Spain’s Alberto Contador showed on Sunday why he is the favorite for this year’s Giro d’Italia with a devastating mountain attack that gave him a stage win and the overall lead.
The 2008 race winner tore out of the peloton on the steepest section of the 20km ascent of the Mount Etna volcano, with none of his overall rivals able to follow him.
Shaking off his closest pursuer, Venezuela’s Jose Rujano, with 1.5 km to go, Contador clinched his first ever Giro stage win with his right arm raised skyward and a huge smile on his face.
“Today was a very important day and I’ve opened up some big differences,” the triple Tour de France winner told reporters. “My legs were going well and I had to attack.”
Rujano claimed second, three seconds back, whilst 2000 Giro d’Italia winner Stefano Garzelli led in a five-strong group of chasers, 50 seconds behind.
Overnight leader Pieter Weening of the Netherlands lost more than six minutes.
Contador leads the race with a 59-second lead over Kanstantsin Sivtsov of Belarus.
“My only real concern was the strong wind, but I saw that [Michele] Scarponi [of Italy] was in trouble and I knew I had to keep trying,” Contador said. “I’ve always wanted to win on a volcano and this was my opportunity.”
Already second in Saturday’s stage with a surprise attack close to the line, Contador said he had never ridden up the Etna climb before.
“I’ve checked out other climbs in the Giro, but not this one and I wanted to make the most of my good condition,” he said. “There are a lot more chapters left in this year’s Giro and I had nothing to prove today, although I wanted to win to say thank you to people for their support. Yesterday [Saturday] I also attacked, but it was only a short way from the finish. Today was very different.”
Contador’s rivals refused to throw in the towel, pointing out that the Giro still has nearly two weeks of racing, including some tough stages in the Dolomites and the Alps.
“We’ve seen how well he’s going, but there will be chances to bounce back,” Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali, third in last year’s Giro and currently fourth overall, told reporters.
“He was the big favorite before the start and today he’s taken a big step forward, but the race is far from over,” Nibali’s compatriot Scarponi said.
Contador is able to compete in the Giro after being cleared by the Spanish cycling federation over his positive test for the banned substance clenbuterol in last year’s Tour.
He is awaiting the outcome of an appeal against that decision by the International Cycling Union and the World Anti-Doping Agency at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.