Barring a crash in the final stage, Alberto Contador is poised to win the Giro d’Italia after the Spaniard limited the damage on the 20th stage, a punishing 199km trek from Saint-Vincent to Sestriere.
The Tinkoff-Saxo rider, who won the Giro in 2008, lost touch with his main rivals on the penultimate climb, up the narrow dirt roads to the Colle delle Finestre, but retained the overall leader’s pink jersey.
Overall victory today will set him up to become the first rider to achieve a rare Giro/Tour de France double in the same year since the late Marco Pantani in 1998.
At the end of the final ascent to Sestriere, he was sixth, 2min 26sec behind stage winner Fabio Aru of Italy, who is second overall, 2min 2sec behind with only one flat stage to Milan remaining. Aru left a small leading group with just under two kilometres remaining to claim his second stage win in as many days.
Canadian Ryder Hesjedal of Cannondale-Garmin was second, 18 seconds behind, and Colombian Rigoberto Uran finished third, 24 seconds off the pace. Spain’s Mikel Landa, Aru’s Astana team-mate who looked the strongest rider in the field in the climb to Colle delle Finestre, remained third overall, 3min 14sec behind Contador.
Said the race leader: “I wasn’t feeling good, probably because of the accumulated effort, but I knew I had a good cushion in the General Classification and, although there were plenty of kilometres to go before the finish, I preferred to ride at my rhythm.
“There was never a moment when I thought the jersey was in danger. I maintained my calm because I knew that the difference in speeds between the groups was going to be small. This Giro d’Italia is in the bag now, with just tomorrow’s stage to come, so I’m already thinking of my next target.”
Aru was delighted with his second successive Giro win, saying: “There were so many fans encouraging me along the roadside that it was like being at home.”