If Wednesday’s stage 5 is any indication of things to come, this year’s Giro d’Italia should offer a stunning GC battle. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) drew out Sky’s Richie Porte and Astana’s Fabio Aru with a searing attack on the race’s first summit finish and snatched the overall race lead.
Ahead, a fresh face came to the fore, as Slovenian Jan Polanc won the stage in Abetone, delivering his Lampre-Merida team’s first big result in the race.
Although the three GC heavies went too late to vie for the win, Contador earned the pink leader’s jersey at the end of the day.
“I didn’t expect to have the pink jersey today, the plan is to have it in Milano,” Contador said. “It’s an honor to have it in this race that I love so much.”
Behind the Spaniard, Aru is now second on GC, two seconds back, and Porte is third, 20 seconds behind Contador.
“I am content with the stage today,” said Aru. “It was a real battle today. There is a lot of emotion to race in front of the public.”
Polanc, 23, attacked out of the early break with over 10 kilometers left in the 152km stage from La Spezia to Abetone.
“My first victory is always special, especially if the victory comes in the Giro,” said Polanc. “I am very pleased. I turned 23 just before the Giro started, and now I get the victory. I want to thank the team who had supported me.
“I really waited a long time now for the first victory, and I try a lot with the breakaway this year, and finally I reached the finish line.”
It seemed that the GC riders and their teams were willing to let a breakaway have its day, as five riders got away and soon had a large gap. The day’s leaders were: Polanc, Silvan Dillier (BMC), Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling), Axel Domont (Ag2r La Mondiale), and Sergey Tsvetkov (Androni-Sidermec).
The breakaway was more than 10 minutes up the road at one point.
Still holding the pink jersey, Orica-GreenEdge spent time driving the pace on the front of the peloton. With 30km left, the gap was 9:45.
As Tinkoff-Saxo took to the front to help with the chase, the gap fell to 5:35 with 15 kilometers remaining, just before the final ascent to Abetone.
Chavanel attacked the break at the base of the climb.
His efforts dropped Tsvetkov, but the rest of the breakaway jumped onto the Frenchman’s wheel right away.
The remaining four escapees continued to attack each other until Domont was dropped. Then, it was Polanc’s turn to go up the road.
Soon, the Lampre leader had a 20-second lead over Chavanel and Dillier. As the climb eased, the two chasers parted ways with Chavanel riding clear of Dilier.
Astana began to probe the peloton with attacks as the climb ramped up.
Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani CSF) and Mikel Landa (Astana) got a gap, but they were pulled back. Tinkoff-Saxo was not happy with the Astana rider up the road.
With Astana and Tinkoff riding tempo on the front with 4.5km left, it was time for the GC riders to come out and play. Contador delivered a vicious attack and was followed by Porte and Aru.
Porte was next to go on the attack, but it was quickly covered by Contador. The lone leader’s gap soon dropped to two minutes. Aru was next to test the waters with a dig but didn’t break the elastic. Fortunately for the Italian, his Astana teammate, Landa, bridged to the group to help pace the young leader.
With one kilometer left, it was clear that Polanc had enough advantage to fend off the GC group behind, holding more than one minute’s advantage under the red kite.
Driving away, hands in the drops, the Lampre-Merida rider pushed through to celebrate his first-ever Giro d’Italia win at the finish in Abetone.
Aru and Contador went shoulder to shoulder into the finish straight. Aru led out the sprint, but neither Contador nor Porte could come around. Chavanel barely held on to finish second, ahead of Aru.
“I think the final, it’s a good result because [Rigoberto] Urán is dropped,” said Contador. “It’s, I think, a very good situation after only five stages.”
Etixx-Quick-Step’s Urán had another difficult day, losing 28 seconds to the lead trio.
Thursday’s stage 6 should offer some respite for the GC contenders as it will be a mostly flat, 183km run from Montecatini Terme to Castiglione della Pescaia.
“Tomorrow, another rider could take it away, and that’s fine,” said Contador of his race lead. “The important thing is that the legs feel good. It was a good stage for us, and it was good to distance a few riders, such as Urán.”