“For the overall contenders the 'real' Giro starts from stage 14,” Alberto Contador told Cyclingnews ten days before the race got underway in San Remo. He may well be minded to revise that opinion now, after two breathless weeks of racing where scarcely a day has gone by without the general classification contenders involved in one frisson or another.
Yet when it comes to analysing bike races, Contador may not always be right, but he is never wrong: Saturday’s 59.4-kilometre time trial from Treviso to Valdobbiadene is an opportunity for a number of favourites to begin their races again, or at least to try and balance the clock ahead of the demanding final week of racing in the high mountains.
Chief among them is Richie Porte (Sky), who, despite a flawless opening week, now finds himself 17th overall, 5:05 off the maglia rosa after a ruinous puncture and illegal wheel change on stage 10 and a crash in the finale of stage 13. The Australian began the Giro with this stage pencilled as the place where he might seize pink. Now, it is his final chance to resuscitate a flagging podium challenge.
Seemingly cast overboard on the road to San Giorgio del Sannio on stage 9, Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-QuickStep) has quietly steadied the ship in week two – a crash at Imola notwithstanding – and he somehow begins Saturday’s “Prosecco time trial” in 6th place overall, 2:02 off the lead. If he can uncork the kind of vintage he produced in Barolo a year ago, he could improbably find himself back in the shake-up for pink.
Contador conceded his maglia rosa to Fabio Aru (Astana) when he fell in the finale on Friday, but he will surely expect to make up the 19 seconds and reassume the overall lead from the young Sardinian. Of greater concern, perhaps, will be maintaining as much of his healthy buffers over Urán and Porte as possible.
In keeping with the tone of this bizarre Giro, Aru finds himself in pink just after enduring his least convincing spell to date, as he showed definite signs of weakness at Imola and again at Monte Berico. From the outset, one sensed that this time trial was about damage limitation for Aru. Now in the maglia rosa, this is a Race of Truth in every sense for the youngster.
The first 30.1 kilometres from Treviso to Bagnolo are largely flat, and the first time check at Ponte della Priula after 17 kilometres will provide early indications but no definitive answers. From there, however, the time trial takes on a rather different guise, with riders facing a series of climbs and descents all the way to Valdobbiadene.
First up is the fourth category climb of San Pietro di Feletto, with stretches at 9 per cent over its 5 kilometres. The second time check comes at the top, after 35 kilometres, and climbers who conceded ground on the flat early section will need to have started recouping their losses here. After another kick up to Refrontolo, the route drops gradually to Farra di Soligo, and takes on a series of dips and dives before the third and final time check at after 49.5 kilometres.
The final 10 kilometres, however, could see the largest swings of the day. The grind up to the Col San Martino to Guia (with gradients of 10 per cent) goes on for almost four kilometres, and is followed almost immediately by another, gentler climb, the 2.5km Santo Stefano. The short final descent towards Valdobbiadene – tackled in a state of fatigue and, most likely, on wet roads – offers further scope for losses and gains, and, cruelly, the road kicks up once more on the final drag to the line.
Contador has admitted that maintaining his time trial stance for almost an hour and a half is a concern after his shoulder injury in week one, but the Spaniard is likely to race with his tri-bars set slightly further apart than normal in order to remedy the problem.
Astana coach Maurizio Mazzoleni outlined Fabio Aru’s approach to Corriere della Sera. “Proper feeding will be key in order to maintain an effort like that for 1:20,” Mazzoleni said. “Secondly, the warm-up needs to be tranquillo because you can’t start out full-on. And there’ll be no bike change before the climb. The time trial bike will be enough.”