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Dropped by the other general classification contenders on the penultimate climb of this year’s Giro d’Italia, Alberto Contador fought back to limit his losses and to protect his Maglia Rosa. In doing so, the Tinkoff-Saxo rider has almost certainly won the race, which finishes in Milan on Sunday.
After initially not being able to follow Astana’s Mikel Landa when he surged on the Colle delle Finestre, Contador got into difficulty closer to the top when Ryder Hesjedal attacked. While the other general classification contenders were able to go with him, the Spaniard was left struggling and began to lose time.
He explained afterwards that he wasn’t feeling good but also didn’t panic.
“Today was not a great stage for me. I wasn’t feeling good, probably because of the accumulated effort, but I knew I had a good cushion in the GC,” he said. “Even though there were plenty of kilometres to go before the finish, I preferred to ride at my own rhythm.”
His directeur sportif and coach Steven de Jongh said that while it may have made for dramatic television, it was a stage which caused considerable concern to the team.
“Alberto definitely made a good show for the viewers, not so much for us right there on Finestre,” he stated.
“He had a difficult moment. He also said that he found it hard to ride out of the saddle on the gravel sections. Of course, when he also got dropped by Aru, we had a scary moment in the car but as we realized that he wasn’t empty on the descent and the flat part we cooled down again.”
Contador has ridden flat at certain periods in recent days, including on the stage over the Mortirolo when he was distanced after suffering a rear wheel puncture. He had to do a lot of riding to catch Astana duo Fabio Aru and then Mikel Landa; on Thursday he put on a show to prove a point, attacking on the Monte Ologno climb and ultimately gaining one minute and 13 seconds.
Those efforts and the general strain of leading the race for much of the last three weeks caught up with him on Saturday.
De Jongh said that Contador realised that it was important not to panic.
“The gap stabilized and we asked if he wanted gels and energy but he preferred to eat on the downhill section,” he said. “So we gave him the time references and he controlled the pace very well. Although he didn’t have a good day, we saw the determination and experience of Alberto.”
While there is still one day left in the race, Contador holds a two minute two second advantage over his closest rival Aru, who won Saturday’s stage. The final stage is 185 flat kilometres from Turin to Milan and it would be highly unusual if he doesn’t end up as the overall winner.
De Jongh, like Contador, won’t tempt fate by saying the race is won, but the battle is essentially over.
“The team has worked really hard for this,” he said. “Every day they have been at the front making sure that Alberto was safe and in the right position controlling the race. The amount of work that they’ve done is amazing and I take my hat off for that.”
He acknowledged the form shown by the Astana team, saying it has been the strongest in the mountains and that it had six riders in the front group on the Colle delle Finestre. However that hasn’t been enough to change the overall result.
“In the end, we have the pink jersey and all of the guys can be really proud,” he said.