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With an attack 4km from the finish, Landa dropped Contador and Kruijswijk to win the Giro d’Italia queen stage and move onto the provisional podium after a huge drama; Contador finished 3rd and defended the lead

Photo: Sirotti

ALBERTO CONTADOR

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GIRO D'ITALIA

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MIKEL LANDA

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STEVEN KRUIJSWIJK

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26.05.2015 @ 17:44 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Mikel Landa (Astana) confirmed that he is currently the best climber in the Giro d’Italia when he took his second win in a row in the queen stage. After a dramatic stage where Astana tried to distance Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) after a mechanical, the Basque found himself with Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Contador in a front trio and with a powerful attack 4km from the finish, he put 38 seconds into his two rivals to win the stage and move into second overall. Contador defended his overall lead on a day when Fabio Aru (Astana) had to dig deep to limit his losses, dropping to third in the overall standings.

 

Last Sunday, it was hard not to get the impression that Mikel Landa was the strongest rider in the race. If anyone was still doubting his superiority on the climbs, the Basque put those doubts to rest by taking a dominant solo win in the queen stage of the Italian grand tour.

 

Landa benefited from a combination of an advantageous tactical situation and fantastic legs to ride away from Alberto Contador and Steven Kruijswijk with 4km to go after he had been given the green light to ride for himself after his team leader Fabio Aru was dropped on the Mortirolo. The fact that the Italian was chasing behind allowed him to follow wheels and this left him much fresher for the finale where he could make his decisive acceleration and put 38 seconds into his chasers.

 

However, the win came under slightly controversial circumstances as Astana had tried to benefit from a mechanical for Contador to put the race leader under pressure. On the descent from the Aprica climb with 60km to go, the Katusha trio of Sergey Lagutin, Sergei Chernetskii and Yury Trofimov had put in a big attack to bridge the gap to a 10-rider chase group that was 1.05 behind Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale) who was the lone leader. On the wet roads, their fast pace made the group splinter to pieces but Contador was riding comfortably near the front.

 

In this delicate moment, Contador got a puncture and after having received a wheel from teammate Ivan Basso, he suddenly found himself in defense mode. Teammates Christopher Juul, Manuele Boaro, Ivan Rovny, Michael Rogers and Sergio Paulinho all waited for him and rode hard to try to bring the race leader back to the front.

 

However, that was no easy task. Astana was desperately chasing the Trofimov group with Dario Cataldo, Luis Leon Sanchez and Paolo Tiralongo taking some huge turns. Even when theirs small 20-rider group caught the Trofimov group, they continued to press on with Lagutin and Chernetskii.

 

Contador’s group passed several groups along the way but his domestiques were all blowing up very quickly. When Hesjedal won the final intermediate sprint ahead of Lagutin and Chernetskii with 54km to go, Contador was still 25 seconds behind the Aru group and had now also asked Roman Kreuziger to wait for him.

 

The Czech was suddenly the only rider left at his side and he started to lose ground. At the same time, Hesjedal decided to sit up to wait for the speeding Aru group.

 

Boaro managed to bounce back to take a few turns when Kreuziger cracked before they hit the Mortirolo. Cataldo, Sanchez, Chernetskii and Lagutin had also blown up and it was Tiralongo who led the main group onto the climb.

 

As soon as they started to climb, Contador hit the front and initially only Darwin Atapuma, Rigoberto Uran and Benat Intxausti could stay with him. They were distanced almost immediately as the race leader started to get closer to the front group in which Landa had now taken over the pace-setting. The gap was still 35 seconds and only Aru, Trofimov, Kruijswijk and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) could stay with the Basque.

 

Contador constantly passed riders and got some help from friends Rinaldo Nocentini and Manuel Bongiorno before Igor Anton took a huge turn to make him rejoined a group with Leopold König, Damiano Caruso, Andrey Amador, Alexandre Geniez and Carlos Betancur who were the first big group behind the leaders, with Hesjedal being in between those two groups.

 

Zakarin cracked and dropped far behind while Trofimov also had to surrender, leaving just Landa, Kruijswijk and Aru in the front group. Meanwhile, Contador went straight past the Amador group and quickly caught Hesjedal who had bridged the gap to Trofimov.

 

Contador took a short moment to recover before he continued his comeback. Initially, Trofimov could stay with him but he was quickly dropped.

 

Landa constantly had to slow down to wait for Aru and Kruijswijk quickly grabbed the opportunity to attack. While he built an advantage, Contador finally made it back to the Astana dup with 40km to go.

 

Trofimov briefly made it back before Contador attacked. At first, Landa and Aru didn’t respond but very quickly the Basque was allowed to take his own chance and made it back to Contador who had caught Kruijswijk.

 

Aru was losing ground and was even attacked by Trofimov and passed by Hesjedal who caught the Russian. Meanwhile, Kruijswijk was time trialling with Contador and Landa on his wheel, constantly extending his advantage.

 

3km from the top, Aru had been distanced by 55 seconds and he was still not getting any closer. Just before the summit he was even passed by Amador who had distanced the companions in his group.

 

Kruijswijk led Contador and Landa over the top while Trofimov and Hesjedal followed at 55 seconds. Aru was at 1.51 and managed to catch Amador on the descent.

