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Brian Cookson on the podium with Rigoberto Uran at the Giro d'Italia
Difficult to make a difference on the Zoncolan, admits Colombian
There was an air of quiet resignation about Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) following the time trial to Cima Grappa, a stage that seemed to confirm that a repeat of last year’s second place finish will be the summit of his ambition at this Giro d’Italia.
Following his emphatic victory in the Barolo time trial last week, stage 19 was billed as Uran’s last chance to claw back time on his fellow countryman Nairo Quintana (Movistar). Instead, the demanding 26-kilometre test merely confirmed the impressions of the Giro’s final act – Uran was lacking the vim of a week ago, while Quintana seemed a man transfigured.
Uran finished the stage in third place, 1:26 minutes down on Quintana and while he retains his second place on general classification, he is now some 3:07 off the maglia rosa, and the precocious Fabio Aru (Astana) has closed to within 41 seconds.
“It went quite well. You always expect a bit more but I’m relatively happy,” Uran said in the mixed zone afterwards, a towel wrapped around his neck and the bill of his cap turned upwards.
When Uran began with a flourish, scorching through the first time check with the best time, 16 seconds up on Quintana, it briefly looked as though he was about to haul his way back into contention in dramatic circumstances. Once the road began to climb, however, and Uran swapped his low-profile bike for his regular machine, his progress stalled.
By the second time check, after 12 kilometres of the seemingly unending climb above Bassano del Grappa, there had been a swing of almost a minute, as Uran now trailed Quintana by 36 seconds. The upper reaches of the mountain were intermittently swathed in low cloud, and while Quintana seemed almost to pass into another realm, Uran found only the harsh truth of a further seven kilometres of climbing. He conceded almost another minute as the road snaked interminably upwards.
"I started quite well but I think in the end I paid a little bit for my earlier efforts,” Uran admitted. “It was a very particular time trial, with the change of bike, and it was quite a technical time trial so it was important to go up at a good tempo.
“It was a long climb and a long time trial and there wasn’t really anywhere you could accelerate, it was all about keeping a good rhythm.”
Two days and one summit finish from the finish in Trieste, Uran’s hopes of overhauling Quintana have all but faded, and if anything, his focus during Saturday’s grand finale on the Zoncolan will be on defending second place from the sparkling Aru.
“It’s going to be quite complicated because the Zoncolan is quite a difficult climb and it’s hard to make the difference,” Uran said of challenging Quintana. The very steepness of the climb, however, could also help limit the damage Aru will look to inflict. “I’m sure that he will try to attack but it’s a difficult climb, one that I know very well, and I’ll try to defend my position.”
The contingent of Colombian journalists on the Giro has been increasing by the day in the final week of the race, and Uran paused for questions from a litany of radio and television stations from his home country before making his way to anti-doping after the stage.
Just yards where Uran spoke, Quintana was being helped into the maglia rosa that had belonged to him earlier in the week. Yet if there was any lingering irritation over the controversial manner in which Quintana had moved into pink at Val Martello, Uran gamely looked to put a brave face on his disappointment.
“Nairo has shown again today that he is riding very well,” he said. “I’m very happy that we’ve made such an impact back home and that so many people are here to support us too. I saw all the flags and banners on the road today and I think this is a very important achievement for Colombian cycling.”