Giro d’Italia leader Alberto Contador delivered a second knockout blow to his rivals on Friday after he and stage winner Jose Rujano of Venezuela powered out of the pack on the final climb.
Riding past snowdrifts and through the occasional rainsquall on a pass that rose to more than 2,000m above sea level, Rujano and the Giro leader collaborated to open up a gap of 1 minute, 27 seconds on closest pursuer John Gadret of France.
Then with less than 500m to go, Contador made gestures to the Venezuelan that indicated that he would not contest the stage win and he crossed the line close behind Rujano.
Already the leader since his victory on Mount Etna, Saxo Bank rider Contador now holds a 3 minute, 9 second margin over Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali in the general standings.
Michele Scarponi, also of Italy, is in third.
Despite now leading the overall, as well as the king of the mountains and the points competitions, Contador told reporters the Giro was far from over.
“There are many difficult days ahead and I’m not taking anything for granted,” 2008 champion and three-time Tour de France winner Contador told reporters. “The objective today was to get as much time as possible on my rivals, another stage victory was secondary.”
“These mountain stages are so tough that even if you’ve got a big advantage one day, on the next you can lose 15 minutes,” he added.
Rujano, third in the 2005 Giro, said he and Contador had agreed to work together.
“It’s an honor to race, climb and win with such a great champion as Alberto,” Rujano said. “I’m particularly pleased to get the stage victory after coming so close on Mount Etna [on stage nine], where I had to settle for second because of a mechanical problem.”
“We’d agreed that we’d work together and that [Contador] would let me win the stage,” Rujano added.
Contador, awaiting a Court of Arbitration for Sport verdict over a positive test for clenbuterol during last year’s Tour, said he decided to attack because he saw key overall rival Scarponi had tried to make a move “and I wanted to counter that.”
“When I saw that I was getting a gap, I knew I had to keep going. In any case, this was a very tough stage for everybody and I suffered a lot,” he added.
As the Giro entered the -mountains, several sprinters opted not to start stage 13, including double stage winner Mark Cavendish of the UK and overnight points jersey holder Alessandro Petacchi of Italy.
The next stage sees the Giro peloton tackle a second key day of climbing in the Dolomites, with the ascent of two major cols, the Crostis and the Monte Zoncolan on a 210km route.