Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Etixx - Quick-Step rider Rigoberto Uran finished on the podium of a thrilling 196km Giro d'Italia Stage 20 on Saturday, crossing the line in 3rd place and finishing with the best GC contenders of the peloton. Fabio Aru (Astana) won solo, and Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) was 2nd chasing alone.

The crucial point of the race was on the Cima Coppi, Colle delle Finestre (18.7km, 9.2% average gradient), which includes dirt roads as it heads toward the top. This tough climb was when Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Tanel Kangert (Astana) accelerated out of the maglia rosa group behind Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), who was ahead solo. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) was forced to close the gap to the duo ahead. However, after he successfully did so, a select group already formed. Mikel Landa (Astana) attacked soon after, and was able to eventually bridge to Zakarin solo. Contador, meanwhile, was dropped with 29.1km to go as other riders of the group pressed on.

Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) and Uran formed a chase group behind Landa before Landa caught up to Zakarin. Fabio Aru (Astana) eventually caught up to the two riders chasing. As Hesjedal, Uran, and Aru descended the Cima Coppi the gap was 38" to the Uran group, and 1'14" to Contador.

Kruijswijk joined Hesjedal, Aru, and Uran with 20.2km remaining in the stage. Kilometer-by-kilometer the group tried to put time into Contador in hopes of threatening his GC leadership. Uran, who was not in contention for the GC, remained with the group in hopes of contending the stage. The Uran group caught Landa and Zakarin with 8.5km remaining, but Contador had reduced the gap. Still, the race was far from over. The Cat. 3 summit finale of Sestriere (average gradient 5.4%, max ramp 9%) remained.

Zakarin lost contact with the lead group inside the final 5 kilometers. The gap was 1'39" to Contador with 2.5km left in the stage. Aru took his chance to initially attack at the 2km to go mark, but Uran continued to fight and he went around Hesjedal to bridge the gap to Aru. However, Aru accelerated again with 1.6km to go. This turned out to be the stage winning move. 

Aru won Stage 20 18" ahead of Hesjedal, and 24" ahead of Uran in 3rd place. Uran crossed the line with Landa. Contador completed the stage 2'25" down, which means barring anything extraordinary in Stage 21, he will win the Giro d'Italia. Contador's advantage over Aru in the GC is now 2'02", and Contador also has 3'14" on Landa in 3rd place overall.

Uran, as a result of two podium finishes in the past two stages, is 14th overall going into the last stage. Sunday's finish to the Giro d'Italia is a 185km flat stage from Torino to Milano. 

"Today we did everything to try and win this stage," Uran said. "After a few kilometers into the stage we had the feeling that the battle would start from the Colle delle Finestre. It was a matter of staying in the peloton and saving energy for the finale. On the Colle delle Finestre I felt good. I always reacted to the attacks and I was never in difficulty on that climb. I decided to try and stay on the wheels because there was the battle for the GC going on. I was only waiting for the last climb because it was a climb I knew, and I knew it was good for my skills. So, I collaborated in the final to catch the breakaway with Landa and Zakarin. Landa did a good tempo when we caught them, but at 2km to go Aru attacked and I reacted. However, when he saw me on his wheel he attacked again. Unfortunately, I couldn't follow. I hung on to take at least a podium place. I am a little bit sad, because we did everything to win the stage and it didn't work out. Still, considering everything, I also have to say how great it was on the Colle delle Finestre today. I think it was really a great show for the spectators and for cycling. The last 8 kilometers of the climb were gravel and it was really something unforgettable for the riders. In sports, even if you are not feeling your best, there are moments like this where you are so inspired by the public and the circumstances that you find the energy to go full gas anyway. This was a spectacular parcours. Now we are nearing the end of the Giro. I have to be satisfied with the reaction of myself and my team in the last week of the Giro, after a lot of problems. At the end of this Giro d'Italia we have the feeling things could be different if we had a bit more luck and health in the first part of the race. But, it is what it is. It's time to turn the page and start thinking about the next races. I want to thank the staff and riders for staying committed always. My race today is for them, for the effort they put into this race for me."

"After the rest day we had to change our tactic," Sport Director Davide Bramati said. "We decided to get into the breakaways to stage hunt. The team responded really quickly to our new strategy. They were motivated to try to get a victory. We tried even today, and in the last two days Rigo showed his quality on the climbs. It shows his potential if he had this condition for all three weeks, but we have to accept this Giro for what it was. We found our rhythm in the last days and we did our best to make sense of our Giro. We started with difficulties, but we showed we are also a team of fighters who will try until the last moment to get a good result."

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