After a decidedly rocky first two weeks of the Giro d’Italia, Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team) has finally taken a resoundingly solid step forward in the battle for the final podium at the Giro d’Italia with a emotional solo mountain top stage victory at Cervinia on Friday.
Aru waved his arm repeatedly at the sky and all but shouted for joy as he crossed the line, 28 seconds ahead of Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team’s Ryder Hesjedal and 1:10 over another rider on the rebound, Colombia’s Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick Step).
In terms of the overall classification battle, Aru’s first stage win of the Giro d’Italia - and Astana’s third in as many summit finishes - has also allowed the race’s Best Young Rider to move up from third to second overall, 4:37 down on race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).
Contador rode within himself to finish in a small chasing group of four riders, 1:18 down, and retains a 4:37 lead on Aru. An impressive margin for the Spaniard, but the Italian’s attack means he has more than recouped his losses of 1:13 caused by Contador’s long-range attack on the previous stage to Verbania.
Milan is now just two days away for Contador and although predicting too far ahead in one of the most tumultuous Grand Tours in recent years seems more than a shade unwise, victory in the Giro d’Italia for the Spaniard must feel tantalisingly near.
Indeed, although the Madrileño has come through the second last major mountain stage unscathed, Contador’s policy seemed to be both to race conservatively and keep a close eye on Aru’s teammate, Mikel Landa.
Landa finished in the same group as Contador and has dropped to third behind Aru on the provisional overall podium.
After closing down a brief dig by Landa on the final ascent, Contador barely shifted out of the saddle when Aru attacked with seven kilometres to go. Then with the white-clad figure of the young Italian disappearing around the hairpins ahead on the lengthy, grinding ascent, Contador - who has often stated stage wins in the Giro d'Italia are not an objective - continued to follow his rivals’ wheels, rather than lead the pursuit.
On a mammoth, 236 kilometre, stage featuring three first category ascents nearly 5,000 metres of climbing, up until the final climb caution like Contador’s seemed to be the watchword for all of the top contenders.
Following a fast two hours of racing an early break of eight, containing climbers and all-roudners as strong as Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge), Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) and Vasil Kiryenka (Team Sky) was finally given the all-clear. Behind, a long blue line of Astana riders, followed by Tinkoff-Saxo and the ever-present Contador, kept the gap at around four minutes.
A lengthy and somewhat tedious stalemate ensued, as Visconti’s lone charge away from the foot of the Col Saint-Panteleon, the second last climb of the day, earned the Movistar rider a brief hold on the King of the Mountains jersey. Visconti crossed the second last climb of the day with a two minute margin on the Contador-Astana group. Behind, first Dario Cataldo and then Andrey Zeits kept a well-nailed-down lid on his lead, whilst Contador was once again left with a limited number of riders - Mick Rogers and Ivan Basso - for support.
A former Giro leader, Visconti’s win on the snow-clad Galibier in the 2013 race is still fresh in most fans’ memories, but after powering down the fast descent and onto the shallow valley roads at Cervinia, Visconti’s margin was fast sinking as the Kazakh team piled on the pressure, and he was last seen by TV cameras making an almost operatic farewell wave before he was swallowed up by the Astana front line.
With 40 riders remaining, the question of Landa and Aru attacking was more one of when rather than if. However after Landa’s brief dig, Astana’s game plan briefly looked to have been foiled when a prolonged, steady surge by Ryder Hesejdal put the Canadian on the front of the race on the same climb where he re-took the lead in the 2012 Giro d’Italia.
Although winning is out of the question, Hesjedal’s second big ride in two days has now moved the Canadian up to seventh overall.
Aru, though, was not willing to let an opportunity to win on one of the Giro d’italia’s most difficult stages go by, and with seven kilometres to go, he powered out of the pack. An equally well-paced acceleration a kilometre later allowed the Italian to then shed the tenaciously performing Hesjedal and move into the lead position on the stage.
