Giro d'Italia
Though Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) lost his...

Contador: Saturday’s time trial ‘will not decide the Giro’

The Tinkoff-Saxo rider aims to take back the pink jersey from Fabio Aru before entering the Giro's final, mountainous stretch

VICENZA, Italy (VN) — On paper, Saturday’s 59.4-kilometer individual time trial at the Giro d’Italia should be a race-breaker. Flat during the first half and undulating in the second, it’s a balanced, all-rounder’s course that tips the stage well in favor of the specialists.

As the longest time trial of the season on this year’s grand tour menu, the speculation is growing about just how much impact the stage will have in the final outcome of the 2015 Giro d’Italia.

Two weeks ago, everyone was looking to Saturday’s race of truth as one of the Giro’s most decisive moments. But nearly two weeks of hard racing and attrition have dramatically altered the Giro landscape. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) has brushed off a dislocated shoulder to emerge as the Giro’s strongest rider, despite losing his GC lead to Fabio Aru (Astana) in stage 13 due to a late crash.

With four major mountaintop finales packed into the final seven stages of racing, some suggest Saturday’s time trial could be a flop.

“I expect the differences to be minimal,” Astana’s sport director Giuseppe Martinelli said. “If it was during the first week, when everyone was fresh, it would be different. Now the entire peloton is tired. I don’t expect a lot of time gaps between the main GC favorites.”

Even though it’s not in the first week, the TT still will have a major impact on the GC picture, especially among the top 10. Coupled with Sunday’s major mountain stage to Madonna di Campiglio, the GC will see a dramatic reshuffling over the weekend. If the time trial were in the final week, it would likely have almost no bearing on the final outcome. Had it been in the first week, when strong time trialists Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Richie Porte (Sky) were still fresh, it could well have taken the wind out of the race. The Giro organizers wanted to add a long time trial into this year’s course, but they also wanted to slot it into a position where it would prove important, but not decisive.

For Urán, Saturday’s hour-plus test against the clock could see his podium hopes revived with one strong performance. Porte, however, is 5:05 back in the overall after Friday’s crash and seems unlikely to be a top-three contender any longer.

“I hope to do well. It’s not been an ideal approach to the time trial, but I still hope to have a good performance,” Urán said. Marred by illness and a crash Wednesday, Urán is hoping to revive his GC hopes with a banner ride Saturday.

“It’s an important stage, but it won’t decide the winner,” Urán continued. “It’s an interesting course, similar to what I won on last year [stage 14 at Barolo], but like any Giro, the pink jersey will be decided in the mountains of the final week.”

So who can win? With the likes of three-time world TT champion Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) skipping the Giro, there is no pure TT specialist favored to take the stage victory. There remain a few strong time trial riders who could do well, such as Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEdge) or Tanel Kangert (Astana), but there is no clear stage winner on the start list.

If fact, there is a growing sentiment that it could be Contador who could take the flowers. The general rule of late-race TTs in grand tours is that the strongest in the field typically does very well, or wins. And up to now, there is no question as to who that rider is at this point in the 2015 Giro.

Overnight Thursday, Contador said he was going to test his time trial position with a bike mounted on rollers in his hotel room. Still suffering from his crash in stage 6, which left him with a dislocated shoulder and other bumps and bruises, Contador said he’s finally starting to feel close to 100 percent. The test Thursday night was to see if his left shoulder could hold his favored narrow, tucked-in time trial position for excess of one hour. It remains to be seen if Friday’s late-stage crash will prove to be another setback for the Spaniard.

“It’s far from ideal to have to change your preferred aerodynamic time trial position. I could lose 10 to 15 watts, but the situation is what it is,” Contador said. “I am hoping, with some tape on the shoulder, that I will be able to be as close to the position that I’ve tested on and trained on as possible. We’ll just have to see how things go Saturday.”

And what about Aru? Martinelli is hoping Aru can limit his losses and pedal into the final week with legitimate podium hopes still intact.

“It’s a long, long time trial, so I don’t know what to think really, but I want to recover to the maximum capability that I can,” Aru said after taking the pink jersey on Friday. “Of course the Giro is three weeks long. … I’m going to give my maximum.”

“It’s a difficult time trial. For sure, Aru will lose some time to Contador, Porte, and Urán, but we hope to defend our position,” Martinelli said. “The most important thing is to enter the final week in good position to ride well in the big mountains.”

Weather could also be a factor, too. Rain and strong winds have swamped the Giro the past two days, and if it’s the same on Saturday, the favorites won’t be taking unnecessary risks. Foul weather will slow speeds, but will favor the experienced bike handlers.

Contador realizes he has no pressure, but there is a sinking feeling that he won’t be holding back Saturday.

The adage of modern racing is that grand tours are won and lost in time trials. Contador isn’t nearly as strong against the clock as he was when he beat the likes of Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) in a late-race time trial around Lake Annecy in the 2009 Tour. In fact, he’s struggled to match the speed of such riders as Chris Froome (Sky) and 2012 Tour de France champ Bradley Wiggins, who excel on longer power courses such as Saturday’s.

Fortunately for Contador, neither one of those will be lining up in Treviso. He knows Urán is his most dangerous GC rival in the individual test. The Tinkoff rider will start second-to-last and have their time references chirping in his ear, which is often advantageous.

“Richie has placed a thousand bets on this stage, and so has Urán,” Contador said. “We’ll have to see how my shoulder holds up, but the most important thing these past few days is that my legs are starting to feel much better. The big difference in a grand tour is each rider’s ability to recover … No matter what happens, this time trial will not decide the Giro.”