Alberto Contador was already casting an eye ahead to the Tour de France as he sealed his second Giro d’Italia title in Milan yesterday.
The Spaniard effectively secured victory on Saturday as he survived attacks from Astana rivals Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa Meana, and simply needed to reach the finish line of the final largely processional stage into Milan.
Contador, of Tinkoff-Saxo, won by one minute and 53 seconds from Aru, with the 24-year-old Italian settling for victory in the young rider’s classification. Landa finished third, a little over three minutes down on Contador.
While Contador was able to cruise home, having celebrated his victory throughout the 178km stage from Turin as he posed for pictures and enjoyed the customary glass of champagne alongside his team car, there was drama ahead as Belgium’s Etixx-QuickStep rider Iljo Keisse took a shock stage win.
Keisse had escaped alongside Orica-GreenEdge’s Luke Durbridge as the peloton reached the final circuits around Milan, and the pair were able to stay clear as a series of punctures affected the main pack – perhaps the result of a controversial crossing of tram tracks on the main straight.
That dashed the hopes of a large group of sprinters, among them Team Sky’s Elia Viviani, and Keisse had enough in his legs to edge out Durbridge in the finishing straight.
For Contador, it was a second Giro crown after victory in 2008, and his seventh Grand Tour victory – he had wins in the 2011 Giro and 2010 Tour de France wiped from his record for accidental ingestion of the banned doping product Clenbuterol.
However, Contador is hoping this is just the start of a big season in 2015, as indicated by his team owner Oleg Tinkov. The Russian was sporting bright pink hair for the final stage, and said prior to the start: “I want to change my colour in July to yellow.”
That is because Contador is attempting to become the first man since Marco Pantani in 1998 to win the Giro and Tour in the same season. To do so, he will need to recover from the Giro in time to face down a strong field, scheduled to include defending Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali of Astana, the 2013 winner Chris Froome of Team Sky and last year’s Giro champion Nairo Quintana of Movistar amongst others.
“It has been a beautiful Giro, and a very special experience for me,” said Contador, who has had to dig deep during a troublesome three weeks in Italy, after dislocating his shoulder in an early crash. “I overcame so many difficulties, but at the end I got the maglia rosa [pink jersey].”
“The Tour starts for me now,” the 32-year-old added. “Tonight I will rest as much as I can, tomorrow I will go to Spain and take three or four days before I start concentrating again on the Tour in complete isolation. My rivals won’t have done the Giro, so the Tour could be more complicated because they won’t have the Giro in their legs.”
Contador had suggested during the course of this 3,486km race that it could be his final appearance in Italy’s Grand Tour, though as he experienced the thrill of victory he refused to rule out a return. “I’ve said it will be my last, but you never know,” he said. “As we say in Spanish, never say never.”
Contador, who has also won the Spanish Vuelta three times, joins French cycling great Bernard Hinault as only the second rider in history to have won all three grand tours more than once.
Keisse, meanwhile, was revelling in his surprise stage win. “I wasn’t expecting that at all, even if we had come up with a sort of plan for me to try and do something on the final curve,” he said.
“I’m a track specialist and I know how to take curves quite well. But then I saw there was a bit of hesitation at the start of the circuit so I attacked. ... It’s the best victory ever.”