It was supposed to be the day the fight back began in earnest, but after treading water for the best part of a week, Rigoberto Urán’s hopes of winning the Giro d'Italia surely floundered on a day of constant rain in the Veneto.
And yet so many riders suffered such huge losses in stage 14's long time trial from Treviso to Valdobbiadene that Urán seemed not quite sure if his glass was half-full or half-empty when he spoke with reporters in the mixed zone afterwards. Urán fared better than Richie Porte, for instance, who lost more than four minutes, but then everything is relative on a day such as this.
The winner in the Barolo time trial a year ago, Urán could only manage 23rd in its Prosecco equivalent on Saturday, finishing 2:45 down on winner Vasil Kiryienka (Sky) and losing 2:31 to restored maglia rosa Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). Although Urán climbs two places on general classification to fourth, he now trails Contador by 4:14.
"Today wasn't a good day for me," Urán said in the mixed zone, a snood pulled up beneath his chin. "I was expecting a lot from today, and I hoped to do well, but I couldn't find a good rhythm and speed in the first part."
Urán was already more than two minutes down on Kiryienka at the first time check after 17 kilometres, and he explained that he had struggled to maintain his aerodynamic position on the flat opening section due to the effects of his crash at Imola in midweek, though he improved slightly as the road began to climb on the back end of the course towards Valdobbiadene.
"The crash of a few days ago affected me a bit on the bike," he said. "I had pain in my gluteal, shoulder, and back muscle on the left side and I couldn't quite push full gas the way I would have liked. The time trial position is a lot different from the road and I struggled to find a good position due to my pain from the crash."
Urán entered the Giro still stricken by the bronchitis that had hindered him at the Tour de Romandie beforehand, and he was unable to match Contador, Fabio Aru (Astana) and Richie Porte (Sky) during a frantic opening week. His Imola crash apart, Urán enjoyed a steadier second week, but as the corsa rosa approaches its endgame, he must be aware that a repeat of his second place finishes of 2013 and 2014 is surely the summit of his ambition at this juncture.
"Up to now, let's say that my Giro hasn't gone very well, but I'm a man who keeps on fighting to the end. I'm going to hang tough because there's still a long way to go. It was a bit of an off-day for me today but that's not a problem. I'm going to keep fighting until the end," he said, dismissing the idea that he would eschew the overall standings in favour of chasing stage wins. I'm going ahead still thinking about the general classification."
At the 2014 Giro, Urán seemed to fade gradually in the third week, though he recovered sufficiently in the final three days to fend off Aru's challenge to his second place overall. This time around, he lies behind Contador, Aru and the surprise package, Andrey Amador (Movistar) as the race finally faces into the high mountains, beginning with the Passo Daone and Madonna di Campiglio on Sunday.
"In any case I am confident about the last week. There is a week of difficult high mountain stages," he said. "I know in a race like the Giro things can change in a moment. I will do my best in the last days."
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