Astana softening up Contador for the Tour de France?

Tinkoff’s Giro leader is aware that he must preserve his resources for July

Wednesday's Giro d'Italia stage into Lugano should have been a "transition" day between high-mountain tests. However, in a race where the meaning of that word appears to have been forgotten, it was yet another stage of frantic action and high speeds.

Speaking at the finish, race leader Alberto Contador confirmed, "In this Giro even the transition stages like this one have been tough, in this case because of the wind. It's turning out to be a much harder race than I was expecting."

Contador added: "I need to preserve my resources because within five weeks there's another very tough race in store for me and I'll pay there for any excesses."

Writing in El País, distinguished columnist Carlos Arribas suggests Contador's Tour de France has effectively already begun. He reports rumours circulating in the Giro pressroom that Astana's riders have been riding flat out in order to sap Contador as much as possible prior to the Tour, where Astana's Vincenzo Nibali will, of course, start as defending champion.

It is clear that Astana have spent a surprising amount of time pushing the pace on the front of the peloton, even when there appeared to be no need to do so. Their decision to assist Katusha in upping the pace in the peloton after Contador had punctured on Tuesday’s stage over the Mortirolo also raised eyebrows.

Astana's double stage winner Mikel Landa has said this pressing will continue as he and Fabio Aru attempt to find a chink in Contador’s armour. "We will both work together to take the battle to Contador, especially in Friday and Saturday's stages," said Landa.

Meanwhile, Astana DS Giuseppe Martinelli has acknowledged that he has asked his riders to make the going as tough as possible, although he insists this has not been done primarily to discomfort Contador.

"I've been criticised for this, but those critics don't understand at all. I know, because I know him, that if Contador says he's going to win a race and he is prepared for it then it is impossible to defeat him. Therefore my tactics, which actually favour rather than trouble him, have been employed to make things more difficult for rival riders who could challenge us for positions of honour," Martinelli has explained.

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