A strong showing in the discipline at the Tour de Romandie was an indication, but surely not even Rigoberto Uran could have imagined that he would claim a decisive win in the stage 12 time trial at the Giro d’Italia and divest Cadel Evans of the maglia rosa in the process.
Indeed, the Colombian’s last victory against the watch dates all the way back to 2007, when he was awarded the win in the Euskal Bizikleta time trial, but only after heavy rainfall had prevented the final six riders from taking the start ramp. “I won a national time trial championship, too,” Uran pointed out with a laugh during his post-race press conference. “But that was as a junior.”
There were no arguments about the margins in the demanding test from Barbaresco to Barolo on Thursday afternoon. Only one rider – the equally startling Diego Ulissi – could finish within a minute and a half of Uran over the 42.2 kilometre course, and few others will come away pleased from their afternoon, least of all his fellow two favourites for overall victory.
Evans, the man expected to buttress his lead, conceded 1:34, while Nairo Quintana coughed up 2:41. In the general classification, Uran is now 37 seconds clear of Evans and Quintana lies in sixth, almost three and a half minutes down. The road to Trieste is a sinuous one, but Uran has a significant head start as the high mountains loom into view.
“There’s still a long way to go and the real climbs have yet to come, but today was important,” said Uran, whose Omega Pharma-QuickStep team placed particular emphasis on preparing him for the test through the Langhe.
“We worked a lot for this time trial. I came here twice already and I worked a lot with Specialized. I went to California to go in the wind tunnel, everything. We really wanted it, and I’d already done well in the time trial in Romandie.”
That fourth place finish behind Chris Froome in Switzerland meant that Uran lined up with a degree of optimism in Barbaresco, but he admitted that he had not expected to produce a performance on such a high level. “It’s a surprise, winning the time trial is very significant for me, for Colombia and the team,” he said.
Uran reached the first time check atop the climb to Boscasso after 12 kilometres with the second best time, but crucially, he was already 28 seconds up on Evans. By the time he had plunged down the slippery descent into Alba (26.2km), that the gap was out to 59 seconds and he was already in provisional possession of the overall lead.
“I had the information on what I was gaining on Evans, so it was important to keep going but I didn’t expect to win the stage,” said Uran, who notably had three QuickStep teammates – Gianluca Brambilla, Wouter Poels and Thomas De Gendt – for company in the top ten on the stage. “The others guys wanted to do well in the time trial and the Specialized bikes go by themselves, right?”
After a mixed start to the season that saw lacklustre showings at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Volta a Catalunya follow a strong third place finish in the Tour of Oman, Uran appears to have located a rich seam of form in time for the Giro. “I wanted to go well in Tirreno and Catalunya but I had a stomach problem,” he said. “But everything was built towards the Giro.”
Although the general classification picture has a sharper definition after the Barolo time trial, Uran was reluctant to nominate a single outstanding rival for the maglia rosa, although it was notable that his fellow countryman Quintana’s name was the first that sprang to mind, in spite of his current deficit in the standings.
“There’s not just one rival, there are many – Quintana, Evans, Majka and the others,” he said, before dismissing the idea that Quintana would be able to rely on a loose alliance with the Colombia team once the race re-enters the mountains. “No, no, no. I think everyone is riding for his own team.”
Asked what stage he feared the most during the Giro’s tough final week, Uran was equally implacable. “I’m not afraid,” he said. “I’ve always said I’ll go day by day.”