In the shadow of the Matterhorn, Fabio Aru delivered a brilliant ride to win the Giro d’Italia’s stage 19 and earn some measure of redemption on Friday in Cervinia.
In the last week, Aru (Astana) had fallen well behind race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) in the battle for the pink jersey. But on the day’s final category 1 climb, Aru delivered an impressive turn of speed that launched him to his first stage win this Giro.
“I knew the final 100km by heart from the Tour of the Val d’Aosta, which was one of my favorite under-23 races,” Aru said. “I feel very tied to this region. I didn’t know what to think in the final meters. For 20 days the team has always been close to me, even in the difficult moments, and today my teammates made the race. The team was fantastic from start to finish, everyone one of them.”
The effort moved Aru up to second on GC, taking the place of his teammate Mikel Landa. Contador is now 4:37 ahead in the overall and seemed willing to ride a conservative race after attacking throughout the mountainous stages earlier this week.
“The final climb was very hard, and Aru was strong and took a great stage win,” Contador said.
Coming into the base of the penultimate category 1 climb, Movistar’s Giovanni Visconti was 22 seconds ahead of the two chasers, Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha) and Vasil Kiryienka (Sky).
Kochetkov rode on alone, chasing the Movistar rider as Astana rode tempo at the front of the peloton. However, Visconti’s lead continued to grow, and it was up to over one minute with 32km left. His lead over the peloton remained at around two minutes.
After the descent off the top of Col Saint-Pantaléon, Visconti was 1:35 ahead of Kochetkov and 1:56 ahead of the peloton with 18.5km left.
Approaching the final climb to Cervinia, the lone Katusha chaser was caught and Visconti’s lead was down to 1:36 with 15km to go.
Just before the final 10 kilometers, the Italian leader was caught.
An attack by Sky’s Kanstantsin Siutsiou kicked off the fireworks on the final climb. A group of GC favorites — including Aru, Contador, Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin), and Landa — went away.
Aru probed the lead group with an acceleration inside of nine kilometers to go, and Hesjedal took the opportunity to climb ahead at his own pace as Contador marked Aru’s attack.
Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), Landa, Aru, and Contador were the only survivors chasing behind after the peloton disintegrated on the lower slopes.
Aru went again, and soon Kruijswijk also jumped away from the chase group.
With a little over six kilometers left, Aru caught Hesjedal, and Kruijswijk drifted back to the Contador group, which was about 16 seconds behind.
But the Italian-Canadian alliance was not meant to last. Aru was quick to attack and rode away alone. By the 5km to go banner, Aru was 45 seconds ahead of the pink jersey group.
Behind, Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick-Step) had bridged up to Contador’s group, and with under four kilometers left, he launched an attack of his own.
With three kilometers left, Aru’s lead had grown to 1:15 over Contador, and 26 seconds over Hesjedal.
The Italian leader of the young rider’s classification rode home to a stage win as Hesjedal held his second-place position to the end. The Canadian now sits seventh on GC.
Urán finished third, crossing the line alone, 1:10 behind.
Contador was content to ride home with the chase group, conserving his GC lead.
“For the past five months I’ve been working to win this pink jersey, so the stage win for me today was secondary,” Contador told AFP.
Saturday’s final foray into the mountains offers one last chance for the race leader to claim a stage win. The Giro will offer the Cima Coppi at the top of the Colle delle Finestre — the prize for the first rider over the race’s highest point — and a summit finish at Sestriere at the end of a 196km stage. If Contador wishes to stamp one final imprimatur on his likely Giro win, stage 20 will be the day to do so.
“Obviously, I’d like to win a stage, but it is hard; the final group is always small, and I don’t have teammates with me because they work hard early in the stage, so the result today is perfect for me,” Contador said. “Anyway, if you ask anyone which they would prefer, a stage win or the maglia rosa, they’ll say the maglia rosa, so I’m very, very happy because I’ve got through another very hard day.”