A climb with only a few steep ramps like Cervinia was not the most favourable of hunting grounds for an out-and-out mountain specialist like Aru but even so, as he battered his way up the climb’s steady but shallow ascent, his gap rose steadily to over a minute before hard work by chaser Leopold Konig (Team Sky) managed to limit the gap on Contador’s group.
Victory, though, was never in doubt, and the sight of Aru punching the sky, clad in the jersey of Best Young Rider, arguably shows that he is finishing this Giro d’Italia with much more solid condition than expected.
For Aru, too, his first victory since he won at Monte Castrove en Meis in Galicia in last year’s Vuelta a España, will surely have helped him rebuild morale. In these last two weeks in which, despite a brief spell in the leader’s jersey, more questions than answers have been raised about Aru’s GC capabilities, and despite lying third overall before Friday, he has been at least partly overshadowed by the unexpected rise and rise of team-mate Mikel Landa.
With one blistering mountain performance, Aru has now dampened down any doubts. At the same time, the odds on either Aru or Landa succeeding should they fling caution to the winds and attempt an all-out revolution against Contador’s gc domination on the two big final climbs of the Giro d’Italia, the Col de Finestre and Sestrieres, on Saturday’s stage are still long. But after Friday’s compelling performance, for the Italian at least, they have arguably shortened a little.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team||6:24:13|
|2||Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team||0:00:28|
|3||Rigoberto Uran (Col) Etixx - Quick-Step||0:01:10|
|4||Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team||0:01:18|
|5||Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo||Row 4 - Cell 2|
|6||Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo||Row 5 - Cell 2|
|7||Mikel Landa Meana (Spa) Astana Pro Team||Row 6 - Cell 2|
|8||Leopold Konig (Cze) Team Sky||0:01:21|
|9||Mikel Nieve (Spa) Team Sky||0:01:24|
|10||Alexandre Geniez (Fra) FDJ.fr||0:02:24|
|11||Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing Team||0:02:27|
|12||Andrey Amador (CRc) Movistar Team||Row 11 - Cell 2|
|13||Maxime Monfort (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:02:49|
|14||Jonathan Monsalve (Ven) Southeast Pro Cycling||Row 13 - Cell 2|
|15||Yury Trofimov (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 14 - Cell 2|
|16||Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Soudal||Row 15 - Cell 2|
|17||Darwin Atapuma Hurtado (Col) BMC Racing Team||0:04:43|
|18||Fabio Felline (Ita) TrekRacing||0:05:14|
|19||Amaël Moinard (Fra) BMC Racing Team||Row 18 - Cell 2|
|20||Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli||Row 19 - Cell 2|
|21||Andre Cardoso (Por) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team||Row 20 - Cell 2|
|22||Kanstantsin Siutsou (Blr) Team Sky||Row 21 - Cell 2|
|23||Kenny Elissonde (Fra) FDJ.fr||0:06:52|
|24||Benat Intxausti (Spa) Movistar Team||Row 23 - Cell 2|
|25||Stefano Pirazzi (Ita) Bardiani CSF||0:09:03|
|26||Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team||0:11:56|
|27||Ivan Basso (Ita) Tinkoff-Saxo||Row 26 - Cell 2|
|28||Simone Stortoni (Ita) Androni Giocattoli||Row 27 - Cell 2|
|29||Michael Rogers (Aus) Tinkoff-Saxo||Row 28 - Cell 2|
|30||Alessandro Bisolti (Ita) Nippo - Vini Fantini||0:13:27|
|31||Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Astana Pro Team||0:14:06|
|32||Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Movistar Team||0:14:46|
|33||Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Team Katusha||0:14:58|
|34||Pavel Kochetkov (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 33 - Cell 2|
|35||Diego Rosa (Ita) Astana Pro Team||Row 34 - Cell 2|
|36||Ion Izagirre (Spa) Movistar Team|