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Contador attacks from afar on the Passo Larciano, joins the remnants of the early break, and leaves everyone behind on Italy's steepest road to take the stage win and the overall lead in Tirreno-Adriatico

Photo: Sirotti

ALBERTO CONTADOR

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MICHAL KWIATKOWSKI

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NAIRO QUINTANA

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SIMON GESCHKE

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TIRRENO - ADRIATICO

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NEWS
16.03.2014 @ 18:17 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) firmly stamped his authority on Paris-Nice when he put on an impressive showing in today's final mountain stage of the race. Instead of saving his energy for the final ramp of the Muro Guardiagrele, the Spaniard attack from afar on the Passo Larciano, dropped Nairo Quintana, and joined the remnants of the early break before distancing everybody on the Muro to take both the stage win and the overall lead.

 

If anyone still doubted whether Alberto Contador is back at his former level, those doubts will have been firmly to rest by his excellent showing in today's final mountain stage of Tirreno-Adriatico. 24 hours after winning the race's queen stage, the Spaniard rode away from all the main climbers in the race in a long-distance attack that allowed him to take both the stage win and the overall lead.

 

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) had initiated the drama when he attacked early on the Passo Larciano that preceded a descent to the bottom of Italy's steepest road, the Muru Guardiagrele whose summit was located just 600m from the line. As the Colombian was unable to drop Contador, however, the duo fell back to the peloton.

 

Instead of waiting for the final climb, Contador decided to take on Quintana from afar and he made another attack. Quintana was unable to hold his wheel and for some time, the two climbers were involved in a fierce pursuit.

 

Quintana clearly lost that battle as he continually saw the distance increase and he decided to fall back to Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha), Mikel Nieve (Sky), Domenico Pozzovivo and Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r) who were his nearest chasers.

 

Contador passed several early escapees on his way up the climb and reached Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol) just before the top. He waited for the Australian and the dup worked well together to catch the three leading riders, Benjamin King (Garmin), David De La Cruz (NetApp-Endura), and Simon Geschke (Giant-Shimano) on the descent.

 

Having already done an awful lot of work, Contador still had enough left in the tank to drop his companions on the Muro to take his second consecutive stage win. Geschke did an impressive job to hold onto 2nd while King took 3rd.

 

Behind, the chase group had got reinforcement from behind but they had failed to reduce their time deficit that had been rather constant at around 1.40. Peraud proved to be the strongest when he crossed the line in 5th, with Hansen taking 5th, while Quintana faded back to 11th.

 

Race leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) cracked on the Larciano and despite the best support from teammates Rigoberto Uran and Wout Poels, he lost more than 5 minutes. Hence, Contador is now the new leader of the race, sitting a comfortable 2.08 ahead of Quintana, while Kwiatkowski dropped to 19th.

 

He takes that lead into tomorrow's final road stage which is an almost completely flat affair from Chieti to Porto Sant'Elpidio. A big sprint showdown between the best sprinters is expected while the GC riders will try to save energy for Tuesday's time trial.

 

Italy's steepest road

After yesterday's big mountain stage, it was back into the hills for the Tirreno-Adriatico riders who were challenged with a 192km stage from Amatrice to Guardiagrele. A rolling and mostly downhill first part preceded the dramatic finale where the riders would first tackle the big Passo Larciano climb before descending to the city of Guardiagrele. Here they would face Italy's steepest road, the Muro Guardiagrele, whose 30% gradients would split the field just 600m from the line.

 

The race took off under a beautiful sunny sky but without Sky leader Richie Porte who had fallen ill overnight. The start was an animated one as many riders saw the stage as one that could potentially be won by an early break.

 

The break takes off

King, Hansen, and De La Cruz were finally allowed to go clear and after 10km of racing, they were one minute ahead of a chase group made up of Andriy Grivko (Astana), Matthias Brandle (IAM), and Yaroslav Popovych (Trek) while the peloton was lreadt tgree minutes behind.

