Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) came through a potentially complicated second stage in the mountains in the Giro d'Italia lead for a fifth straight day and with more time gained on one of his key rivals, Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick Step).
Urán was unable to respond when Fabio Aru (Astana) launched a late attack on the second category Passo Serra, with Contador and Richie Porte (Team Sky) following the Italian climber up the road.
Contador then collaborated with Aru to ensure that Urán was distanced as much as possible in the short distance to the finish. Aru finally outsprinted Contador to snatch a second on the Spaniard, eleventh on the line, with Porte in twelfth. Urán lost 46 seconds and is now over two minutes back on Contador.
Given Contador's dislocated shoulder injury three days ago the Spaniard seems satisfied with how he has been able to stay in contention and defend his lead on two difficult stages.
"We were all together on the final climb then when Aru went for it, I thought this was an interesting move, and it turned out to be a good day."
"I would have preferred to ride more conservatively, but Aru asked me to work with him because Urán was dropped and it was important to gain time on him."
"Rigoberto is a very strong rider in the time trials. You can't ever disrespect a rival and far less one as dangerous as Urán" - twice second in the Giro d’Italia, in 2013 and again in 2014.
However, both Aru and Porte have terrain ahead of them in which they may be at an advantage on Contador. "Aru is the strongest climber so far and Richie has the [stage 14] time trial which on paper favours him more," Contador argued.
"However, there's all the mountain stages left to come and an awful lot of things can happen."
It has not escaped Contador's notice that Astana have three riders in the top five and that once again the Kazakh squad were very much on top of their game on stage 9. "They are very strong across the board, and put down a really fast pace when they want to," Contador observed.
However, as Contador pointed out, he has the race lead, and on top of that he has a rest day "which will be good for both my shoulder and my legs. I will try and rest as much as possible."
"I'm pleased because I've got the lead and that means I'm ahead, the injuries and crash were not good, but I've got through two very complicated stages." On Monday's rest day Contador will, he said, go out with his time trial bike to try and ascertain whether his injury requires him to change his time trial position - a sure sign of what he considers to be the next key stage of the 2015 Giro d'Italia.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 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. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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