Nairo Quintana has one hand on the senza fine after a stunning win in the mountain time trial to increase his overall lead in the 2014 Giro d’Italia with two stages to go.
The Colombian took his second stage win with a perfectly-timed effort on the Cima Grappa to erase any doubts about his worthiness in the pink jersey.
First at the final time check, only Fabio Aru (Astana) got close to the Colombian’s time of 1.05.37.
The Italian looked at one point have done just enough to take the stage win, but he had to settle for moving into third overall instead as the Colombian dug deep, powering into the steepest sections of the climb to move more than three minutes clear on GC.
Australian time trial champion Michael Hepburn (Orica-GreenEDGE), who started second, was the first man to set a mark, though his time of 1.17.21 was quickly wiped out.
Bardiani-CSF did much of the early mark-setting, the Italian team continuing their stunning form at this year’s Giro by placing several riders in the provisional top ten.
Stefano Pirazzi, winner on stage 17, was the fastest of his team-mates, setting 1.10.11 as the lime green team had four riders inside the provisional top ten at one point.
Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol), who has attacked the climbs with great fervour so far at the Giro, was the first man to go inside 70 minutes though – his mark on 1.09.37 proving to be one which lasted for some time.
The first real winner on the climb, however, was Belkin’s Jos van Emden who, according to the team, opted to pause his time trial effort to propose, successfully, to his girlfriend.
The GC contenders all opted for different tactics on the demanding course – Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), Quintana and Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) all among those opting to start on a time trial bike before switching when the road started ramping up.
Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) opted for the same tactic too, though he once again started the race with the modified Focus road bike he used for the last time trial – the brand not able to supply a time trial bike small enough for him.
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), on the other hand, chose a road bike with time trial bars while Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) tackled the whole stage on a road bike – losing a lot of time up to the first time check as a result.
Team Sky duo Dario Cataldo and Sebastian Henao both set fast times up to the second intermediate time check as the British team hunted a first stage win of this year’s race.
Cataldo eventually finished ten seconds behind Wellens, but the Belgian was ousted from the hot seat by the 20-year-old Colombian, Henao, who crossed in 1.09.25.
The Colombian’s time in the hot seat proved to be a short one however, as Franco Pellizotti became the first man to go sub-69 minutes, crossing in 1.08.59.
Further down the road his time at the second intermediate check was also being beaten as the GC men hit the harder slopes.
Pozzovivo went faster, as did Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), but it was Aru – who gained 52 seconds on the former – whose time made everyone sit up and take notice.
Quintana was going even faster however according to the time gaps being given on the road as he looked to stretch his overall lead – setting the fastest time at the final time check.
Aru gained on him however, fighting through the passionate home fans on the steepest sections on the climb and passing his three-minute man Majka.
Pozzovivo did the same to Hesjedal, who had earlier suffered a mechanical, as the GC was given another big shake-up.
Wilco Kelderman also lost out, finishing more than a minute down on Pellizotti with many of his rivals still to finish and going faster.
Pozzovivo obliterated Pellizotti’s time, shedding 58 seconds from the mark, but all eyes were on Aru and Quintana and the battle for the stage win.
And Aru duly delivered, crossing just minutes later with a stunning time of 1.05.54, taking more than two minutes off the time of his compatriot.
At that point he looked to have had the better of Quintana, with the time checks showing he was just ahead of the Colombian.
However, while Aru had been straining into the last kilometre, expending every last reserve of energy to record his phenomenal time, Quintana looked at ease having paced himself perfectly.
With just a summit finish on Monte Zoncalon to come, Quintana is on the brink of earning a first Grand Tour win of his fledgling career.
Giro d’Italia 2014: stage 19 – result
1) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar – 1.05.37
2) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +17”
3) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +1.26
4) Pierre Rolland (FRA) – Team Europcar +1.57
5) Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +2.24
6) Franco Pellizotti (ITA) – Androni Giocatolli-Venezuela +3.22
7) Rafal Majka (POL) – Tinkoff-Saxo +3.28
8) Sebastian Henao (COL) – Team Sky +3.48
9) Tim Wellens (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol +4.00
10) Dario Cataldo (ITA) – Team Sky +4.10
1) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar 79.03.45hrs
2) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +3.07
3) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +3.48
4) Pierre Rolland (FRA) – Team Europcar +5.26
5) Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +6.16
6) Rafal Majka (POL) – Tinkoff-Saxo +6.59
7) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +9.25
8) Wilco Kelderman (NED) – Belkin +9.29
9) Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) – Garmin-Sharp +10.11
10) Robert Kiserlovski (CRO) – Trek Factory Racing +13.59