Finishing safely in the main bunch 18 seconds after Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep) beat breakaway companion Luke Durbridge (Orica GreenEdge) to take the final stage, Alberto Contador took the overall victory in the Giro d’Italia and, with it, the seventh Grand Tour title of his career.
Contador had no complications on the final stage and rolled in as part of the second half of the peloton, some 18 seconds behind the leading duo. That saw him end the three week event one minute 53 seconds ahead of Fabio Aru (Astana) and three minutes and five seconds up on Aru’s team-mate Mikel Landa.
Andrey Amador (Movistar), Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) and Leopold Konig (Sky) rounded out the top six.
“I thank the people of Italy for their affection,” said Contador, who had a scare on Saturday’s penultimate stage when he unexpectedly weakened and was dropped by the other general classification contenders. “Everyone has been very special with me and I am very happy.
During the three hard weeks of the Giro, everything imaginable has happened: I came here thinking about victory having prepared very carefully, but then I had my fall and a shoulder injury. There was the mythical climb of the Mortirolo, but then yesterday on the Colle delle Finestre I had bad legs.”
Although a big bunch sprint was expected, Keisse and Durbridge slipped clear on the finishing circuit, going away after the bunch crossed the line for the first of seven times. A course complicated by tramway tracks and a race rendered a little chaotic due to a spate of punctures were all they needed to build a solid lead and, after extending their advantage to more than a minute, they were able to hold off the hard-chasing bunch to the line.
There Keisse proved the quicker, winning the gallop.
He admitted afterwards that it was an unexpected result. That said, the team had hoped that a surprise could be achieved. “Before the race we had a sort of plan for me and Saba [Fabio Sabatini] to try and do something on the final bend, because I’m a track rider so I corner pretty well,” he said.
“But then I saw that there was some hesitation at the start of the circuit, so I attacked. I had a pretty good partner in crime in Luke Durbridge. I did my last pull at 2.5km. I heard we had 30 seconds so I knew we’d make it.”
He admitted he didn’t do his fair share towards the end. “I put pressure on him by saying I wasn’t going to work, and I’ve seen how Cavendish does it so I used that experience today.
“It’s been a very different Giro this year for the team. We haven’t won a stage, after being very successful in the previous couple of years, so this win is very important. It’s my best ever victory, and I’m so, so happy.”
How it played out:
As is often the case on the final day of a Grand Tour, Sunday’s 178 kilometre stage of the Giro d’Italia had a processional feel to it. Alberto Contador toasted champagne while his Tinkoff-Saxo team owner, Oleg Tinkov, sported a pink hairdo.
Just over 85 kilometres after the start of the stage in Turin, double stage winner Philippe Gilbert, BMC Racing team-mates Marcus Burghardt and Silvan Dillier plus Max Richeze (Lampre-Merida) went clear. They built a lead of over a minute and Gilbert took the points at the first intermediate sprint.
He was still within reach of the red points jersey but had to collect a good haul of points to stand a chance.
Following that sprint they waited for the bunch. Once back in the fold Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo team set the pace and brought the peloton into Milan, where seven laps of the finishing circuit remained inside the final 40 kilometres.
With just under 30 kilometres remaining Luke Durbridge (Orica GreenEdge) and Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep) attacked and opened a lead of over 30 seconds. Keisse took the points at the second intermediate sprint, with Durbridge second and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) winning the bunch sprint for third.
That extended his lead in the competition and put a major dent in Gilbert’s aspirations, as well of those of Nizzolo’s closest rivals Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) and Elia Viviani (Sky).
A spate of punctures hit the main bunch, with GC rider Leopold Konig one of the victims. He was helped back to the bunch by his Sky team, preserving his sixth place overall, but flat tyres continued for other riders. Gilbert was another affected, being forced to change his wheel inside the final ten kilometres.
Heading onto the final lap the breakaway duo still had almost 30 seconds and were looking good to hold on. The bunch wasn’t fully committed in its chase and this was all they needed to contest the win.
Keisse refused to come through towards the end, forcing Durbridge to keep driving inside the final two kilometres. The Australian hoped to be able to win anyway, but Keisse blasted through to take the win.
Contador rolled in as part of the main bunch and celebrated his seventh Grand Tour victory. He is hoping to become the first rider since Marco Pantani in 2008 to take the Giro/Tour double, but needs to fully get over his physical and mental exertions to be able to do so.
“It has been a beautiful Giro, and a very special experience for me,” he said. “I don’t know how long it will take to recover. I’m tired, and I know it will take time.
“It has been an emotional Giro for me. I’ve said it will be my last, but you never know. As we say in Spanish, never say never.”