The first stage after the second rest day can often be decisive as riders respond differently to a day away from the pressures and exertions of racing.
With the climb of the famous Mortirolo rearing large on the profile, this stage had plenty going on and provided plenty for us to talk about. Here’s our pick of the top five things that caught our attention from Tuesday’s stage 16.
1. Aru’s diem horribilis
Dropped, and then requiring a bike change, this really was a horrible day for the young Italian rider Fabio Aru.
The Astana team leader pressed on when a mechanical saw race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) distanced off the back of the peloton before it reached the ascent of the Mortirolo. Some have questioned the sportsmanship of such a manoeuvre, but in the end it didn’t matter anyway.
With Contador making short work of the catch, we might have expected a big GC battle. As it was Aru looked decidedly uncomfortable before looking completely beaten.
Contador then attacked and Landa followed. The pair soon joined Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) to make a leading trio.
All the while, Aru was clearly in trouble as he had to zig-zag his way across the road on some of the steeper sections. With gritted teeth and still showing some fight as the climb continued, his GC contention disappeared as he lost time on Contador with every turn of the pedals.
This performance alone would have called into question Aru’s right to be team leader, but his capitulation was only worsened by his teammate Landa’s performance.
2. Landa’s coup
As Landa followed Contador’s attack without a backward glance to see if Aru would be able to join them, the leadership of Astana seemed to slip from Aru’s hands and pass to Landa as he disappeared up the road.
This followed his ride on the early slopes of the Mortirolo where he looked like he was rolling out of the café stop whilst Aru, who was clinging onto his wheel, looked like he might need an oxygen tank. The contrast in styles showed the contrast in fortunes, and surely now hands the Astana leadership to the Basque rider.
Things got even better for Landa when he attacked Contador and Kruijswijk with 4km to go and went solo to the finish. The result saw him leapfrog Aru to move into second on GC and put his stamp on the team leadership.
3. Hesjedal isn’t done yet
The 2012 pink jersey winner came into this year’s edition with designs on a podium finish; an ambition that looked all but impossible after only a few stages. However, as today’s stage proved, there’s still fight left in the Cannondale-Garmin team leader.
Ryder Hesjedal did a lot of work early on in his futile solo break, and despite fading towards the end, he arrived in sixth place and rode himself into the top ten on GC. Less work earlier on and he may have been more competitive come the sharp end of the stage.
4. Kruiswijk is giving the Dutch something to cheer about
After spending days and days in breakaways earlier in the race and taking second on stage nine, Kruiswijk once again put himself in the move that mattered. The LottoNL-Jumbo rider looked strong as he ascended the Mortirolo, and then held his own as Contador and Landa continued the battle for the overall podium.
It wasn’t until Landa’s stage winning attack that the Dutch rider cracked but by now the group was so far ahead of the chasing pack that there was no need to panic and he rode in for second place on the stage.
This strong ride moves Kruiswijk from 14th to eighth on GC and into the lead in the blue mountains jersey competition. This performance gives his team and nation something to cheer as he’s the only Dutch rider in the top ten and he’s giving LottoNL-Jumbo their best results of the season so far.
5. This is the first stage not to have a new winner
With Mikel Landa’s stage win, following on from his stage 15 victory the other side of the rest day, this is the first stage not to have a new winner.
Before today it was 15 stages and 15 different winners. This is the first edition of the race for sixty years for it to take so long for a rider to win more than one stage.
Usually a first week with plenty to offer the sprinters throws up a repeat winner or a dominant display from a pure climber during the first forays onto the race’s slopes gives a multi-stage victor. However, this year has bucked those trends, until today.
This trend of new winners looks likely to fizzle out now as the GC shake-up is down to a few big names and the top tier sprinters will all want the win once the race leaves the mountains. This means that someone will likely get their second or third bottle of prosecco on each of the remaining stages.