May 28, 2015 – If there was a stage in the Giro d’Italia where tactical mastery would showcase within the peloton, it was stage 18. Three different riders played a hand against their rivals to come out with considerable outcome, those riders were Alberto Contador, Ryder Hesjedal, and Philippe Gilbert.
Gallery courtesy of Yuzuru Sunada
Firstly, Alberto Contador’s masterclass tactics came when he attacked over the entire train of Astana. This move forced Astana to react, however left them with riders such as Fabio Aru (now unhitched as the leader of Astana) to take up the chase. With Aru showing in the prior Dolomite stages that he can’t follow Contador, who other than Mikel Landa, the inherited leader of Astana, could possibly grasp the uphill speed of the Tinkoff-Saxo rider? No one except for himself. So, Contador strikes in his typical fashion, but Mikel Landa not immediately following is now in the backseat because his team no longer contains the leverage it needs to pull back any sort of gap. All in all, the hesitation of Landa lead to the initiation of a growing separation on the road that only he could possibly have the power to equally pace. Contador scores 1-0 to Landa, adding another minute to his overall lead. This tactic was also used by Contador during stage 7 of the 2014 Criterium du Dauphine. As the final kilometers of the stage approached, Chris Froome’s Sky train of teammates rolled off one-by-one. As Froome’s final lieutenant Richie Porte hit the front, Contador attacked. While Contador soared away, Froome sat behind Porte, continuing at a hard (but not hard enough) tempo. The gap grew, and Froome’s only option was to try to close the gap, though he could only hold the gap Contador initially created by Froome’s hesitation to follow.
As Alberto Contador heads into the Tour de France, his most effective tactical maneuver, riding over his rivals’ lesser lieutenants as they ride the climb, which could boil down to a power/weight ratio, is certainly going to be the key to completing his Giro-Tour double attempt. Contador will force the favorites to duel head to head, and throughout history, this style has tended to work out in his favor.
Aside from Contador, Ryder Hesjedal made a big move in stage 18. Contador sailed away up the climb, yet with only Astana to chase the move. Waiting in the wheels in a group up the road, Hesjedal attacked and joined the moving Contador who had just crested the climb, only to also join teammate Davide Villella on the way down. With Contador looking to extend his lead, Hesjedal looking to leapfrog his overall, and a teammate dedicated to creating the biggest gap, the two GC riders were certain to benefit. Hesjedal now sits in ninth overall, moving up one place in the overall following a perfect display of tactical prowess.
Last but not least, Philippe Gilbert pulled a classic Belgian attack to ride away from the leading group on the road and onto the top step of the podium. As the group approached the final descent into the finish on stage 18, Gilbert made an extremely aggressive attack to create a fast gap over his rivals, prompting them to turn their heads at who would increase the pace to create a chase. As each of his rivals looked about eachother and then began to attack eachother as a response, Gilbert’s gap would open through the full-throttle descent. When the final 10 kilometers of the stage approached, Gilbert’s gap was imminent and now his rivals would ride for second place on the road.