By Susan Westemeyer
Andreas Klöden has pledged his support to Astana team-mate Alberto Contador as the Giro d'Italia enters its final week today. Klöden was touted as the Luxembourg team's general classification contendor ahead of this year's Italian Grand Tour, however his Spanish team-mate leads the event heading into today's 17th stage while the German is 8.44 minutes behind.
Klöden spoke highly of his team-mate, labeling him as one of the sport's greats on and off the bike. Contador, who won the 2007 Tour de France, entered the Grio's second week with doubts over his ability to continue with a fractured elbow before exploding into the race lead.
"I will now devote myself to Alberto and the team," Klöden said. "I am sure that he is strong enough to win the Giro. For me, he is one of the greatest talents, if not the greatest, and he surely has many years ahead of him. But, above all, he is a modest and sympathetic team-mate."
Klöden has blamed allergies and a cold for his poorer than expected performance in the Giro. The German was to lead Astana's last-minute lineup, however his efforts have been overshadowed by that of Contador.
"Unfortunately because of the bad weather I came down with an infection and also have to fight my allergies, which means that I can't breathe properly," said Klöden. "The worst of it is that it happened just before the mountain stages."
Writing on his website, Andreas-Kloeden.com, the Astana rider said a lack of food intake hampered his efforts in the Italian Grand Tour's first individual time trial last week. "Then I didn't have any reserves," he said. "So the last part of it was pretty hard. But I was satisfied with my third place finish."
Klöden said his lost 50 seconds on the first mountain stage came down to a tactical mistake. "To be perfectly honest, I hadn't expected an attack from Danilo Di Luca and company so early," he said.
The 32 year-old joined the chorus of riders criticising the race organisers. The early stages of this year's event were overshadowed by long transfers, resulting in unhappy riders.
"Most fans are not aware that our day is not directly over after a stage," he said. "Almost every day we drive 100 km to the start and evenings 150-200 km to the hotel! In the first week we were never there before 8 P.M. Sometime it was 11 P.M. and on the first rest day it was midnight!
"Then, of course, we had a blood control by the UCI at 8 A.M. the next morning," he added. "That all makes it really very difficult to recover or even to get enough sleep."
Astana had just one week to prepare a squad for the Italian race and arrive at the event's start in Palermo. The squad had been left out of the event as Giro organiser RCS Sport stood with Tour de France organiser ASO in boycotting the team following a tumultuous 2007.
RCS Sport changed its stance against the team following a string of early season successes that has seen the squad take the ProTour teams ranking lead. Astana took the place of NGC Medical-OTC Industria Porte, which had originally been named to compete in the event.