Defending Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre launched a bold bid for victory in Monday’s mountainous 16th stage of the Giro d’Italia.
After 230 kilometres of the 237km slog betwen Pergola and Monte Petrano, and close to seven hours in the saddle, the little Spaniard broke free of maglia rosa Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Danilo Di Luca (LPR) and Ivan Basso (Liquigas), who had earlier tried his own attack. The remnants of two early breakaways were all that stood between Sastre’s 60-kilo body, with his sub-seven kilo Cervelo bike, and victory.
But Sastre wasn’t thinking so much about the stage win. He was thinking bigger, thinking he could win the whole race. ‘I’m here to win the Giro,’ he told cycling.news.com.
‘I wanted to take this opportunity. It was a very long stage, very difficult for the legs. Menchov was pedalling well; Basso (Ivan) seems to be good, (Daniel) Di Luca was also aggressive and combative. I took this opportunity to take as much time as possible.’
Starting the day 2:52 down on Menchov, the 34-year-old Madrid native had a chunk of time to make up and Astana’s Yaroslav Popovych and Damiano Cunego of Lampre still to catch if he were to gain a further 20 valuable bonus seconds for crossing the line first.
Time being all important, there was little of that left for a victory salute atop the 1,101 metre-high Monte Petrano. Finishing 25 and 26 seconds ahead of Menchov and Di Luca, respectively, Sastre leapfrogged from fifth to third overall, but is still 2:19 behind the Russian maglia rosa.
On Stage 17 to Blockhaus and Stage 19 to Vesuvio, an evil pair of savage mountaintop arrivals that he hasn’t yet previewed, Sastre will have 36.5 kilometres to claim the jersey he came here for. Surely, that’s more than enough?
‘Man, honestly, I would like to know,’ Sastre said in his friendly, casual style and with his friendly, casual smile. ‘I would really like to know. If I feel okay, I will try it [to take the maglia rosa]. I came here for a fight, and I will fight to the end.’
At the end of the stage, Sastre had a lead of 25, 26 and 29 seconds over Menchov, Di Luca and Basso.
Barloworld’s South African contingent, John-Lee Augustyn and Robbie Hunter placed 105th and 114th respectively on Monday (38:14 and 48:14) behind Sastre.
In the overall standings they’re 83rd (2:07:58) and 145 (3:34:27) behind the maglia roas.
Said Hunter: ”Eight┬á hours on the bike – – longest I’ve ever done and glad its over! I’m also glad to hear Astana’s Levi Leipheimer (sixth overall) & Lance Armstrong (seven-time Tour de France winner) say it was hard as well!… if I had heard different I might just have stopped racing!