SESTRIERE, Italy (AFP) — Fabio Aru (Astana) rode clear of Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) and Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick-Step) on the final categorized climb of the day to take stage 20 of the Giro d’Italia. It was the second straight stage victory for the 24-year-old, who secured second place in the general classification with the performance, although at one point, it seemed possible that he might be able to unseat race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).
On the final day for the uphill specialists in the 2015 Giro, Contador found himself in difficulty on the steep dirt roads of the Colle delle Finestre, the penultimate climb of the stage, when Astana’s two top GC riders Mikel Landa and Fabio Aru launched successive attacks. First, Mikel Landa made a move from the group of GC favorites to bridge to the lone survivor of the early breakaway, Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha). Contador was unable to follow. Then, Aru and several other GC contenders tried their luck, and they too quickly distanced the pink jersey. Isolated, without any other riders around him, Contador crested the climb about a minute behind Landa, but over the course of the descent and then on the early slopes of the last climb, he was able to find some recovery and limit his losses.
Landa and Zakarin made their way up the final climb together in front of Aru’s group, but eventually the two groups joined up and Landa set the tempo at the front for his Astana teammate. As the riders neared the finish line, Aru attacked and only a few were able to follow, and then he jumped clear of those who had been able to keep up with his initial acceleration, opening up an advantage that he held onto all the way to the line. Hesjedal took second place, 18 seconds behind Aru, with Urán nabbing third, crossing the line on the same time as Landa, 24 seconds back.
Aru, who started the day 4:37 behind Contador, ultimately finished 2:25 ahead of the race leader (and earned 10 bonus seconds at the line), leaving Contador with still more than two minutes of an advantage over his nearest challenger. With only Sunday’s flat 185km ride into Milan remaining in the race, Contador is now virtually assured of winning his second career Giro d’Italia, halfway to his season goal of winning the Giro-Tour double.
Though he was unable to wrestle the GC lead from Contador’s firm grasp, Aru was thrilled with the result at the end of the day, his second win in this year’s Giro and Astana’s fifth. Aru also wrapped up second place, with teammate Landa securing third, barring a crash or other catastrophe on the final day of racing.
“It’s incredible,” Aru said after the stage. “I can’t believe it still, after I’ve had a few bad days and I’ve suffered. Today I managed to win again. Absolutely wonderful, I’m really happy.
“We tried to go really quickly all the way to the finish. Landa was exceptional as usual. He’s a really strong guy.”
Contador, whose isolation in the finale suddenly made disaster seem like a genuine possibility, kept his cool and rode at his own pace over he final few kilometers to keep the gap to those up the road manageable.
Today was not a great stage for me,” he said, “I wasn’t feeling good, probably because of the accumulated effort, but I knew I had a good cushion in the general classification and, even though there were plenty of kilometers to go before the finish, I preferred to ride at my rhythm. There was never a moment when I thought the jersey was in danger.
“I maintained my calm because I knew that the difference in speeds between the groups was going to be small. We’ll have a good dinner tonight, although I have to watch my weight for the Tour. This Giro d’Italia is in the bag now, with just tomorrow’s stage to come, so I’m already thinking of my next target.”