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Ilnur Zakarin burst onto the WorldTour with a surprise win at the Tour de Romandie this spring, and on Wednesday in Imola, he confirmed his talent with a win in the Giro d’Italia’s stage 11.
The 25-year-old Katusha rider launched his winning move from long range, 23 kilometers from the line. None of his breakaway companions could follow as the Russian rode away, alone, though the rain on the final circuits of the Ferrari race car track where the stage finished.
“I started the stage in good heart, and the breakaway riders worked well together,” Zakarin said. “I made one attempt to get away, and at the second try, I made it. I learned a lesson in the stage that [Benat] Intxausti won because that day, I made the mistake of attacking too early. This time, I waited until the last moment. I still can’t believe that I won the Tour de Romandie, and now I’ve won a stage of the Giro. I have many emotions, and I’m very happy.”
The hilly, wet final circuit made for some tense moments among the GC riders in the peloton, but at the end of the day, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) kept his overall lead.
Fabio Aru (Astana) remains in second, and his teammate, Mikel Landa sits third.
The day’s attackers were: Zakarin, Diego Rosa (Astana), Beñat Intxausti (Movistar), Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin), Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), and Franco Pellizotti (Androni-Sidermec).
Zakarin attacked out of the breakaway at the final KOM sprint, the penultimate trip up Tre Monti, with about 23 kilometers left.
Betancur was quick to respond, chasing the Katusha rider into the descent, but he didn’t bridge the gap and returned to the breakaway group.
Zakarin went into the final lap of racing with a 40-second lead over the six-man chase group. Behind, the gap to the peloton was 1:19.
At that point, with about 14km remaining, Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quick-Step) crashed in the peloton, after a touch of wheels. It was one more blow for the Colombian in his ill-fated Giro campaign.
Uran soon returned to the peloton, as Zakarin’s gap held with 10 kilometers to go. The chase group was one minute in arrears.
Contador launched an attack with 6.4km to go on the last trip up Tre Monti. Notably, Aru was not right on his wheel to respond. However, the move looked to be more of a test, rather than a true effort to distance his rivals. The peloton soon came back together, and Contador was well-positioned for the descent.
“There wasn’t much terrain to have a go today, but I knew that there were a few riders who weren’t enjoying themselves, who weren’t feeling good, so I had a go,” Contador said.
“I think every day is important in the Giro.”
With two kilometers left, BMC sent Philippe Gilbert off the front, but the gap to the leader was an insurmountable 1:18.
Zakarin was long gone, riding alone to glory.
Behind, the six chasers held off the peloton, with Betancur sprinting to second, and Pellizotti third.
The GC favorites all finished together.
“The terrain wasn’t ideal for an attack, but sometimes you just go on instinct: It depends on whether you feel good or not,” Contador said. “Today was very hard, much harder than yesterday, with 50km less. I’m feeling better each day, and the bruising on my legs is getting better. A thousand things can still happen. It may look easy, but there is still a very long way to go.”
On Thursday, the Giro will offer a 190km stage from Imola to Vicenza. The stage is pan-flat for the first 126 kilometers, but then the riders will face three categorized climbs, including a category 4 ascent to the finish.