Velonews: Contador Floats Alone In A Sea Of Astana Blue


Jan 3, 2005
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) usually found himself surrounded by Astana rivals in the front group at the Giro d'Italia. Photo: Tim De Waele |
MILAN (VN) — In a highlight reel of the Giro d’Italia’s decisive moments, the pink jersey of Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) stands out like a beacon in a sea of pale blue, alone against an Astana team head and shoulders above the rest of the peloton.
Astana was the undisputed powerhouse of the Giro d’Italia, rolling into Milan on Sunday with two podium places, five stage wins, a decisive victory in the team classification, and seven of nine riders in the top-35 overall. On Saturday, a stage that saw a tired peloton shred itself over the Colle delle Finestre and finish atop Sestriere, Astana put four riders into the top 10.
Contador, in contrast, was a deserted figure at nearly every key late-race junction. He was alone over the Mortirolo, alone on the road to Cervinia, alone again as he lost ground on the dirt track of Finestre, as dehydration left him chasing his two Astana rivals for overall victory, Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa.
It’s not that Tinkoff came to the Giro with an obviously vulnerable team. Contador brought Michael Rogers, Ivan Basso, and Roman Kreuziger to Italy to provide support in the high mountains. But against the depth of Astana, even Contador was forced to admit a deficiency.
“We fought hand in hand with Astana, but you have to recognize that Astana was a level higher than everyone else,” Contador said in a press conference at the top of Sestriere. “If there as a group of 10, five were Astana. If there was a group of eight then four of them were Astana.”
That’s not depth Tinkoff could have planned for. It’s depth grand tour racing hasn’t seen in years.
The strength of the men in blue extended all the way through the squad. “We never saw their guys show up in the groupetto,” said Giant-Alpecin’s Caleb Fairly. “Astana rode really fast the first three hours and they just kept going.”
Despite his frequent isolation, Contador was outwardly pleased with his team’s performance. “When I have teammates who give everything for me, and work as they did in the training camps before the Giro, I can only say thank you,” he said.
Riders like Rogers did pull through at key moments. When Contador had a mechanical issue on the run-in to the Mortirolo, and Astana kicked in the afterburners up front, the Spaniard had his team around him, pulling him within striking distance. Riders like Rogers and Kreuziger might have saved Contador’s Giro that day.
And the true gulf between Tinkoff and Astana may indeed have been smaller than the late-race television images would suggest. Contador took the pink jersey early, and relinquished it for only a single stage. That forced his team to chase and control throughout the three weeks. Astana did chip in, but could often just sit along for the ride, keeping its riders holstered for decisive moments.
Tinkoff was forced to ride early, to “annihilate themselves,” as Cannondale-Garmin’s Ryder Hesjedal put it, and was then left wanting.
That Contador was able to overcome the power and depth of his Astana, and take a victory in spite of his frequent isolation, is impressive, but must also be worrying for the Spanish rider. If his team was buffeted about by the breeze of what is essentially Astana’s B team, what will happen at the Tour de France, when the full, gale-force winds of Vincenzo Nibali’s hand-picked squad are unleashed?
Team owner Oleg Tinkov, speaking on Italian television after the penultimate stage, bristled at the notion that his team was anything but up for the challenge.
“There are some teams, they have six guys up there,” he said, speaking of Astana. “But of the course the Tour we’ll have more riders. We’ll have other riders. I believe in my team and I cannot accept criticism that my team is not there.”
Accepting criticism or not, the roads of France will reveal the truth come July.
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