Alberto Contador duly won the 2015 Giro d’Italia as the final stage from Torino to Milano was completed on Sunday but just 24 hours earlier, his comfortable lead in the general classification nearly evaporated as he struggled to cope with the unrelenting steep gradients on the upper slopes of the Colle delle Finestre. For the first time in three weeks of racing, the Spaniard appeared vulnerable but by the finish of the stage in Sestriere, he had limited his time losses to 2:25 on a day when the Astana team may have exposed the Tinkoff-Saxo rider still further.
The drama on the dusty gravelled surface of the Colle delle Finestre began when Astana rider Mikel Landa launched an attack five kilometres from the summit with Contador unable to respond. Two kilometres later, Ryder Hesjedal decided to accelerate away from the remaining small group of riders which included Fabio Aru and Contador. Astana’s Aru was able to maintain contact with the Canadian but the Spaniard was clearly suffering with no team-mates available to pace him back to leaders and bike tyres seemingly struggling with the poor track surface.
It has since been argued that the better organisation from the Astana riders could have seriously threatened Contador’s overall lead especially as team orders entailed Landa waiting for Aru at the foot of the final climb to Sestriere where the Sardinian earned the stage victory and confirmed his overall second position in the classification with Lander third. Had Landa and Aru combined on the final kilometres of the penultimate climb rather than the former accelerating away from his team-mate, the erosion into Contador’s lead may have been that much greater. That Contador was unable to follow Landa was surely a sign of his weakness that day.
There must also be a question regarding the general tactics of Astana. Aru was more of a local hero and completed the Giro in second position with stage victories in the final two mountain stages, but was he actually the best equipped rider in the team to compete for the coveted pink jersey.
Spaniard Mikel Landa won two earlier mountain stages in this year’s Giro and has generally appeared as the stronger of the two Astana riders, in addition to helping Aru to cope with some of the steeper gradients. Landa has often ridden steadily in stage races without ever securing that elusive victory but he has shown signs of being capable of assuming the role of a team leader in a Grand Tour by his efforts during this race.
Alberto Contador may have won his third Giro d’Italia on the road but on the evidence of three weeks of racing in that country, a new Spanish star may be emerging and one who may have been sacrificed this week for the sake of the local Italian crowds. Mikel Landa is most definitely a name to remember for another day