Falling snow and vertiginous slopes conspired almost to slow time on the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, and the final four kilometres of stage 20 of the Giro d’Italia seemed like something of a microcosm for the race as a whole.
For 1500 metres, Rigoberto Uran (Sky) succeeded in withstanding Vincenzo Nibali’s forcing but with a shade under three kilometres to go, the maglia rosa passed boldly into the curtain of snow ahead and into a realm of his own.
As has been the case since Nibali took flight on the Jafferau last weekend, Uran’s focus then quickly shifted from matching the pink jersey to edging away from Cadel Evans (BMC). Uran trailed the Australian by ten seconds coming into Saturday’s stage and the final kick up to Tre Cime di Lavaredo was his last chance to dislodge Evans from second place overall.
“It was a really difficult today especially with the weather, so I had to hang tough,” Uran said afterwards. “I was feeling good but not enough to stay with Nibali, so I followed my own rhythm to the finish.”
By the time Nibali launched his decisive attack, a struggling Evans was off the back of the leading group and already fading into a grey impalpable world behind, while Uran had an ally of circumstance in the shape of Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale), who was looking to divest Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff) of the white jersey.
The two Colombians inched away from Evans, who put up fierce resistance to their advance until his hopes dwindled and then definitively dissolved in the final kilometre. By that point, as the snow swirled ever more furiously around the summit, Uran and Betancur had been joined by their fellow countryman Fabio Duarte (Colombia) and the trio collaborated as best they could in the conditions.
“Yeah, they were going well,” Uran said. “Betancur, Duarte and I did a good job in the end, I think.”
At the finish, Uran emerged from the gloom to cross the line in third place, 19 seconds behind Nibali but with a time bonus and a buffer of more than a minute on a flagging Evans. It was enough to seal second place overall, 1:09 ahead of Evans but some 4:43 behind Nibali.
“Moving up from third to second changes a lot but first place was untouchable,” Uran admitted. “Nibali was unbeatable at this Giro. You saw what he did again today, he was really very good. So I think for me and for Sky, this second place is a great result.”
The extreme weather at this Giro has tested the sturdiest of constitutions and Uran cut a glum figure when he crossed the line. The mane of hair that inspired Gazzetta dello Sport to label him the Mick Jagger of cycling was flecked with snow, and he was shepherded immediately away from the waiting media and towards a tent past the finish area to change.
Ten minutes later, however, now dressed in a tracksuit and with his hood wrapped tightly around him, Uran was able to smile about the day’s conditions. “No, I’ve never experienced weather like today in a race,” he laughed. “Never, never, never.”
Even so, Uran held tough in the conditions, just as he has held tough throughout a Giro that saw his status alter dramatically. Uran arrived in Naples three weeks ago to serve as a gregario di lusso for Bradley Wiggins but was thrust into the role of team leader after the Englishman’s premature abandon.
Already linked with a move to Omega Pharma-QuickStep as the Giro began, Uran now finds himself in a strong negotiating position as his Sky contract winds down at the end of this year.
“I got as much as I could out of today and out of this Giro because first place was always going to be very difficult,” Uran said. “But I think it was a good result for me and for Sky.”