On the day the Giro d'Italia recalled Marco Pantani's oft-eulogized fight back at Oropa, Nairo Quintana signalled the beginning of his own, steadier rimonta by clawing back 25 seconds on fellow countryman Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) on the summit finish overlooking Biella.
Uran began the stage in a commanding position atop the overall standings following his emphatic victory in the Barolo time trial on Thursday, and the maglia rosa seemed wholly untroubled on the lower slopes of the final climb. When the bobbing figure of Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) danced clear four kilometres from the top with Quintana in tow, however, Uran was unable to follow.
More surprisingly, Uran was found wanting when the group of favourites splintered in the last two kilometres, and he lost time on all of his direct rivals - 25 seconds to Quintana, 21 to Pozzovivo, 17 to Wilco Kelderman and 5 to Cadel Evans, who passed him on the final kick to the line.
That day back in 1999, Pantani's rivals looked the other way when the Italian was stalled by a slipped chain at the base of the climb and simply kept racing, and in his post-stage press conference, Uran was happy to overlook the minute details of the day's stage and focus on the bigger picture.
"There was no problem, everything went regular," Uran said. "We had a man in the break and we wanted the break to go the distance so it gained a lot of time. I've done the Giro four times and I've always been consistent in those Giri. I've lost 25 seconds today but that's no problem. Poels was going very well. He was with me when Quintana and Pozzovivo attacked with five kilometres to go."
Although his overall advantage has tightened slightly, Uran remains 32 seconds clear of Evans and 1:35 ahead of Rafal Majka, while Quintana is still a shade over three minutes down in sixth place. When asked again about the time lost at Oropa, Uran once more preferred to speak of the broader context of the race.
"You need to get to the finish with this jersey, you don't need to show how strong you are every day," he said. "I think you need to save energy because the Giro is still open and there are lot of climbs to come. Tomorrow's another hard stage and it's very demanding final week.
"It's true that I've lost a few seconds but there's no problem. The race is still long. The team is going quite well and I'm tranquillo."
While Evans defiantly showed that he is still very much in contention, and while Majka, Pozzovivo and Kelderman all impressed, Quintana's first frisson at this Giro was perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the final climb to Oropa, particularly given his shared history with Uran.
"I'm happy that's Quintana's a bit better," Uran said of the Movistar man, who struggled with illness and followed a course of antibiotics during the second week of the Giro.
"I was with him when he arrived in Europe three years, we lived together in Pamplona. I knew then that he was strong, and we talked about maybe riding in grand tours together in future. We'll see what happens tomorrow."
Uran sounded an optimistic note, too, when asked what will happen on Sunday if Quintana and Pozzovivo launch a similar attack. "I'll tell you this time tomorrow," he said with a laugh, confident, it seems, that he will still be performing the press duties of the maglia rosa after the summit finish at Montecampione.
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