Astana softening up Contador for the Tour de France?

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.

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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).