What a difference a day makes. Especially at the 2015 Giro d'Italia.
On Thursday Fabio Aru (Astana) crossed the finish line with a grimace on his face after losing time to Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). Twenty-four hours later the battle for the pink jersey had flipped yet again after a high-speed crash 3.2km from the finish in Jesolo. Contador was delayed, losing 40 seconds, and so Aru pulled on the maglia rosa.
Aru celebrated on the podium but continued to warn that the Giro d'Italia only ends in Milan on May 31, knowing that Contador is likely to take back pink in Saturday's 59.4km time trial, while he could suffer and lose several minutes. However for now, his grimace was replaced by a smile as he became the first Sardinian rider to ever pull on the maglia rosa.
"During the 21 days of the Giro anything can happen," he said in the post-race press conference. "I went close to taking it many times on different stages and never got it. The weather makes what seem like easy stages very complicated. I knew I had to stay up front with my teammates and I managed to avoid the crash.
"It's incredible to have the maglia rosa. When I started racing in 2005 and then on road in 2009, you fall in love with it and dream about pulling it on one day.
"I know that all of Sardinia is following me and people in Italy too. It's nice and I hope that it helps young people start cycling. There's a sea between Sardinia and the mainland but I hope I'm showing that if make the sacrifices you can make it."
Mysterious problems on the road to Imola
Aru now leads Contador by 19 seconds, with teammate Mikel Landa third overall at 1:14. Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep) also avoided the crash and is now sixth overall, 2:02 back and still an overall contender, with Saturday's time trial in his favour.
Aru seemed on the ropes after the stage to Vicenza, revealing that his SRM data indicated it had been one of the toughest stages of the entire Giro. He admitted that he "hadn't been well two days ago" but then corrected himself after some kind of Freudian lapse.
"Lets say I had a lack of sugars, a lack of energy," Aru said. "I made a mistake when I said two days ago.
"You can't drop your guard in stages like this at the Giro. According to my SRM data, the Imola stage was when we went the hardest and it was in the rain. But I'm still up there and anything can happen."
Pessimistic about the time trial
Aru will start Saturday's time trial last of all and have the marginal advantage of knowing his rivals' times at the intermediate checks. He also no longer has to fear Contador catching him during the stage, with the Spaniard now starting three minutes ahead of him.
Despite having the pink jersey, Aru remained remarkably pessimistic about holding onto it after the time trial.
"I don't know what will happen," he said.
"I've worked for the time trial, it's a different time trial to those of recent years. It's long and unusual. We also ride it after 13 hard stages, in the heat and now in the cold. I think it'll all depends on what energy we have in our legs at the start. I'll give it everything but we'll only know what will happen after the stage, not before it.
"It's an advantage to know the times of the riders who start before me but everyone will give it their all. The differences will depend on the energy you have in your legs. The pink jersey won't make a big difference."
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