Giro Stage 21: Keisse derails the sprint trains, Contador secures overall victory

At the end of a Giro d’Italia which has revelled in its daily unpredictability, it was fitting that the concluding sprinters’ stage instead came down to a straight mano a mano between two of the peloton’s unsung powerhouses. Iljo Keisse finally delivered something for his Etixx-Quick Step team to celebrate at the end of a lacklustre three weeks, edging out Luke Durbridge who narrowly failed to provide a victory that would have neatly bookended a successful race for Orica-GreenEDGE, the dominant squad in the opening stages.

Alberto Contador finished safely to confirm his seventh grand tour victory. He joins Bernard Hinault as the only rider to have won all three grand tours at least twice.

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Riders of the day

To be honest, I’d have been happy to see either of today’s final two savour victory. Both are strong, hard-working team men with the ability to produce results on both road and track when let off the leash. Luke Durbridge has been Australian national champion in both road race and time trial disciplines, which speaks volumes to his talent and versatility, while Iljo Keisse has enjoyed a storied track career specialising in six-day events, with his previous road highlight being a memorable solo victory at the Tour of Turkey in 2012.

Keisse may have won the stage but both men are equally deserving of our rider of the day award. They made the decisive break, rode hard and, aided by key punctures and a lack of coordinated pursuit from the peloton, earned themselves their shot at rare individual glory. It brought a memorable Giro to a memorable end.

Five things in summary

1. A worthy winner. It’s easy to forget that Alberto Contador dislocated his shoulder in the opening week, casting doubt over his continued participation. From that moment on, he waged a single-handed (single-armed?) war against the massed turquoise ranks of Astana with precious little help from his Tinkoff-Saxo teammates. Only a wobble on the rough surface of the Colle delle Finestre yesterday reminded us that he is, in fact, human. But his solo ride to catch and overtake Aru on stage 16 and then his surprise attack two days later that distanced everyone but Ryder Hesjedal will live long in the memory. He may not have won a stage but make no mistake, he stamped his authority all over this race.

No stage victories but indisputably the deserved winner (Image: Giro d'Italia)

No stage victories but indisputably the deserved winner (Image: Giro d’Italia)

2. Astana’s teamwork and tactics lacking. It seems odd to criticise a team who won five stages and filled two of the three podium spots, but Astana’s tactical approach to this Giro was curious, to say the least. Without getting bogged down in specific incidents, it appeared at times that they couldn’t decide whether to prioritise Fabio Aru, Mikel Landa or both. And when they did, the way they went about it was often curious. They were clearly the strongest team in this Giro – far stronger than Tinkoff-Saxo, for whom the usually reliable Michael Rogers and Roman Kreuziger had terrible races, leaving Contador isolated at key moments (most notably stages 16 and 20). By contrast, Astana had six riders in the final top 25. On the one hand, that’s a remarkable show of strength. On the other, it’s also indicative of a team who didn’t lay all their cards on the table often enough to put Contador under sustained pressure. The most efficient way to maximise your team leader’s performance is to sacrifice your pawns to put your rivals to the sword. Too often in this race, all Astana did was to provide Contador with the train his own team were unable to manage.

3. Sharing the spoils. By my count, 12 of this year’s 20 road stages were won by either group breakaways or solo attacks, contributing to the high total of 17 different individual winners. Moreover, of the top 28 finishers on GC only three won a stage, all Astana riders: Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa won two each, Paolo Tiralongo one. Make of that what you will, but either way this has been a wonderful Giro in which even the most routine days have been full of variety, surprises and drama. It’s proof positive that a smattering of short stages and relatively few 2,000-metre mountains and mega-summit finishes can promote exciting racing. It’s been a very long time since we’ve had a grand tour this good. The Tour de France has a tough act to follow.

4. Ryder’s on the storm. Ryder Hesjedal has struggled to regain the heights of his 2012 Giro victory – a stage at last year’s Vuelta remains his only win since then – but there’s no question that this race brings out the best in him. He was ninth overall last year and, despite losing over six minutes in a disastrous opening week here, his head didn’t drop. In the mountains he was the most consistently aggressive animator and, although he didn’t win a stage, a pair of second places and a slew of top-ten finishes elevated him to a well-deserved fifth overall. He may be one of the least elegant riders in the peloton but he added no small amount of panache to this year’s race. If not for his first week troubles he would have been in the running for the podium. Chapeau.

5. Beyond the GC. Too often in grand tours, particularly at the Giro and Vuelta, the other major jerseys become an off-shoot of the battle for the GC, with the final points and mountains classifications closely resembling the overall. Not so here. Both these two competitions provided intriguing narratives in their own right. The points competition was finely balanced as the sprinters struggled to maintain the upper hand, with Philippe Gilbert sneaking second spot and Giacomo Nizzolo‘s consistency ultimately trumping Elia Viviani and Sacha Modolo’s stage wins. And the battle for the maglia azzurra saw the breakaway animators ultimately triumph over the top GC men. Giovanni Visconti finished 18th overall but just held off Landa for the mountains jersey which had been held for much of the race by his Movistar teammate Benat Intxausti (29th) in what ended up being a thrilling four-way fight that was nicely uncoupled from what became a one-sided GC contest.

Stage 21 result

1. Iljo Keisse (Etixx-Quick Step) 4:18:37

2. Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEDGE) same time

3. Roger Kluge (IAM) +0:09

4. Alexander Porsev (Katusha) s/t

5. Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) s/t

General classification

1. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) 88:22:25

2. Fabio Aru (Astana) +1:53

3. Mikel Landa (Astana) +3:05

4. Andrey Amador (Movistar) +8:10

5. Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) +9:52

6. Leopold Konig (Sky) +10:41

7. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) +10:53

8. Damiano Caruso (BMC) +12:08

9. Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) +15:51

10. Yuri Trofimov (Katusha) +16:14

Points winner: Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek).

King of the Mountains winner: Giovanni Visconti (Movistar).

Best young rider: Fabio Aru (Astana).

Team classification winner: Astana.

Link: Official race website

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