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Giro d'Italia

Giro’s podium battle tightens as race heads toward Trieste

A wild stage brings a new Giro leader, and a more tightly packed group of contenders, as the race heads toward the finish in Trieste

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VAL MARTELLO, Italy (VN) — Nairo Quintana (Movistar) leap-frogged ahead of everyone and took a healthy 1:41 race lead in the Giro d’Italia on Tuesday’s stage 16. Meanwhile, the stage over the snowy Stelvio and Gavia passes resulted in an even tighter race for the remaining podium spots.

“We saw in the last couple of days, anything and everything happens in this Giro, and anything and everything can still happen,” Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) said. “That’s what makes the race so dramatic.”

Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) sits second overall, at 1:41. Then, 55 seconds separate the next seven riders: Evans at 3:21, Pierre Rolland (Europcar) at 3:26, Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) at 3:28, Fabio Aru (Astana) at 3:34, Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) at 3:49, Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) at 4:06, and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) at 4:16.

Quintana gained the most in the Giro’s high-mountain stage to the Martello Valley. He dropped his direct rivals and rode clear with Rolland and Hesjedal into the mist. One by one — first Rolland and then Hesjedal — he left his remaining companions.

With the sun finally breaking through at the top of the finishing climb, Quintana was able to see the pink classification sheet clearly. The Colombian gained 4:21 on Urán (4:11 at the line, and an additional 10 seconds in time bonus) and sat on top. The rides of Rolland and Hesjedal, however, tightly packed the following riders in the overall standings.

The span from third to ninth places overall tightened from 3:54 to a mere 55 seconds. Quintana appears to have a good grip on the lead and Urán sits comfortably in second. However, it is anyone’s guess who could finish in third place when the Giro d’Italia comes to a close Sunday in Trieste. As Evans said, anything and everything can happen.

“With a little bit of luck, you can move up quickly,” Kelderman said. “Everything is still possible.”

What is possible? On Wednesday, the classification men will likely hold fire as the 17th stage finishes on flat roads into Vittorio Veneto. The following three stages, though, will reshape the overall classification and decide the race.

The race climbs to Panarotta for the first time, then there is Friday’s time trial up Monte Grappa, and on Saturday, the day before the finish in Trieste, it covers the steep pitches of Monte Zoncolan. Any one of those days could rattle the general classification and create a different picture than the one that fans saw Tuesday afternoon when stage 16 finished.

“The advantages, in terms of time gains made in the Monte Grappa uphill time trial, will be so great,” Evans said. “That day is going to be big.”

Given how the GC shaped up on Tuesday, Hesjedal, Rolland, Aru, and Kelderman appear to be on the way up. Pozzovivo and Evans, who both rode strongly in the second week, seem to be on the way down.

“I don’t know these climbs, I’m racing on instinct and I’m deciding my tactic depending on the stage,” said Rolland. “When the moment is right, though, I’ll attack. That’s all that matters in these next days.”

Last year, Urán leap-frogged Evans for second place in the final stage to Tre Cime di Lavaredo. In the closing days of this year’s race, it could be a seven-way battle for the podium spots, creating a thrilling ending to the 2014 Giro d’Italia.