Tue, Jun 03, 2008 - Page 19 News List

Contador completes Tour of Italy victory in streets of Milan

AFP , MILAN, ITALY

Scotland's David Millar is applauded by a fan as he pedals through the streets of Milan during the 28.5km 21st individual time trial stage of the 91st Giro d'Italia on Sunday. Italian Marco Pinotti won the stage, while Spanish rider Alberto Contador won the Giro overall.

PHOTO: EPA

Spain’s Alberto Contador of the Astana team won the Tour of Italy on Sunday following the final stage, a 28.5km time trial won by Italian Marco Pinotti of High Road.

The Spaniard snapped an 11-year Italian winning streak in the event — Russia’s Pavel Tonkov was the last non-Italian to lift the crown in 1996 — to also triumph in his first showing here at the age of 25 as he came in ahead of a trio of home hopes.

Contador, the Tour de France champion, was never in danger of losing his 4 second overnight lead over SDV challenger Riccardo Ricco of Italy, who struggled on the final day, as he added another major race win to his burgeoning portfolio to ease the pain of having to miss the Tour de France.

“I respect their [the organizers’] decision not to invite us, even if I don’t share it. I don’t think they will change their mind,” said Contador, who did not land a stage win throughout, but showed great consistency through three weeks of racing starting at Palermo on May 10.

“I was only told I was in a week beforehand,” said the champion, whose Astana team was only invited officially a few days before the start, having initially been barred by the organizers after being plagued by doping scandals.

Organizers of the Tour de France, run by the Amaury Sports Organization (ASO), said earlier this year that the doping scandals that plagued Astana at last year’s French race had left them with little choice, despite the team undergoing a mass clear-out. The team’s former leader, Alexandre Vinokourov, was fired after testing positive for a blood transfusion during last year’s Tour de France. Weeks after the Vinokourov controversy, his fellow Kazakh Andrey Kashechkin also tested positive for blood doping. Other teams riders, including Matthias Kessler and Eddy Mazzoleni, were also involved in doping affairs.

Unlike the French, the Italians relented and finally allowed Astana in. Contador said the mountains had been tough.

“I had a hard time of it at Alpe de Pampeago, the day before tackling the Marmolada. It was only after the Marmolada, when I had donned the pink jersey, that I really believed I could win it,” he said. “I had to keep my mind on the job and be reflective, and I managed it. Having bagged the pink jersey, that helped me a lot and was a blow to the others.”

Contador said he had been surprised by his season.

“When I knew we weren’t going to the Tour de France, the goals changed,” he said. “I don’t know what will happen regarding the Tour of Spain, but I think this season is better than if I had won the Tour a second time. It was worth breaking off my holidays to come to win this one in Italy.”

Contador said he believed the Tour was the tougher to win.

“Why? Because it is a race you have to prepare for months,” he said. “Last year, I was just empty at the end of the Tour, whereas here I lived from day to day.”

Ricco held on to second spot, but his efforts on the final day saw him end up 1 minute, 57 seconds adrift, while Marzio Bruseghin was third, 2 minutes, 54 seconds off the pace as he booted compatriot Franco Pellizotti off the overall podium by 2 seconds. Outgoing champion Danilo Di Luca finished eighth after giving Contador a run for his money in the penultimate mountain stage.

A steeper than usual 91st edition was marked by rainy conditions and gave the sprinters relatively little room to shine, whereas Italian climber Emanuele Sella bagged three stage wins.

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