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Giro d’Italia stage 16: Contador victory confirms Giro rivals are racing for second

Stage 16: Belluno to Nevegal, 12.7km individual time trial

A commanding 34-second win by Alberto Contador in today’s mountain time trial underlined his dominance over the Giro d’Italia field and confirmed that, barring a major mishap, he will be crowned champion for the second time in Milan on Sunday. The remainder of this final week is now likely to boil down to a battle between Michele Scarponi and Vincenzo Nibali for the runner-up spot and the competition for the minor jerseys.

RIP Xavier Tondó, seen here competing for Cervélo at the 2010 Giro. (image courtesy of brassynn)

The day began with a minute’s silence to mark the death of Xavier Tondó. The popular 32-year old Movistar rider was killed in a freak accident yesterday (Monday) when he was crushed against his own garage door by a car.

The 12.7km parcours from Belluno up to the resort of Nevegal started with a short descent on twisty but fairly wide roads out from the middle of town before gently rising to the intermediate checkpoint after 5km. The steep part of the climb came after that, a punishing middle section which averages over 10% before easing off towards the end.

With the 165 starters setting off in reverse order of the general classification, Rabobank‘s Stef Clement set the early benchmark with a time of 30:08. Nearly 70 more riders would pass the finish line before Movistar’s Branislau Samoilau became not only the first man to better Clement, but also the first to dip under the half-hour mark by stopping the clock at 29:54. Italian national time trial champion Marco Pinotti (HTC-Highroad) and Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone), with a new best of 29:41, beat Samoilau’s time, but the Belarusian would not be surpassed again until the top eight set off.

Unsurprisingly, given the nature of this year’s race, which has seen the top of the general classification dominated by the strongest climbers, the top of the order in this mountain time trial would closely resemble the GC. After ninth-placed Joaquim Rodríquez (Katusha) had registered 30:00 dead, good enough for 11th at the end of the day, six of the top eight overall would finish in the day’s top seven (along with Garzelli). The only exceptions were Sunday’s winner and overall fifth-placed man Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) – whose mediocre 31:14 was only 36th-fastest – and AG2R‘s John Gadret, fourth overnight, who was surprisingly only 16th-fastest, having finished an impressive third on the equivalent stage last year.

First to ride the course from the top eight was Astana team leader Roman Kreuziger, who stopped the watch at 29:44 to slot in behind Garzelli. Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC), an accomplished time-triallist, was three seconds slower, which would be good enough for seventh. And then, surprisingly, stage 13 winner José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli), for whom this Giro has been something of a renaissance, went fastest with 29:34. Nieve and Gadret then failed to trouble the top of the timesheets, setting the stage for the top three.

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) set off like a man possessed, with his body and bike screaming ‘maximum attack’ as he flew through the corners on the way out of Belluno. He set what would stand as the fastest time at the – relatively meaningless – intermediate check, and kept the power down all the way up to the finish to set a stunning time of 29:29, taking 12 seconds off Garzelli. He was followed by Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD), whose relatively languid pedalling style was no less effective. It was touch and go all the way along the final kilometre, but he would fall just four seconds short of Nibali – still good enough to be the third best time.

That left only the maglia rosa, Contador. Hustling along the road with his customary high-cadence, low-geared rhythm, he was 13 seconds down at the check-point but kept calm and dosed his effort up the climb perfectly, eventually becoming the only man to break the 29-minute barrier. His winning time of 28:55 was a massive 34 seconds faster than Nibali, and he extended his overall lead over Scarponi to a massive 4:58.

Contador reacquianted himself with the pink jersey before dedicating his win to Xavier Tondó (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

Overall, however, there was little change in the order in the GC, with the differences between most riders being a matter of a few seconds. Rujano’s strong performance moved him above Nieve into fifth, while Igor Antón pushed David Arroyo out of the top ten.

Contador dedicated the win to Tondó:

His death has affected me deeply. Xavi was a good friend and in the last few races we always worked together for the victory. He was a very good guy, always happy and he was an incredible person. This victory is for him.

Nibali pronounced himself pleased with second place on the stage, and conceded that he is now racing only for the runner-up spot:

I did my best today, I could not do better. With second place more than five minutes before Contador, we have to say that now we are racing for second place.

Scarponi too admitted that the best man had won, but vowed to keep fighting to the end:

It’s clear that Contador is at another level. I will keep fighting. There are still some hard stages ahead of us. I would like to win a stage, but winning the Giro is complicated. I will try to remain optimistic.

