Words by Mikkel Condé
Photos by Kramon
Even though he suffered on Colle delle Finestre, Alberto Contador had no major problems winning this year’s Giro d’Italia. The Tinkoff-Saxo captain is still on track for his big Giro-Tour double attempt. Astana didn’t make it easy for him, though.
After three weeks of fantastic racing, the Giro d’Italia has come to its end. There were no easy days in this year’s edition. Every day made headlines. Even the last stage of the race produced an incredible drama with Iljo Keisse and Luke Durbridge managing to keep the peloton at bay, leaving the sprinters fighting for third place.
Alberto Contador was the big pre-race favorite and he didn’t disappoint despite an early scare when he dislocated his shoulder in the big crash on stage 6. He also benefitted from his rivals’ bad luck. Richie Porte lost valuable time when a mechanical problem and an illegal wheel change on stage 10 set him back nearly three minutes. It was Porte’s fellow compatriot, Simon Clarke - from Orica GreenEdge - who gave him his wheel. Unfortunately for the Team Sky leader, UCI regulations prohibit this kind of sportsmanship. Many were left wondering why the organizers didn’t make an exception as they usually do when riders are paced back to the peloton by the team cars. This too is against the rules but it’s rarely ever penalized. As if it wasn’t bad enough for Porte already, he got caught up in the crash on stage 13 as well, leaving him over five minutes down before the long time trial. Porte didn’t perform well against the clock and two days later, he had left the Giro.
In the meantime, sickness had prevented Rigoberto Uran from performing as expected and suddenly this Giro was down to a fight between Alberto Contador and Astana with Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa both in the shape of their lives.
Knowing that Contador was aiming to peak again next month already, Astana made sure that the Spaniard didn’t have an easy Giro. The Kazakh team used any given opportunity to set a furious pace on the climbs. All nine riders from the team reached their absolute best condition during this Giro. When there were only 10 riders left in the peloton, often half of the riders were wearing light blue tricots. A truly spectacular performance.
Astana’s superiority wasn’t a coincident. Not by a long shot. The team is aiming big at the Tour de France again this year as they hope to repeat Vincenzo Nibali’s overall win from 2014. Alberto Contador will be one of the Sicilian’s main rivals. Therefore, it will be of huge importance for Nibali if Contador doesn’t arrive as fresh as him. By tiring out the Spaniard in the Giro, Nibali will have a clear advantage come July.
However, it wasn’t all harmony on Astana in the last week of the Giro. While Mikel Landa was exceptionally strong on the climbs - probably the best rider in the peloton - Fabio Aru struggled heavily uphill. On Colle delle Finestre, this year’s Cima Coppi, Landa easily sailed away from the rest of the GC riders. Later, Contador was left behind while Aru suddenly regained strength. Astana now thought they had a chance to win the race overall and decided to call back Mikel Landa to work for Fabio Aru. Even though Astana is a Kazakh team, there was no doubt about the nationality of the team in this year’s Giro. With Giuseppe Martinelli in the team car, giving orders, and Fabio Aru second in the overall, Astana might as well have been riding with an Italian license. Mikel Landa could easily have won at least four stages in the race, had the team let him. The Basque climber ended up with two stage wins and third place overall. A fantastic breakthrough result for him, but it could have been much better without the internal team controversy.
This year’s Tour de France starts on the 4th of July. We can only hope that the race will be as exciting as this Giro d’Italia was!