Spaniard Alberto Contador fired an early shot to his rivals in the Giro d’Italia on the Abetone climb today to take the overall lead and pink jersey. However, with 16 days left to race, it may have come too early.
Behind the last remaining escapees, Slovenian winner Jan Polanc (Lampre-Merida) and Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling), Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) placed fourth at the ski resort to gain enough time to take the famous pink top from overnight leader Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge).
With six Grand Tour wins in his palmarès, Contador has the experience, but may lack the legs to carry such a heavy top for two and a half weeks until the Milan finish on May 31.
“It’s incredible to have the jersey again. I didn’t expect to have the pink jersey, the plan is to have it in Milan,” Contador said.
“Tomorrow another rider could take it away, and that’d be fine by me.”
Tomorrow’s stage to Castiglione della Pescaia and Friday’s further south near Rome in Fiuggi are flat. The next big test and place were the 32-year-old ‘El Pistolero’ could likely lose the pink jersey is on the slopes of Campitello Matese this Saturday. The way he rode today with an attack at five kilometres out, on Abetone’s toughest 10 per cent grade, seems to indicate that he will stay in the jersey for a lot longer.
“I wasn’t thinking about attacking, sometimes it’s hard for me to just sit in the group so I tried,” added Contador.
“Just to wear the jersey and to be able to ride with it in a stage feels like a huge gift.
“Jersey or not, the important thing is that the legs feel good. It was a good stage for us, and it was good to distance a few riders, such as Urán.”
Porte, Aru and his Astana team-mate Mikel Landa joined afterwards, but the surge was felt. Further down the road, Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick Step), Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) and Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Soudal) must have been wondering if the Giro is already over for them.
Mick Rogers, Roman Kreuziger and Ivan Basso were key to Contador’s success. As well as Contador, they will be tested as the race rolls on, first south and then north for the Alpine passes.
“You never know which way the wind will blow, and that’s the way with Alberto. When he feels good he attacks,” Rogers said.
“We have to be a little cautious, we need to be wise, but we have the experience in the team to do that. We have a good mixed of riders for the flats, the medium hills and the big mountains.”
Over Rogers’s shoulder, Contador pulled on the famous maglia rosa or pink jersey. The fans cheered and team owner Oleg Tinkov watched.
“This is worth another villa for me,” the Russian multi-millionaire joked.
“Really, I’m happy because this is Contador, my rider riding in my Russian team.”
For the team that seemed to be crumbling during the classics with few wins and a faltering Peter Sagan, Contador’s pink jersey could be a sign of a changing tide. Even if it came early, Tinkoff welcomed it warmly.