Let's start with something there's a bit of an argument over. How many Giro d'Italia has Alberto Contador won? He clearly thinks it's three but the UCI records says it's only two as he was disqualified from the 2011 results.
The way I look at it, Contador rode that race, was tested if and when the controllers thought fit and he had the pink jersey at the end of it. So he won the 2011 edition and if he shouldn't have been there because of the previous Tour de France clenbuterol affair then that ought to have been decided quickly. Not a year and a half later.
As in 2008, this year saw him with no individual stage success, which is kind of annoying but hardly devastating in the grand scheme of things. I'm sure Astana would gladly swap all their stage wins for the final top step of the podium if they were given the choice.
It's too late, though, because Contador's individual strengths proved greater than the Kazakh team's numerical superiority despite the shoulder injury, his lack of teammates in the finale of the uphill finishes and rivals willing to exploit mechanical mishaps. After all the Giro wouldn't be properly Italian without a bit of treachery and drama.
So when things got dirty for the race leader on the Colle delle Finestre it was entirely fitting that Astana took advantage and put Contador in trouble. Or was he?
Contador certainly didn't like the road surface on the way up to the Cima Coppi, the highest point of the whole race. He appeared to be struggling as he couldn't climb out of the saddle as much as he likes to because of the poor traction on the loose gravel and he didn't help himself by choosing some really bad lines on the inside of the bends where the cars had cut up the surface even more.
He was suffering, of that there's no doubt, but I don't think he cracked in any significant way. I think he recognised he was about to go too deep into the red to keep following all the accelerations and he decided to let the others go and then manage the situation.
He lost 50 seconds by the summit but then held that gap for all of the descent and most of the valley towards Sestriere. You can't do that if you've cracked, not with a slight headwind, slightly uphill and the other GC guys still riding strongly.
It would have been fatal for Contador if he was in a bad way. I think he bluffed a bit, let Astana and Nibali think he's more vulnerable than he really is. Tour de France mind games start way before the prologue and that, with a temporary moment of difficulty, is what we might have seen on stage 20.
It would have been more worrying for Tinkoff if Astana had told Mikel Landa to wait for Fabio Aru sooner, or Aru had ridden with Hesjedal and Kruisjwijk straight away, but neither did what they had to do soon enough and the chance was lost. They missed a slim opening to really pressure Contador and win the race so that was another error they, the Astana collective, have to learn from.
It's often said it's not how good you are on your good days which matters but how good you are on your bad ones, and that was never more true for this Giro's GC hopefuls.
Aru had his bad spell after around the second rest day, Landa's time trial let him down and Hesjedal and Kruisjwijk came out of the first week way behind/Kudos to them although they all recovered remarkably.
Fabio Aru is progressing very well, third last year , second this and still only 24. He has a very bright future as does Mikel Landa, who surely won't be on the market for long if he doesn't stay at Astana . Is he the successor to Contador? Well that's hard to tell, but he looks a solid athlete who, with some work on his time trial, will be a real threat.
With the Tour de France on the horizon, it'll be interesting to see if the French Tour can be as exciting and dramatic as the Giro has been. Of course every team will field their A team for the most important race on the calendar, but if there are lessons to be taken from what we've just seen from the boys in blue at Astana, the other GC teams like Tinkoff, Movistar and Sky will have to be at the top of their game.
With so little individual time trialling, the climbing aspects of each team leader will take on a decisive role so getting those guys to the mountains safely and still in decent shape will be vital.
Anybody else wondering what will happen to Oleg Tinkov's pink hair if Alberto Contador also wins the Tour? My Photoshop skills aren't good enough but I'm sure there's someone out there who can put together a little montage of our favourite Russian team boss sporting a suitable design on his head. #battenberg
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Robert Millar was one of the last pure climbers of the Tour de France, winning several stages in the mountain stages and finishing fourth overall in 1984. He is also the only English speaker to have ever won the prestigious polka-dot jersey climber's competition jersey.
Millar retired in 1995 but has continued to follow the sport closely. He was often critical of the media and quickly cuts through the excuses and spin to understand why and how riders win and lose.
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