Mikel Landa (Astana) made it back-to-back stage wins at the Giro d’Italia on a day which saw team-mate Fabio Aru’s overall hopes crumble.
Landa accelerated from a leading trio of pink jersey Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) on the final ascent of the Aprica to start the final week as he had ended the second – with a stage win.
Having started the stage supporting Aru, Landa was given licence to join the front group when the Italian cracked and was distanced by Contador on the Passo di Mortirolo.
With Aru further back, Landa was able to sit in the wheels of Contador and Kruijswijk for much of the stage, and used that extra energy to his advantage in the finale.
Kruijswijk bagged second place while Contador – who had been distanced on the first ascent of the Aprica after a mechanical but surged back on the Mortirolo took third.
How it unfolded
The day’s break took a long time to form, and even when it did the peloton was unwilling to let them go – particularly with Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) in the group.
Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEDGE), who wore the pink jersey earlier in the race, was also there but very soon the break had been shredded before Hesjedal went solo on the Aprica.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) suffered a puncture on the descent of the Aprica, taking a wheel from team-mate Ivan Basso.
At the front, Katusha drove a very fast pace on the same descent and, as the race split up, Astana followed the racing which caused Contador to lose contact with the Aru group.
Katusha caught the remnants of the day’s break, Hesjedal included, and drilled it, while Astana lined out on the front of the group behind before bridging the gap.
With both Astana and Katusha working hard on the front, Tinkoff-Saxo were burying themselves for Contador to no avail – Roman Kreuziger’s huge shift making little inroads until El Pistolero took up the chase on the Mortirolo.
Back at the front of the race, Aru had plenty of team-mates for company on the famous ascent, while Katusha also had strength in numbers and a minute’s advantage to the pink jersey.
It was quickly down to just four men at the front though, Aru, team-mate Mikel Landa, Yuri Trofimov (Katusha) and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo).
Landa set the pace for Aru, dropping Trofimov, but the man in the white jersey appeared to be struggling as Contador picked off riders behind with apparent ease.
Given the occasional rest in the wheel of the riders he was catching and passing, Contador cut the front group’s lead almost by the pedal stroke and was soon in sight of them as each hairpin was checked off.
Kruijswijk attacked at the front, with Landa sticking to the task of carrying Aru, but Contador was soon on the Astana duo’s wheels – nonchalantly taking a drink, riding in the wheels for a bit and then bursting clear.
This time Landa was given permission to leave Aru and follow the attack, and the two Spaniards quickly caught Kruijswijk up the road.
Aru, by contrast, appeared to be in a world of hurt as Trofimov and the impressive Hesjedal both caught and passed him on the climb.
Kruijswijk led the three leaders all the way up the climb, cresting the Mortirolo in first place with 55 seconds to Hesjedal and Trofimov and nearly two minutes to Aru.
Contador hit the front of the descent, but the three leaders stayed together descending well.
Aru made up some ground further back, on the wheel of Andrey Amador (Movistar), but a mechanical further hampered his chances as he required a bike change.
Trofimov, meanwhile, dropped Hesjedal early on the descent but the Canadian was still ahead of Aru as they started the run-in to the final climb of Aprica.
On that climb, Kruijswijk attacked with less than five kilometres to go, but Landa chased it down and had a go himself having spent much of the stage drafting the other two.
And the Basque rider’s acceleration was enough to take the stage win, the first man to win more than one individual stage in this year’s race, and move him up to second overall.
Giro d’Italia 2015: stage 16 – result
1) Mikel Landa (ESP) – Astana – 5.02.51hrs
2) Steven Kruijswijk (NED) – LottoNL-Jumbo +38”
3) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo – ST
4) Yuri Trofimov (RUS) – Katusha +2.03
5) Andrey Amador (CRC) – Movistar – ST
6) Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) – Cannondale-Garmin – 2.10
7) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana – 2.51
8) Damiano Caruso (ITA) – BMC Racing +3.16
9) Leopold Konig (CZE) – Team Sky +3.19
10) Carlos Betancur (COL) – Ag2r-La Mondiale – ST
1) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo – 65.04.59hrs
2) Mikel Landa (ESP) – Astana +4.02
3) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +4.52
4) Andrey Amador (CRC) – Movistar +5.48
5) Yury Trofimov (RUS) – Katusha +8.27
6) Leopold Konig (CZE) – Team Sky +9.21
7) Damiano Caruso (ITA) – BMC Racing +9.52
8) Steven Kruijswijk (NED) – LottoNL-Jumbo +11.40
9) Alexandre Geniez (FRA) – FDJ +12.48
10) Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) – Cannondale-Garmin +12.49