APRICA, Italy (VN) — Mikel Landa came to team Astana’s rescue in the Giro d’Italia on Tuesday. While Fabio Aru sunk on the famed Mortirolo, Landa shot ahead and dropped race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) for a second stage win in Aprica.
Coming after the Madonna di Campiglio stage win and a rest day, this win cemented the Basque’s position in the team. Instead of Aru, he should lead Astana’s charge through the coming five days of the Giro d’Italia.
Italian Aru finished the queen stage 2:51 minutes behind. He protected his young rider’s classification lead but slipped from second to third on GC and appeared destroyed by the effort. He did not want to speak to the waiting press, but agreed to be interviewed for Italy’s Rai television.
“It wasn’t one of the best days of my career, to be honest,” Aru said. “I suffered a lot, I tired not to hit rock bottom, but I tried to keep my head.”
Astana set up Aru for the Mortirolo. When Contador punctured on the descent to the Mortirolo, the Kazakhstani team attacked with Katusha and built a 30-second lead over the race leader. Its plan backfired. Instead of going forward, Aru went backward.
After 11.8 kilometers climbing up some of the steepest pitches in cycling, Aru trailed by 1:49 minutes. He had ridden side by side with Landa, but once broken, he slid slowly back. One by one, riders caught and passed the Sardinian who some had tipped to win the Giro.
Aru’s poor pre-season may have caught up with him. He raced only twice in the Paris-Nice and Volta a Catalunya stage races, and fell sick with a stomach virus and took five days off before the Giro began.
He does not appear to be improving as the race edges closer to Milan with two more summit finishes to come. Instead of the win, he may now be merely hoping to salvage a podium spot to match his third place overall from 2014.
“I was tired, we were in the rain for much of the day, it was cold. It took a lot of energy from me today. I felt it,” Aru said.
“Now? Let’s see. I’ll try to recover my energy and see what I can do.”
Astana now appears to be rallying around 25-year-old Landa. Team manager Giuseppe Martinelli sped up alongside him in the team car on the final climb to Aprica. He told Landa to go on his own, to lead the team and to try to win the stage.
“At the start, with Aru, we tried to wear Alberto down. After Alberto had caught us, I saw that Aru wasn’t strong, they told me to go ahead and try to win the stage,” Landa said in the winner’s press conference.
“If I had came here leader, maybe [I could be leading the race], but you never know,” he added. “This [is the] situation now, and that’s how it is. We’ll see what I can do in the remaining days.”