Alberto Contador has won the Giro d’Italia. Seconds after he sprayed that champagne and stepped off that podium the question began: Had he already lost his shot at the Giro-Tour double?
In what was arguably one the the toughest, right from the gun, every stage exhausting, stress piled on stress Giro in recent memory, Contador dominated but also had to fight every single goddamn day.
He rode for at least a week in significant pain from a dislocated shoulder. He was forced to dig deep on stage 20, his jour dans day, to hold off Astana’s dynamic duo of Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa.
He also battled against a superior team that consistently brooke his team in pieces and left him isolated on mountain after mountain. He had to win this Giro with a barely visible supporting cast, largely doing the job himself.
Until he ended the misery in Madrid with the maglia rosa, there were no easy days or transitional stages where he could cruise to the line. By universal agreement in the peloton, it was a crushing Giro with Astana setting a brutal pace that never relented.
There are more than a few experts and critics who claim that the Giro-Tour double is more mental and physical. According to that line of thought, there is enough time to physically recover. The variable, the x factor, is the mental side of the equation. Did Contador wear himself down psychologically?
The answer that that query explains why there are plenty of bets down that Contador can pull the grand tour 1-2 punch. When it comes to mental strength, the Spaniard is truly a champion.
Many grand tour captains would have abandoned with a dislocated shoulder but El Pistolero refused, fought through the pain and won the Giro. When he had a bad day in the final mountain stage and dropped a minute and a half before the final climb, did anyone truly think he’d collapse? He willed himself forward, preserving over half his time advantage on Aru and Landa.
That said, even Contador has admitted this Giro was far harder than he’d ever imagined. Matches were burned, reservoirs depleted, life spans shortened. How far into what red zone did he go?
There were only two people who thoroughly enjoyed this Giro d’Italia and they weren’t even in Italy. Tour rivals Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali must have thoroughly enjoying Astana’s three week, Break Contador Into Pieces campaign. Who knows, one extra stage in the Dolomites and they might have succeeded.
All we know or rather suspect is that Contador appears stronger than Froome in dealing with adversity, injury, bad weather and shifting tactics. Nibali is another matter — confident in miserable conditions, excellent on the cobblestones, resourceful when plans need instant revision.
The countdown to Le Tour begins. Contador’s legs will be fine. Can he clear his head by early July?