In such a climate, the scale of every act and gesture seems somehow magnified, and when Contador briefly danced clear of Aru on the final ascent of the Tre Monti at the end of stage 11, it somehow had the feel of a pivotal moment in the narrative of the race.
And yet when the dust settled at the finish on Imola's famous motor racing circuit 8 kilometres later, nothing had changed. Aru finished safely alongside Contador in the main peloton, and his deficit to the Spaniard remains locked at three seconds. While Contador won this particular round of their duel on points, there ought to be no knock-out blows dealt in the contest until the weekend at the very earliest.
After receiving the white jersey of best young rider on the podium after the stage, Fabio Aru made straight for the Astana team bus, and it was left to his most trusted gregario Paolo Tiralongo, winner of the stage to San Giorgio del Sannio on Sunday, to speak on his behalf afterwards on RAI television's Processo alla Tappa show.
Tiralongo had been part of a resolute Astana guard that surrounded Aru on the finishing circuit in Imola, and the Sardinian had more teammates on hand for the finale than Contador. Yet when the maglia rosa unfurled an attack on the Tre Monti, Aru was unable to match his tempo.
"Today was a very hard stage on a very insidious route. The weather made it difficult and dangerous, so we rode on the front to avoid problems. I was on the front on the final climb because we wanted to help Fabio avoid any nervousness," Tiralongo said of his role in the finale.
Aru climbed out of the saddle when Contador accelerated, but unlike at Abetone a week ago, he was unable to close the gap immediately, and instead it was his teammate Dario Cataldo who responded on his behalf. Contador was eventually reined in over the top of the climb.
"We were expecting it, either from Alberto or from somebody else," Tiralongo said of the attack. "The main thing was to be in front on the descent with Fabio and to get through it all safely."
Aru had cut a glum figure as he made his way through the finish area after crossing the line in 21st place – just behind Contador – though he was able to summon a smile by the time he was feted on the podium in the maglia bianca. Tiralongo conceded that it had been a difficult day but – like Contador, in fact – looked to place it in its proper context.
"He used up a lot of energy out there today, and he got a bit cold, so he preferred to go for a massage and a hot shower as soon as he could," Tiralongo said. "The Giro is still long and there's a time trial coming up, where I think he'll do very well."
The man expected to benefit most from that lengthy test to Valdobbiadene is Richie Porte (Sky), though the time trial takes on a different complexion for the Australian after he was docked two minutes for accepting a wheel change from Orica-GreenEdge's Simon Clarke following a puncture in the finale of stage 10.
Tiralongo viewed the incident with the pragmatic eye of a man who has spent the past fifteen years deployed as a domestique. "What Clarke did was a beautiful gesture," Tiralongo said. "But 8 kilometres from the finish, you need a teammate beside you to give you a bike straightaway."
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.