Astana's strength in depth leaves race leader pondering tactical options after he's left isolated once again

If fans tuned into the final climb of the Giro d’Italia stage to Madonna di Campiglio today, they would see plenty of blue, but not much yellow. Race leader Alberto Contador ended isolated without a Tinkoff-Saxo team-mate in sight, while rival Fabio Aru had plenty of Astana helpers in blue.

Contador defended his pink leader’s jersey well, but he did so without help. At one point on the 15.5-kilometre climb to 1715 metres, Astana out-numbered him four to one. Only his experience and strength seemed to save him.

“There are still many kilometres to race in this Giro, and everyone has his good days and not so good days,” Contador said. “Maybe my best defence will be to attack Aru.”

Astana claimed the stage win thanks to Mikel Landa, but Contador somehow managed to extend his advantage over Aru. The Spaniard now leads the overall by 2-35 minutes; Andrey Amador (Movistar) is 4-19 off the lead in third place.

Alberto Contador, in pink, spent much of the stage surrounded by the blue jerseys of Astana (Watson)

Alberto Contador, in pink, spent much of the stage surrounded by the blue jerseys of Astana (Watson)

“The fans need to know that for 160 kilometres, the team worked,” Tinkoff team manager Stefano Feltrin told Cycling Weekly.

“It’s normal, who doesn’t pull for 160 kilometres is fresh for the last 10 kilometres. The work of the team is to help the leader. Alberto felt helped, so it’s gone to plan.”

Aru had helpers Tanel Kangert, Paolo Tiralongo, Diego Rosa, Dario Cataldo and, of course, stage winner Landa. Contador, in theory, should have had Michael Rogers, Ivan Basso and Roman Kreuziger, but the reality was somewhat different.

“The more men the better, but there wasn’t much we could do,” Rogers said later as he put on warm clothes before descending to the team hotel.

“We can’t control it if others crash in front of me. If I was there, I could have stayed until the last part of the climb. Jurgen Van den Broeck [Lotto-Soudal] took stupid risks and crashed, the bunch split, and Astana hit the gas at the bottom of the climb. I couldn’t get to Alberto.

“What happened with Roman and Ivan? No idea. Everyone’s tired. You saw a lot of people suffer coming from a 60-kilometre time trial yesterday to a tough mountain stage today.”

Astana's Mikel Landa claimed the stage win, but the team were unable to prevent Contador extending his lead in the GC (Watson)

Astana’s Mikel Landa claimed the stage win, but the team were unable to prevent Contador extending his lead in the GC (Watson)

While Contador donned another pink jersey on the podium behind, Feltrin brushed off ideas that Contador has been isolated regularly during this incident-packed Giro. He said that Matteo Tosatto was with Contador when he crashed on Friday and immediately gave him his bike so he could continue.

“What’s better than that?” Feltrin said. “Today, Mick needed to be there, but there was a problem, and that’s that. But when it’s down to nine riders like today, the car is there and ready to help if Alberto punctures or needs mechanical assistance.”

The Giro stops for a rest day tomorrow in Madonna di Campiglio and continues for its final six days on Tuesday. The final week through the Alps should give Tinkoff and Astana plenty of time to show their strength as the first Grand Tour of 2015 nears its conclusion.