On a day that delivered one of the steepest climbs in all of pro cycling, Spaniard Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) put on a daring, successful raid at Tirreno-Adriatico, winning stage 5 on Sunday and taking control of the general classification.
Contador attacked 4km from the top of the penultimate climb of the Passo Lanciano — 32km from the finish — and quickly opened up an advantage that he held to the finish.
After an earlier move, Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar), largely considered the best climber in the race, could not counter Contador’s attack, ultimately finishing 1:50 behind the Spaniard. Quintana moved into second overall, though well down on Contador at 2:08.
“I spoke with Nairo at the foot of the Passo Lanciano,” Contador said. “Soon after the start, he had no team left. I still had [Roman] Kreuziger. I thought the best strategy was to stay on Nairo’s wheel and then attack at the end of the stage, but instead I managed to open a gap. I’m happy because I was able to build a good advantage and stay away to the finish.”
The Colombian had been ambitious with an early attack on the Passo Lanciano, which only Contador could respond to.
“I took the chance and attacked from far away at the Lanciano climb, but Alberto followed my wheel … and we ended up being caught,” Quintana said in a team release. “It has been a hard two days for me; looking at my fitness status, still building on my Giro condition, I’m pretty satisfied.”
Overnight race leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) cracked under the pressure and lost over six minutes.
After linking up with dropped breakaway rider Aussie Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol), Contador made contact with the final three members of the day’s breakaway — American Ben King (Garmin-Sharp), bearded German Simon Geschke (Giant-Shimano), and Spaniard David de la Cruz (NetApp-Endura) — with 8.7km remaining, at the base of the difficult ascent to Guardiagrele.
Contador’s five-man breakaway group started the Muro di Guardiagrele (the wall of Guardiagrele) — with slopes averaging 22 percent and reaching 30 percent in places — with a 1:35 advantage over the chasing peloton of Kwiatkowski and Quintana.
With 1.8km remaining, King attacked the group heading into the steepest ramps of the climb; the move dropped Hansen as Geschke clung to Contador’s wheel. Contador caught and passed King, weaving in slow motion across the steep climb.
For the second consecutive day, Contador crossed the finish line first, for the stage win, and this time, the win also came with the race leader’s maglia azzurra.
“I wanted to go alone,” Contador said. “I’m very happy with this victory. I feel it’s a different victory for me.”
Geschke crossed second, at six seconds, with King crossing third, 45 seconds down. Hansen was fourth, at 1:01.
“It was the plan to be in the break today,” Hansen said. “I took off with two guys on the first uphill part of the day. We waited for five other riders. The eight of us worked all very well together. I didn’t come to this race with my best condition, because it is not one of my main goals. So my climbing wasn’t super and I lost contact with the first guys in front. I went a bit easier when I was by myself. I heard riders were coming from the back and I definitely wanted to be under the two kilometer sign of the Passo Lanciano. Eventually it was just Contador alone who joined me and I jumped on his wheel. I knew he was going for the win. He led in the last kilometers of the climb and we did the descent together and I helped a little on the flat.”
Contador’s teammate Roman Kreuziger moved into third overall, 2:15 down on Contador.
Asked about his improved form over 2013, Contador said, “My preparation has been stress-free this winter. I have isolated myself a bit, I’ve turned down any commitments that could have taken time out from training. I’ve ridden many meters of climbing in training camps, and I’ve kept my mouth closed to keep my weight down, which becomes harder as you get older. You saw the results today, although the year has just begun, and I’m still lacking some race rhythm. My weight is good, but I still need to give my legs the tone they need for my big objectives later in the season.”