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Astana softening up Contador for the Tour de France?

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Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo)

Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo)
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Alberto Contador and Fabio Aru ride together briefly

Alberto Contador and Fabio Aru ride together briefly
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Alberto Contador stayed safe in the bunch during stage 17.

Alberto Contador stayed safe in the bunch during stage 17.
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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Alberto Contador on the stage 17 podium.

Alberto Contador on the stage 17 podium.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Polartec-Kometa)
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Giuseppe Martinelli happy with the Astana team's ride in the Giro d'Italia

Giuseppe Martinelli happy with the Astana team's ride in the Giro d'Italia
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Wednesday's Giro d'Italia stage into Lugano should have been a "transition" day between high-mountain tests. However, in a race where the meaning of that word appears to have been forgotten, it was yet another stage of frantic action and high speeds.

Speaking at the finish, race leader Alberto Contador confirmed, "In this Giro even the transition stages like this one have been tough, in this case because of the wind. It's turning out to be a much harder race than I was expecting."

Contador added: "I need to preserve my resources because within five weeks there's another very tough race in store for me and I'll pay there for any excesses."

Writing in El País, distinguished columnist Carlos Arribas suggests Contador's Tour de France has effectively already begun. He reports rumours circulating in the Giro pressroom that Astana's riders have been riding flat out in order to sap Contador as much as possible prior to the Tour, where Astana's Vincenzo Nibali will, of course, start as defending champion.

It is clear that Astana have spent a surprising amount of time pushing the pace on the front of the peloton, even when there appeared to be no need to do so. Their decision to assist Katusha in upping the pace in the peloton after Contador had punctured on Tuesday’s stage over the Mortirolo also raised eyebrows.