A blazing and unexpected attack by Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) five kilometres from the stage 5 finish in Abetone has both netted the Spaniard his first maglia rosa of the 2015 Giro d’Italia and confirmed that he is already hitting top form in the first week of the race.
Some observers, like Giro d’Italia 1990 winner Gianni Bugno, had suggested that Contador might not be in such good shape so early in the race because of his focus on doing the double. But Contador’s move was strong enough briefly to gap two other top contenders, Fabio Aru (Astana) and Richie Porte (Team Sky), although both they and then Astana’s Mikel Landa would then get across.
After Contador did most of the initial damage, Landa did most of the work on the final five kilometres, bringing the trio of overall contenders to the line well ahead of Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-QuickStep), who missed the move and then lost time for the second day running. Although the stage win was out of the question, Contador finally snatched fourth on the stage behind Aru, enough to move into the pink jersey by two seconds on the Astana climber.
Contador was adamant that it was not too soon for a spell in the leader’s jersey, although he also made it clear that he had no intention of keeping it for more than a day. “It would soon if we were trying to keep it all the way to Milan, but we’re here to try and fight for the victory on the last day.
“I see this as a gift, something for me to wear tomorrow, and then after that another rider” - although obviously Contador and Tinkoff-Saxo will try to ensure the rider is no threat longterm - “can take it.”
“My attack wasn’t planned. I was there, I looked around at the other riders, and although I wasn’t feeling absolutely at 100 per cent, sometimes I get restless in the peloton.”
Contador therefore seemed more to see taking the maglia rosa so early in the race as a brief but important boost to his morale, rather than a foundation stone for a final victory. But even if Aru is snapping at his heels on GC and Porte’s 20-second time loss is still very minor, Contador’s margin of 1:22 on Urán, given the Colombian’s time trialling is so strong, is a definite advantage so early in the race.
Asked whom he sees as his strongest rival, Contador said - with a grin - “Astana! Really, though, it’s both Aru as a climber, who will have to take every opportunity he can, and Richie [Porte] because he has the time trial [on stage 14] in his favour.”
As for Urán, Contador was by no means ruling him out of the GC fight either. Rather Contador argued that the early developments in the Giro d’Italia are what the Spaniard called an aperitivo - although some would say that if events so far have simply whetted Contador appetite for the rest of the race like good aperitivos are supposed to do, the Tinkoff-Saxo leader must be feeling fairly hungry.
“It’s surprising that Rigoberto has lost so much time in so few stages,” Contador reflected, “but there’s still plenty of racing to come.”
As for Porte and how he viewed his former Australian teammate after five days of having Porte as a direct rival, Contador argued “he’s not changed so much as a rider, but he’s a lot more experienced and a lot thinner. His strong point is going to be the time trial.”
No Giro d’Italia would be complete without a dose of polemica and with rumours of motorized bikes swirling in the peloton, Contador was briefly questioned over his bike change late in the stage and whether such bike changes were bad for the image of cycling . He took the question good-humouredly but brushed it aside, saying “My bike doesn’t have three motors, it has five! The whole thing about motors is a joke, it comes from the world of science fiction.”
Much more tangible, though, was the pink jersey resting on Contador’s shoulders even before the first week of the Giro d’Italia is complete. “It’s like a present”, he repeated, “It’s an honour to be wearing it.”
“It was certainly a very fast stage, and I wasn’t expecting it to be so selective but Alberto really threw the cat amongst the pigeons there with that attack,” Contador’s teammate Mick Rogers added. “It certainly wasn’t planned, it was a spur-of-the-moment thing.
“I think you can read a lot out of that, he’s obviously feeling very good and very confident.” As Rogers pointed out, the climb was not an ideal finish for Contador, “he’d be better on one that was much steeper, much harder. But you know, he’s motivated, the team’s motivated, and we’re having a good time.
“You never know which way the wind’s going to blow with Alberto and that’s what's so good about him. He’s so passionate about it, and when he’s feeling good, he attacks.”
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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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