Word had already emanated from the Tinkoff-Saxo hotel that Alberto Contador would indeed continue in the Giro d'Italia, but a sizeable contingent of journalists waited for the arrival of his team bus in Grosseto ahead of the start of stage 7 to verify the news for themselves. Seeing is believing.
Contador dislocated his shoulder twice after crashing in the finishing straight of Thursday's stage to Castiglione della Pescaia, and though an x-ray after the stage did not show any fractures, the maglia rosa's long-term future in the race remains unclear. The only certainty on Friday morning was that Contador would take the start of the Giro's longest stage, a seemingly interminable 264km trek down to the spa town of Fiuggi, near Rome and he duly set off for the longest stage in this year's race.
General manager Stefano Feltrin was among the first to emerge from the Tinkoff-Saxo bus, and though he looked to put a brave face on Contador's predicament, he acknowledged that talk was cheap. Only the road could really tell whether the Spaniard was fit to continue.
"He has a brace on and the night was good. Now we have to see how he is on the bike," Feltrin said. "He's a fighter so he's fighting, and he's fighting against bad luck now. We need to see how he is on the bike."
Contador's first dislocation had taken place immediately after he hit the ground in the mass crash, which was triggered by a spectator leaning across a barrier to take a photograph. He revealed that his left shoulder popped out again just before he mounted the podium to receive the pink jersey.
Feltrin insisted, however, that there was little risk of a repeat dislocation, and the principal concern for Contador would be managing the pain. A Tinkoff-Saxo mechanic explained that the maglia rosa would ride with a reduced tyre pressure on Friday to dampen the effects of the vibrations from the road.
"The doctor said after the exam that unless he does something crazy, it's not going to go out again, it's not going to dislocate again," Feltrin said. "The problem is how he actually rides with the pain and the positioning so there a few variables."
Tinkov: "He's brave, he's fighting"
Tinkoff-Saxo owner Oleg Tinkov joked playfully with the assembled camera crews as he emerged, and after a brief walkabout to the nearby Katusha bus, he returned to give his thoughts on Contador's prospects.
"He was good in the morning, we had some laughs and a chat on the bus and he is in a good mood. But of course he's in pain and it's hard to say before he starts riding and at the finish we’ll have some more answers," Tinkov told Cyclingnews. "He's brave, he"s fighting."
Tinkov and Contador were famously at loggerheads following the Spaniard's subdued 2013 Tour de France, but their public utterances have been mutually respectful ever since Tinkov took over ownership of the team later that year.
"Alberto's put in a huge preparation for the Giro. I was with him on Teide and I know what it is to prepare for this race. It's very hard, he's very professional. Of course he cannot just abandon. He will try and he will fight," Tinkov said.
As for whether he would prefer Contador to abandon the Giro now in order to better prepare for the Tour de France, Tinkov said: "It's not our temptation and it's not our decision – it's his decision. It's his body, it's his health. It's up to him to decide."
Better protection for riders?
Tinkov echoed the words of Giro director Mauro Vegni when he was asked whether more could be done to protect riders from the public on the roadsides.
"They cannot put two metre high cages or then we would be cycling in cages," he said. "Of course the fans have to respect the job of the riders more but these days with the social media and the selfies and stuff, everybody wants to make photos and put it on the social network and stuff, and some of them are just stupid and don't understand that the guys are going at 60kph."
Shortly afterwards, the Tinkoff-Saxo riders themselves began to descend the steps of the bus. Chris Juul-Jensen talked a Danish television crew through the situation, while Ivan Basso shared his thoughts with local reporters. The Italian shared a room with Contador and he, too, reiterated the refrain of Feltrin and Tinkov – the road will decide his leader's future in the race.
"We're all with him," Basso said. "Now we'll have the response during the race. He got through the night well, and we'll try to get through this stage as best he can. It's a long, hard stage. Did he sleep well? Yes. Todo bien."
The media scrum turned unceremoniously from Basso to Contador once the maglia rosa appeared. Amid the maelstrom, Contador reiterated his desire to stay in the race, and then made his way towards the podium, with reporters, photographers and television crews in tow. The first act of the longest day.
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