With the toughest profile of the entire race today was always going to make for hard racing. Exactly how hard and chaotic no one had probably predicted. It was all business as usual with a smaller breakaway being held in short reins by Tinkoff until the descent off the first pass of Aprica. As Katusha was attacking the descent to put Trofimov ahead at the bottom of Mortirolo Contador had an untimely puncture and had to take a wheel from Ivan Basso. Astana saw their chance and chased hard to catch Katusha and then controversially continued to force the pace along with the Russian team. This forced Tinkoff to sacrifice all their helpers in a wild chase to take Contador back to the front group. The gap hovered between 30 and 60 seconds and by the base of the Mortirolo it was something like 50 seconds to Aru and Landa who were the remaining Astana riders. It could have been a lot more if Manuele Boaro hadn't been able to give a bit of assistance to Kreuziger in the last bit.
So instead of having Aru and Contador mano a mano on the Mortirolo, Contador was in full damage control mode. As Landa set the pace for Aru up front Contador launched his furious chase to catch the two, passing dropped riders from the frontgroup. Methodically he set about closing the gap and the question was if he would be able to do it without blowing up. It soon became apparent that he had it under control while Aru was struggling to hold the wheel of teammate Landa and LottoNL-Jumbo's Steven Kruijswijk. Halfway up he joined the frontgroup and sat in to take stock of the situation. Seeing that Aru was in bad shape he attacked soon after and Aru had to release his teammate to follow as he admitted that he didn't have it on the day. This formed a frontgroup of Contador, Landa and Kruijswijk who would stay together on the descent and onto the final climb up to Aprica.
In the race behind everyone was fighting their own battle to maintain their GC position. Hesjedal who had been in the early break was following close behind as were Movistar's surprise GC-man Andrey Amador and Katusha's equally surprising GC-man Trofimov. All three were doing amazingly well just behind the best, taking turns going through good and bad patches. Trofimov bombed the Mortirolo descent but then suffered what almost looked like a hunger bonk just after. All three of them came up to, and passed, Fabio Aru on the top part of Mortirolo as the Italian was in deep crisis. At the top of the climb he was 1:45 behind the front trio and fighting a lonely fight. He joined Amador and it looked like he would have an ally for the final bit but then punctured and had to see the Costa Rican leave him behind again. The last bit of the stage took its toll and he lost an additional minute despite a brave effort to limit his losses. He finished 2:51 behind the stage winner.
Landa takes the stage
Kruijswijk was the one to open hostilities in the fight for the stage win with an attack 4 km from the finish. Contador forced Landa to close the gap and the Astana rider did not only that but also countered the attack. Neither Contador or Kruijswijk were able to answer that attack and Landa soon built a healthy gap that was to grow to 38 seconds in the end. Astana and Landa took their second consecutive stage and the Spaniard also leapfrogged Aru into second place on GC and established himself as perhaps the strongest climber in the race. It's hard to discount the massive effort Contador made to rejoin the front though, there is no telling what the outcome would have been without his puncture. At the very least he probably would have given Landa a fight to the line.
In the end the day was a triumph for Alberto Contador as he extended his lead to the nearest Astana rider in second place. That rider is now Landa but since he lost so much time in the timetrial it's all fine for Contador. Landa might be looking strong on the climbs but with a four minute buffer Tinkoff can still feel pretty comfortably in control of the race. Astana look good too to take the two lower steps on the podium unless Aru continues on a downward trajectory, the remaining stages will not forgiving on a rider running out of steam. In truth though Aru never truly fell through completely. He was unceremoniously dropped but he hung on admirably and limited his losses and that bodes well for the coming days. His days as undisputed leader on Astana might be numbered in this Giro though, home race or not.
TOP 10 Stage 16
|1||LANDA MEANA Mikel||ESP||AST||5:02:51||0:00||10"|
|3||CONTADOR VELASCO Alberto||ESP||TCS||5:03:29||0:38||4"|
|10||BETANCUR GOMEZ Carlos A.||COL||ALM||5:06:10||3:19
|1||CONTADOR VELASCO Alberto||ESP||TCS||65:04:59||0:00|
|2||LANDA MEANA Mikel||ESP||AST||65:09:01||4:02|