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Rigoberto Uran grows more confident as Giro’s final week looms

PLAN DI MONTECAMPIONE, Italy (VN) — Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) must have felt that much prettier in his pink jersey Sunday evening at the Giro d’Italia. The Colombian flashed his big smile more often and laughed louder with his overall lead of one minute and three seconds, grown 31 seconds bigger, over Cadel Evans (BMC Racing).

“It’s Sunday, for that reason I’m happier. It’s a day when you don’t work, even if I was racing today!” Urán said. “I didn’t have a super day yesterday, but today, it went a little bit better.”

The Colombian race leader closed the day, which ended with the 19.35-kilometer climb to Montecampione, in fifth place. He lost some time to rivals Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Pierre Rolland (Europcar), but gained on immediate rival Evans.

Evans struggled when the fireworks began. Rolland and Urán accelerated, but eventual stage winner Fabio Aru (Astana) succeeded best in cracking the leader’s group. Going under the 3km banner, Evans slipped behind with Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), and Urán’s pink jersey appeared to glow that much more.

“I didn’t expect Aru to be so strong and at some point, I had to ease off. I didn’t have the legs to stay with him,” Urán said. “The same with Quintana. You have to pace yourself.”

Urán eased up with 2.2km remaining on the climb that Italians link to Marco Pantani’s 1998 ride. He lost 20 seconds to Quintana and Rolland, and 42 seconds to Aru, but they remain two to four minutes behind in the overall. His immediate worry is Evans, the 2011 Tour de France winner.

He will have plenty of time to think about Evans and the rest of his rivals on Monday, the Giro’s third and final rest day. Evans may have faded, but the overall classification is more packed more tightly at the top now.

Also, he faces serious mountain climbs. Tuesday, the day after the Giro’s rest, the race climbs the Gavia and Stelvio passes — both near 2700 meters — en route to Val Martello at 2059 meters.

Bad weather forced the stage to be canceled last year. On Sunday, however, race director Mauro Vegni said they should be able to race the high passes this time around.

“The weather should be considered, we don’t want to race if it’s going to be dangerous,” said Urán. “This Giro, however, will be won by the strongest rider, regardless. Last year, you saw Vincenzo Nibali win. He would have won with or without the Val Martello stages.”

Urán’s race lead will be tested in the days to come. After the Martello Valley, he and his rivals will race to Panarotta at 1760 meters, time trial up Monte Grappa, and tackle the steep 22 percent slopes to Monte Zoncolan.

If Urán can hold on and become the first Colombian to win the Giro d’Italia, he will truly deserve it. Based on what he showed on Sunday, he is relaxed and ready to do so.