It was to be Landa versus Nibali, it’s becoming Landa against everyone. Giro del Trentino Melinda’s stage 3 from Sillian to Mezzolombardo offered a spectacular clash between the strongest men on the Fai della Paganella ascent, the last difficulty of the day before the finish in the heart of the Rotaliana area. Landing the spoils was Astana’s Estonian Tanel Kangert, one of Nibali’s trusted domestiques, who managed to leave the company of the restricted group selected on the climb and the following descent with only one neat kick, with 1 km to go. Patrick Konrad (Bora-Argon 18) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) had to stand with 2nd and 3rd, edging at 10 seconds the chasing group including – among others – Jakob Fuglsang (Astana, 4th) and Mikel Landa (Team Sky, 6th).
Plenty of Astana and Ag2r men, against only one from Sky in the leading group on the 10 km long Fai della Paganella climb, that offered a tasty appetizers of what we will see in about a month, in Giro d’Italia stage 16. The GC leader Mikel Landa was soon left alone among his strongest opponents, who attacked him thick and fast, but appearently never affected the composure of the Spaniard, who looked the strongest uphill along with Dane Jakob Fuglsang, the new protected leader of the Kazakh team while Vincenzo Nibali (21st today at 2.45) is still looking for the best rhythm. Plenty of attacks came from Fuglsang himself, from Kangert, Frenchmen Peraud and Bardet, Pozzovivo, young Colombian Bernal, Pirazzi. Landa always replied in first person, looking comfortable and confident in his strong legs.
“Today it wasn’t that easy, actually – the Spaniard said, on his second day in the leader’s jersey – I managed to control on the climb, but in the descent and the last flat section I had to keep my eyes open: the gaps are still pretty little, and with time bonuses at the finish you don’t need that much to see some good advantage vanish. Also today, several rivals showed they can be dangerous – Fuglsang, and beyond – and tomorrow I know I will be attacked again: and for me, attacking might be the best defense.”
Meantime, today it was the day of 29-year-old Estonian Tanel Kangert, another of Nibali’s men for his next assault to the Giro d’Italia, and who – just like Valerio Agnoli on day one – has found at the Giro del Trentino Melinda the best possible reward for his huge work as domestique, particularly in the Grand Tours. “I am not so much used to winning, indeed, but I know what my dimension as a rider is, and my goal is to be one of the best domestiques in the peloton, but today the team left the options open, and I was good and lucky to seize the opportunity. Fuglsang was clearly the strongest in our team today, and honestly I was not brilliant on the climb too. In the finale, though, I managed to come back and I opted to try only one kick, with all that I had left. And it worked out.”
Kangert knows very well the GC leader, his former teammate Mikel Landa, and realizes that unseating him from the top spot won’t be easy: “We will have to be creative: if we don’t put in an aggressive and unpredictable strategy, it will be tough to drop Mikel.”
Before the Fai della Paganella, 10 breakaway riders took the center stage, including home-favorites Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon 18) and Iuri Filosi (Nippo-Fantini), new red jersey Antonio Molina (Caja Rural), and the brave Brazilian Magno Nazaret (Brazil), who deservedly claimed the most combative rider’s jersey.
If today it was a great show, get ready for fireworks tomorrow: fourth and final stage, 161 km from Malè to Cles (live TV from 15.00), with the feared Forcella di Brez (6 km at an over 10% average gradient) looming over the ambitions of the podium contenders. It will be the ultimate test for Mikel Landa: the last obstacle between him and his Giro del Trentino Melinda crown.