By Gregor Brown
Team manager Giuseppe Martinelli drove up alongside the Basque and shouted. Its unclear, but it the famed Italian manager might have said: "Go Mikel, this team's yours!"
Landa explained he got the OK only on Aprica, but Martinelli might have been considering it for days. Aru appeared to be suffering, which his facial expressions made clear at the finish in Vicenza under pouring rain on Thursday.
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Landa's smooth-as-silk pedalling style up the famed Mortirolo with its 18 per cent gradients today cemented the decision. Aru could no longer hold on. Once race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) attacked the Astana duo, Landa had no choice but to chase to defend the team's position.
He not only chased, but he helped bury Aru, won the stage and jumped from fourth to second overall. Behind Contador, the Basque is the best cyclist both on paper and on the climbs 16 days into the Giro d'Italia.
"We'll have to look at the overall tonight, I still don't know the time gaps," Landa said.
"Will Fabio now help me? I don't know, it's possible, but it's going to take both of us if we have a chance to take out Alberto."
Contador has a 4-02-minute gap to Landa and a 4-52 gap to Aru. Costa Rican Andrey Amador (Movistar) sits in fourth place overall at 5-48.
Aru's suffering only made Landa's ride appear more impressive. Aru, in the white young rider's jersey, struggled to hold on as the leaders made their way up the Mortirolo. Once cracked, Landa rode away into the 2015 Giro's storybooks and Aru sunk to 2-51 minutes by the stage finish.
The former Euskaltel-Euskadi rider rode side-by-side with Contador and Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) over the top of the Mortirolo and through the valley below. Contador whispered to Landa, "Let's let Kruijswijk win, he deserves it." Landa thought otherwise.
"I was given my free hand," Landa added. "I wanted the stage win."
Landa won his second stage of the Giro after Madonna di Campiglio and moved to second overall. What more could he want?
"If I had came here leader, maybe [I could be leading the race], but you never know," he added. "This situation now, and that's how it is. We'll see what I can do in the remaining days."
Landa's day saved Astana, which employed odd tactics. It attacked Contador after he punctured on the descent of the Aprica and its pace was so hard that it blew up its own leader on the Mortirolo. Had it not been for Landa, Astana would have had a disastrous 2015 Giro.
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