Spain’s Alberto Contador failed to commemorate the memory of stricken Marco Pantani, but held off the threat of rivals Astana to stretch his lead over Fabio Aru on the 15th stage of the Giro d’Italia on Sunday.
Contador came over the finish line of the 165km ride from Marostica to Madonna di Campiglio, Italy, in third place, five seconds behind stage winner Mikel Landa, with Aru finishing a further second behind to remain second overall, but see his gap on Contador grow to 2 minutes, 35 seconds.
“I would have liked to win this stage because of Marco Pantani, who was a big inspiration for me when I was younger, but it was a very difficult stage and Landa was strong in the finale, when there were a lot of attacks. It was hard to control everything,” Contador said.
A day after regaining the race lead from Aru following his third-placed finish in the 14th stage time trial, Contador further underlined his status as race favorite with a commanding performance on the first day of climbing in the spectacular Dolomites.
“A lot can still happen in the race and we have a lot of work to do,” the Spaniard warned.
Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo team had shouldered the burden of setting the pace on the penultimate climb, the 8km Passo Daone — a strategy which left two-time race runner-up Rigoberto Uran struggling to keep pace.
“It was a brutal day,” said Etixx-Quick Step rider Uran, whose bid for a podium finish now looks over after he trailed home among the also-rans on Sunday.
Tinkoff-Saxo’s tactic also produced the unwanted result of leaving Contador isolated among several Astana riders for the final climb, after Australian teammate Michael Rogers tailed off before the race through the valley.
However Contador, a former two-time winner of the Tour de France, who also won the Giro in 2008, acquitted himself handsomely on the final climb to Madonna di Campiglio — the scene of Italian Marco Pantani’s infamous exclusion from the race in 1999, an incident which is widely believed to have led to the former champion’s downfall and death from acute cocaine poisoning in a Rimini hotel room in February 2004.
Contador, who is bidding to become the first man since Pantani in 1998 to complete the Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double in the same year, did not have to fret until the final 3km when an acceleration by Landa sparked the hostilities.
Contador was soon on the Spaniard’s wheel, but despite pulling in front the race leader struggled to stretch his lead.
Aru and Yuri Trofimov of Katusha soon pedaled their way back to the leading pair with just over 2km remaining.
Landa tested his fellow Spaniard with another burst of speed, but, again, Contador countered the move.
Trofimov then launched a futile attempt for the stage win when he seared past his fellow leaders at 1km to go flag, but the Russian did not have the legs to open up a telling gap.
With Trofimov tiring and the finish line in sight, Landa seized his chance and accelerated past Trofimov in the final few hundred meters to claim his maiden Grand Tour victory.
“It’s an important win for me as much as for the team,” Landa said. “We tried to attack Contador because we outnumbered him... it’s given us some hope for the final stages this week. Nothing has changed in the team. We’re here to help Aru win the pink jersey and he is still our leader.”
Contador finished third to collect a time bonus which could prove useful over the coming days of climbing in the mountains.
Yesterday the peloton enjoyed the second and final rest day of the race, before tackling arguably the hardest stage of this year’s 98th edition today, a 174km ride beginning in Pinzolo which is to feature six climbs, including the final punt to the summit finish at Aprica.
The race finishes on Sunday in Milan.
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