Alberto Contador refuses to relax despite a gaping lead in the Giro d'Italia, but will it harm his chances of a historic Giro/Tour double?

The waters of Lake Maggiore were sparkling beside him, but Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) refused to lessen the pace for a moment in today’s Giro d’Italia stage to Verbania.

Despite his over-arching aim of a Giro-Tour de France double this season, he says a four-minute lead wasn’t enough to sit back on. Instead, he worked to extend his advantage over his immediate rivals, Mikel Landa and Fabio Aru, both of Astana.

Contador’s neon yellow team led up the major climb of the day with a 45-second lead over Landa, who had crashed. Feeling the pace was not enough and his overall advantage too small, he launched an attack similar to those that have already helped him to six grand tour wins.

From 45 kilometres out, the race leader went solo. Cannondale-Garmin’s Ryder Hesjedal and Davide Villella joined and they gained 1-08. The gap went to 1-13 by the finish, where Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) won the stage solo.

Philippe Gilbert celebrates at the finish in Verbania (Sunada)

Philippe Gilbert celebrates at the finish in Verbania (Sunada)

“I saw Aru in trouble and I need time on him and Landa,” Contador said in a small conference room overlooking the lake. “It’s normal. You can’t relax in a Grand Tour. Tomorrow anything can happen — I need the time.”

Contador, who had 4-02 minutes, now leads by 5-15 minutes with three stages to race to Milan.

Logic dictates that he should be easing off the throttle with the Tour de France on the horizon. This winter, he said that he wants to become only the eighth cyclist in history, the first after Marco Pantani in 1998, to win the double.

Despite the huge efforts Contador continues to put in, his sports director at Tinkoff-Saxo, Steven De Jongh, said that he remains on track to make history.

“Is it too much with the Tour coming? No. We selected races at the beginning of the year so that he wouldn’t come in too tired for the Giro,” De Jongh explained.

“He went hard today, but he is still able to hold back in the way he is riding and think about saving for the Tour de France. That remains the next goal.”

Landa crashed ahead of the Monte Ologno climb next to Lake Maggiore. Tinkoff-Saxo rode at the front, and De Jongh did not make it clear if his riders knew about the crash not. Either way, the team kept pulling and put time into Landa and Aru, who sits in third.

Fabio Aru's challenge has faded after some tough days in the mountains (Watson)

Fabio Aru’s challenge has faded after some tough days in the mountains (Watson)

 

Some suggested it was an act of retaliation following the stage to Aprica two days prior, when Contador punctured and Astana rode to distance him.

“I wouldn’t call it payback — we were doing our race,” De Jongh said.

“Unfortunately there was a crash, like the other day in Jesolo when Alberto crashed and Aru took the pink jersey.”

“We decided to expend that energy ahead of the climb because the road was narrow, and that’s what we did,” Contador added.

“The team rode hard, seeing that Fabio’s face said that he didn’t have good legs. In the end, it turned out to be a good decision.”

Most experts say that Contador will now win the Giro barring a major incident, but the Spaniard  wants to make sure nothing stands in his way.

“The goal was, even with one second, to win the pink jersey,” he said.

“Today, I gained time. Tomorrow, they might take time off. I have to concentrate, and make the most of every opportunity.”

The Giro continues with a summit finish tomorrow at the Cervinia ski resort and another one on Sunday at Sestriere. If he continues with his current strength, Contador could win by 10 minutes in Milan on Sunday.

Landa sits in second at 5-15 and Aru at 6-05. Andrey Amador (Movistar) is nearly a minute off the virtual podium at 7-01. They appear to be fighting for Contador’s scraps.

“Alberto does what he does,” Landa said, sweaty from the chase. “Fabio and I are just worried about saving our spots on the podium.”