With seven stages completed in the 2015 Giro d’Italia, pre-race favourite Alberto Contador leads the general classification by 2 seconds from Italian hope Fabian Aru as Richie Porte occupies third position a further 18 seconds behind, but it has not been a routine first week for the Spanish rider who has yet to lose a Giro on the road.
After a first few days in which most the favourites were content to let the sprinters take centre stage, Wednesday’s Stage 5 from La Spezia to Abetone provided the first real clues as to the riders expected to challenge for prestigious pink jersey at the end of the three week race.
Less than five kilometres from the summit finish at Abetone, Contador produced the first serious attack of the race on the steepest part of the uphill climb where the gradient averaged 8% for a short time. Only Aru and Porte were able to respond to this sudden acceleration with the Astana team-mate of Aru, Mikel Landa eventually joining the three riders.
Although Jan Polanc was already clear of the peloton and eventually won the stage, his victory did not affect the overall standings but on the road behind him, several other leading contenders for the race leadership were unable to match the efforts of Contador. That suggests they can be immediately discounted for overall victory unless they are deliberately biding their time and waiting for the more difficult mountain terrain.
The following day’s stage to Castiglione della Pescaia was expected to be fairly uneventful with a course more suited to the sprinters and Andre Greipel duly obliged in a closely fought finish, but the drama was enfolding amongst the following peloton. As one of the cyclists collided with the outstretched arm of a spectator, he crashed to the ground causing a chain-reaction in which Contador was also involved.
Contador was eventually able to complete the final 300+ metres, but it later emerged that he had suffered a ‘slight’ dislocation of the shoulder and his participation in the remaining stages of the Giro was cast into doubt. X-rays revealed no fractures and the Spaniard was confident of starting Stage 7 which just happened to be longest distance of the three week race at 264 kilometres, but on a fairly flat gradient.
Showing little discomfort in his face, Contador did start and finished the long flat stage but he was helped by several of his Tinkoff-Saxo team-mates sharing duties at the front of the peleton allowing their leader to ride at a strong but constant pace.
Saturday’s stage involves a more difficult summit finish up to Campitello Matese and it is here where the fitness of Contador is expected to be tested by his fellow challengers. Riding with a shoulder problem is a difficult task in itself, but the Spaniard now faces the prospect of a further two weeks of racing over more demanding gradients with Aru and Porte likely to expose that weakness whenever possible.