Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) has labelled stage 16 over the Mortirolo to Aprica as the most important of the Giro d'Italia and said that, unlike on his last appearance in 2011, he would like to take hold of the pink jersey as late as possible.
Four years ago, Contador moved into the maglia rosa after taking stage victory atop Mount Etna and he wouldn't relinquish the lead before Milan – although he was subsequently stripped of Giro victory by the Court of Arbitration for Sport after it held up his 2010 positive test for clenbuterol.
"I'd be happy with taking it on the last day. Better than having it for two weeks straight," Contador told Marca. "This Giro is very different to 2011, firstly because of the way I'm planning on tackling it. In terms of the route, there are a lot of mountains, but not so much at the ends of stages. There won't be out-and-out mountain stages until after stage 14."
As ever, the most arduous mountain stages of the Giro are crammed into the final week, with back-to-back summit finishes at Cervinia and Sestriere in the final three days. For Contador, however, the tappone comes immediately after the second rest day, on stage 16 to Aprica.
"The key to the Giro will be the Mortirolo. For me it's the key stage, with the Aprica, Tonale, Mortirolo and Aprica again," Contador said.
On paper at least, the first major rendezvous of the Giro for the general classification contenders is the long time trial from Treviso to Valdobbiadene on stage 14. Contador has been to reconnoitre the 59.4km course and he found a parcours that was less undulating than he had anticipated.
"I went to see the time trial. I thought its climbs would be harder. To give you an idea, I spent about one kilometre out of the saddle. The rest is all in the saddle, because it's not at all technical. It'll be an hour of continuous effort at very high intensity."
When the route was unveiled in October, it seemed well-suited to Contador's aim of completing the Giro-Tour de France double as its principal difficulties are shoe-horned into the second part of the race. Contador warned, however, that the opening week trek down the Tyrrhenian coast won't be without incident.
"There are stages that don't seem so hard and if you look at it, you can see that they are complicated, like the one that finishes in La Spezia on stage four. And we have to be careful with that team time trial on the opening stage," he said. "Abetone [stage 5] and Campitello [stage 8] don't have such difficult gradients the roads are wide, good and very open, so the wind can affect things. One thing is the route and another thing the race."
Contador will line up on Saturday without having raced since the Volta a Catalunya in March, a gap of 40 days. In the intervening period, he has trained at length at altitude on Mount Teide with a number of his Tinkoff-Saxo teammates. "We've given the screw one last turn in terms of hours and climbing," he said. "I'm ready for the challenge."
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