it was a day off of sorts for Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) at the Giro d’Italia. After summoning up apparent miracles at Valdobbiadene, the Mortirolo and Monte Ologno in the past week, the maglia rosa adopted a more conservative tack on the road to Cervinia on stage 19, where he was happy simply to track Mikel Landa on the long climb to the finish and yield the stage victory to his Astana teammate Fabio Aru.
Off the bike, too, Contador had a more relaxed schedule. Not for the first time on this Giro, the maglia rosa opted to forgo the one of the duties of his office by skipping the post-stage press conference. The earlier absences came in the days immediately after his crash on stage 6 to Castiglione della Pescaia, but no excuses were offered this time around.
Perhaps he simply felt he had said all that needed to be said.
Contador did, however, talk to the television crews in the mixed zone after the race, and added his own commentary to a day where his actions spoke quite fluently for themselves. In the final week of the race, Landa has been – by some distance – the stronger of Astana’s two pretenders, and Contador opted to quell his fellow countryman’s initial move with 7.5 kilometres remaining but chose not budge an inch in response to Aru’s follow-up attack.
“Both Landa and Aru have been attacking constantly, but Aru was further behind overall and I knew that there was no danger so for me it was the right choice,” Contador said. “In the end, we’ve done a lot of days of racing. The legs are tired and you need to measure your effort. I’m really happy because it’s one day less to Milan.”
Contador and Landa crested the summit together in 6th and 7th place on the stage, 1:18 down on Aru. On Thursday, Landa was restrained in his response to Contador’s decision to attack after he had crashed on the approach to the final climb. On crossing the line at Cervinia, however, he complained to a group of Spanish reporters that Contador had been “trying to create chaos in our team and a war between Fabio and me.”
In the mixed zone, meanwhile, Contador heaped praise upon Aru, who leapfrogs Landa in the overall standings and now lies second overall, 4:37 off the maglia rosa. “Congratulations to Fabio, he was the strongest,” Contador said. “He’s not the future – he’s already the present. I like the way he rides.”
Contador intimated earlier in the race that this may prove to be his final Giro, given that he plans to retire at the end of the 2016 season. There is certainly a sense that the past three weeks – from the crash to the effort on the Mortirolo, from Astana’s constant forcing to the curiosity stoked by his wheel changes – may have taken more out of Contador’s reserves than he had anticipated ahead of the Tour de France.
“It’s complicated,” he said. “The only thing I can say is thanks to everybody for their support. It might be my last Giro but I hope not.”
All that remains to be seen is whether Contador can sign off on his impeding Giro victory – the record books will list it as his second, he will claim it as his third – with a stage win.
“Tomorrow will be a complicated day and the climb of the Finestre is a different kind of climb, it’s much tougher than Cervinia, with steeper gradients,” he said. “I hope that the legs respond, but in any case, there are only two days to go to Milan now.”
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