Après lui, le déluge? Not just yet, but as a biblical rainstorm fell over Monte Berico at the end of stage 12 of the Giro d'Italia, there was a sense that the race is gradually tilting towards Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).
Contador helped himself to second place behind Philippe Gilbert (BMC) on the stage and claimed a six-second time bonus in the process to give himself just a little more breathing room at the top of the general classification ahead of Saturday's crucial time trial to Valdobbiadene.
As an added bonus, the Spaniard managed to shake off all of his general classification rivals on the final kick up to the line, putting eight seconds into Fabio Aru (Astana) to stretch his overall lead out to 17 seconds.
Contador's two other most dangerous rivals – by reputation rather than by current position on general classification – fared somewhat better on the stiff final haul to the basilica overlooking Vicenza, though both Richie Porte (Team Sky) and Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-QuickStep) still conceded three seconds on the road and six more in bonuses to the Spaniard.
Porte, of course, suffered more painful losses already this week, and the nine seconds coughed up here feel like small change compared to the two minutes he was docked on Tuesday after accepting a prohibited wheel change from Orica-GreenEdge’s Simon Clarke. He remains 12th overall, now 3:18 down on Contador.
Given the cloudburst at the finish, Porte was understandably in little mood to stand on ceremony after he crossed the line in 12th place on the stage. Like most others, he turned and descended immediately to the sanctuary of his team bus, parked at the bottom of the hill.
Porte's disappointment at losing more ground to Contador will be tempered somewhat by what he gained over Aru, while directeur sportif Dario Cioni pointed to the presence of both Leopold König (10th overall at 2:44) and Mikel Nieve in the front group in the finale as an encouraging sign.
"The guys looked in control. There were quite a few crashes on the descent," Cioni said, according to the team's website. "Richie did well to be in the front group and then we were able to get more guys in the group for the final. The second half [of the stage] was also tough because you had the climb and the bad weather came in. That made it quite a tough day."
Urán stays focused on stage 14 time trial
A faller on the previous day’s finale, Urán could come away encouraged from his showing in the Veneto as he finished the day alongside Porte in 11th place. After repeatedly conceding tranches of time in the opening week, the Colombian's wish for week two was simply to steady the ship ahead of Saturday's 59-kilometre time trial.
Urán split his helmet in his crash on the Imola circuit on Wednesday and sustained a blow to his shoulder, but his injuries did not affect him unduly on stage 12, despite the treacherous conditions faced by the peloton on the descents of the Crosara and Perarolo in the finale.
"It was a difficult stage in the final 50 kilometres," Urán said. "The speed was high and the wind played a factor as well. The downhills were technical and a bit dangerous due to the slippery ground from the rain. So I decided to stay near the front and not take risks.
"I am happy that this stage is behind us. Physically, I felt OK, even if not 100 per cent from my crash yesterday. I had pain in my shoulder and neck muscles and the rain didn't help the situation."
Provided Urán avoids pitfalls on Friday's fast run to Jesolo – and nothing can be taken for granted in this Giro, of all races – the Colombian will set out from Treviso in Saturday’s time trial in sixth place overall, with a deficit of 2:19 on the maglia rosa of Contador. He will need to exceed his surprising display in Barolo last year if he is to breathe life into his Giro challenge, though he received a vote of confidence from the winner of Thursday's stage, Philippe Gilbert (BMC).
"It's a hard time trial. It's long and it’s for a complete rider because it's tough at the end," Gilbert said. "I don’t know how Urán is feeling after his crash, but I think he's the best rider on this kind of course."
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