Katusha and Astana’s questionable tactics on the descent of Aprica to the base of the Mortirolo was swiftly countered by a ruthless Alberto Contador and although Mikel Landa took his second consecutive stage, Fabio Aru got a dose of instant karma in what will become a legendary Giro stage.
Rider of the day
Hard. As. Nails. If anyone was in any doubt about the core of steel that runs through Alberto Contador, those doubts surely were laid to rest on the slopes of the Mortirolo. After Katusha and Astana picked up the pace on the way to the legendary climb to capitalise on a Contador puncture, putting nearly a minute into the maglia rosa, a lesser man might have panicked and blown before the climb even started. And while Contador did chase full gas to the point where he had shed every one of his teammates before the climb started, he never looked anything but cool and in control.
His elegant dancing on the pedals propelled him past small groups of riders strewn across the mountain. He took a bit of shelter behind Igor Anton, took a drink, had a gel, and then set off by himself to connect with Landa shepherding Aru up ahead. And connect he did. What must have crossed Aru’s mind when he saw the pink jersey behind him. He broke soon after that, looking physically and emotionally destroyed by the effort that might ultimately lose him his podium spot.
One thing that distinguishes Contador from the majority of other riders – including GC contenders – is that he is willing to make the race his own, even if it means doing all the work himself. There is a ruthless ambition in Baby Blackbird that hasn’t lost its potency through the years. After all, this is the man who survived Lance Armstrong as a ‘teammate’ and lived to lift the trophy in Paris. Astana might be annoying him – testing him, even – but I don’t think there’s a rider or a team in the peloton that scares him. But they should all be afraid of him.
Four things we noticed
1. Karma can be instant. There is an unwritten rule in stage races that you don’t attack the race leader if they have a mechanical and the race is not ‘on’*. In the past few years, Movistar have not respected that rule and in subsequent races got a full peloton slapdown (Valverde and echelons anyone?). But today, Fabio Aru didn’t have to wait long to reap a bitter crop. Once Contador made his way up to him and Landa, it was all over for the young rider. He could hardly keep Landa’s wheel and Contador exploited that to leave him in his dust. The rest of the stage was one of almost unbearable anguish, isolation and being chased by fat men in bikinis. If we want to look on the bright side for Aru, he was lucky enough to witness an absolute masterclass in how to turn a disadvantage into a legendary ride.
*For those about to shout #ChainGate, Andy Schleck attacked first, wanting to take the race to Contador, effectively flipping the switch to ‘race on’. If he’d dropped his chain in the valley before the hackles were high, then an attack would have been in bad taste. That’s how I see it, anyway. Many would disagree.
2. A new leader for Astana. Mikel Landa will no longer be able to sit on wheels, stay fresh and attack to win stages now that he’s the new leader for Astana. And remember that karma thing? It’s yet to bite him in the ass … but one of these days, it will.
3. Jumbo Bee flying high. Where would Steven Kruijswijk be in the standings if he didn’t have such a bad first week? It’s anyone’s guess. But what is obvious is that he didn’t let that first week dampen his appetite for glory or his capacity for suffering. He’s been one of the key animators of this Giro – when you see a Jumbo Bee buzzing about out front, it’s more than likely him. Today, he stayed with Landa and Contador from halfway up the Mortirolo to the end, coming in second on the stage, lifting himself into the top ten overall and taking the KOM jersey along the way. A well-deserved outcome for a great piece of riding today.
4. Final thoughts (and a question or two). An Astana team car handing out gels and bidons to Landa and Aru at around the 10km mark – when the rule says 20km is the cut-off. Will the UCI fine and dock them time?
Andrey Amador has slipped down into fourth place but he never gave up and worked hard to limit his losses. If Aru has another bad day and Amador has a good one, there could be a podium spot for the young Costa Rican.
‘Goggles’ Hesjedal has continued to make his presence known in this Giro, riding with Amador almost to the finish and ending up in the top ten.
Hey, anybody see anyone from Sky today?
Juan Antonio Flecha can ride up the Mortirolo while talking (and making sense). Okay, it wasn’t bullet-fast, but the man still has some legs and lungs left.
And Adam Hansen made the time cut! Just five more stages for a grand tour record 11 consecutive finishes.
Stage 16 result
1. Mikel Landa (Astana) 5:02:51
2. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) +0:38
3. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) same time
4. Yuri Trofimov (Katusha) +2:03
5. Andrey Amador (Movistar) s/t
1. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) 65:04:59
2. Mikel Landa (Astana) +4:02
3. Fabio Aru (Astana) +4:52
4. Andrey Amador (Movistar) +5:48
5. Yuri Trofimov (Katusha) +8:27
6. Leopold Konig (Sky) +9:21
7. Damiano Caruso (BMC) +9:52
8. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) +11:40
9. Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) +12:48
10. Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) +12:49
Points leader: Elia Viviani (Sky).
King of the Mountains leader: Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo).
Best young rider: Fabio Aru (Astana).
Team classification: Astana.
Link: Official race website
Header image: Fabio Aru at finish of stage 16 (Image: AFP)