When Alberto Contador won his first Giro d’Italia in 2008, he had plenty of time to savour the moment, as his then-Astana team was deemed surplus to requirements by Tour de France organisers ASO due to its ethical record. This time around, the first leg of the Giro-Tour double complete, Contador had scarcely laid hands on the Trofeo Senza Fine on Milan’s Corso Sempione before thoughts turned to the white heat of July.
“The Tour de France starts now for me. Tonight I'll try as best as possible to rest,” Contador said afterwards – though precisely how much repose he can aspire to at a Tinkoff-Saxo hotel where the team owner has already dyed his hair pink and raised his middle fingers from the podium is anyone’s guess.
“Tomorrow I want to go to Spain, and I’ll spend three or four days there isolated completely before I start work again for the Tour.”
When the Giro route was unveiled in October, it seemed tailor-made for a man looking to peak in both Italy and France, and Contador himself even noted that the battle for pink would only begin in earnest with the stage 14 time trial. Ultimately, however, the Spaniard was forced to race earlier, harder and more often than he could ever have anticipated in a breathless Giro.
On the penultimate stage to Sestriere, Contador’s efforts finally seemed to exact a toll, as he fell back on the Colle delle Finestre and conceded more than two minutes of his overall lead to Fabio Aru (Astana). He later explained that he had suffered from dehydration and begun the stage below his usual weight. It was an ominous sign, perhaps, of how this Giro – the third fastest in history – has depleted his resources.
“It can be interpreted in any way, but today I celebrated on podium,” Contador said of his unexpected late travails, adding that he did not feel that he had made any particular errors in the Giro that he would look to avoid in July.
Contador acknowledged, however, that the exertions of the Giro will inevitably make themselves felt at the Tour. “Winning the Tour could be more complicated, because of the rivals and the efforts of the Giro d'Italia,” he said. “Psychologically you have to prepare for it. It’s complicated to prepare your head after a day like today, but you have to prepare for another race.”
The last time Contador attempted the Giro-Tour double was in 2011, though he would later be stripped of that Giro win when he was handed a retroactive ban for his positive test for clenbuterol at the previous year’s Tour. On that occasion, his sole race days between the Giro and the Tour came at the Spanish national championships. This time around, he is pencilled in to ride the Route du Sud (June 18-21), where he will line up alongside Tour rival Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
“In principle, if I don't make any changes, I’ll go to the Route du Sud,” Contador said. “I'll listen to my body to see how it reacts to rest.”
Aprica wheel change
Contador’s longest answer during his post-race press conference came when he was asked to revisit his wheel change on the descent from Aprica on stage 16, when Astana pushed the pace on the front and forced him into a startling comeback on the Mortirolo.
No puncture was reported on race radio, but Contador stopped to take a wheel from his teammate Ivan Basso on the descent, which was not captured by television cameras. It was reported in some quarters that Basso had then continued riding on Contador’s wheel, though Tinkoff-Saxo later produced a photograph of the punctured tyre.
At a Giro where the UCI tested bikes for motors on at least two occasions, Contador’s frequent bike and wheel changes have generated their own scrutiny. Indeed, the Spaniard reportedly challenged Mario Cipollini over his comments on the matter on RAI television when they met at the start of the penultimate stage in Saint-Vincent. At the start of the final stage in Turin, Contador looked to make light of any insinuations by riding an electric bike from his team bus to the signing-in podium.
“I think it's good to explain, I don’t know about the press, but I've laughed at what I've read,” Contador said in Milan on Sunday evening.
“On Aprica, Basso said we had to descend at the front, in 3rd or 4th, but if we did it fast, it could break up and people would arrive tired at the Mortirolo. At the last moment, Katusha started pulling, so I was in sixth position, behind three Katusha riders and two from my team. After two or three tight curves, I punctured and I said so. I stopped on the right and Basso gave me a wheel, because he knew only he and I had 30-tooth sprockets. He was out of the game, and I continued with my teammates. There are no television pictures because the road was only two or three metres wide and steep. If I’d changed my wheel because of an engine, I’d have done it at the top or at the bottom. The hypothesis seem stupid to me.”