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Landa ends fantastic Astana showing on the brutal Monte Bondone climb by dropping Meintjes in the finale while Evans responds to the attacks from his key rivals to take the overall win

Photo: Sirotti

ASTANA QAZAQSTAN TEAM

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CADEL EVANS

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DOMENICO POZZOVIVO

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FRANCO PELLIZOTTI

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LOUIS MEINTJES

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MIKEL LANDA

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PRZEMYSLAW NIEMIEC

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TOUR OF THE ALPS

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25.04.2014 @ 16:31 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Mikel Landa (Astana) completed an excellent Astana showing in today's final stage of the Giro del Trentino when he took a beautiful solo win on the legendary Monte Bondone climb. The Basque bridged across to Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka) in the final before leaving the South African champion behind while Cadel Evans (BMC) responded to the attacks from all his key rivals to secure himself his first overall win in a stage race since the 2012 Criterium International.

 

In 2011 Mikel Landa stormed onto the professional scene when he beat some of the best climbers in the world to win the Vuelta a Burgos queen stage to the top of the infamous Lagunas de Neila climb. Today the talented Basque proved that while being a rare winner, he knows how to win on the biggest scene as he took a beautiful solo win in the queen stage of the Giro del Trentino to the top of the legendary Monte Bondone climb.

 

Over the last few days Astana had proved that they had the strongest team in the Italian race, with Landa joining forces with Michele Scarponi and Fabio Aru to form a fabulous three-pronged attack. Until today, however, the trio had always come up short against the likes of Cadel Evans (BMC) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r).

 

Today the team had entered the stage with the ambition to win the stage with Aru and defend the youngster's white jersey as best young rider and the Kazakhs took things into their own hands when they hit the Monte Bondone. With Paolo Tiralongo doing a massive amount of work to set up his leaders, the team controlled the proceedings and made it virtually impossible to attack.

 

For a brief moment, the team seemed to be on their back foot when overall leader Evans, Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r), Louis Meintjes and Fabio Duarte (Colombia) escaped but they kept their calm and brought the strong group back. They responded quickly when Franco Pellizotti (Androni) took off and quickly reeled the former Italian champion in.

 

When Meintjes attacked and opened a gap, the team changed tactics. Instead of leading the chase, they sent Landa up the road, with the Basque joining forces with Pellizotti.

 

With Astana no longer setting the pace, the tempo in the group of favourites dropped and it soon became apparent that the stage winner would be one of the three leading riders. Meintjes did a good job to hold off his chasers but when Landa dropped Pellizotti and put down the hammer, his time as race leader was destined to come to an end.

 

Landa caught Meintjes with 2km to go and took a few moments to recover on the wheel of the South African champion before he launched his decisive move inside the final 1.5km. The MTN rider was unable to respond and from there the outcome was never in doubt.

 

Landa quickly opened a  10-second gap and even though he failed to make it any bigger, he didn't lose any ground either. He crossed the line to take his first win in Astana colours while Meintjes held onto second ahead of Pellizotti.

 

Behind, the battle for the GC had been fully on but Evans responded to all attack and crossed the line in 5th behind Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) as part of a trio that also contained Fuarte. As Pozzovivo lost a bit of ground in the finale, he added another 5 seconds to his overall lead and so secured himself his first stage race victory since the 2012 Criterium International.

 

Pozzovivo narrowly held onto second as he held off Niemiec by 11 seconds while Duarte was left wondering what might have been as he finished in 4th equal on time with Niemiec. Tiago Machado (NetApp-Endura) who had started the day in 3rd dropped to 6th while Meintjes completed the top 5.

 

With the Giro del Trentino now done and dusted, the biggest preparation for the Giro d'Italia is over and the grand tour is the next race on Italian soil. Many of the contenders from this week's race will travel to Belgium to line up in Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege while others will finalize their preparations in the Tour de Romandie which starts on Tuesday.

 

The queen stage

The 2014 Giro del Trentino had had lots of climbs so far but the hardest stage was saved for the final day when the riders travelled 175km from Val Daone to the top of the Monte Bondone. The stage was a really brutal affair as it took the riders over two big climbs in the first part of the stage before it all ended on the 21.5km final climb that had an average gradient of 6.3%. The stage was a tribute to Charly Gaul who had won a stage on the climb at the 1956 Giro in a big snowstorm.

 

The race took off without two Lampre-Merida riders as Valerio Conti and Luca Dodi had left the race to travel to Turkey for the national tour of that country. Unlike what had been forecasted, the riders were greeted by excellent weather conditions for the highly anticipated stage.

 

An aggressive start

As it had been the case in the previous stage, the race was off to a very fast start, making it a hard job for Evans' BMC team to keep things under control. At the 9km mark, a big 15-rider group got clear but it was brought back after a little while.

 

At the 17km mark, Diego Rosa (Androni), Leonardo Duque (Colombia), and Alex Dowsett (Movistar) took off and as the peloton slowed down, they were allowed to build a solid gap. After 20km of racing, they were already 1.10 ahead and when they hit the day's first climb, the mighty Passo Carlo Magno, it seemed that the day's break had been formed.

