Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) extended his overall lead in the Giro d'Italia to almost five minutes but on the podium in Nevegal, his first thought was for Xavier Tondo, who died in Spain on Monday.
Contador climbed on the podium as the stage winner and was close to tears as he symbolically pointed to the sky. He pointed again after pulling on the pink jersey and had little desire to celebrate his first-ever stage victory while wearing the maglia rosa.
"His death has affected me deeply," he said. "Xavi was a good friend and in the last few race we always worked together for the victory. He was very good guy, always happy and he was an incredible person. This victory is for him."
Contador carefully paced his effort during the 12.7km mountain time trial. He did not take risks on the early downhill section but then gradually upped the pace on the steep middle section of the climb. He set a final time of 28:55 and was the only rider to go under 29 minutes.
"I took it steady in the opening kilometres and then got into my rhythm," Contador said. "Then I went as fast as I could. I knew I was three seconds faster than Nibali and so I was in control but it was a hard climb.
"This is my first win in pink and like winning in yellow at the Tour de France or at the Vuelta, it's something I'll never forget. It's always nice to lead a race, be it a small race or a big one. I've had a lot of text messages and congratulations and that's nice. But this is a hard race and I'm suffering. But I'm also enjoying it, too."
Contador refuted the idea that Nibali and Scarponi are now racing for second place and is expecting more attacks in the final mountain stages.
"The time difference is good now. But I think they think they can still win. I don't know what tomorrow's stage is like. I know there are always chances for people to attack on the climbs but I'm not worried if they attack on the descents."
Questions about Hamilton and Armstrong
Contador was also asked how he thought cycling fans would and should react to the recent confession by Tyler Hamilton and his accusation against Lance Armstrong.
"The confession does not affect today's peloton and I think people should believe in the sport," he said with a serious voice.
"It's not a question you should ask me. I think we have to live in the present and nothing else. I thank the tifosi who are still out in the cold and rain. That's the important thing."
An Italian journalist reminded Contador of Lance Armstrong's tweet during the 2009 Paris-Nice, when he said Contador still had a lot to learn. However he refused to be provoked into criticising Armstrong.
"I think life is a long story, so you learn things ever day. You learn new things day after day and from different situations," he said, perhaps thinking about the loss of Xavier Tondo.
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