Blazin' Saddles

  • The best at finishing second

    Alberto Contador is fast growing a reputation as the best second-placed rider in the peloton - enough almost to rival the 'eternal second' himself, Raymond Poulidor.

    The thing is, while Tour de France legend Poulidor made finishing runner-up heroic, Contador can do it whilst also going about his business as the world's most complete Grand Tour rider - and winning.

    Talk about multi-tasking - Charlie Sheen would have a field day.

    On top of winning two, Contador has now finished second in four stages in this year's Giro - Friday's gift to Paolo Tiralongo following previous thick-layered gestures

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  • What won’t happen in Milan

    So, Alberto Contador will ride around Milan with an unassailable 5:18 advantage on his way to securing a second Giro d'Italia triumph on Sunday.

    That much we can be certain. In fact, we can be certain of a lot - for instance, Fumiyuki Beppu will still be smiling and Steven Kruijswijk's surname will still be impossible to spell - but what can we be certain won't happen in world's fashion and design capital?

    Saddles takes a look at this very important question...

    Contador will not gift this to anyone - The Spaniard has given away three stages already this Giro so we can expect him to want to

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  • Capisce, Capecchi?

    The Liquigas pre-race instructions were presumably pretty clear ahead of Thursday's stage 18: a win at all costs from one of their men.

    On to the fourth-last stage of this year's Giro, and the Italian team were still without a scalp. This time 12 months ago, the team had netted the TTT and individual victories for both Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali; Basso was primed for the overall maglia rosa, and Nibali third spot on the podium.

    Well, Nibs may still yet finish runner-up in the 2011 Giro, but the 94th edition of the race had been pretty rotten so far for a team with such lofty expectations.

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  • Mamma Mia!

    Well, it's fair to say that the Giro race commissaries have had to make some harder decisions in their time than the one which demoted Giovanni Visconti to third place in stage 17 on Wednesday.

    As soon as you take your hands off the bars in a bunch sprint, you've got 'improper sprinting' written all over you. It's like laying a hand on a football referee - you just don't do it. (Ask another hot-head Italian, Paolo Di Canio...)

    And Visconti raised his arm not once, but twice - even managing to throw in a typically Italian gesticulative swing of the arm before pipping his victim, Diego Ulissi,

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  • How about a downhill ITT?

    We all like a good mountain time trial; Angelo Zomegnan, the Giro director, clearly does - he's included an uphill race-against-the-clock in the past seven editions.

    Of course, this year, Zomegnan might as well have just had another rest day and gifted with win to Alberto Contador; or maybe he could have set up the signing-in desk just outside the Spaniard's hotel room and sorted out the prizes on a first-come first-served basis.

    Such was Contador's dominance on Tuesday - he didn't even look to be riding well, let alone coasting 34 seconds quicker than his nearest rival - is it perhaps time to

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  • Five lessons from stage 15

    An outstanding ride from Mikel Nieve made it two victories in as many days for the Basque team Euskaltel - who had previously never won on the Giro in their 17-year history.

    Talk about buses all arriving at the same time. Usually the only Spanish one-twos you get in Italy are consecutive dope test failures. This, however, was just pure class by the Basque boys in orange.

    And these were no normal stages either: Saturday's jolly up Monte Zoncolan and Sunday's interminable jaunt through the Dolomites were easily the toughest two days on this brutal 93rd edition of the Giro.

    So, what did we learn

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  • In a league of his own

    Atop the mountain whose name roughly translates as "massive bell ringer" the only bells that were ringing were of the alarm variety - and inside the heads of every pro rider bar Alberto Contador.

    You see, not only is he blessed with the longest right arm in cycling (look right), Contador is simply untouchable.

    Any Grand Tour he races, he wins. Fact. He's won the previous five he's taken part in - and only a sick man would bet against him to make it six in 10 days' time. And seven come July - provided he's given clearance for the Grande Boucle.

    It's a race for second place in Italy now. That

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  • The Saddles List

    With the dust from the latest UCI doping index leak yet to settle,
    Saddles couldn't believe his luck when he received a tip off from his mole at
    the International Cycling Union.

    The information came in the form of another colour coordinated
    chronological list not entirely dissimilar to the one published so obnoxiously
    by French sports broadsheet tabloid l'Equipe on Friday.

    It came without any commentary - just the odd footnote - but its
    significance was patently obvious to Saddles the canny investigator, who can
    now share the list in its entirety with his faithful readers.

    Red 5 Robbie Hunter,

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  • Sham Francisco

    Mark Cavendish had a few choice words for sprint rival Francisco Ventoso after breaking his Giro duck with a belated sprint win on Tuesday.

    It's just a pity those words were quite hard to follow or comprehend.

    Before the resumption of the race after Monday's rest day, Spaniard Ventoso had sounded off to Italian sports sheet Gazzetta, claiming Cavendish should have been kicked out of the race on Sunday for being dragged along by his team car.

    "He should just be happy that he's still in the race," harrumphed Ventoso. "He should have been disqualified for holding on to his car up the climb of

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  • Contador composed

    It's not every day that you're awarded with a niche musical instrument for leading a race nobody else apparently wants to win.

    But that happened to Alberto Contador before the start of Thursday's stage 12 at Castelfidardo when the Spaniard, all decked out in pink, was presented with a pink accordion.

    The Spaniard looked rather sheepish - and standing up there in front of the local cheering fans, Contador certainly didn't want to play with his pink organ.

    So why the garish squeezebox?, you ask. Well, the hilltop town of Castelfidardo happens to be the international capital of accordion builders

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