 

Contador briefly attacked on the wet roads but Landa didn’t give him an inch. Instead, the race leader set the pace all the way down and this allowed Aru and Amador to reduce their deficit to 1.30.

 

Trofimov dropped Hesjedal and got to within 20 seconds of the leaders. However, he didn’t make it across in time and as soon as he hit the flat roads, he started to lose ground. At this point, Contador asked Kruijswijk to collaborate and the pair traded pulls evenly why Landa could just follow wheel, protecting Aru behind.

 

Disaster struck for Aru who had a mechanical and so lost contact with Amador who rejoined Hesjedal. Trofimov decided to wait for them and the trio hit the final 15km climb with a deficit of 1.30.

 

Aru tried to bridge the gap in the steep part at the bottom but he never made it and started to lose ground. With 10km to go, he was 1.45 behind while the three chasers were at 1.15.

 

The gaps stayed pretty constant for most of the climb before the game of cat and mouse started with 5km to go. Contador was constantly creating small gaps that Landa had to close and this became too much for the Basque. With 4km to go, he made his big attack and even though Contador initially tried to follow, he easily got a big gap.

 

From there he time trialled his way to a big solo win while Kruijswijk led Contador across the line 38 seconds later. Trofimov beat Hesjedal in the sprint for fourth while Hesjedal lost a bit of ground in the finale. Aru crossed the line in 7th with a time loss of 2.51 to his teammate.

 

With the third place, Contador defended his overall lead while Landa moved into second. Contador now leads the Basque by 4.02 as they go into an easier stage 17. A tough climb right from the start is followed by long flat roads and a few small climbs in the finale, making it a perfect day for a breakaway or a rare bunch sprint.

 

The queen stage

After a well-deserved rest day, there was no gentle return to racing for the Giro d’Italia. Stage 16 was the queen stage that brought the riders over 177km from Pinzolo to Aprica and it was a stage with almost no flat terrain. Right from the start, the riders went up the Campo Carlo Magno climb and then tackled the Passo del Tonale after a short descent. A long downhill section led to the Aprica ascent and then it was time for the hardest climb of the entire race: the brutally steep Mortirolo. The summit was located 33.3km from the finish and was followed by a technical descent and a second passage of the Aprica climb on whose summit the finish line was located.

 

There was one non-starter when the riders gathered in Pinzolo under a rainy and cloudy sky. After his many disappointments, Richie Porte (Sky) had decided to head home to recover from his injuries.

 

A brutal start

With an uphill start, everything was set for a brutal start to the race and so most of the remaining riders did a warm-up to be ready for the hostilities. The predictions were true as the early climb was tackled at an amazing speed with lots of attacks.

 

The first promising move was formed after 1km of racing when Axel Domont (Ag2r), Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin), Maxime Bouet (Etixx-QuickStep), Giacomo Berlato (Nippo-Vini Fantini)  and Edoardo Zardini (Bardiani) escaped. However, they were soon brought back while several riders were dropped, including Elia Viviani (Sky).

 

The break is formed

Nikolay Mihaylov (CCC) and Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani) were among the riders to try their luck but they failed to get clear. Instead, it was Carlos Betancur (Ag2r) who was first at the top, followed by Franco Pellizotti (Androni), Benat Intxausti (Movistar), Zardini and Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale).

 

Surprisingly, in-form climber Sebastien Reichenbach (IAM) withdrew from the race while the peloton started the descent. Pellizotti, Brent Bookwalter (BMC), Zardini and Fabio Felline (Trek) attacked. They quickly got an advantage of around 40 seconds while Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida), Ruben Fernandez (Movistar) and David de la Cruz (Etixx-QuickStep) took off in pursuit.

 

Riders bridge across

The three chasers joined the leaders but the peloton was still not content with the situation. After 34km of racing, the main group had reduced their deficit to just 16 seconds. That allowed Hesjedal and Mihaylov to bridge the gap and later Sander Armee (Lotto Soudal) also made the junction.

 

As they hit the Passo Tonale, they were 1.20 ahead of the peloton which was being led by Juul for Tinkoff-Saxo. Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEDGE) had taken off in pursuit and was 45 seconds behind.

 

Clarke makes the junction

Clarke managed to reduce the deficit to 30 seconds by the time he crested the summit after Fernandez had beaten Pellizotti and Zardini in the KOM sprint. The peloton was still only 1.38 behind as Tinkoff-Saxo kept everything under control.

 

Clarke did a great descent on the wet roads and managed to join the leader with 111km to go. The peloton was more cautious and allowed the gap to go out to 2.25 by the time they hit the Aprica climb.

 

Hesjedal attacks

Juul, Paulinho and Rovny had been trading pulls in the valley but as they started to climb, the Dane swung off. Meanwhile, Zardini led Pellizotti and Hesjedal across the line in the first intermediate where Rovny and Paulinho had brought the gap down to 1.43.

 

Hesjedal realized that he had to go solo and no one even tried to follow him. He easily put 30 seconds into his former companions and when he crossed the finish line to win the KOM sprint, he was 1.04 ahead of the chasers who were led over the top by Niemiec and de la Cruz.

 

At this point, the peloton was 2.08 behind and now Katusha kicked into action. Lagutin, Chernetskii and Trofimov hit the front and their fast riding created several splits in the group. Moments later, they made it across to the chasers and Contador had a mechanical, starting the very exciting finale.

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