(Reuters) - Barring a crash in Sunday’s final stage, Alberto Contador is poised to win the Giro d’Italia after the Spaniard limited the damage on the 20th stage, a punishing 199-km trek from Saint-Vincent to Sestriere on Saturday.
The Tinkoff-Saxo rider, who won the race in 2008, lost touch with his main rivals in the penultimate climb, up the narrow dirt roads to the Colle delle Finestre, but retained the overall leader’s pink jersey.
At the end of the final ascent to Sestriere, Contador was sixth, two minutes 26 seconds behind stage winner Fabio Aru of Italy, who is second overall, two minutes two seconds behind with only one flat stage left to Milan.
“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 kilometers to go before the finish, I preferred to ride at my rhythm,” Contador told reporters.
“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.
“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.”
Contador is looking to become the first rider to achieve a rare Giro/Tour de France double since the late Marco Pantani in 1998.
On Saturday, Aru jumped away from a small leading group with just under two kilometers left and did not look back, claiming his second stage win in as many days.
Canadian Ryder Hesjedal of Cannondale-Garmin was second, 18 seconds behind, and Colombian Rigoberto Uran finished third, 24 seconds off the pace.
Spain’s Mikel Landa, Aru’s Astana team mate who looked the strongest rider in the field in the climb to Colle delle Finestre, remained third overall, 3:14 behind Contador.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ed Osmond