Have Astana settled for second place? Their pacing on Sunday suggests so. The fast but steady tempo towed Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa up to Madonna di Campiglio and with Alberto Contador riding pillion. If Astana wanted to contest Contador’s maglia rosa they would have surely taken turns to attack and put the isolated team leader under pressure. Barring major upsets and minor incidents the race seems settled now.
Contador leads Fabio Aru by 2.35 and there’s nothing to say Aru can close the gap. If anything there could be an understanding where Contador gets one win in the maglia rosa – to win the race without winning a stage seems a touch amiss – and Aru in turn could get the stage win he craves in front of his public, all the more necessary because team mates Mikel Landa and Paolo Tiralongo have won already and the public expect more than the white jersey.
It’s hard to see what can stop Alberto Contador beyond misfortune. “My legs were killing me” he said on Saturday but still placed third in the time trial, a hyper-hypochondriac? Now he did sustain an injury but it was never as much as some thought. Now he’s back and there’s little to doubt. His team look weak but this has been the case since the early stages started to climb and Contador can cope fine without them. If he punctures at the wrong time on a mountain stage a team car won’t be far behind.
Fabio Aru is becoming a star in Italy. With his big eyes, gentle voice and polite manner he is appealing to many Italians. His regular appearances on Italian TV’s post-stage show help, he’s always available for a comment and a joke before leaving the stage with the air a schoolkid who ought to go because he’s still got maths tuition to do. The popularity is redoubled by his angry hornet performances on the bike, even the smallest climbs have been used to attack his rivals. However the fizz went out in the Prosecco time trial and he’s now finishing every stage with his catfish-wide mouth gasping for air. The upcoming stages should be his terrain but he might have to play it steady especially because fatigue can prompt small mistakes and crashes.
Mikel Landa is fourth overall and 27 seconds off Andrey Amador and a podium place and he should be able to get this. The risk is Landa’s ambitions get ahead of Aru’s needs, Astana will want the two to ride side by side as much as possible. Amador has been a revelation, a tough and valuable rider for Movistar, visible in the spring classics and a Giro stage winner in 2012, winning in Cervinia from a breakaway on the day Ryder Hesjedal distanced the GC rivals. Now he’s climbing even better. If Andrey isn’t the most Latin of names it’s because his mother is Russian.
Is that it? It’s hard to see anyone challenging. Leopold König is fifth overall, over six minutes down on Contador and almost two minutes behind Landa. He’d need to go a long raid to leapfrog Landa and Astana just won’t let him. König has risen up the rankings while team mate Richie Porte has fallen out. One report said last night that he’s leaving the Giro, certainly the Giro is done with him. Some are saying this is proof Porte isn’t a rider for three weeks but his knee injury says otherwise, a random result rather than proof his body isn’t cut out for grand tour leadership. A pity as it means less of a contest in the Alps. The Forlì fowl-up where he took Simon Clarke’s wheel is now an anecdote rather than anything consequential to the end result although it’s got many interested in the rulebook. The motorhome may aid performance gains but these are offset against popularity losses. RAI and La Gazzetta have both made public grumbles about how hard it’s been to get a quote from him at times and on social media people seem more interested in the vehicle than poor Porte. Still if it hasn’t worked out for Porte Sky have two stage wins and there could be more plus a high GC finish with König.
Rigoberto Uran the other rider with a disastrous performance, a cold in the opening days followed by crash injuries on the Imola track. There’s not much more he can do, he certainly won’t be riding the Tour de France in a team built around Mark Cavendish, Michał Kwiatkowski and Tony Martin.
Can Contador be sapped? So far so good for the Giro-Tour double. One reason the double is rare is it’s hard to recover for the Tour de France. Some are suggesting if Sky and Astana can’t beat Contador in the coming days they must still take the fight to Contador to sap him for July. It’s true his rivals can push him harder but they should do this for the sake of the Giro rather than long range thoughts of the Tour. There are stages to aim for, podium places to decide and points to win. Who knows what will happen? As for the physiological demands on Contador there’s probably not much in it: everyone has to scale the Alps and Contador has to follow the big moves by Astana anyway, it’s not as if he can sit in the gruppetto.
What’s next? The week brings a lot of climbing with three Alpine stages, one medium mountain stage and two possible sprint stages:
- Many of the hilly stages so far have been defined by aggressive racing and this could continue in the battle for stage wins. Of the 22 teams who started 12 have yet to win a stage and now it’s pressure time. Sunday’s stage saw the bunch cover 47.9km in the first hour as riders battled uphill to breakaway
- Among the GC contenders things could settle down. These long Alpine climbs are all about watts per kilo instead of WTF ambushes, they are 30-40 minute efforts where searing accelerations are more likely to lose time than win the day. Sunday’s stage to Madonna di Campiglio was a case in point with Astana setting a high tempo to asphyxiate their rivals and stop the attacks
- Stage 18 on Thursday (pictured) could be more interesting, the climb of Monte Ologno above Lago Maggiore is 8-10% for 10km and followed by more climbing to Alpe Seglette and offers terrain more suited to an ambush
- Several sprinters have bailed on the Giro despite two flat stages, a clue as to the value of a finishing medal and André Greipel’s exit means Lotto-Soudal won’t be working for a sprint, reducing the chances of a sprint. Is it disrespectful to quit? A little yes, the day a sprinter can stand up on the first rest day and announce they’ll be gone by the second one is the day it’s ok but for now these exit routes are kept hushed until it happens