Alberto Contador (Astana) moved a step closer to his second Grand Tour victory after extending his Giro d'Italia lead yesterday. The Spaniard finished a credible fourth on the individual time trial to Plan de Corones, a key point in this year's Italian Grand Tour.
The 2007 Tour de France winner's effort put him at a greater advantage over his general classification rivals. The Astana rider extended his lead over Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval - Scott) by eight seconds, while defending champion Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) dropped further back to 2'18".
"It was a new experience for me," said Contador. "I had to use a 34x30 gear. It was necessary to prevent slipping away on some parts where you could not come out of the saddle. This morning I went to check out the climb very early. Honestly, I liked what I saw. This was something for a real climber like me.
"After my performance on Sunday, I was more confident before the start of the race than I had been at the start of Sunday's stage," he added. "Plus today I did not have any technical problem like I did yesterday when I had to do the Marmolada climb with a defective wheel."
Contador said it wasn't only the public that is surprised with his strong Giro showing. "I am surprised as well," said the maglia rosa. "I am happy that I have reached this level with the poor preparation I had. Fortunately, the weather is not too good here. That helps me."
Astana had just one week to prepare a squad for the Italian race and arrive at the event's start in Palermo. The squad had been left out of the event as Giro organiser RCS Sport stood with Tour de France organiser ASO in boycotting the team following a tumultuous 2007.
RCS Sport changed its stance against the team following a string of early season successes that has seen the squad take the ProTour teams ranking lead. Astana took the place of NGC Medical-OTC Industria Porte, which had originally been named to compete in the event.
The Spaniard will use today's rest day to prepare for the remainder of the Italian race, before it commences the run towards its Milano finish on June 1. While Contador holds a 41 second lead over Riccò, he admitted the remaining mountains stages means his lead is anything but secure.
"The Giro is not over yet," said Contador. "I am glad that riders like Di Luca, [Marzio] Bruseghin and [Denis] Menchov lost time, but I have to stay awake for [Gilberto] Simoni and Riccó.
"In theory the final time trial suits me better than them, but some other stages still can put me in difficulties," he added. "Especially the stage with the Mortirolo can be dangerous. Fortunately, I have a strong team. I strongly belief that they all will work for the same goal: bringing that pink jersey to Milano."