint Pantaleon (207.9) and the concluding climb of Cervinia much more likely to shake things up.
Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo team set the early pace and it took almost an hour before a break got clear. Nine riders slipped away before the 40 kilometre point, with Diego Ulissi (Lampre), Giovanni Visconti (Movistar), Esteban Chaves (Orica GreeneEdge), Vasil Kiryienka (Team Sky), Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha), Nick Van der Lijke (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Marek Rutkiewicz (CCC) plus the Ag2r La Mondiale pairing of Carlos Betancur and Matteo Montaguti working together to build their lead.
After 61 kilometres they were three minutes clear and, after Betancur took that first climb, they had over four minutes. This inched upwards to four minutes 40 seconds, after which the peloton accelerated and the pendulum started to swing.
Chaves and Visconti were feeling good and pushed ahead on the early slops of the Saint Barthelemy climb. The latter then dropped the former, going clear alone but being rejoined by Kiryienka, Kochetkov and Chaves.
Visconti led them over the summit but the bunch had closed to inside two minutes and 50 seconds, making it questionable as to whether they could stay clear. The quartet had a boost when Rutkiewicz got across, giving them an extra pair of legs to work.
The riders continued on to the day’s third climb, the Col Saint Pantaleon, and there Visconti flexed his legs again and pulled clear. Kochetkov dropped the others in pursuit, while the Astana-led peloton reeled the others in.
Kochetkov was unable to get across and Visconti carried a lead of almost two and a half minutes into the final 30 kilometres. Kochetkov was picked up with just over 16 kilometres to go, at which point Visconti’s lead had dropped a shade under two minutes.
He pushed onwards but with 13 kilometres left the Italian was just a minute ahead. He was visibly suffering and despite the Movistar rider cramming in food and drink in the hope of getting a second wind, he was facing a very difficult battle. Rapidly losing time, his advantage was down to 30 seconds with 11.5 clicks left.
Astana continued its chase and the adventure was finally over with 10.7 kilometres left.
Tactical battle unfurls on the final climb
Kanstantsin Siutsou (Sky) decided to give it a shot and clipped away with 9.6 kilometres remaining. He was rapidly closed down, though, with Mikel Landa’s acceleration dragging himself, Contador and Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale Garmin) clear. Aru and Kruiswijk got back up to them, then Hesjedal tried to get away.
Kruijswijk brought the others up to them, though, and Sky’s Leopold Konig latched onto the back of the group.
Aru jumped with 8.8 kilometres left, apparently feeling better than in recent days. Hesjedal went with him and then pushed onwards. He got a gap, with the others not appearing too worried.
Konig raised the pace to try to get back to him, but had no answer when Landa went. Contador quickly covered the move, with Kruijswijk and Aru getting up to them. This acceleration brought the group close to Hesjedal, but a lull allowed the Canadian to move clear yet again.
Aru went with 7.7 kilometres left. Contador decided not to follow, waiting for the others to respond. Kruijswijk took up the pace setting.
Aru had tried to get across to Hesjedal but found that more difficult than might have been expected. He finally made the junction with 6.3 kilometres to go. He then attacked hard, gained a couple of bike lengths, then pulled further and further ahead.
Konig led the chase behind, then Kruijswijk came through. There was no concern evident on the past of Contador, who was content to mark Landa.
With 4.4 kilometres left Hesjedal was 11 seconds back and the Konig/Kruijswijk/Landa/Contador group were at 42 seconds. Aru was pulling faces and bobbing more and more, putting everything into his bid for a stage win.
Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep) was feeling better as the climb continued. He caught and then jumped the Contador group, pulling quickly clear. Landa did nothing to stop him, despite the possible threat to Aru’s stage win aspirations.
However it was too little too late. Aru went under the three kilometre banner one minute 14 clear of the group containing the race leader plus his team-mate. Uran started to run out of steam and hovered about 15 seconds ahead of that Maglia Rosa bunch.
Aru raced into the final kilometre and kept his effort going all the way to the line, chasing seconds. He punched the air 100 metres out and roared loudly, the frustration of recent days finally forgotten.
Hesjedal came in for second, 28 seconds back, then Uran picked up third, one minute and ten seconds in arrears. The Contador group were eight seconds further down.
As a result of the time gained, Aru moved back up to second overall, ending the day four minutes 37 seconds behind Contador. Landa was at five minutes 15, and the race had ticked one day closer to the finish on Sunday.
With that final leg expected to be a peloton sprint to the line, the GC battle will almost certainly be decided on Saturday’s final mountain stage. That takes the riders over the Colle Delle Finestre and then onward to the Sestriere, where Contador will likely make an all out bid to seal his overall victory with a stage win.
He’s almost guaranteed to win the race but hasn’t yet picked up a single day victory in the race. That’s something he will try to correct on Saturday afternoon.
Giro d'Italia (2.UWT) Gravellona Toce → Cervinia
Astana Pro Team