Giro: All eyes turn to Klöden

After a week of avoiding crashes and keeping a low profile, Andreas Klöden (Astana) will reluctantly step into the spotlight in Tuesday’s 39.4km individual time trial that will be the 91st Giro d’Italia’s first major litmus test. The media-shy Klöden will be favorite for the decisive 10th stage as the main contenders for the maglia rosa step up to show their cards after nine nervous and exciting days of racing.

Tuesday’s TT will put things in place

By Andrew Hood

Klöden declines to say that he is the favorite to win.

Photo: Graham Watson

After a week of avoiding crashes and keeping a low profile, Andreas Klöden (Astana) will reluctantly step into the spotlight in Tuesday’s 39.4km individual time trial that will be the 91st Giro d’Italia’s first major litmus test.

The media-shy Klöden will be favorite for the decisive 10th stage as the main contenders for the maglia rosa step up to show their cards after nine nervous and exciting days of racing.

Nearly everyone expects the 32-year-old German to win and take valuable time on his GC rivals as the Giro moves into the decisive second half, but Klöden isn’t so sure.

“Everyone keeps saying I’m the favorite to win, but there are others who can win, including my teammate (Levi) Leipheimer and (Paolo) Savoldelli,” Klöden said before the start of Sunday’s stage. “It’s a difficult course and remember we didn’t expect to be coming to the Giro until a week before the race. What’s sure is that the time trial will put things in order among the favorites.”

The course from Pesaro to Urbino will prove challenging. The opening 18.5km are mostly flat on wide-open roads ideal for the time trial specialists, but the final half of the course, with a 300-meter climb to Monte di Colbordolo at 23.4km and a technical final 7km, serves up a challenge where carrying speed will be critical.

The 4.7km climb at Colbordolo features ramps as steep as 10 percent. After a fast decent and some rolling contours, there’s another short but steep climb at Cà Angelone at 32km with ramps at 12 percent. That’s followed by some false flats and a very technical final 3km with a sharp descending hairpin turn followed by a series of sweeping turns and a very steep final 500 meters with ramps as steep as 14 percent.

Defending champion Danilo Di Luca (LPR) also agrees that Klöden is Tuesday’s favorite, but said the course could deliver surprises.

“This time trial isn’t difficult; it’s extremely difficult,” said Di Luca after previewing the course Tuesday. “I think the time differences will be less than people think. I would be happy if I didn’t lose more than 90 seconds to Klöden, who I consider the favorite for the stage.”

Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Prodir) has already admitted he’ll lose time against the time trial specialists, but promises to regain it as soon as the road turns upwards. Already a winner of two stages, Riccò is confident he’ll shine in the torturous final week of racing in the northern mountains and will ride Tuesday to limit his losses.

“If I lose two minutes, that would be good. I’ve worked a lot on the time trial over the winter, so I am anxious to see how I will do,” Riccò said. “Riders such as Savoldelli, Contador, Menchov and Leipheimer will take time on the climbers; there will be other stages to recuperate the lost time.”

Riccò, sixth overall last year, is currently sixth overall after nine stages, six seconds behind Di Luca and 23 seconds ahead of Contador and 1:06 ahead of Klöden.

Slipstream-Chipotle enters the TT with Christian Vande Velde and David Millar both expecting strong rides. After the team’s 400km transfer on Sunday evening, the pair had the chance to preview the course. Vande Velde said, “it might have been the hardest rides you will have done this year.”

Astana, which received a last-minute invitation to race the Giro just a week before the start, has been trying to find its racing legs ahead of Tuesday’s important time trial.

Both Klöden and Leipheimer will be looking to take some time on favored ground while the team is hoping for the best for Alberto Contador. The defending Tour de France champ discovered that he suffered a minor elbow fracture in a crash last Saturday.

“After a week of crashes and grand tour style racing, it’s good to have this rest day. We lost Steve Morabito the other day [dislocated shoulder], the Goose [Vladimir Gusev] was banged up earlier in the week and now Alberto has a small fracture,” said Astana sport director Sean Yates. “It’s certainly not ideal for any team vying for the maglia rosa, but we’ll reexamine the injuries after each stage and hopefully make it to Milan with the remaining eight riders.”

Other teams were also assessing their damage. Barloworld’s Mauricio Soler and Francesco Bellotti skipped Monday’s training ride to undergo medical exams. X-rays confirmed that Bellotti has a micro-fracture in his left elbow after crashing on Saturday during the stage to Tivoli and a scan confirmed that Soler has a micro-fracture in his wrist.

“We definitely haven’t been very lucky so far in the Giro but we’ve got to fight back because the race is very long and there are still chances of success,” said sport director Claudio Corti. “We’re going to monitor things very closely because we obviously don’t want to put the health of our riders at risk.”

Team CSC sport director Kim Andersen said he’s been saving his top riders during the first week of racing and said he’ll continue that tactic until the Giro turns into the Dolomites on Friday.

The team lost Brad McGee and Stuart O’Grady to broken clavicles in a crash in stage 3, but the team quietly has three riders poised in the top 20 with Nicki and Chris-Anker Sørensen and Gustav Larsson.

“It’s important to save energy when you can and use it in the right way. That can really make a difference in the end. It will be very hard in the final week. The first week was very hard, too. There were a lot of late nights, transfers, problems,” Andersen said. “What will count will be in the final week in the hard mountains so the riders must rest when they can. That’s why we don’t go into breakaways when it’s not important to be there. I don’t want to kill them in the race. The final week will be difficult for everyone.”

Controls – Some 40 riders were tested on Monday’s rest day as anti-doping controllers swooped down on the peloton. UCI officials tested blood from five teams — Diquigiovanni-Androni, Team CSC, Silence Lotto, Astana and Euskaltel-Euskadi. All riders were deemed “apt” to continue.