By Gregor Brown in Milan
A foreigner has not won the Giro d'Italia in 12 years and it has been even more, 15 years, since the last Spanish winner claimed the maglia rosa. However, 25 year-old Alberto Contador, winner of the 2007 Tour de France, put a Spanish twist into the normally Italian affair.
Back in April, it was hard to imagine that Contador would even ride the Giro d'Italia let alone win it. The Astana rider was busy exacting revenge for his team after it was denied entry into the Tour de France and the Giro by winning the Castilla y Leon and País Vasco. But everything changed when race organiser RCS Sport announced on May 4 that Astana had been given an invitation, just over a week from when the race was set to start. Flash forward, and thousands of supporters could be heard shouting "Contador, Contador" on Milano's Corso Venezia.
The time in between was filled with uncertainty and obstacles for the Spaniard, who had abandoned a mid-season vacation to race the three-week Italian Tour. He had not prepared for the race specifically, as he had done to win the Tour de France. After a somewhat unspectacular team time trial, Contador set about trying to stay out of trouble in the early stages, but then ran into bad luck with a crash in stage eight to Tivoli. Riding on a fractured elbow, he put important time on his rivals before the high mountains started in the stage 10 time trial. He then faced five tough mountain days: three in the Dolomites and, three days later, two in the Alps.
"The most difficult day was the first mountain stage to Pampeago," he revealed after putting on the overall winner's maglia rosa. But the win became possible after surviving the day: "When we crossed the line is when I thought I had the possibility to win."