Giro d'Italia
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) didn't hesitate to...

Contador takes a jab at Aru, nonplussed by suggestions of helmet penalty

Alberto Contador is quick to put his GC rival Fabio Aru on the ropes Wednesday in a rainy Giro d'Italia stage

IMOLA, Italy (VN) — Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) always has his radar on. When he noticed arch-rival Fabio Aru (Astana) not looking his sharpest in Wednesday’s technical, rainy finale, he took a stab.

Contador bolted clear with 6.5km to go, just near the top of the final hill before dipping back into the Ferrari auto racing track at Imola. In a race divided by seconds, Contador wasn’t going to let an opportunity slip by.

“The attack today, more than anything, was to check to see what I thought I was seeing, that some riders weren’t looking so good,” Contador said. “I didn’t see the TV images, but it appeared that was the case, and one of my direct rivals was not looking too sharp today.”

The rival he was talking about was second-place Aru, who’s been like a pesky fly buzzing around Contador’s head, just three seconds back.

With Richie Porte (Sky) succumbing to the folly of Tuesday’s late-stage puncture and ensuing time penalty, Aru is now the central focus of Contador’s tactical play.

“When I rode beside Aru, he didn’t look as sharp. In a grand tour, some days you feel great, others not so good, so I just wanted to check that,” Contador said. “In the end, there wasn’t much terrain to make any real differences, but it’s always important to test the legs of your rivals.”

Contador also likes to ride at the nose of the peloton, especially on tricky, wet descents, where one slip of a wheel can destroy months of work.

It’s been nearly a week since his crash in stage 6 that left him with a dislocated left shoulder, and Contador said he’s feeling better, but he was also quick to downplay the significance of Wednesday’s jab.

“I don’t think we should exaggerate the importance of my attack. It’s true it was a hard day, and my legs responded well, but let’s not overdo it,” he said. “There are riders who were there, and the differences were very small.”

No ‘HelmetGate’

A day after Porte was penalized two minutes for taking a wheel from Orica-GreenEdge’s Simon Clarke, many couldn’t help but notice Contador riding briefly without his helmet in the middle of the race to put on and later take off a racing cap.

With debate raging about how the UCI race jury should apply the cycling governing body’s rulebook, some were wondering if Contador might be handed down a penalty. UCI rules state that riders can be expelled if they race without a helmet.

Contador just laughed when queried about it during the post-stage press conference.

“As for my helmet, it’s something that you do. You take the cap off, and you put the helmet back on,” Contador said, shaking his head. “Today, it seems that everything is looked at, but it’s something that is habitual. The helmet was with me all the time, so it’s not a problem.”

Tinkoff-Saxo sport director Steven De Jongh also laughed off suggestions that the UCI race jury might crack down on riders briefly taking off their helmets.

“With rainy weather, you see a lot of guys taking off their helmet and putting on a cap or removing a cap when it’s getting dry,” De Jongh said. “I don’t expect we’ll get punished for that, otherwise they’ll have a very busy day with all the riders who took their helmet off and put a cap on.”

Like many in the peloton, De Jongh expressed condolences for Porte’s losses, but said the infraction has been on the books for a long time.

“The UCI followed the rules. Of course, you can talk about it for a long time, if it’s correct or not, but it’s been there for a long time; that you don’t collaborate with other teams. That’s why the rules are there,” De Jongh said. “Yes, it’s good sportsmanship, but unfortunately, there’s a rule against teams helping out in this way.”

Wednesday’s communiqué from the race jury didn’t mention Contador. A day after the Porte controversy, it was back to the mundane business of handing out minor fines and penalties. Two riders were fined 50 Swiss francs for irregular feeds, and their respective sport directors were fined 200 Swiss francs for the same infraction.

Now if Contador started swapping helmets with a rider from another team, that might be quite a different story.