Alberto Contador has once again stamped his authority on this year's Giro d'Italia, winning the mountain time trial from Belluno to Nevegal by a huge margin of 34 seconds from Vincenzo Nibali. The Liquigas Cannondale rider, fastest at the intermediate time check, appeared to have done enough to take the stage, until Contador once again confirmed his status as the best climber currently racing. Nibali, who rode flat out, did not even have the consolation of taking significant time out of Lampre-ISD's Michele Scarponi, second overall, who finished just 4 seconds behind him.
Nominally, the 12.7 kilometre course included a height gain of 636 metres, but with a downhill section in the opening couple of kilometres followed by a false flat, most of that was packed into the final 7 kilometres, with the maximum gradient of 14% encountered early on in the climb.
As the top ten riders in the general classification took to the road, the benchmark time was being set by Acqua & Sapone’s Stefano Garzelli, who on Sunday took the Cima Coppi prize for being the first man over the Passo di Giau, the highest point on this year’s Giro. In last year's Giro, he had won the Stage 16 Plan de Corones mountain time trial.
Garzelli’s time of 29:42 was 12 seconds faster than that set by Italian champion Marco Pinotti of HTC-Highroad, and only two other riders who had previously taken to the course had bettered the half-hour mark, Branislau Samoilau of Movistar and Acqua & Sapone’s Vladimir Miholjevic. In all, only 10 riders would come in under 30 minutes today.
Contador, sporting a black armband as did many riders in memory of Movistar’s Xavier Tondo, killed yesterday in a domestic accident at his home in Spain, got away smoothly, a flurry of pink ticker-tape exploding from the starting ramp to herald the departure of the maglia rosa onto the course.
Ahead, Nibali, third in the general classification when he left the departure gate, was setting the fastest time for the intermediate split, taken at 5.3 kilometres as the course headed into the steeper uphill section, with the maximum gradient of 14% coming around a kilometre and a half after that.
Scarponi, the last but one rider to leave the start, lost 9 seconds of the 51-second cushion that he had held over the Liquigas Cannondale rider this morning during that first part of the parcours, while Contador, the clear favourite for the stage, was only 13th fastest at that time check.
The fans lining the roadside were pretty enthusiastic even by mountain stage standards, many trying to run alongside the riders perhaps a little bit too close for comfort, meaning concentration was crucial and also giving a good gauge of just how strongly some of the more powerful climbers were riding.
As the cameras focused on the duel being played out between the three men occupying the podium positions, Jose Rujano of Androni-Giocattoli, sixth from last out on the course, surprisingly set the fastest time, but Nibali dug in deep on the approach to the line to overhaul the Venezuelan by just 5 seconds.
That left just two men out on the course, Scarponi and Contador, the Lampre-ISD edging out Rujano as he took second place by just 1 second, and the effort that Nibali had put into his ride, contrasting with Contador’s relaxed climbing style, gave the impression that the he might prevail over the Spaniard.
However, as the Saxo Bank SunGard rider came under the kilometre to go banner, it was clear that he was not only going to win the stage, but would do so by what on this course has to be viewed as a stunning margin as he crossed the line in 28:55.
Contador now leads the general classification by 4:58 from Scarponi, with Nibali a further 47 seconds back in third.Rujano's performance sees him rise to 5th overall behind AG2R's John Gadret, who lost nearly a minute on Nibali today.
With a couple of descents in the last two thirds of tomorrow’s 230km stage from Feltre to Tirano, Nibali, who on Sunday gave a masterclass in his prowess heading downhill, will be hopeful of perhaps leapfrogging Scarponi to move into second place, but nothing short of a major mishap looks like preventing Contador from winning his second Giro d’Italia title in Milan on Sunday.
Giro d’Italia Stage 16 Result 1 CONTADOR Alberto Saxo Bank-SunGard 28:55 2 NIBALI Vincenzo Liquigas-Cannondale 0:34 3 SCARPONI Michele Lampre-ISD 0:38 4 RUJANO Jose Androni-Giocattoli 0:39 5 GARZELLI Stefano Acqua & Sapone 0:46 6 KREUZIGER Roman Astana 0:49 7 MENCHOV Denis Geox-TMC 0:52 8 PINOTTI Marco HTC-Highroad 0:58 9 SAMOILAU Branislau Movistar 0:59 10 MIHOLJEVIC Vladimir Acqua & Sapone 1:04 11 RODRIGUEZ Joaquin Katusha 1:05 12 TIRALONGO Paolo Astana 1:17 13 ANTON Igor Euskaltel-Euskadi 1:21 14 KRUIJSWIJK Steven Rabobank 1:24 15 SIVTSOV Kanstantsin HTC-Highroad 1:26 16 GADRET John AG2R 1:27 17 KIRYIENKA Vasili Movistar 1:31 18 CLEMENT Stef Rabobank 1:33 19 ULISSI Diego Lampre-ISD 1:35 20 PIRAZZI Stefano Colnago-CSF Inox 1:39 Giro d’Italia Overall Standings after Stage 16 1 CONTADOR Alberto Saxo Bank-SunGard 62:43:37 2 SCARPONI Michele Lampre-ISD 4:58 3 NIBALI Vincenzo Liquigas-Cannondale 5:45 4 GADRET John AG2R 7:35 5 RUJANO Jose Androni-Giocattoli 9:18 6 NIEVE Mikel Euskaltel-Euskadi 9:22 7 MENCHOV Denis Geox-TMC 9:38 8 KREUZIGER Roman Astana 9:47 9 RODRIGUEZ Joaquin Katusha 10:25 10 ANTON Igor Euskaltel-Euskadi 10:58
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.