Spaniard Alberto Contador failed to commemorate the memory of stricken Marco Pantani but held off the threat of rival team Astana to stretch his lead over Fabio Aru on the 15th stage of the Giro d’Italia Sunday.
Contador came over the finish line of the 165km ride from Marostica to Madonna Di Campiglio in third place at five seconds behind stage winner Mikel Landa with Aru finishing a further second behind to remain second overall but see his gap on Contador grow to 2min 35sec.
“I would have liked to win this stage because of Marco Pantani, who was a big inspiration for me when I was younger,” said Contador.
“But it was a very difficult stage and Landa was strong in the finale, when there were a lot of attacks.
“It was hard to control everything.”
A day after regaining the race lead from Aru following his third place finish on the 14th stage time trial, Contador further underlined his status as race favourite with a commanding performance on the first day of climbing in the spectacular Dolomites.
But the Spaniard added: “A lot can still happen in the race and we have a lot of work to do.”
Contador’s Tinkoff team had shouldered the burden of setting the pace on the penultimate climb, the 8km-long Passo Daone — a strategy which left two-time race runner-up Rigoberto Uran struggling to keep pace.
“It was a brutal day,” said Etixx rider Uran, whose bid for a podium finish now looks decidedly over after he trailed home among the also-rans.
Tinkoff’s tactic also produced the unwanted result of leaving Contador isolated among several Astana riders for the final climb, after Australian teammate Michael Rogers had trailed behind before the race through the valley.
However Contador, a former two-time winner of the Tour de France who also won the Giro in 2008, acquitted himself handsomely on the final climb to Madonna di Campiglio – the scene of Italian Marco Pantani’s infamous exclusion from the race in 1999, an incident which is widely believed to have led to the former champion’s downfall and death from acute cocaine poisoning in a Rimini hotel room in February 2004.
Contador, who is bidding to become the first man since deceased Pantani in 1998 to complete the Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double in the same year, did not have to fret until the final 3km when an acceleration by Landa sparked the hostilities.
Contador was soon on the Spaniard’s wheel but despite pulling in front the race leader struggled to stretch his lead.
Aru and Trofimov soon pedalled their way back to the leading pair with just over two kilometres remaining. Landa tested his fellow Spaniard with another burst of speed but, again, Contador countered the move.
Trofimov then launched a futile attempt for the stage win when he seared past his fellow leaders at the one kilometre to go flag, but the Russian did not have the legs to open up a telling gap.
With Trofimov tiring and the finish line in sight, Landa seized his chance and accelerated past Trofimov in the last few hundred metres to claim his maiden Grand Tour victory.
“It’s an important win for me as much as for the team,” said the Spaniard.
“We tried to attack Contador because we outnumbered him… it’s given us some hope for the final stages this week.
“Nothing has changed in the team. We’re here to help Aru win the pink jersey and he is still our leader.”
Contador finished third at five seconds behind Landa to collect a time bonus which could prove useful over the coming days of climbing in the mountains.
On Monday the peloton will enjoy their second and final rest day of the race before tackling arguably the hardest stage of this year’s 98th edition on Tuesday, a 174 km ride beginning in Pinzolo which features six climbs including the final punt to the summit finish at Aprica.
The race finishes next Sunday in Milan. – Agence France-Presse