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MILAN (AFP) — Alberto Contador (Timkoff-Saxo) took his first step toward a rare cycling double by securing his seventh grand-tour title with overall victory in the Giro d’Italia on Sunday.
Former track rider Iljo Keisse (Etixx-Quick-Step) won the final stage from Torino to Milan after outsprinting fellow breakaway rider Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEdge).
“It’s the biggest win of my career! It’s amazing,” said Keisse after finishing a tough 98th edition in the best way possible. “I thought there was a little bit of hesitation when we entered into the final circuit. I had a feeling that was a good moment to go. We had a pretty big advantage in the last lap, and I knew the move was likely for the win.”
But all eyes were on Contador, who deflected challenges late in the race from Astana teammates Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa to finish with a comfortable winning margin.
He failed to win a stage, but the two-time Tour de France winner and three-time Vuelta a España champion finished comfortably ahead of Aru to clinch his second pink jersey after his maiden Giro win in 2008.
“I knew it would be a very demanding Giro, but I didn’t think it would be so complicated,” said Contador, who took the race leader’s jersey on stage five before suffering a crash and a dislocated shoulder.
After holding up three fingers on the podium on Saturday, Contador said he considers himself to also be the 2011 champion — a title he was stripped of, along with his 2010 Tour de France crown, after testing positive for clenbuterol.
“People watching on TV, the riders, the fans… everyone knows it’s my third victory,” said Contador.
Aru, who won two key mountain stages, finished second overall at 1 minute and 53 seconds behind Contador, while teammate Landa, another two-time stage winner, finished third at 3:05.
But despite a strong performance in the second half of the race, Astana ultimately failed to deflect Contador from his goal of emulating Giro-Tour winner Marco Pantani, the man he called earlier in the race his “childhood inspiration.”
Nevertheless, Contador can count himself lucky to finish the race at all, given the drama that almost derailed his dream of a Pantani-style double.
Contador first took the race lead on stage five’s summit finish to Abetone, where Jan Polanc took the win, but dislocated his shoulder the next day after crashing on the home straight.
Remarkably, Contador finished the stage but dislocated his shoulder again before the podium presentation, forcing the Spaniard into a painful defense of his lead over the following days before giving it up to Aru in the wake of another spill, outside the 3km safety zone on stage 13.
Contador reclaimed the pink jersey the following day with a solid, third-place finish in the stage 14 time-trial to leave Aru trailing by several minutes.
It would prove a key performance ahead of ensuing mountain stages in which Contador at times was left isolated and under threat from Aru and Landa.
Despite a few shaky moments, Contador affirmed his superiority with a stunning performance on the climb to the Passol del Mortirolo on stage 16 when Aru lost another two minutes and Landa, momentarily, became Contador’s biggest danger.
Aru’s wins on stages 19 and 20 made slight amends for his lack of bite at key moments, notably the time trial, but the Italian’s efforts proved too little, too late.