You can't put a price on the strength of street knowledge. Alberto Contador conceded the maglia rosa after he fell in the finale of stage 13 of the Giro d'Italia to Jesolo, but he remains in the hunt for final overall victory thanks in no small part to the quick thinking of his Tinkoff-Saxo teammate, Matteo Tosatto.
Tosatto has ridden 31 Grand Tours over the course of his professional career, and he brought all of his experience to bear when Contador was brought down in a crash just before the three kilometres to go banner. Spotting Contador on the ground, Tosatto skidded to a halt and carried his bike through the tumult like a cyclo-cross rider, before handing it to the Spaniard and pushing him on his way.
Contador succeeded in limiting his losses on the stage to 38 seconds and though he now trails Fabio Aru (Astana) by 19 seconds overall, the damage could have been far, far worse. Richie Porte, for one, came down in the same incident but hesitancy over how best to replace his bike – he eventually took Vasil Kiryienka's – saw him lose more than two minutes and drop to 5:05 off the overall lead.
"When I fell, my first thought was to find a bike to get to the finish," Contador said afterwards. Enter Tosatto, the man designated by Tinkoff-Saxo as his "bodyguard" in the peloton on flat stages. Hardly coincidentally, RAI television would later delight in showing repeated slow-motion replays of his actions that would not have been at all out of place in a Kevin Costner vehicle.
Contador was speaking to reporters after showering and changing aboard the Tinkoff-Saxo bus, his first time without the podium and press conference duties of the pink jersey since stage 4. Indeed, it marked the first time in his career that he has ever lost the overall lead during a Grand Tour – before now, only the Court of Arbitration for Sport had ever succeeded in stripping him of a leader's jersey.
The Spaniard did not seem unduly concerned at breaking a run that stretches back to the 2007 Tour de France, reasoning, perhaps, that his deficit to Aru is eminently manageable. "I don't think I lost too much in the end, only around 35 seconds or so," he said. Of greater concern, however, is the blow Contador suffered to his left leg in the fall, as well as the lingering effects of the shoulder injury he suffered when he crashed at Castiglione della Pescaia on stage 6.
"My main worry is for my left leg because it seems I hit it against the chainring of another bike," he explained. "The problem after you crash is that it can force you to ride in a very tense position and that can affect you the next day and in the days that follow. And there's still the shoulder injury too."
Earlier in the week, Tinkoff-Saxo directeur sportif Steven de Jongh said that Contador had already planned alterations to his time trial position in the event that his shoulder injury continued to cause him further discomfort. It remains to be seen what impact this latest fall will have on his performance on the long road to Valdobbiadene on Saturday.
The 59-kilometre test promises to be one of the defining moments of this Giro, and though he conceded ground to both Aru and Rigoberto Uran, Contador will set out from Treviso with a significant buffer over Porte, the rival he would have feared the most in the time trial.
"I want to keep thinking positive," Contador said. "I'll try to recover and use a lot of ice packs so the inflammation doesn't get worse, and then we'll see what I can do tomorrow."