David Arroyo raced with his pink Pinarello bike on Saturday, but he was back in his normal Caisse d’Epargne kit for the final showdown over the Gavia.
Perhaps it was wishful thinking that the scrappy Spanish climber might still have a shot to win this Giro d’Italia, but Ivan Basso (Liquigas) made sure he widened his gap to Arroyo from 51 seconds to 1:15 going into Sunday’s decisive time trial in Verona.
Arroyo — who’s been one of the surprise stories of the 93rd Giro — insists he’s not losing sleep over losing the pink jersey in Friday’s epic stage over the Mortirolo.
“I am content where I am right now in this Giro,” Arroyo told VeloNews after Saturday’s stage. “I am not disappointed in the least to not have the pink jersey today. Of course, I would have liked to have kept it (Friday), but Basso has demonstrated that he’s the strongest rider in the Giro. I still have a shot at the podium going into the final stage, so that’s what motivates me now.”
Arroyo’s dream run of five days in the pink jersey ran off the rails when he saw his 2:27 gap to Basso evaporate on the final climb to Aprica on Friday. He fell to second at 51 seconds back.
Arroyo made a fateful decision at the base of the Aprica that could have permanently tipped the balance of the race in favor of Basso.
He made a sensational descent off the Mortirolo to claw back within 38 seconds of the leading trio of Basso, Vincenzo Nibali and Michele Scarponi as they neared the final Aprica climb. When he linked up with Alexander Vinokourov, the Kazakh urged him to work together as a pair to chase when the gap still hovered around 45 seconds.
Arroyo instead decided to wait for the chasing Cadel Evans (BMC), Carlos Sastre (Cervélo) and John Gadret (Ag2r). By the time the quintet joined forces, the Basso trio had already widened the gap to one minute.
Arroyo could only watch in horror as Vinokourov refused to work, because his shot of moving up on GC or winning the stage were greatly diminished by the arrival of Sastre and Evans.
In the end, Arroyo found little collaboration in the five-man group, and he lost his shot at overall victory at the Giro in the battle up the Aprica.
“I have no regrets at all about what happened,” Arroyo continued. “You can say this might have happened or that might have happened, but the truth is that Basso and his Liquigas team are very strong. When I started this Giro, we were talking top-15, maybe top-10, so to be within striking distance of the podium with one stage to go is better than anyone could have imagined.”
Despite his demonstration of his excellent descending skills Friday, Arroyo said the harrowing descent off the Gavia was no place to try to attack Basso.
“Today wasn’t a day to take risks. The surface on the Mortirolo was on much better asphalt. Today was over rough, narrow roads, after a long day of climbing, it wasn’t the right place to take unnecessary risks,” he said. “We also knew the final climb was very difficult, so I wanted to save my legs for that.”
Scarponi’s late-stage attack drew out Basso, who was riding to protect Nibali’s podium chances, and Arroyo couldn’t quite keep pace. Basso out-kicked Scarponi to take the third-place time bonus at 25 seconds, and Arroyo rode across the line fifth at 41 seconds back.
At 1:15 behind Basso, Arroyo has all but conceded defeat, but said he hopes to defend second place on the podium. He’ll start 1:21 ahead of third-place Nibali, 1:22 ahead of fourth-place Scarponi and 2:32 ahead of fifth-place Evans.
“The truth is I’ve never entered a final time trial of a three-week stage race in this position, so I’ve never had to go full-gas. I have confidence that I can keep second place,” Arroyo said. “It’s a short time trial, with a climb with a lot of curves. It favors my style of riding and it’s not a course for true specialists. To finish second in this Giro would be something else.”
Arroyo’s dream Giro might have ended one better, but he also knows it could have easily turned into a nightmare. A podium shot is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Arroyo, who will return to domestique duties in July. He’s not losing any sleep over could-have-beens.