- Jan 3, 2005
VICENZA, Italy (VN) — Alberto Contador’s nickname is the ‘pistolero’ for his quick-draw shooting style, but the Tinkoff-Saxo captain should be called the ‘anaconda.’ There’s no one in the peloton better at squeezing the life out of his rivals, one slow twist at a time.
Fabio Aru (Astana) put up a good front through the first week of the Giro d’Italia, but now he looks like a mouse dropped inside the snake’s cage. With rivals Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Richie Porte (Sky) safely out of striking range, Contador has been toying with his young Italian rival, looking for weaknesses before closing in for the kill.
In another deceptively brutal finale Thursday in what’s been a very challenging opening 12 stages, Contador sensed Aru’s struggling legs for the second day in a row. Despite Astana’s hard riding at the front, Contador countered on the wall to the Monte Berico finish, blasting to second on the stage, taking eight seconds on Aru. Add six seconds’ time bonus for second place behind Philippe Gilbert (BMC), and Contador’s grip on the pink jersey is now 17 seconds. One more squeeze, and Aru crossed the line gasping for air.
“I could see that in the last 50-60km, his legs weren’t looking as sharp. I wasn’t sure if he was on my wheel or not,” Contador said of Aru. “Everyone is getting tired. It’s been a hard first half of the Giro. You can see it in everyone’s legs.”
Aru started the day just three seconds behind Contador, but he admitted on RAI TV that he suffered a sugar bonk in the final hour of racing because he didn’t eat enough during the stage. In a punchy, uphill finale that was ideal for Aru’s trademark acceleration, Astana looked to be riding hard over the final selective climbs to set up the young Italian for a possible assault on the pink jersey. Instead, it was Contador who struck first. He admitted he couldn’t understand what Astana was doing, especially when Tanel Kangert shot up the road in the closing five kilometers in a bid for the stage victory.
“To tell the truth, it was difficult to know what tactic they were using. They seemed to be improvising a bit, especially when your leader is bad, it’s harder to work it out tactically,” Contador said. “Maybe they were pushing people up the road to take the time bonuses, but the truth, it was difficult to interpret.”
Contador won’t admit it, but the Giro is looking very, very good. The hardest stages are still to come, and he still must get through Saturday’s long time trial with a gimpy left shoulder, a stage that could revive podium hopes for Urán and Porte, but it’s clear that he’s firmly in control of his destiny.
“I still see this Giro very far from over. Anything can happen. Something happens every day, and things keep happening,” Contador said. “The extra seconds today are always good to have. In the Giro, on a bad day, you can lose minutes, so having the leader’s jersey, you can better play it tactically.”
With one more sprinter’s stage on the horizon Friday before Saturday’s 59.4km time trial, there is a growing sense that Contador has coiled himself firmly around the pink jersey. Urán, twice runner-up in the Giro, started the Giro with a chest cold and then crashed heavily Wednesday. Porte was looking solid, but lost nearly three minutes Tuesday in a late-race puncture before being penalized two minutes after taking an illegal wheel change from Orica-GreenEdge’s Simon Clarke.
Aru has clearly struggled the past two days, something that Contador picked up on. Some wonder if it’s Aru’s lack of racing days finally catching up to him or if he’s struggling to handle the pressure of taking on Contador head-to-head. Either way, Aru’s hiccups are fueling Contador’s confidence.
There is no one in the peloton today as masterful as Contador at managing a GC lead. In fact, throughout his career, he’s never given up a grand tour race leader’s jersey to a serious rival once he has it.
Gilbert, who took a textbook-perfect stage victory Thursday, said many inside the peloton see Contador winning this Giro.
“He’s a great specialist in grand tours. When he gets a jersey, he never loses it,” Gilbert said. “When he gets in this situation, and once he has the leader’s jersey, he can race defensively. I see him very strong and attentive. The hardest stages are still to come, and Alberto is always very strong in the final week.”
Speaking to VeloNews before the start of Thursday’s stage, Astana sport director Giuseppe Martinelli admitted that trying to outmaneuver Contador is an almost impossible task. Martinelli is one of the cagiest directors in the bunch, and he worked with Contador during the Spaniard’s spell on Astana, so he knows beating Contador in this Giro is a big “ask” for Aru.
“It’s not only difficult to beat Contador, it’s all but impossible,” Martinelli told VeloNews. “What Fabio should do is improve on his third place from last year, and a second place overall right now, I’d take that.”
On Thursday, Contador admitted that his shoulder is feeling better and legs are improving, two facts that will surely put fear into his rivals. If he can roll out of Saturday’s time trial with the pink jersey still on his shoulders, he would need to have a very bad day in the mountains of the final week to lose this Giro.
Contador remains focused on the task at hand, and wasn’t too bothered that Gilbert held on to win the stage Thursday.
“The objective remains the same, that the pink jersey is mine in Milano. Winning stages is a secondary consideration,” Contador said. “The most important thing right now is the sensations in my legs. People were talking about my shoulder, but legs were banged up as well in the crash. Every day I am feeling better.”
Contador is coiled up, and ready to strike. With the mountains looming, the rest of the Giro peloton looks to be running for cover.
The post One more squeeze: Contador tightening grip on pink jersey appeared first on VeloNews.com.
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