Emotional Italian Fabio Aru made amends for days of “torture” on the Giro d’Italia by soloing to stage 19 victory as Spain’s Alberto Contador moved a step closer to his second triumph.
Astana leader Aru had seen his bid for overall victory steadily tamed by the superiority of Contador after the race moved upwards into the high mountains earlier this week.
But the Italian, whose famous ‘gurn’ when he is in pain has created a social media buzz this week, showed he was down but not out with a stunning attack on Canadian rival Ryder Hesjedal late on the 19 km-long final climb to the summit finish at Cervinia.
It allowed Aru to cross the line alone after the 236 km stage from Grevallona with a time of 6hr 24min 13sec, with Hesjedal, of Cannondale, in second place at nearly 30sec behind.
Contador, the 2008 champion, arrived nearly 1min 18sec behind Aru but maintains a comfortable advantage over his closest rivals ahead of Sunday’s final stage to Milan.
Aru moved back up to second overall at 4:37 behind Contador, with Spanish teammate Landa dropping to third at 5:15 but nearly three minutes clear of Movistar rider Andrey Amador, who is at 8:10 in fourth.
Aru unleashed all his emotions when he crossed the finish line in triumph and told Rai Sport1: “I didn’t know what was going through my mind when I crossed the finish line.
“In the past few days I’ve suffered enormously, on the Mortirolo (climb) it was just torture!
“But today was a sign I’m not giving in, and my determination has led to this amazing win.
“The team were great, all the boys were amazing from start to finish. In the bad times they kept my morale up there and I can’t thank them enough.”
After the peloton had reeled in Movistar rider Giovanni Visconti early on the last climb, Astana launched hostilities 9.5 km from home but Contador was wise and latched on to Landa’s back wheel when the Spaniard attacked off the front.
Hesjedal was quick to take over to lead a six-strong front group and the Canadian upped the ante when he broke away alone to build a 10-sec lead.
Aru, sitting third overall overnight at 50sec behind teammate Landa, then took the race by the scruff of the neck with a counter-attack which saw him overtake Hesjedal and, thanks to some further, incisive attacking, ultimately force the big Canadian to surrender arms six kilometres from the finish.
Contador’s comfortable overall advantage gave the Spaniard the luxury of simply sitting on the back wheel of Landa, as Aru ended days of struggling on some vicious climbs with a well deserved win.
“For the past five months I’ve been working to win this pink jersey, so the stage win for me today was secondary,” said Contador.
Leading stage and overall results from the 19th stage of the Giro d’Italia, a 236km run from Gravellona Toce to Cervinia on Friday:
1. Fabio Aru (ITA/AST) 6hr 24min 13sec, 2. Ryder Hesjedal (CAN/CAN) at 28sec, 3. Rigoberto Uran (COL/ETI) 1:10, 4. Tanel Kangert (EST/AST) 1:18,
5. Steven Kruijswijk (NED/LNL) 1:18, 6. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) 1:18, 7. Mikel Landa (ESP/AST) 1:18, 8. Leopold Konig (CZE/SKY) 1:21, 9. Mikel Nieve (ESP/SKY) 1:24, 10. Alexandre Geniez (FRA/FDJ) 2:24, 11. Damiano Caruso (ITA/BMC) 2:27, 12. Andrey Amador (CRC/MOV) 2:27,
13. Maxime Monfort (BEL/LOT) 2:49, 14. Yonathan Monsalve (VEN/SOU) 2:49, 15. Yury Trofimov (RUS/KAT) 2:49, 16. Jürgen Van den Broeck (BEL/LOT) 2:49, 17. Darwin Atapuma (COL/BMC) 4:43, 18. Fabio Felline (ITA/TRE) 5:14, 19. Amaël Moinard (FRA/BMC) 5:14, 20. Franco Pellizotti (ITA/AND) 5:14
1. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) 79hr 48min 40sec, 2. Fabio Aru (ITA/AST) at 4min 37sec, 3. Mikel Landa (ESP/AST) 5:15, 4. Andrey Amador (CRC/MOV) 8:10, 5. Leopold König (CZE/SKY) 10:47, 6. Yury Trofimov (RUS/KAT) 11:11, 7. Ryder Hesjedal (CAN/CAN) 12:05, 8. Damiano Caruso (ITA/BMC) 12:14, 9. Steven Kruijswijk (NED/LNL) 12:53, 10. Alexandre Geniez (FRA/FDJ) 15:07, 11. Maxime Monfort (BEL/LOT) 16:58, 12. Jürgen Van den Broeck (BEL/LOT) 18:43, 13. Amaël Moinard (FRA/BMC) 25:11, 14. Tanel Kangert (EST/AST) 28:11, 15. Rigoberto Uran (COL/ETI) 30:40, 16. Giovanni Visconti (ITA/MOV) 34:47, 17. Darwin Atapuma (COL/BMC) 36:49, 18. Mikel Nieve (ESP/SKY) 42:28, 19. Paolo Tiralongo (ITA/AST) 57:18, 20. Carlos Betancur (COL/ALM) 1h10:46