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Contador takes first Tirreno-Adriatico mountain stage, Kwiatkowski holds GC lead

Alberto Contador (Spain/Tinkoff-Saxo) emerged triumphant from the first climbing skirmish of the 2014 Tirreno-Adriatico Saturday, pulling himself to within 16 seconds of race leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland/Omega Pharma-QuickStep). The clashes between the big GC men in the final three kilometres made for an exciting spectacle that shed light on the form of several Giro d’Italia favourites.

The day’s six-man breakaway was not only whittled down by the categorized climbs in the stage’s latter half, but also the descent that led to the final ascent to the Cittareale Selvarotonda. Matthias Brandle (Austria/IAM Cycling) nearly crashed in one corner, while Lloyd Mondory (France/Ag2r) overcooked another bend and found himself in the weeds.

The race came together on the lower slopes of the Cittareale Selvarotonda under the impetus of Movistar, but last year’s Giro d’Italia mountains winner Stefano Pirazzi (Italy/Bardiani-CSF) bolted at the 8-km-to-go mark. Pirazzi drew Contador’s Czech teammate Roman Kreuziger and Benat Intxausti (Spain/Movistar) with him, but Kreuziger rid himself of the duo and lit out on his own.

Back in the reduced peloton, Kwiatkowski’s men had to up the pace. A seemingly innocuous dig from a BMC rider prompted Contador, Richie Porte (Australia/Sky), Nairo Quintana (Colombia/Movistar) and Michele Scarponi (Italy/Astana) to fly up the road. What at first appeared like Kreuziger waiting for Contador soon looked like the Czech cracking, but he recovered to come fourth on the day. Kwiatkowski wasn’t too far behind these opening moves.

In the final kilometre – steepest part of the climb – Porte ramped up the action with an attack he couldn’t maintain to the line. Contador and Quintana fought out the win, with the Spaniard taking the spoils. Quintana moved up to third in the GC, 23-seconds back.

Canadian Svein Tuft (Orica-GreenEdge) finished Saturday’s stage in a large autobus over a half and hour behind Contador and now sits in 111th place, 31:06 back.

Sunday’s stage finishes with the murderous Muro di Guardiagrele, an 800-metre wall that averages 26% and has a section of 30%. Even with bonus seconds it might be too short for Contador, Quintana, or fourth place Porte to jump Kwiatkowski. Tirreno-Adriatico ends on Tuesday with a 9.1-km individual time trial.