BELLUNO, Italy (VN) – Tuesday’s climbing time trial up to the base of the Nevegal ski area present Alberto Contador with another chance to tighten his grip on the maglia rosa.
Contador is poised to widen his lead against the likes of Michele Scarponi and perhaps even Vicenzo Nibali, who is the best time trialist among the GC contenders going into the 12.7km individual time trial.
“We have two time trials in the final week that are good for Alberto,” said Saxo Bank-Sungard boss Bjarne Riis. “We are in a good place now. The team will protect Alberto in the last week. It will be hard. It’s not as if he has a 10-minute lead.”
Contador’s lead might not be 10 minutes, but it’s a very comfortable 4:20 to Scarponi and 5:11 to Nibali.
And Tuesday’s TT is ideal for Contador to try to win another stage and pad his lead going into the final mountain stages of the 2011 Giro.
The route climbs about 1,000 vertical meters, with an average grade of 8 percent. That statistic is somewhat deceiving in that the meat of the elevation gain comes in the middle part of the course in a series of challenging switchbacks with grades as steep as 14 percent.
The course begins in the historic center of Belluno, rolling over some urban cobbles before a sweeping descent to the river crossing. It’s a big-ring climb before hitting the brunt of the ascent at about 5.5km at Caleipo. The next 4.5km averages 10 percent, meaning the climbers will have their shot at the win and the pure TT riders will be saving their legs for the Milano finale.
The final two kilometers flattens out, with an average grade of 6 percent in a series of false flats that will favor anyone who can power it home in the big ring.
For those not fighting for a top GC placement, the stage will almost be like a second rest day.
“It’s another chance to recover from the difficulty that’s been this Giro so far. Unless you’re Contador or Nibali, the time trial (Tuesday) is not tailored to our riders,” said Garmin sport director Bingen Fernández. “We will have options in the final time trial in Milan with Millar and Meyer, so Tuesday will be to get up the climb as smoothly as possible and guard your strength.”
Riders took advantage of Monday’s rest day to recover from Sunday’s brutal, eight-hour stage. Contador called the stage “the hardest of my career” while stage-winner Mikel Nieve said “I didn’t have the strength to raise my arms” when he crossed the line victorious.