• A modern-day campionissimo: Alberto Contador (ANSA)
The true test of a great Grand Tour rider, nay champion, is one's ability to perform when competing at less than 100 per cent of their capabilities, writes Anthony Tan.
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27 May 2015 - 4:56 PM  UPDATED 27 May 2015 - 5:03 PM

"Apply the same situations that have so far befelled the Spaniard to Fabio Aru, Richie Porte and Rigoberto Uran, and see where they would be..."

Before the Valdobbiadene time trial and subsequent mountain stage to Madonna di Campaglio all four pre-race favourites had experienced some sort of misadventure by way of a mechanical, crash, or ill-health; some thing (or things) that had compromised their ability to perform at 100 per cent of their abilities, but in of itself, not enough to quit.

Marginal pains, you could say.

Saturday last, when Vasil Kiryienka found himself somewhat of a surprise winner of the 59.4 kilometre time test in the hills of Prosecco, a journalist noted that in the Belarusian's decade-long professional career, he had won on almost all types of terrain (including the boards, where he realised success in the individual pursuit and points race), and so asked him if he set his mind to it, and the opportunity presented itself, would he make a suitable Grand Tour leader.

"It is difficult to be a leader because, in my view, you are under pressure every day. It's something special. I don't know if I'd want that sort of role; perhaps for a one-week race, but in a race like this, it requires special demands."

Perhaps this is what defines one's ability to win a three-week race more than anything: the ability to perform under pressure.

If you look around at today's peloton, there are probably 20 or more riders like Kiryienka who possees the attributes of a Grand Tour rider. Due to the "special demands" that go beyond the purely physical, however, they choose not to be a leader (or, as in the case of Michael Rogers, accept their fate after years of trying) and instead become a super-domestique; a role with less rewards, less notoriety and therefore less attention, but importantly, with far less pressure, and, in most cases, greater longevity of career.

"I've been disputing Grand Tours for many years, and I know how hard it is to win them, what with illness, mechanicals, crashes and crises," Alberto Contador said following the fifteenth stage to Madonna di Campaglio, and the day after he retook the race lead in Valdobbiadene with what appears to be a race-winning time trial performance.

How about this for an experiment: Apply the same situations that have so far befelled the Spaniard to Fabio Aru, Richie Porte and Rigoberto Uran, and see how they would fare. Impossible to conduct, quite obviously, but if it were possible, I'd bet my house none would be in the same position as Contador is right now.

So cool was he the day he dislocated his shoulder at the finish of Stage 6, he popped it back in himself. Just like that.

Last Friday in Jesolo, on the stage before the time trial, both Contador and Porte were involved in a crash 3200 metres from the finish. "(Matteo) Tosatto was very atttentive and quick," said Contador, "giving me the (spare) bike and making sure I got across the line as fast as I could to limit my losses." Porte, meanwhile, waited and waited for his team car, before he used Kiriyienka's bike to get himself over the line.

Three days before, when the Tasmanian suffered his much-publicised front wheel puncture, would the highly experienced Contador have accepted a wheel from a rider of another team as Porte chose to do, leading to his controversial two-minute penalty over and above the 47 seconds he already lost?

Somehow, I don't think so.

And would Contador have asked his team-mates to be aggressive as Aru's Astana team have been in the first 10 days, which will likely leave them half - or completely - spent for these crucial final days in the mountains?

In the six Grand Tours he's won, Bertie's Boyz have never behaved in such a fashion.

Furthermore, when you juxtapose a leader like Uran, Porte or Aru against one like Contador, and in a race like the Giro, you realise just how complete he is and where his rivals fall short, and regardless of what you think of him, you understand and appreciate why he is the best Grand Tour rider of his generation.

As the Italians say, he is fuoriclasse: unrivalled, unequalled. A modern-day campionissimo.