Giro d’Italia 2015
While the final outcome never looked in doubt, the final week of the 2015 edition of the Giro d’Italia served up some epic stages as the race wound its way from the Dolomites to the Alpes via the Italian lakes.
Alberto Contador took the GC without relinquishing his grip on the Maglia Rosa he had worn since stage 5 (other than the briefest of loans to Fabio Aru). Contador had taken a lead of 2.35 into the final week over Aru but the 42 seconds that the Astana rider took back by the end of the race didn’t begin to tell the story of the mixed fortunes for the GC contenders as week 3 progressed.
In my previous post covering the first two weeks of the race I highlighted the potential risks for Contador if Astana were able to isolate him on the mountain stages that would dominate the final week. Aru and his teammate (this year’s Aru if you like) Mikel Landa had been ably supported by the rest of the Astana line up whereas Contador had often gone from having his Tinkoff domestiques alongside him one minute and gone the next. It’s been a theme of this year’s Giro for the GC riders to lose and gain time based on another’s misfortune and as the peloton regrouped after the rest day for a stage featuring the Mortirolo as its centrepiece Contador was about to be tested. It’s a bit of an unwritten rule that the race leader won’t be attacked if he suffers a mechanical although Contador has ‘form’ for ignoring this particular convention*. When he punctured ahead of the Mortirolo Astana attacked and Contador found himself at the bottom of the climb isolated and losing time to Aru. Contador leaves the Giro for the next leg of his grand tour ‘double’ without a stage win but his ride over the Mortirolo to overhaul Aru and end his hopes of taking his maiden grand tour victory was surely one of the most memorable performances in stage racing. Aru hadn’t ever looked like he could capitalise on the collective strength Astana held over Tinkoff but that shouldn’t diminish Contador’s ride. Fuelled perhaps by anger that he had been attacked, whatever Contador was on clearly worked as he passed Aru and began to put time into him. The tongue in cheek suggestion that Landa could become the GC hope for Astana looked to be solidifying into a genuine consideration as he road clear in the final km’s to take his second stage win in a row. As he leapfrogged Aru on GC, Contador had increased his lead by more than four minutes.
Contador increased his lead further on stage 18, won in a fine breakaway by Philippe Gilbert as people began to speculate just how much time might Aru lose on the final two stages so out of sorts did he seem. Contador described passing Aru and seeing he had “..an ugly face” (the literal translation from Spanish) so great was his suffering on the climbs. Now Astana gave the outward appearance of turning to Landa but there was a sting in the tail for Contador as Aru went from seemingly a beaten man to world beater in the space of 24 hours. Would Contador have lost as much time (without the GC ever being seriously in doubt) if he had the support of a teammate on the last two stages? Perhaps not, but I can’t help wondering what might have happened if there had been one more mountain stage after Sestriere on Saturday.
As much as Aru’s metamorphosis from chump to champ surprised everyone watching (I don’t remember anyone predicting he would recover to win two stages after Mortirolo) Contador could afford to lose some time. But he began to look like a rider who had carried the hopes of his team singlehandedly on Saturday as Aru, Landa and the rest of the leading group distanced him on the broken surfaces of the Colle delle Finestre. It’s traditional for a the winning team to indulge in a bit of end of term back slapping on the final processional stage of a grand tour but if I was Contador I would have felt a bit snippy about sharing the prosecco. Of course it’s possible that Tinkoff’s tactics were to leave their team leader alone on the key stages of the final week but, well.. really? No, I don’t believe it either.
Contador’s win in the Giro sets him up to attempt the ‘double’ by winning the Tour in July. The manner of his win makes this at least a possibility as Contador rode the smartest of races tactically, doing what was needed to win the overall. There were one or two ‘risks’ taken; the solo recovery to catch and pass Aru on the Mortirolo and attacking him again to take more time on stage 18 but in the main Contador stuck to doing just enough.
Aru’s return to form has flipped the story around again from questioning whether he could ever win a grand tour to when he will. I didn’t pick Aru for the win or even the podium in this years race (see my preview here) and even with two stage wins I’m not convinced on a number of fronts. Landa, out of contract at the end of the season, looks like another talented Basque climber but a grand tour winner? I’m not so sure.
Back to Contador and Oleg Tinkoff has suggested that he could now win the Tour and the Vuelta. I don’t think this is as fanciful as it sounds. The Tour will be the biggest ask with Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana all in attendance. If Tinkoff can assemble a stronger team to support Contador in France then he has to be a favourite, although I wouldn’t expect anymore fireworks from a potential Contador victory than we saw here in the Giro. As far as the Vuelta is concerned I actually think success in this could be hampered by winning the Tour. Froome last year and Nibali in 2013 both came very close to taking the title and I would expect them to want another crack if they don’t get a result in the Tour. The presence of those two at the Vuelta could be enough to deny Contador a historic triple if he was minded to go for it. There are rather a lot of ‘ifs’ here but here’s another; if Contador won all three grand tours in 2015 I think he will retire at the end of the season. After all, once you have done that, what’s left?
* Contador famously (infamously?) attacked Maillot Jaune Andy Schleck during the 2011 Tour when Schleck lost his chain. Contador gained 39 seconds on the stage, the winning margin at the end of the race. Contador was to lose this result from his palmares following his ban for Clenbuterol.
main picture credit Engie used with thanks