• Richie Porte will be playing to win in Saturday's Stage 14 time trial at the Giro d'Italia. (AFP)
With the three best riders yet to separate themselves though not through want of trying, this Saturday's all-important time trial may not just decide who will lose the 2015 Giro d'Italia, but who will win, writes Anthony Tan.
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19 May 2015 - 8:47 AM  UPDATED 19 May 2015 - 12:14 PM

"Sky, strangely, have never taken the race by the scruff of the neck. But it is entirely logical because, with Porte, they know that they have the advantage in the time trial, so, for the moment, they are staying in the background." - Paolo Tiralongo, Stage 9 winner

In a press conference in San Lorenzo al Mare, days before the race began on May 9, GC contender Fabio Aru summed up this year's race as thus: "The Giro d'Italia will be hard right from the start, with the team time trial, the Abetone stage, and then the long individual time trial, which will be the crux of the race. The last week is also very hard, with the mountain stages on the Mortirolo and up to Sestriere. It will be important to stay focused for all three weeks."

Could it be that, out of 21 stages and 3,481.8 kilometres, the 59.4 kilometres to be ridden Saturday will not just be "the crux of the race" as Aru said but decide who wins the race?

Before you dismiss the suggestion as being outlandishly ridiculous, remember this was essentially Miguel Indurain's devastatingly successful Grand Tour-winning modus operandi: Belittling his adversaries in the time trials, then holding his own in the mountains, though seldom attacking.

The difference between the Indurain era and the one of today, however, is that today's peloton is considerably less chemically induced, and instead of an overwhelmingly dominant figure, you have three, sometimes up to five, guys who can win any one of the triumvirate of Grand Tours.

Furthermore, Indurain was a time trial specialist who could climb; maglia rosa Alberto Contador and, to a lesser extent Aru, are climbers who can also post a good time trial. And the Richie Porte of 2015 is equally at home on his bar extensions (he was once a triathlete, after all...) and on mountains high. Rigoberto Uran is probably closest in abilities to Big Mig; as we've seen to date, the constant attacking and counter-attacking do not befit the man who Cycling Central analyst Henk Vogels last year described as "having a face only a mother could love". (Harsh but fair, Henk!)

On paper, Contador should hold his own against Porte - however the dislocated shoulder suffered at the Stage 6 finish in Castiglione della Pescaia may change everything. Or, judging by the way he's handled himself since his misfortune last Thursday, nothing at all. "We will have to do some tests, because I usually race time trials with my arms close together and I may need to change position," El Pistolero said the day after his accident, where, masochistically, he almost seemed to revel in the pain of riding the longest stage of the race hampered: "I'd been racing for four hours, and I looked at how far we still had to go, the wind, and I thought: another four hours. In the end, we rode more than 270 kilometres. I thought: this is what cycling is."

Monday in Civitanova Marche, on the first of two rest days, Contador tested a revised position on his TT bike, with the bars slightly widened, and says he'll use it this weekend. "It costs (me) a little bit aerodynamically but it puts less pressure on my shoulder. In this situation, I think it's more important to protect it."

Still, if body cannot match mind, over the course of one and a half hours at full throttle, it may exacerbate his losses to a point where the Spaniard has no choice but to attack. Which, seemingly, is just how Bertie likes it. Aru, out of the aforementioned quartet the weakest against the watch, will certainly have to do the same; notably on Stage 9, we've seen both he and Contador are willing to collaborate if it is to the detriment of others. Uran, already two minutes behind the race lead, must do the ride of his life Saturday, which, based on last year's race, he is well capable of doing, but something tells me The Not So Handsome One will be fortunate to finish on the podium come May 31.

He may be hiding but this weekend is the moment Richie comes out to play - and he'll be playing to win.