Contador ahead of Giro d'Italia rivals in opening TTT skirmish

Even if he missed out on victory, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) came away from the opening team time trial in the Giro d’Italia feeling quietly satisfied with Tinkoff-Saxo’s performance.

Despite an organisational error that saw the Spaniard briefly gapped towards the finish, Contador and his Tinkoff-Saxo team still finished ahead of all of the main GC rivals’ teams. Contador was already named the overwhelming race favourite by many fans - and Saturday’s opening ride will have done nothing to damage that status.

Seven seconds behind stage winners Orica-GreenEdge, Tinkoff-Saxo gained six seconds on Fabio Aru (Astana), 12 seconds on Etixx-Quick Step's Rigoberto Urán and 20 seconds on Team Sky and Richie Porte. Given Etixx-Quick Step’s status as double world champions in the team time trial (2013 and 2014), and Team Sky’s string of past TTT victories, including at the Giro d’Italia in 2013, it was a promising start for Contador's men.

Although disappointed to come so close to a victory without actually taking it, especially after clocking the fastest intermediate time, Contador said that there were plenty of reasons to feel satisfied.

“I’m very pleased, not because of the result but because all the team gave it everything they had, we’ve done really well, “ Contador said.

“There was a moment when we got a bit disorganised and a gap opened but I’ve taken some time on all my top rivals. So it’s been a good day for us.” He was not, he said, surprised to gain time “because we’ve got a good squad here.”

“We’re extremely happy with that,” one of the team's key time trial specialists, Tinkoff-Saxo’s Michael Rogers, told Cyclingnews.

“We had the goal of starting as fast as we could and then trying to hold on. We had a bit of a mix up there with a few kilometres to go when Alberto got caught in a bit of a hole.”

The former triple world time trial champion was one of the riders who tried to boost Tinkoff-Saxo’s average speed as they tore into the final chicane. But so late in the day it was hard to regain momentum, the 2014 double stage winner at the Giro said.

“We went from sitting on 58 km/h to about 52km/h for a bit and who knows if that cost us the win. It’s pretty hard to get it back up to race speed at that stage.”

“It would have been great to win the stage, I’m not saying we would have, but we were up for a fight. At the end of the day it doesn’t change for us. I’m not sure on exactly how much time we gained on our GC rivals but you know, every second counts.”

The differences between Contador and his rivals can be measured in seconds, rather than the minutes that tend to decide Grand Tours, but Contador insisted, “That kind of small margin can be important.” Were the differences maintained until the [individual] time trial, he pointed out, that would mean he would start with an initial advantage over this rivals.

The time trial, though, is a long way off, and Contador insisted that he would “have to take things day by day. That seems like something you always say, but you have to be very careful about each stage. “

“La Spezia [on stage 4] and [the summit finish of] Abetone [on stage 5] are maybe the first real tests for the legs, but first we’ve got to get through tomorrow and the day after.”

Before and after the team time trial, Contador said he had time to appreciate the affection the tifosi on the roadsides. “They call me Albetino, Conta, Conti. I’m enjoying it.”

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.