Having taken a few weeks off from his vacation, Alberto Contador (Astana) put a stamp on the 2008 Giro de Italia today and wins by 1:57 over Ricardo Ricco’ (Saunier Duval). Prior to today’s final stage, Contador’s lead was only four seconds but he put nearly two minutes on Ricco’ over the 28.5 km time trial. With this win, Contador becomes only the second Spanish rider to win the Giro.
Astana Team Manager Johan Bruyneel (former US Postal and Team Discovery Channel manager) is already comparing Contador to Lance Armstrong. “I think we’re seeing a new phenomenon like Lance. I don’t like to compare riders, but from what I’ve seen in him I’ve only seen in Lance, especially in the mountains,” said Bruyneel. “It’s a very unexpected victory. If he can win the Giro at 80 percent, I see a very big future for Alberto.” Personally, I think it’s way too early to make that comparison. Sure, Bruyneel managed Lance for his seven Tour de France victories but to begin comparing another Contador to Lance after one Tour and one Giro victory is a stretch in my book. Especially after his Tour win last year was basically given to him after race leader Michael Rasmussen was booted from the race with only four days to go. Let Contador win a couple more Tours and then I’ll be open to begin drawing comparisons.
Aside from Contador coming off vacation to win the Giro, I think the story of this year’s race was the success of Team High Road and Slipstream-Chipotle. In the final stage, Team High Road took first, second, and fourth positions while Slipstream-Chipotle took fifth and sixth. That’s five of the top six positions going to American teams. The first place finish of Marco Pinotti in stage 21 gave Team High Road four stage victories in this years Giro while Slipstream-Chipotle took the opening Team Time Trial victory in stage 1 with Team High Road finishing the Team Time Trial in second place. Team High Road managed to take first and second on stages 17 and 21. Both teams had multiple top ten stage finishes.
I know Contador pulled off the victory but I think the team of the race has to be Team High Road while Mark Cavendish of Team High Road should be considered the rider of the race. Cavendish finished the 2008 Giro with two stage wins, two second place finishes, and two other top tens. Very impressive. As to be expected, though, he struggled on the mountain stages and gave up lots of time there.
Now the big question is, “Will Astana be asked to participate in the Tour de France?” With Contador stating that “This was better than a second tour win” I’m sure this has only added fuel to the already growing fire. Astana was only given about a weeks notice that they could ride the Giro and then pulled off a major upset. That’s proof alone at how strong a team they are. Should they be allowed to ride the Tour? I think yes. This is not the same Astana team as last year that removed itself from the race following Alexander Vinokorouv’s positive drug test. They are under new management and have new riders. They have both the first and third place (Levi Leipheimer) finishers from the 2007 Tour De France and now have the winner of the 2008 Giro de Italia.
Can the Tour afford to not invite them?
I welcome your opinions.