On emerging from doping control atop Campitello Matese after stage 8 of the Giro d'Italia, Richie Porte brushed off the entreaties of waiting journalists – leaving one irate camera crew to turn the crisp mountain air a particularly dark shade of blue – and made his way briskly to his team bus parked further down the mountain.
The Tasmanian's motorhome may be the latest addition to Sky's arsenal of 'marginal gains' but it doesn’t mean that some of the more humble old favourites have been forgotten at this Giro: before talking to reporters, the team insisted that Porte wrap up against the elements and begin warming down on the turbo-trainer.
Manager Dave Brailsford eventually beckoned a small group of reporters forward, and as Porte continued pedalling, he talked them through a day that had again seen him break even with Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Fabio Aru (Astana) and remain in third overall, 22 seconds off the maglia rosa.
As at La Spezia and Abetone earlier in the week, Astana had dictated terms on the final climb, but Porte dealt comfortably with Aru's accelerations in the closing five kilometres, and placed a dig of his own approaching the summit. After being left isolated at a couple of crucial junctures earlier in the week, Porte was also able to rely on robust support from Mikel Nieve and Leopold König deep into the climb.
"People have been asking questions about the team but we haven’t had to ride, it wouldn't have made sense. They've been taking care of themselves until now," Porte said, a fleece hat pulled low over his forehead. "We saw Alberto was isolated there. Astana had the numbers but Landa was up the road, I'm not sure what that was all about.
"But I'm so happy with how today went. From the start, Sebastien Henao was great and to have König and Nieve put in that effort for me was great to see. I'm feeling good too, and it was good to put in a bit of a dig."
Astana's forcing seemed designed expressly to place Contador in difficulty and to test out the shoulder that he dislocated when he crashed in the finishing straight at Castiglione della Pescaia two days ago. With typical defiance, Contador picked up a two-second time bonus at the sprint at Sora, and although isolated from his teammates, he never lost sight of Aru and Porte on the final climb.
"He's in the jersey, isn't he, so all he has to do is cover the moves. I think he would have liked to have had a few more guys up there but they've taken the race on in the first week and that obviously takes a fair bit out of you doing that," said Porte, who reckoned that Contador's shoulder injury will not unduly affect his Giro chances.
"We have to see: I don't think you can be in too much difficulty if you're still riding up that climb that fast. But we'll see day by day, and see how it goes. I've got big respect for Alberto, he's a big fighter and I don't think he's going to show how much pain he's in anyway."
After Wednesday's first summit finish at Abetone, it appeared that the Giro had been reduced to a three-way tussle between Porte, Contador and Aru, who were promptly dubbed the "Three Tenors" by the following morning's edition of Gazzetta dello Sport. The presence of Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep) in the pink jersey group on Saturday, however, offered faint hope that there might yet be a "Fab Four" topping the charts come the final week.
"Obviously there's Rigoberto as well, who's back from whatever was wrong the other day and he can time trial as well, so if they [Contador and Aru] are just looking at me, they’ve got a bit of a shock coming," Porte said. "There are more guys to worry about than just the 'Three Tenors' or whatever they're calling it."
The Giro reaches its southernmost point on Sunday's 224-kilometre trek from Benevento to San Giorgio del Sannio, over the kind of terrain that race director Mauro Vegni regularly includes in Tirreno-Adriatico. On paper, Monte Terminio, Colle Molella and Passo Serra are far from the toughest on this race, but with scarcely a metre of flat all day, it could be every bit as attritional as the surprisingly selective stages along the Ligurian Riviera earlier in the week.
"We've seen it already on stage 3 and 4, they were probably the most exciting stages," Porte said. "A stage like today everybody was marking one another but tomorrow could just be a full-on war again. It's obvious that Astana smell a bit of blood and they're going to go for him [Contador], and I'm happy to sit back and profit from that."
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