PINK jersey holder Alberto Contador put on a demonstration of his climbing skills on the steep Mortirolo pass and extended his lead on yesterday’s 16th stage of the Giro d’Italia.
Spanish rider Mikel Landa grabbed his second consecutive stage victory after getting clearance from his Astana squad bosses to leave behind Italian team leader Fabio Aru, who again struggled.
Landa required just over five hours for the 174-kilometre (108-mile) stage from Pinzolo to Aprica, which included five categorised climbs.
Dutch rider Steven Kruijswijk finished second, 38 seconds behind, and Contador crossed third with the same time. Aru finished nearly three minutes behind Landa, who moved ahead of the Italian into second.
Contador had some mechanical problems on a descent before the Mortirolo.
Astana appeared to use that opportunity to attack, breaking an unwritten rule of cycling not to take advantage when a race leader suffers such misfortune.
It became a moot point, though, as Contador surged into the lead on the climb, passing one rider after another.
His Tinkoff-Saxo team-mate Ivan Basso, a two-times Giro winner himself, gave Contador his wheel when the Spaniard punctured, allowing him to rejoin the fray relatively quickly.
Afterwards, Contador said: “It was a very difficult and complex stage. But that’s cycling.”
Marco Pantani won a memorable stage on the Mortirolo in 1994 and there is a monument along the climb to remember the Italian, who died of a cocaine overdose in 2004.
Contador said that Pantani’s exploits had been an inspiration for his career, and he wanted to honour the Italian, who was thrown off the Giro in 1999 after anomalies were found in his blood count.
“It’s a stage I’ll remember forever, and I hope the fans will, too,” Contador said.
In the overall standings Contador now leads Landa by 4:02, with Aru third, 4:52 behind.
Landa said: “Today I really proved that I can be one of the strongest riders on the climbs, and we still have several uphill finishes left.
“As a team, we will have to stick together and stay attentive, because what happened to Contador today could happen to one of us.”
Stage 17 today is a 134-kilometre (83-mile) leg from Tirano to Lugano, Switzerland, featuring one Category 3 climb and some rolling hills.
The race finishes with a stage into Milan on Sunday.