However, Garmin-Cervélo’s David Millar summed up the race situation most succinctly when he said:

Alberto — you cannot touch him. He’s on a different level. It’s a race for second. No one else has a chance.

Stage 17 takes the peloton westwards for 230km across the northern edge of the country from Feltre to Tirano. This long day takes in a pair of categorised mountains, the testing Passo del Tonale (15.2km, 6.0% gradient) and the longer but more benign Aprica (15.4km, 3.1%). The descent from the final climb leads into a short, 7km run to the finish. Overall, the stage probably favours either a break or a small bunch sprint, although it would not be a surprise to see Nibali attack over the final summit and use his descending skills to look for either a stage win or at least an opportunity to close the 47-second deficit to Scarponi. It should be a relatively easy day for Contador and his Saxo Bank Sungard team.

Stage 17 profile

Stage 16 result:

1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 28:55

2. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:34

3. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +0:38

4. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) +0:39

5. Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) +0:46

General classification:

1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 62:43:37

2. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +4:58

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +5:45

4. John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale) +7:35

5. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) +9:18

6. Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +9:22

7. Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) +9:38

8. Roman Kreuziger (Astana) +9:47

9. Joaquim Rodríquez (Katusha) +10:25

10. Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +10:58

Points classification:

1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 158 pts

2. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) 103

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) 95

4. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) 87

5. Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) 77

Mountains classification:

1. Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) 64 pts

2. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) 53

3. Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 39

4. José Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) 29

5. Gianluca Brambilla (Colnago-CSF Inox) 27

Links: Giro d’Italia official websiteSteephill.tv

Giro d’Italia recaps

Stage 1: Pinotti swaps red, white and green for pink

Stage 2: Petacchi celebrates, Cavendish remonstrates in ham-fisted Parma finish

Stage 3: Weylandt’s death casts a long shadow

Stage 4: Peloton rides in tribute to Weylandt

Stage 5: Weening takes maglia rosa as Millar bites the dust

Stage 6: Ale-Jet runs out of gas as Ventoso wins uphill drag

Stage 7: De Clercq claims first professional win by a whisker

Stage 8: Gatto gets the cream as Contador shows his claws

Stage 9: Explosive Contador erupts on Etna

Stage 10: No tow required as Cavendish opens Giro account

Stage 11: Gadret times his finish to perfection

Stage 12: Cavendish doubles up and retires from the Giro

Stage 13: Contador’s gift leaves Rujano singing in the rain

Stage 14: All pain, few gain as Antón triumphs on the ascent to Hell

Stage 15: Nieve wins marathon stage, Contador sails serenely on

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

8 Responses to Giro d’Italia stage 16: Contador victory confirms Giro rivals are racing for second

  1. Sheree says:

    As ever, thank you for your succinct summary. I didn’t get a chance to watch even the highlights yesterday. Sounds as if Scarponi and Nibali gave it their all but they couldn’t trouble Contador. Everyone is at least admitting that they’re now racing for second place. Still, this won’t make the following stages any less absorbing.

    • Tim says:

      In all honesty I don’t think you missed that much, aside from a surprisingly good ride from little Rujano (I read an interview yesterday where he said he weighs 49 or 50kg – that’s less than eight stone in old money!) and a disappointing one from my each-way tip, John Gadret. The top of the timesheet was basically the same as the top of the GC, with the exception of the evergreen Garzelli.

      Watching the Eurosport commentary underlined just how difficult it was to assess how the riders were doing. Harmon and Kelly were convinced Contador was struggling, and it did look like he was working much harder than he normally does with his choppy pedalling style. But I was noting the times of the top three as they passed key visual cues on the climb, and it was clear that Contador kicked hard on the steep middle section, quickly overhauled his initial deficit to Nibali and basically gained ground all the way up. His pacing of his own effort was outstanding. I guess it just shows how tough a job commentary is – it’s easy for me to sit in front of my TV with my notepad and jot stuff down when I don’t have to think what to say as well!

      It really is game over now. Nibali and Scarponi are promising to fight it out for second – which, as we all know, could easily become first – and Menchov is apparently targeting the Sestriere stage. Contador has proven untouchable in this race – at least until CAS potentially intervenes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone dominate a Grand Tour quite like this in the modern era.

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