 

Luca Paolini (Katusha) and Geschke also decided that they wanted to be part of the action and after 20km, they were 1.40 behind the leaders, with the other chasers still being in between. The peloton was now 4 minutes behind.

 

The gap grows

The escapees decided that it was better to combine forces and after 30km, the 8 had come together with a 9-minute lead. It was allowed to go even further up, reaching 11 minutes after 50km of racing.

 

The gap reached a maximum of 11.15 but Omega Pharma-Quick Step had now taken control and kept it stable at around that mark for some time. They quickly started a bit harder and when they hit the bottom of the Passo Larciano, it was down to 6 minutes.

 

The break splits up

Brandle beat King, De La Cruz and Popovych in the first intermediate sprint and he was also first in the second one, this time beating King, Geschke, and Grivko, which came just before the main ascent of the day As soon as the road started to point upwards, the front group split, leaving just Hansen, Geschke, and King in front.

 

While Hansen fell off the pace, Movistar showed their intentions when they sent Igor Anton up the road in an attack. Behind Omega Pharma-Quick Step just rode a steady pace with Tony Martin as the peloton had already splintered to pieces, with Cadel Evans dropping off when around 30 riders remained.

 

Quintana makes his move

Moments later, Quintana made his move, with only Contador being able to respond. The duo quickly bridged across to Anton while behind, Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani), Peraud, and Robert Kiserlovski (Trek) had set off in pursuit.

 

Anton couldn't sustain the pace but as Contador and Quintana refused to cooperate with each other, they slowed down, allowing Peraud to bridge across. Martin had now fallen off the pace, meaning that the chase in the peloton was led by Wout Poels.

 

Back in the fold

The Dutchman's fast pace was enough to bring back the Contador group and he went straight to the front to keep the speed steady. Meanwhile, Contador and Quintana slotted into their positions near the front of the ever-dwindling group that had started to catch the early escapees.

 

Mikel Nieve (Sky) decided to attack and he was joined by Contador, Quintana, Domenico Pozzovivo and Peraud. Contador saw an opportunity to exploit the situation and made a trademark acceleration that only Quintana could match.

 

Quintana drops off

However, the Colombian couldn't sustain the pace and he quickly fell off. For a long time, the duo chased each other while Nieve, Pozzovivo, and Peraud had been joined by Caruso. A little further behind, Julian Arredondo, Kiserlovski, Chris Horner (Lampre), Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo), and Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp-Endura) made up the next group.

 

Kwiatkowski had now cracked and he was riding with his teammates Poels and Uran while they were being passed by several riders as the group was now in pieces, spread all across the road. Contador continued to increase his advantage over Quintana who decided to fall back to the chase group.

 

Contador picks up Hansen

Up ahead, De La Cruz had rejoined King and Geschke and the trio crested the summit with a 50-second gap over Contador who had picked up Hansen just before the top. The Quintana group was now 1.40 behind while Kwiatkowski had already lost 4.46 to the front group.

 

Hansen and Contador rode hard on the descent to gradually close the gap and they made the junction when they hit a small climb inside the final 10km. Meanwhile, the gap to the 5 chasers was always constant at around 1.40.

 

King gives it a go

Contador did all the work in the new front quintet and he managed to single-handedly keep his advantage over the chasers. Just before the bottom of the Muro, King made a move and the American hit the slopes as the lone leader.

 

Contador continued to ride hard up the climb but Geschke did an impressive job to hang onto his wheels for a long time. The duo passed King and finally Geschke had to surrender.

 

Contador takes the win

Contador crested the summit as the leader and kept the pace high all the way to the line. He finished the stage with a 6-second gap over Geschke while King took 3rd and Hansen 4th.

 

The chase group had been joined by more riders near the end but it all splintered to pieces on the Muro, with Peraud being the strongest while Quintana could only manage 12th, losing 1.51 to Contador.

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