CAMPITELLO MATESE, Italy (VN) — Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) keeps dodging bullets at the Giro d’Italia, but he’s getting worried about a possible ambush in the decisive time trial looming less than a week away.
Hobbled by a shoulder injury, Contador proved for the second straight day that he’s able to handle the pressures and strain that comes with racing. In Saturday’s eighth stage, he marked his rivals’ moves on the road to the mountaintop finish, and even widened his lead over Fabio Aru (Astana) to four seconds after snatching a time bonus at an intermediate sprint early in the stage.
Contador admits the left shoulder he dislocated in a finish-line crash Thursday is causing him discomfort at night, but what he’s really losing sleep over is the prospect of the 59.4km individual time trial in stage 14.
Just how will he be able to hold a time trial position for more than one hour, with the entire Giro hanging in the balance?
“That’s a question that I keep playing over in my mind, and yesterday I was counting how many days we have until the time trial,” Contador said. “We’ll have to make a test. I usually like to have my arms very close together during the time trial. Perhaps we’ll have to change the position.”
Contador would be loath to change his tried and true time trial position, especially before one as an important as what’s looming on an undulating route from Treviso to Valdobbiadene. Richie Porte (Sky), who’s been riding discreetly through the first week of the Giro without any major difficulties, is expected to take important gains against Contador and Aru.
Under normal conditions, Contador might be able to limit the losses to Porte, the reigning Australian national time trial champion, but with his hobbled shoulder, Contador is concerned.
More urgent for Contador was surviving Saturday’s two-climb stage ending atop the Giro’s hardest mountain stage so far.
Contador said he could not put a number on how much his shoulder injury is affecting him, but said defending the pink jersey was an important milestone in the march toward Milano.
“It’s complicated to put a percentage on how it’s affecting me, but it conditions me both on and off the bike. At night, I have to immobilize the arm, so I am sleeping as well as I should be,” Contador said. “Today was a very important test. I think time should play in my favor. I got through the stage without too many problems, and I have to be happy about that. This Giro is just starting.”
Contador managing the race
After stage 8, many were wondering if Astana blew its chance to take the pink jersey. Aru shot clear with 5km to go with an acceleration that trimmed the lead group, but Contador patiently marked the move. After more riders regained the wheel, Aru tried again with about 2km to go, but he was again unable to shake Contador.
Aru’s teammate Mikel Landa shot up the road in a bid for the stage victory, but he could only manage second, which meant that he helped gobble up finish-line bonuses with a victorious Intxausti and third-place Sebastien Reichenbach (IAM Cycling).
Aru crossed the line fourth and missed out on any time bonuses on the day. Some questioned whether Astana should have driven harder to reel in the attacking riders, and then set up Aru for a possible time-bonus sprint for second.
“Mikel was making his race, and that was part of the team’s plan to try to win the stage today,” Aru said. “I am content where we are at this stage of the Giro. I am close to Contador, and the idea is to try to have the pink jersey in the final week, not right now.”
Aru’s attacks did isolate Contador on the upper reaches of the final climb. Michael Rogers peeled off even before Aru accelerated, and then Roman Kreuziger lost the wheel, leaving Contador alone for the final decisive moves.
Astana now hogs three of the top 5 on GC, though Contador didn’t seemed too worried about how the final kilometers played out in the duel between the teams.
“I have very good riders around me throughout each day. Perhaps they are less explosive than what Astana has,” Contador said. “My teammates are making the stages hard, and they are protecting me.”
Contador said he’s not too worried about Sunday’s very hilly 224km stage — lengthened by 9km due to roadwork along the route — from Benevento to San Giorgio del Sannio across the rural roads of Campania, hitting what is the 2015 Giro’s southernmost point.
“I think time is on my side. I am confident that tomorrow will go pretty well,” he said. “During yesterday’s stage, I was four hours into the race, and then I realized I have nearly four hours more on the bike, I had just crashed the day before, there was a terrible headwind, and I thought to myself, ‘This is what makes cycling great.’”