AP Photo/Giovanni Auletta
# In the saddle
Contador completes Italian job - for now
The Spaniard cycled to an impressive Grand Tour victory under a cloud.

ALBERTO CONTADOR SEALED victory yesterday in the 2011 Giro d’Italia.

The Spaniard won the overall prize, two stages and the points classification in what was a peerless performance over one of the most difficult race routes devised in recent years.

Eventual third place finisher Vincenzo Nibali could have been forgiven for conceding defeat in the Giro d’Italia with a week left to race.

It was quite clear after the first real mountain stage up Mount Etna that Contador was in a league of his own. So instead of trying to match him, blowing up, losing massive amounts of time and sacrificing any chance of a podium place, why not ride for second place knowing that you may actually be riding for first?

This is the farcical scenario we are left with as Contador continues to race pending the result of an appeal by both the UCI and WADA to the Court of Arbitration for Sport regarding his exoneration by the Spanish cycling federation after his positive test in the 2010 Tour de France. Now the appeal process has been delayed even further which means Contador now seems likely to be at this year’s Tour in July while the legal battle rumbles on. Which means if Contador is subsequently found guilty we could potentially see him stripped of a Giro and two Tour de France titles, all because of one positive!

In light of the ongoing situation, Contador would be forgiven for attempting to keep somewhat of a low profile. Although winning the Giro doesn’t exactly make you inconspicuous, the way in which he shot out of the group at the end of Stage 19 to catch Paolo Tiralongo only to let him win the stage anyway was just rubbing people’s noses in it.

Regardless, Contador’s latest Grand Tour victory has added to a hugely impressive run in cycling’s longest races.

Since the 2007 Tour de France, Contador has now ridden six Grand Tours and has won all of them. Considering that this run includes the Tour, the Giro and the Vuelta it’s an impressive achievement. However it is not the longest ever Grand Tour unbeaten run; there are two riders that can boast a longer run of uninterrupted victories.

Firstly, there is Lance Armstrong who of course won seven Tours de France in a row. However, the fact that the Texan never rode either of the other two Grand Tours during this run makes Contador’s feat more impressive. Also, Contador is a mere 28; Armstrong had only won two Grand Tours when he was the same age.

And secondly, as is ususal with stats like this, there is Eddy Merckx. Between his first Tour win in 1969 and his last in 1974, the masterful Belgian won every Grand Tour he raced; this included five Tours, four Giros and one Vuelta. If Merckx hadn’t been expelled towards the end of the 1969 Giro, his run would have extended back to 1968 which would have made it 12 Grand Tours unbeaten.

Having had his CAS hearing pushed back from its initial date in early June, Contador will now be moving on to attempt the Giro/Tour double. The Italian climber Marco Pantani was the last to achieve this in 1998. Before him, another Spaniard Miguel Indurain did it twice in a row in 1992 and 1993, and not even Eddy Merckx managed that.

In fact, Contador will be aiming to carry on the trend that whenever a Spaniard wins the Giro, he wins another Grand Tour that same year. As besides Indurain, Contador is the only other Spaniard to have won the Giro, in 2008 when he doubled it up with victory in the Vuelta a Espana.

Irish eyes

Philip Deignan was Ireland’s sole representative in this year’s Giro d’Italia. The Donegal man finished the race in 47th place overall. An improvement on his previous best of 55th in this race which he managed in 2009. Considering the incredible amount of climbing miles and summit finishes in this year’s race, Deignan should be proud of his performance.

Irish interest now moves to France as the Critérium du Dauphiné gets underway on Sunday, 5 June. Nicolas Roche and Dan Martin are both due to take part in this mountaineous eight-day race which is traditionally used as the final tune-up race for riders who are preparing for the Tour de France.

Roche will be the leader of the AG2R-La Mondiale team for the Tour but for Martin, the door is still open for him to claim a Tour spot on his Garmin-Cervelo team. The route of the race should suit him and we may see him on the attack in an attempt to prove his worth before the biggest race of all comes along in July.