Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) may have seemed like he was from another planet on the slopes of Mount Etna on stage 9 of the Giro d’Italia, but the new maglia rosa delivered his opinions on the day’s events in rather less celestial surroundings.
He faced the media in an impromptu press conference held under a gazebo next to the finish line, with reporters huddled around a beaming Contador, wrapped up against the wind. After such an exhibition of dominance, the question on everyone’s mind was a simple one – is the Giro d’Italia already over?
“No, the Giro has just started,” Contador insisted politely. “It’s really hard and anything could happen in this race.”
With his prime challengers Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) 1:21 and 1:28 behind, respectively, the Spaniard is not yet out of sight, especially with such a demanding two weeks still to come.
However, the ease with which he ripped clear of the group of favourites and the emphatic way in which he deposited Scarponi from his back wheel were proof that Contador is on song, even if his post-race comments were typically low-key.
“I’m very happy as I showed I have good legs,” he said. “It was risky, but it went well.”
The climb of Etna is by no means the most demanding of this Giro, with the opening half of the haul to the summit little more than a lengthy drag. As Lampre-ISD pulled the group of favourites up from the base of the volcano, Contador knew that he would have to bide his time before looking to snap the elastic.
“I was keeping an eye on Scarponi,” Contador said. “I knew that I would have to attack between the 8km to go mark and 5km to go.”
And so it came to pass. With a little of 6km to race, Contador duly surged to the front of the group of favourites. Scarponi bravely – or foolishly, depending on how you look at it – attempted to follow, grinding a big gear, but ultimately he wilted under the ferocity of Contador’s acceleration.
While Jose Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) put up stout resistance until the final steep pitch to the top, Contador paid him little heed, and was to all intents and purposes alone against the mountain and the rising winds.
“It was a very risky climb because there was a very strong wind,” Contador explained.
Pistolero no more?
Contador kept his emotions largely in check on crossing the line, with the trademark pistolero gesture conspicuously absent. When quizzed after the finish, however, he explained that there was no mystery as to why the pistol stayed in its holster – he simply didn’t know if he was at the head of the race.
“I didn’t know if there were still some riders ahead of me,” he smiled. “I didn’t think about the pistol at all but I hope to be able to do it another day.”
Regardless of what he knew about his position on the road, Contador must have known that he was riding into the overall lead as soon as he felt his rear wheel wriggle clear of Scarponi’s grasp.
“I hadn’t thought about taking the pink jersey today,” he said. “The important thing was to try and make the difference on the rest of the riders. From the day after tomorrow, anything could happen with this maglia rosa.”
Looming over Contador’s Giro, of course, is the spectre of the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s deliberations over his positive test for Clenbuterol at last year’s Tour de France. With a decision not expected until June, Contador is free to race and he dedicated his win on Etna to those who have supported him since news of the case broke last September.
“The support of my fans has been incredible, they are the ones who gave me the strength to continue training,” he said. “I also dedicate it to my family, who has lived everything I have gone through at close quarters and to my team, which has supported me in the best way possible.”