Passo del Mortirolo would have been large in the minds of the remaining riders as another day of mixed weather got the final week of the 2015 Giro d’Italia off to an intimidating start.
All jersey wearers should be feeling pretty secure with Contador in pink and, apparently, only misfortune is likely to stop him rolling home to victory in Milan. Porte’s challenge was definitely over as he had left the race and Uran was slipping further behind on time. The youthful Aru looks increasingly out of his depth and with no answer to the climbing power of Contador. Any challenge will possibly come from those who have made late bids. Lotto Jumbo’s Kruijswijk had been popping up in breakaways, but had also managed to work his way up the field. Likewise, Basque rider Mikel Landa who had spent the previous weeks attending to Aru, was well placed to take over. Amador, for Movistar and the improving Trofimov (Katyusha) along with another possible dark horse in Jurgen Van den Broeck are in the pack, but all with a lot to do.
The talking point of Stage Sixteen was, unsurprisingly, the ups and downs of Incredible Alberto. Delayed by a puncture, he was attacked by the massed ranks of all those teams with irons still in the fire. Now, there is an unwritten rule that you don’t attack the leader when he is in trouble, but Astana, and even Katyusha might have forgotten. The imperturbable Bertie was obliged to get a bit of a shuffle on, having lost 50 seconds or so, but still managed to get himself back to the front of the race, passing Aru on the way. Astana had obviously let Landa off the leash, with Aru two minutes adrift, and he duly sped away to become the first man this year to win a second stage. The admirable Kruijswijk had enough left for second and won himself the occupancy of the blue jersey, which the amiable Dutchman would be glad to keep. Contador’s ascent of the famous Mortirolo, by the way, was timed at just over 45 minutes. This is about three minutes slower than Pantani’s climb back in the EPO-fuelled 90s. Any conclusions will be left to the reader!
Sunshine, for a change. greeted Stage Seventeen which featured a short sprint stage into Lugano, in the Italian speaking area of Switzerland. Surviving sprinters were led by Viviani in the red jersey, slightly better off for having dodged the penalties imposed on many for over-sticky bottles on the previous day’s climbs. He quickly established his credentials by winning useful points, behind a three=man breakaway, at the first intermediate sprint.
After the absorption of the break Giant Alpecin showed some intent to break their duck, as far as stage wins were concerned, by powering the front of the peloton. Unfortunately for them, when it came to the finale, it was Lampre who took control and Modolo was duly delivered to win the stage. Second place went to Trek’s Nizzolo who took over the red jersey as a result.
Monte Ologno was the significant declivity to mark out Stage Eighteen, again conducted in sunshine. Nonetheless, crashes dominated the pursuit of the break, which had stretched to double figures of minutes before the imperious Bertie set off on his own to do something about it. The little matter of Astana and Katyusha being held up behind the crash will have put a wry smile on the face of the Spaniard, and a huge grin on the face of Oleg Tinkoff, who had commented on the conduct of those teams after the Stage Sixteen incident. Contador teamed up with the advancing Hesjedal but in the meantime Gibert had jumped off the front and attempted to go for it all alone.
By the sunny shores of Lake Maggiore, Gilbert cruised to his second win of the edition, smiling and waving to the crowd. The biggest smiles would have been on the face of Contador. With only two big climbing days and the sprint int Milan remaining, there was no doubt who was in charge.