Nairo Quintana (Movistar) won the uphill stage 19 time trial at the Giro d’Italia on Friday.
The Colombian padded his overall lead in the race with two days remaining after finishing the 26.8-kilometer route with the top time. Fabio Aru (Astana) was 17 seconds behind Quintana in second, while Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) took third at 1:26.
Quintana now leads Uran by 3:07 and Aru by 3:48 in the GC standings.
“I couldn’t let this stage go past without winning it; my family came here from Colombia to watch me, gave me an extra gear,” Quintana said. “The team and preparation, this TT went very well.”
Friday’s stage began in Bassano del Grappa and featured 7.5km of flat road before the course pitched toward the sky at the base of the Cat. 1 Monte Grappa and its 28 hairpin turns. The 19.2km climb had an average gradient of 8 percent but featured several sections, particularly in the final 3km, above 10 percent.
Riders chose a mix of gear for the course — some began on road bikes, others started on time trial setups and switched to a road bike when the climb began. Other riders used a road bike with clip-on aero bars to take advantage of the flat beginning.
Quintana, like most of the GC contenders, started on a time trial bike and swapped that out for a lighter road bike. He even changed out his aero helmet to a traditional road helmet, in order to save a few extra ounces and also to allow his head to breathe on the steep slopes.
Aru set the fastest time of the day by more than 2:00 with only a few riders left to finish, a result that most likely made its way to Quintana via his earpiece. The Movistar rider, who was trailing Aru by around six seconds when he hit the 2km to go mark, found another gear on the steep finishing section and pushed harder up the road. With 400 meters left, he was out of the saddle and in the virtual stage lead.
He crossed the line victorious and took one giant step closer to winning his first grand tour.
Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) went from 3:31 back to 6:59 behind Quintana after Friday’s stage. He’s now in sixth place.
“Before the start of the stage, Rafa still suffered from stomach aches and obviously that had an impact on his performance today,” Tinkoff sport director Lars Michaelsen said. “It’s a sad way to lose our position but that’s how it is. Now, we’re facing one more stage in the mountains and I’d like to say that we’ll be attacking from the gun, but if Rafa’s feeling the same way, that wouldn’t be the wisest tactic. We can only hope that he’ll recover overnight and we’ll see how he’s feeling tomorrow.”
Aru a fan favorite
With thousands of Italian cycling fans lining the Monte Grappa, Aru was the center of their attention. The fans cheered and urged on the home favorite as he made his way up the mountain, running alongside him as he turned over the pedals.
At one point, Aru appeared to swat away one fan who got a bit too close to him. But he kept pedaling at a high cadence, spinning in the small chainring as he floated up the steep road.
Car and motorcycle horns pierced through the cheers as officials tried to control the crowds around Aru and give him a clear path up the slope. In the final few kilometers, barriers lining the road kept the fans out of the way — but they did not silence their cheers.
Aru’s leading performance seemed like it might stick, but Quintana had other plans.
“My legs have gotten better as this Giro unfolded,” Aru said. “I was close to winning, but Nairo was very strong today. This gives me hope tomorrow for the Zoncolan to be able to reach the final podium. Tomorrow is the last hard day.”
The Giro picks up with Saturday’s stage 20, a brutal day of climbing that finishes with the Cat. 1 ascent of the famed Monte Zoncolan. The race ends Sunday in Trieste.
Andrew Hood contributed to this report.