Despite nursing an injured shoulder, Alberto Contador protected his Giro d’Italia lead on Saturday as Spanish compatriot Benat Intxausti won the mountainous 186km eighth stage.
Two days after dislocating his shoulder in a nasty crash during the sprint finish to the sixth stage, Contador was on the defensive from Fiuggi to Campitello Matese.
He responded to several attacks from chief rivals Fabio Aru and Richie Porte on the final 13km climb to the summit finish, ensuring he lost no time to either as he rolled over the line in fifth.
“It was an important test, a crucial one even. I’m happy,” said Contador, a six-time Grand Tour winner and current Vuelta a Espana champion.
“I was able to respond to the attacks of Fabio Aru and Richie Porte, and to manage my efforts.
“My team worked hard at the front of the peloton and at an intermediate sprint I saw there was the chance to to snare two seconds — I took that.
“Two seconds are always worth it, you have to put in a lot of effort earn two seconds in a time-trial.”
Intxausti was originally part of the day’s breakaway, holding off Aru’s Astana teammate Mikel Landa to win by 20sec, with the Contador group coming in 35sec down.
“I found myself in the right breakaway with some good riders. I felt good all day long,” said the stage winner.
“I had the stage win in mind. There were a lot of attacks on the final climb but I waited for the final 4km to go into the red.”
It all means that 32-year-old Spaniard Contador will start Sunday’s 224km ninth stage — which has been extended by 9km due to traffic issues — in the race leader’s pink jersey, protecting a 4sec advantage over Aru, with Porte at 22sec.
– quick to respond –
Giro winner in 2008, Contador had complained prior to the stage that but for his injury he’d be looking to attack his rivals rather than merely defending his lead, but he proved that despite being far from in ideal condition, he is going to take some beating at the Giro this year.
Astana had tried to increase the pace leading up to and on the lower slopes of the final climb, readying Italian Aru, 24, for an attack.
But when it came, Porte and Contador were wise to the threat and quick to respond.
Landa then attacked and he was allowed to ride away as Porte and Contador marked Aru.
It meant the Spaniard could move into fifth overall at 42sec, but he had left it too late to catch his compatriot Intxausti.
The Movistar rider had been part of the day’s original 12-man breakaway, although that was split in two by the time they reached the final climb.
Dutchman Steven Kruisjwijk, Colombia’s Carlos Betancur and Kristof Vandewalle of Belgium had a 1min 30sec lead on nine other riders at that stage.
Kruisjwijk managed to drop his two companions but Intxausti and Switzerland’s Sebastien Reichenback counter-attacked out of the second group on the road.
They gradually pulled back Kruisjwijk before Intxausti dropped Reichenbach, who went on to finish third, with 3.5km left.
The peloton, which had been over 10 minutes behind at one point, reached the final climb only 2min 20sec behind the Inxausti group.
Astana’s pushing shredded the peloton to its bare bones but try as he might, Sardinian Aru was unable to claw back the handful of seconds needed to wrest the pink jersey from Contador’s shoulders.
In fact, thanks to sprint time bonuses he picked up earlier in the stage, Contador actually extended his lead over Aru, who was third last year, from 2sec to 4sec.
Results from the Giro d’Italia’s eighth stage, a 186km ride from Fiuggi to Campitello Matese on Saturday:
1. Benat Intxausti (ESP/MOV) 4hr 51min 34sec, 2. Mikel Landa (ESP/AST) at 20sec, 3. Sebastien Reichenbach (SUI/IAM) 31, 4. Fabio Aru (ITA/AST) 35, 5. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) 35, 6. Richie Porte (AUS/SKY) 35, 7. Rigoberto Uran (COL/ETI) 35, 8. Dario Cataldo (ITA/AST) 35, 9. Damiano Cunego (ITA/NIP) 45, 10. Damiano Caruso (ITA/BMC) 45
11. Jon Izagirre (ESP/MOV) 45, 12. Giovanni Visconti (ITA/MOV) 53, 13. Andrey Amador (CRC/MOV) 53, 14. Leopold König (CZE/SKY) 53, 15. Darwin Atapuma (COL/BMC) 53, 16. Jürgen Van den Broeck (BEL/LOT) 53, 17. Maxime Monfort (BEL/LOT) 1min 11sec, 18. Ryder Hesjedal (CAN/CAN) 1:11, 19. Roman Kreuziger (CZE/TIN) 1:11, 20. Mikel Nieve (ESP/SKY) 1:11
1. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) 32hr 40min 07sec, 2. Fabio Aru (ITA/AST) 4, 3. Richie Porte (AUS/SKY) 22, 4. Dario Cataldo (ITA/AST) 30, 5. Mikel Landa (ESP/AST) 42, 6. Roman Kreuziger (CZE/TIN) 1min 00sec, 7. Giovanni Visconti (ITA/MOV) 1:16, 8. Rigoberto Uran (COL/ETI) 1:24, 9. Damiano Caruso (ITA/BMC) 1:34, 10. Andrey Amador (CRC/MOV) 1:38
11. Leopold König (CZE/SKY) 1:44, 12. Darwin Atapuma (COL/BMC) 2:09, 13. Davide Formolo (ITA/CAN) 2:15, 14. Damiano Cunego (ITA/NIP) 2:24, 15. Yury Trofimov (RUS/KAT) 2:32, 16. Jürgen Van den Broeck (BEL/LOT) 2:47, 17. Maxime Monfort (BEL/LOT) 3:14, 18. Alexandre Geniez (FRA/FDJ) 3:55, 19. Amaël Moinard (FRA/BMC) 4:45, 20. Jon Izagirre (ESP/MOV) 5:01
– Agence France-Presse