Zoncolan: As Nairo Quintana raced towards overall victory in the Giro d’Italia on Sunday, Australian dual stage winner Michael Rogers barely drew breath before labelling the 24-year-old Colombian as a rider who could become a “grand champion” of the sport.
Speaking after he won stage 20 of the Giro – 167km from Maniago to the summit of Monte Zoncolan – Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) said he was surprised by the strong finish from Quintana who was poised to become Colombia’s first Giro champion.
“He certainly impressed me. To tell you the truth, after 10 days I didn’t see him as a winner,” Rogers said after soloing to his second stage win of the Giro.
In Saturday’s stage, Rogers finished 38 seconds clear of Italian Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli) and 49 secs ahead of another Italian Francesco Bongiorno (Bardiani) who Pellizotti passed near the end.
The overall favourites finished several minutes behind but Quintana’s 17th place at 4mins 45secs was enough for him to hold on to his overall lead and remain confident of doing so until the race finished in Trieste on Sunday.
Going into Sunday’s final stage – 172km from Gemona del Friuli to Trieste – Quintana’s lead was 3mins 7secs over Uran in second and 4mins and 4secs on Aru in third.
Meanwhile, Cadel Evans (BMC) was eighth overall at 12 minutes flat, after he dropped a place from seventh with 33rd place on the stage at 7mins 20secs.
Asked about Quintana, who finished second in last year’s Tour de France but has focused this season on the Giro – an event in which he hurt his hip in the stage six crash approach to the uphill finish at Montecassino and the flu in the second week, Rogers said:
“It just goes to show you these races are won in that last week, especially the Giro which is a very, very hard race; this Giro in particular.
“With stages like [Saturday’s 20th stage] for light guys who are real climbers or ‘scalatori’ …
“We saw the hill time trial and at this stage, it’s who has the legs and background and talent.”
Pressed on Quintana’s potential, Rogers said: “He still has to do the work at the end of the day, doesn’t he?
“He has even showed the potential to be a grand champion.”
Meanwhile, Rogers will now rest up following the Giro before preparing for the Tour de France that starts in Leeds in England on July 7 and in which the Canberran will be at the services of dual Tour winner, Alberto Contador of Spain.
“Between Roman Kreuziger and myself, I think we can support Alberto in the mountains really well,” Rogers said.
“I think everyone is a little bit nervous about the cobblestones stages. But we have [Daniele] Bennati. We have [Sergio] Paulinho.
“We have a pretty good team, but we need to work hard, create opportunities and take them when they arrive.”
Rupert Guinness has been covering the Giro d’Italia as a guest of Eurosport. Eurosport have been covering every stage live, up to an including Sunday’s final and 21st, Gemona del Friuli to Trieste – 172km – from 10.30pm on Eurosport Channel 511, Foxtel.
*Times are subject to change
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