Don't miss a moment from Paris-Roubaix and Unbound Gravel, to the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a España, and everything in between when you join Outside+.
Forget the debacle of the Crostis. The Zoncolan? Sure, it’s steep, but it’s the Finestre that delivers the spectacle that only the Giro d’Italia can serve.
The dirt-road climb over the Italian Alps lived up to its billing yet again as one of cycling’s most spectacular stages in Saturday’s penultimate stage at the corsa rosa.
Clear skies and summer weather brought out the fans, who hiked and biked up to the knife-edge summit of the Finestra by the thousands to view the Giro’s final mountain battle. In a year when the mountains played such a central role, it was fitting that everyone who had anything left in the tank threw it all on the line.
Vasily Kiryenka took an emotional victory that he dedicated to Xavi Tondo, the Spanish rider on Movistar who died in a freak accident earlier this week. Kiryenka stole away from a breakaway to hang on over the Finestra, fending off a late surge from José Rujano.
“We decided the best way to pay tribute to him was to stay in the Giro. We attacked for four days to win a stage for him and I am so happy to be able to deliver this for him,” Kiryenka said. “I had to play my chances out of the breakaway. We didn’t have much of a gap so I really had to go deep.”
Rujano seemed to be reborn on the climb that made his name back in 2005, when he won the stage and secured a podium spot. Six years later, the pint-sized Venezuelan found his wings yet again, attacking and attacking again until he finally clawed away from the GC bunch.
It wasn’t enough, however, and Kiryenka rode to the win. Rujano earned a bittersweet second and climbed back into the top 10 after yo-yoing in and out all week.
Contador withstood the final ploy from Nibali and Liquigas-Cannondale. Quickly alone, without Saxo Bank-Sungard teammates once the GC group hit the Finestre, Contador could ride defensively, measuring his efforts and wait despite Nibali having two teammates to set the pace up the lower flanks of the Finestre.
“It was very long, very hard. The team had to work a lot because the breakaway was very big. The last part of the climb I was able to control Scarponi and Nibali,” Contador said. “When I was getting closer to the finish line I was realizing that I am getting close to the overall victory. I am very, very happy.”
Nibali struggled again, losing the wheel on the Finestre but using his excellent descending skills to reach onto the 10-strong GC group coming into the final climb of the Sestriere. Scarponi attacked, looking to gap Nibali in a bid to secure second place on the podium, and that drew out Contador.
Like him or hate him, Contador proved yet again he’s the strongest rider in this Giro. He’s poised to win his sixth grand tour since 2007, though he could lose the 2010 Tour due to his ongoing clenbuterol case.
“There were a lot of riders who were very strong during this Giro, but I was very consistent throughout this Giro, and I think that was something big in my favor,” said Contador, who was quick to add that he wouldn’t be taking risks in Sunday’s TT on city roads in Milano.
“Tomorrow, sincerely, I will take it as a day to enjoy this victory. I am not going to take any risk on any curve because I am not going to risk anything. I am going to enjoy this moment.”
Like any big battle, there were other fights that shaped the action. Movistar’s and Astana’s battle for the team classification grew intense. Despite having Kiryenka up the road, Astana was able to defend its grip on the team GC.
Stefano Garzelli locked up the King of the Mountains jersey while Kreuziger defended his white jersey despite a strong challenge from Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank), a rider to watch in the future.
Peter Stetina (Garmin-Cervélo) also confirmed that he’s a rider who can be a factor in stage races. The grand-tour rookie rode to 19th on the stage after helping team captain Christophe Le Mevel defend his 15th place on GC, and climbed into 22nd overall.
The 94th Giro wraps Sunday in Milano on a city course perfect for the remaining specialists, such as David Millar and Denis Menchov, who rode well Saturday and will be looking to salvage a disappointing Giro.
For Contador, Sunday’s TT will be little more than a high-speed victory lap. Like he’s done since Mount Etna, he can ride to defend the maglia rosa. The GC fight was taken out of the climber’s Giro on the first major mountaintop.