Contador surprised by buffer as Giro d’Italia enters final week

'Stage victory is secondary,' says Spaniard

Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) is seemingly without rival at this Giro d’Italia, to such an extent that during his rest day press conference in Giustino on Monday, he was asked how his 24-year-old self might have attempted to overhaul such a sizeable deficit in the final week of racing.

“Es complicado,” Contador grinned. “It’s complicated. At the end of the Giro we can speak about it again.” The subtext to the question, of course, is that Fabio Aru (Astana) carries fading home hopes in second place overall, but with an advantage of some 2:35 over the youngster, Contador is almost in a race of his own.

Certainly, Contador did not anticipate that he would be in such a dominant position with six stages and the toughest mountains of the race still to come. Prior to the Giro, he had anticipated that the race would only truly begin with the stage 14 time trial to Valdobbiadene. Instead, with Richie Porte (Sky) already removed from contention, the Spaniard placed a significant down payment on final overall victory in Prosecco country.

“I didn’t imagine I’d have an advantage like this at this point in the race,” he admitted. “It’s true that I was thinking that this last week would be my opportunity to take the maglia rosa. Right now I’m happy with my position, it’s better than I’d hoped for. But there’s still a long way to go.”

Contador spent the rest day at the Olympic Royal Hotel, which has hosted Juventus for their pre-season training camps in summers past, and he met with reporters on Monday afternoon in a basement conference room decorated with murals of Michel Platini and Zbigniew Boniek. Their European Cup-winning team of 1985 had the tendency to rack up big home wins in their ties, and then grimly defend that advantage in the second leg.

If anything, Contador faces into home territory now as the Giro enters the high mountains – and visits his adopted city of Lugano to boot – but like Giovanni Trappatoni’s squad of 30 years ago, caution will be his byword as he closes out the race. Garlanding his seemingly impending triumph with a stage victory is a luxury rather than an obligation, particularly as he has another pressing fixture, the Tour de France, still to come in July.

“Winning a stage would be secondary. You can’t put the overall at risk just to win a stage,” Contador said. “If it happens, that’s great, but the priority is the general classification. To win a stage would require a big effort, more than one hour of effort. And that’s a lot, just thinking about this week, never mind the other races to come.”

At Madonna di Campiglio on Sunday, Contador found himself isolated in the front group with five Astana riders, yet he dealt comfortably with that numerical disadvantage, prompting Aru to concede that he is the strongest rider in the race. He shrugged when asked if his pre-eminence over the rest was as much mental as physical.

“Well, the difference in the time trial was the legs, but I’ve ridden a lot of Grand Tours and it’s important to take care of all the small details. Aru’s a great rider and he will do great things in the future, and there’s still a long way to go here,” Contador said, later suggesting that his fellow countryman Mikel Landa – fourth at 4:46 – was just as viable a threat. “If Landa is given a degree of freedom then he could be on the podium.”

Despite his protestations that he wished to concentrate only the Giro, Contador was pressed on the notion that he might be tempted to add the Vuelta a España to his programme in a bid to win all three Grand Tours in the one year. He deftly avoided giving a direct answer. “My only thought is for the Giro now, and then recovering afterwards before the Tour,” he said. “If the Tour doesn’t go well, or if I have a crash like last year or something, then maybe I could go to the Vuelta.”

Facing the Mortirolo to Aprica

Before contemplating any further conquests, Contador must first face the tappone of this Giro, Tuesday’s 174-kilometre haul over the Campo Carlo Magno, Passo Tonale and the Mortirolo to Aprica. Though Contador pointed to the Zoncolan as the toughest climb he had faced in his professional career, he paid due deference to the mighty Mortirolo, with its gradients that of 18 per cent.

“My first memory of it is from the 2008 Giro when I was trying to keep the jersey but I was only four seconds up on [Riccardo] Riccò,” he said. “That was a hard day but I overcame it and kept hold of the maglia rosa. We didn’t go up the Mortirolo in 2011, but I went there last year for the RH8 Gran Fondo. In general it’s a climb that I like. It’s very hard, it’s a climb where you can make the difference. But we’ll see what happens, because it’s the day after the rest day and there’s a tough climb before it too.”

Contador was later asked whether his level at this year’s Giro was motivated by memories of the 2011 victory that was later stripped from him by the Court of Arbitration for Sport after it belatedly sanctioned him for his positive test for Clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour. Given the décor, it was perhaps a fitting question.

Juventus were stripped of two league titles as a consequence of the Calcipoli affair that shook Italian football in 2006, but while the official records state that they have won 31 scudetti, the Turin-based club itself counts 33. Contador, one senses, believes that victory in Milan next Sunday would mark his third Giro win.

“People who saw the 2011 Giro know what happened,” he said. “I’m just enjoying this Giro like the other two.”

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