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Giro d’Italia Stage 20: Alberto Contador poised for overall victory despite showing weakness

Fabio Aru takes penultimate stage, but Contador fights hard to retain the overall lead ahead of the final stage

Alberto Contador is poised to win the Giro d'Italia following a dramatic final stage in which he was dropped by his rivals on the unpaved penultimate climb, the Colle delle Finestre. Fabio Aru took the stage victory, his second in a row at this year’s race.

However, while Aru won today’s 199km stage from Saint-Vincent to Sestriere, Contador managed to limit his time losses to 2m25s and so retains the overall lead ahead of tomorrow's flat run to Milan.

This will be the second time Contador has won the Giro and the third time he has stood on the final podium in pink. He first won in 2008, but was stripped of the 2011 title after being handed a two-year sanction for his positive test for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France.

The penultimate stage of the 2015 edition was far from a procession, however. It delivered spectacular racing befitting an equally spectacular route. On the Colle delle Finestre, an 18.6km climb that was unpaved from halfway up, Contador found himself first isolated and then dropped.

Ilnur Zakarin was out ahead on his own at the foot of the climb and behind, an elite group soon formed. With 32km to go, 5km from the summit – and by now on a surface that was a mixture of gravel and dirt – Mikel Landa attacked. While he would soon reach Zakarin at the head of the race, the defining moment came 3km further on when Ryder Hesjedal launched an attack and Contador was the only rider in the group unable to follow. The Spaniard had been without team-mates for a while and now found himself in a situation where his two Astana rivals were ahead of him on the road.

From here on, the gap could have opened out significantly, particularly once Landa and Aru started working together, but on the descent and shallower slopes of the final climb, Contador fought hard. With around 1.5km to go, Aru attacked the front group to secure a second successive stage victory and second place overall.

Aru said it was special to win on familiar roads.

"There were so many fans encouraging me along the roadside that it was like being at home. We worked at the front all stage. Landa was very strong, and he has done exceptional work for the team these days. I suffered a lot on the Colle delle Finestre but then rejoined Mikel on the descent. This is my second stage win in two days and it still hasn't sunk in, especially after so many days of suffering. I come to Sestriere to train, and I'm very attached to the town, so this win is special for that reason, too."

For his part, Contador is already thinking of his next major target.

"Today was not a great stage for me. I wasn't feeling good, probably because of the accumulated effort, but I knew I had a good cushion in the General Classification and, even though there were plenty of kilometres to go before the finish, I preferred to ride at my rhythm. There was never a moment when I thought the jersey was in danger. I maintained my calm because I knew that the difference in speeds between the groups was going to be small.

"We'll have a good dinner tonight, although I have to watch my weight for the Tour. This Giro d'Italia is in the bag now, with just tomorrow's stage to come, so I'm already thinking of my next target."

The result also meant that Giovanni Visconti held on to take the mountains classification by three points over Mikel Landa with Steven Kruijswijk in third.

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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