Nairo Quintana will be crowned winner of the 2014 Giro d’Italia in Trieste tomorrow after defending his race lead on a savage 20th stage to Monte Zoncolan won by breakaway rider Mick Rogers.
Quintana was rarely troubled by his rivals on the brutally steep climb to the summit finish and crossed the line alongside his closest rival in the general classification and fellow Colombian, Rigoberto Uran.
Quintana will now take a 3min 7sec lead into the Sunday’s final day, but with the stage expected to be largely processional before finishing in a sprint, he only has to avoid a crash to complete his first Grand Tour victory.
Rogers, meanwhile, formed part of the day’s 19-man breakaway and later rode solo to his second stage triumph of the race and a place in the Giro’s history books as only the fourth different winner on the legendary Zoncolan.
He said afterwards: “It has always been a dream of mine to win a mountain-top finish like that and the Zoncolan is in the history of cycling. It’s an absolute honour.
“The crowd was amazing, the team was amazing. We really wanted to have a chance of a stage win today and we did it, and I’m really proud. It’s steep. It’s one hell of a climb, but it makes it all the more better. To win [here] is what every cyclist dreams of as a child.”
Stage 20 presented the last of the race’s nine summit finishes, but with an average gradient of 11.9 per cent over its 10.1km distance and a maximum of 22 per cent, the fearsome Monte Zoncolan was by far the hardest.
A large escape group full of riders with designs on a famous stage win moved clear early and although they entered the last 60km with a lead of only 3min 30sec, it had grown back out to over seven and a half minutes by the time they reached the foot of the climb and a breakaway winner now looked a near certainty.
Fan thwarts Bongiorno
The group tackled the first few kilometres of the ascent together, but then Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo), who had won stage 11, rode clear alongside Francesco Bongiorno (Bardiani-CSF) and Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) with 6km to go.
Pellizotti also fell away to set up a two-way fight for the win, but then a tiring Bongiorno’s hopes were all but ended when a fan tried to push him up the steep slopes, but instead pushed him into the back of Rogers, forcing the Italian to stop and unclip from his pedals.
The incident gave Rogers a gap that Bongiorno was unable to close, and he was also overtaken by a resurgent Pellizotti in the final 1km.
Back down the road, Uran (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) tried to put Quintana (Movistar) under pressure by asking team-mate Wout Poels to up the pace around 5.5km from the finish, but while the likes of Fabio Aru (Astana), Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) were all distanced by the move, Quintana had no trouble staying on Uran’s wheel and safely saw the rest of the stage out.
Stage 20 result
1 Michael Rogers (Aus) Tinkoff-Saxo, 4:41:55
2 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Androni-Venezuela, +38
3 Francesco Bongiorno (Ita) Bardiani-CSF, +49
4 Nicolas Roche (Ire) Tinkoff-Saxo, +1:35
5 Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing, 1:37
6 Robinson Chalapud (Col) Colombia, +1:46
7 Georg Preidler (Aut) Giant-Shimano, +1:52
8 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Lotto Belisol, +2:12
9 Dario Cataldo (Ita) Team Sky, +2:24
10 Simon Geschke (Ger) Giant-Shimano, +2:34
1 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar
2 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, +3:07
3 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana, +4:04
4 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Europcar, +5:46
5 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r-LA Mondiale, +6:41
6 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo, +7:13
7 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin, +11:09
8 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC, +12:00
9 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Sharp, +13:35
10 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Trek Factory Racing, 15:49