Alberto Contador survived an onslaught from rival team Astana to move closer to a second Giro d’Italia title as he finished the queen stage in Aprica in third place.
Spain’s Contador started the day with a 2min 35sec lead and now has an advantage of 4min 2sec over compatriot Mikel Landa (Astana), who won the 16th stage 38 seconds ahead of Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk. Contador also ended the punishing 177km mountain stage 38 seconds behind.
Astana leader Fabio Aru of Italy finished 2min 51sec off the pace and dropped to third overall, 4min 52sec behind the Spaniard, who is looking to achieve a rare Giro/Tour de France double this season. “It was a very hard day, an incredible stage,” said Contador.
“Cycling isn’t mathematics: I had a puncture on the descent, Ivan Basso gave me a wheel, but ahead they were going at full speed, and it was impossible to close the gap immediately. It was hard for me, but I’m very happy with the time gaps now.”
While Contador tried to deal with the puncture, the Astana riders opened a gap of almost one minute but the move backfired.
At the foot of the penultimate climb, an intimidating ascent to the Passo del Mortirolo, Contador was lagging 45 seconds behind but went solo and soon caught a small group featuring Landa and Aru. He attacked them and only Landa could follow as Aru cracked, thus limiting the damage until the finish line.