Don’t you just love these short, frenetic, aggressive mountain stages? Much was expected today as hostilities recommenced at the start of the third week of racing, and it delivered in spades. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), part of a final three-man break containing the race leader Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL Jumbo) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), easily won the dash for the line to take his maiden Giro victory and move onto the podium. Kruijswijk finished second to cement his race lead – it’s looking increasingly likely he’ll become the first Dutchman to win the Giro d’Italia.
Rider of the race
Love him or hate him, you have to admire Alejandro’s attitude and commitment. He’s endured his usual one bad day (stage 14), turned in a stellar performance in Sunday’s uphill time-trial, and today joined forces with Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Kruijswijk and Zakarin, principally to put time into second-placed Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) and to deliver what might well prove to be fatal blows to the ambitions of a number of would-be contenders.
Sensing blood, Valverde attacked with 15km to go, followed by Kruijswijk and Zakarin, with the threesome combining to isolate a faltering Nibali. Valverde showed his intent by letting Zakarin lead them through the final kilometres, before pouncing just before the last bend. The time gap and the bonus seconds were enough for him to clamber back onto the podium, just 23 seconds down on Chaves in second.
After his superb performance, which takes his grand tour tally to 14, and saw him awarded most combative rider, Valverde said:
It’s a good day for me as I move up in the overall ranking, although I wanted a stage win as a gift for the mechanics, soigneurs, directors, my family… all the people who have helped me overcome the day I had on Saturday because of the altitude. It was only one bad day though. I rode the time trial as well as I could have hoped. We wanted to break the race up today. It’s a great feeling to win for the first time at the Giro.
A day of mixed fortunes
The architect of today’s aggression, Vincenzo Nibali, imploded on the penultimate climb, was overhauled by Chaves, and lost over a minute and a half in the battle for the overall. He sits in fourth place, a mere seven seconds ahead of a resurgent Zakarin. Sixth-placed Rafa Majka (Tinkoff), another of the day’s losers, is over half a minute further back and battling Bob Jungels (Etixx-Quick Step), up one place into seventh, is almost another two minutes behind. So it’s likely The Shark, who’s most definitely lost his bite, will finish this race no worse than fifth or sixth – not what either he or his team expected. But, then this Giro, in maintaining the tension into the third week of racing, has not stuck to the script, for which we, the spectators, are truly grateful.
When Nibali, Valverde, Kruijswijk and Zakarin bridged across to the break, they distanced a number of other contenders. Despite Cannondale recalling Joe Dombrowski from the leading group to help with the chase back on, team leader Rigoberto Uran, who’s been suffering with bronchial problems, was the first to be distanced. Realistically, he’s now down and out of contention in 12th place. Chaves bravely fought back to maintain his runner-up spot but he now has Valverde breathing down his neck, some 23 seconds adrift. Today’s third-place finish moved Zakarin up into fifth, only seven seconds behind Nibali. Majka slipped one place to sixth, over half a minute behind Zakarin.
The fat lady has sung for some but unless Kruijswijk has a disaster over the coming few days, he’ll be going into the history books. However, I expect Valverde and Zakarin to continue hostilities later in the week, with a view to moving up the general classification.
1. Alejando Valverde (Movistar) 02:58:54
2. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) same time
3. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) +0:08
4. Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) +0:37
5. Bob Jungels (Etixx-Quick Step) same time
1. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) 63:40:10
2. Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) +3:00
3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +3:23
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) +4:43
5. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) +5:50
All the jerseys
Leader’s jersey: Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo)
Point’s jersey: Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo)
KOM jersey: Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini)
Best young rider: Bob Jungels (Etixx-Quick Step)
For full review of the stage, go to Cycling News
Header image: Getty Images/Tim de Waele