 

Neri Sottoli want the mountains jersey

However, Neri Sottoli wanted to defend Yonathan Monsalve's mountains jersey and so they hit the front, bringing the gap down to less than a minute. Meanwhile, Dowsett and later Duque both got dropped by Rosa who was soon left as the only escapee still up the road.

 

The Italian climber did a fantastic job to reopen his advantage to 1.10 2km from the top and he crested the summit in first position. Behind, Monsalve was beaten into third by Jarlison Pantano (Colombia) but scored important points for the KOM classification.

 

A big chase group

The gap remained stable at around 1.10 when a big group of chasers escaped on the descent. Jose Serpa (Lampre-Merida), Adriano Malori (Movistar); Gianfranco Zilioli, Emanuele Sella (both Androni), Moreno Moser (Cannondale), Philip Deignan (Sky), Angelo Pagani (Bardiani), Duque, Marek Rutkiewicz (CCC), Jacques Janse van Rensburg (MTN-Qhubeka), and Monsalve took off and they caught Rosa to make it a big 12-rider escape.

 

Deignan had only started the day 2.28 behind Evans and so BMC hit the front to control the gap. Monsalve and Rosa briefly got dropped from the break but managed to rejoin their fellow escapees.

 

Duque wins the red jersey

The gap had reached more than 2 minutes by the time the escapees reached the site of the day's intermediate sprint. Duque and Malori had started the day equal on points and so were set to sprint it out for the red jersey. Unsurprisingly, Duque was the fastest, thus taking the win in the sprints competition, while Sella crossed the line in third.

 

70km from the finish the gap had reached 3.30 but that was as much as the escapees would get. BMC kept it between 3.00 and 3.39 for some time until Ag2r joined them to start the chase for real.

 

Astana take control

When Rosa beat Monsalve and Rutkiewicz at the top of the penultimate climb 39km from the finish, the advantage was down to 2.30 as Ag2r and BMC continued their pace-setting. However, it was now time for Astana to show their intentions and when they hit the front, the gap started to melt away.

 

25km from the finish, the gap was 1.18 and when they started the final climb, it was no more than 0.35. Duque was the first to give up while Sella tried to make a solo attack but on the lower slopes of the climb, it was all back together.

 

Zardini drops off

Sella refused to give up as he joined Songezo Jim (MTN-Qhubeka) in a small attack but that move was a short-lived one. Astana set a hard pace that gradually whittled down the main group to around 30 riders.

 

Stage 2 winner Edoardo Zardini (Bardiani) had been riding in the top positions but with 13km to go, he started to suffer and dropped off. The damage was done by Scarponi and Tiralongo who swapped turns on the front while Evans and Bradley Wiggins (Sky) were riding attentively near the front.

 

A dangerous quartet

Tiralongo finally finished his job and this opened the door for attacks. 10km from the finish Evans, Duarte, Pozzovivo, and Meintjes escaped and opened a 10-second gap but Wiggins and Aru rode hard on the front to bring them back.

 

With 9km to go, the main group was made up of Scarponi, Aru, Landa, Pozzovivo, Niemiec, Evans, Steve Morabito (BMC), Wiggins, Pellizotti, Francesco Manuel Bongiorno (Bardiani), Duarte, Meintjes, Matteo Rabottini (Neri Sottoli) and Machado. Sergio Pardilla (MTN-Qhubeka) and Marcos Garcia (Caja Rural) managed to rejoin them while Morabito was now setting the pace for his captain Evans.

 

Meintjes makes his move

Morabito swung off with 7km to go and left it to Scarponi to take over as he tried to set up his younger teammates. That spelled the end for Pardilla who was the next to drop off.

 

Pellizotti launched an attack but Landa hit the front to bring him back while Bongiorno, Rabottini, Garcia and Wiggins fell off the pace. That's when Meintjes made his move and he quickly built up a 15-second gap.

 

Landa and Pellizotti take off

Landa and Pellizotti took off in pursuit while Wiggins, Garcia and Rabottini rejoined the group of favourites. There was no cooperation in the main group and so Meintjes had opened a 30-second advantage with 3km to go while Landa had now dropped Pellizotti and was only 10 seconds behind.

 

While the peloton and Pellizotti both lost ground, Landa gradually got closer and with 2km to go, he joined Meintjes. He recovered a bit before attacking on his own as he passed the flamme rouge.

 

Landa takes the win

He quickly got a 10-second gap while the favourites were now 52 seconds behind. Meintjes did a good job to not lose any more ground but as he didn't get closer either, Landa held on to take a big solo win. eintjes crossed the line in 2nd while Pellizotti narrowly held off the favourites to take 3rd.

 

Evans responded to all the late attacks and took 5th on the stage in the same time as Niemiec and Duarte and so sealed his overall win in the Italian race.

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