Giro d'Italia
Try as he might, Alberto Contador's (Tinkoff-Saxo)...

Contador ‘getting better every day’ ahead of crucial time trial

Alberto Contador adjusts time trial position to ease pressure on his injured shoulder ahead of Saturday's potentially decisive stage 14

It was a long weekend for Alberto Contador. But after withstanding two days of challenges at the Giro d’Italia — Saturday’s category 1 summit finish at Campitello Matese and Sunday’s climb-heavy, 224km stage 9 near Naples — the Tinkoff-Saxo leader is starting to sound more hopeful.

“I’m happy because I’ve been getting better every day after my crash,” Contador said at a press conference on Monday’s rest day. “Yesterday, my cadence was much closer to normal than during the stage to Campitello Matese. As for my situation in the general classification, I am also happy. I’m ahead of my rivals and they have to move, although it is true that the Giro has only just begun.”

A crash in stage 6 on Thursday immediately raised doubts about the Spaniard’s ability to hold onto the pink jersey he captured the day prior, let alone win the Giro, let alone complete the vaunted Giro-Tour de France double. “I thought about all the sacrifices I had made and that I had sacrificed the beginning of the season for the Giro-Tour double. But it never crossed my mind to go home,” he said of the moment he crashed.

And Contador, as well as his media team seemed more than happy to have a reason to deflect attention and pressure, playing up concerns about the severity of his dislocated shoulder.

However, it was clear on stages 8 and 9 that Contador was able to ride with his GC rivals, though he admits his tactics had to change.

“After the crash, I have been more conservative instead of attacking — both yesterday and on the stage to Campitello Matese. Finishing these stages without losing time was good for me, because there is still more than enough terrain ahead. In this situation I preferred to be conservative.”

Contador is clearly thinking ahead, and he used his rest day to fine-tune his position on the time trial bike for the race’s next big stage. On Saturday, he’ll face a 59.4km time trial. Though he’s a strong time trialist relative to most GC favorites, he’s not faced an individual test nearing this length since the 2007 Tour de France, which had a 56km TT from Cognac to Angoulême. Contador finished fifth that day, going on to win the Tour.

But with his ailing shoulder, Contador has been forced to position his aero bars in a wider position. “It costs a little bit aerodynamically, but it puts less pressure on my shoulder. In this situation I think it’s more important to protect it,” he said.

For now, Contador and Tinkoff are comfortably returning their adversaries’ volleys, and with four mostly flat stages ahead this week, the GC standings may go undisturbed. However, if Richie Porte (Sky) delivers on his potential to trim the slim 22-second gap — he is the Australian time trial champion, after all — it will be time for the Spaniard to attack and truly test his shoulder. All will be watching to see if it holds him back, but he made one thing clear on Monday: The will to win will not be his limitation.

“It’s almost impossible for me to have more motivation. I have worked hard for this, I have prepared not only physically, but also mentally.”