Giro d'Italia

Giro notes: Contador in driver’s seat; GreenEDGE visits Giro

Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) rode one day closer to wrapping up the 2011 Giro d’Italia. Contador has a comfortable lead as the Giro moves toward Milan. Liquigas powered over the day’s final climb at Aprica, but Contador was well-positioned to be prepared if Vicenzo Nibali tried to attack on…

Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) rode one day closer to wrapping up the 2011 Giro d’Italia.

Contador has a comfortable lead as the Giro moves toward Milan.

Liquigas powered over the day’s final climb at Aprica, but Contador was well-positioned to be prepared if Vicenzo Nibali tried to attack on the descent. Nibali didn’t and Contador survived a long, hot day in the Giro to keep the pink jersey for the ninth day.

“It was a hot, fast stage. You had to remain attentive, because we were going very fast. The average today was 41kph,” said Contador of the stage, where speeds hit 90kph off the day’s final descent. “It’s never easy. We had 4,000 meters of climbing. It was very demanding, a day of a lot of expense.”

Contador knows now that all he has to do is avoid a major mishap and he has his second Giro win inside four years in the bag.

“There are four stages left and as anyone knows, anything can happen in cycling,” he said. “There are still a lot of kilometers ahead of us. I would love tomorrow be raced at 35kph and nothing would happen at all. But this is the Giro, and something always happens.”

When asked who he thought might claim second, Scarponi or Nibali, Contador did not reveal a favorite.

“Scarponi will try to attack on the Finestre while Nibali has in his corner the final TT in Milano. They are quite equal, so I don’t know what will happen,” he said.

Lastras wanted one for Xavi

Pablo Lastras wanted to win Wednesday’s stage in the name of Xavier Tondo, the popular but largely unknown Spanish rider who was crushed to death in a freak accident Monday.

Movistar decided to stay at the Giro despite the death of Tondo, who was going to lead the team at July’s Tour de France, and the team hopes to win a stage in his honor for the week is out.

“Yesterday was a really hard day for everyone close to Xavi,” Lastras said. “Today it also took us awhile to get our heads in the race.”

Movistar came close with Lastras, a veteran stage-hunter who knows how to win out of a breakaway. He and Visconti drove the final selection that also included stage-winner Diego Ulissi and Belgian Bakelandts, but he admitted he missed the kick in the finale.

“Visconti was marking me in the group. And in the final sprint, it was the same story as the other stage with Vicioso. They’re fast and nine out of 10 times they are going to beat me,” Lastras said. “I did the best I could in the situation, perhaps I’ve lost a little bit of the sprinter instinct that I had before. I am a little bit angry because I knew I would have a few occasions to win a stage in this Giro and I haven’t managed to pull it off.”

GreenEDGE visits Giro

Several top officials from the new GreenEDGE, Aussie-backed cycling project are visiting the final week of the Giro d’Italia to let everyone know they intend to be a major player next season.

Team manager Shayne Bannon and lead sport director Neil Stephens have brought over the team owner as well as some other backers to get a preview of what lies ahead for next season. Stephens told VeloNews the team fully expects to earn WorldTour status and be racing in next year’s Giro as well as the other major races on the international calendar.

“We expect to be at all the major races from the Tour Down Under onward,” Stephens said. “We have some key people in team management who are not familiar with cycling. We are trying to show what we are about. Rightly or wrongly, there are other projects that have not gone. It’s basically to know that this is the page we are on.”

Stephens also said the team will build slowly and look to create a solid base before trying to take on the likes of Alberto Contador in the grand tours.

“That is something we may have to do in the distant future. Our first objective is to create an environment, to create a team that cyclists feel is an attractive team. To ride for GC or a major stage race, I honestly think is a few years away from us,” he said. “We have to mature as a team and mature in an environment and just tick our boxes as we go.”