Blazin' Saddles

The best at finishing second

Blazin' Saddles

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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 of magnanimity to Jose Rujano and Igor Anton (and an admittedly genuine can't-quite-make-it behind Oscar Gatto).

The Spaniard clearly knows how to make friends and influence people - which is pretty high on the priority list when you've had the kind of 10 months he's had.
But it has to be said - even from his fiercest of critics - Contador has ridden this Giro with utter perfection in every possible way.

He's clearly not going to lose it, and yet he is also aware of how he can use the whole race as a much-needed PR exercise to win over his detractors and those sitting on the fence.

Contador's gifts to both Rujano and Anton were returned with help from both riders at a later occasion, whilst he now knows that Astana, too, will have good reason to look out for him on Saturday's final climb to Sestrieres.

Far from the obvious (winning over the home Italian crowd) the way in which he ensured Tiralongo's triumph on Friday (by nullifying Joaquim Rodriguez's counter attack and then allowing his former team-mate to pull through at the death) was both astute and touching.

Contador clearly looks both backwards and forwards - eager to reward a man who helped him seize a third Tour crown last July (and who, at 33, will not have many more chances to win on a Grand Tour), but also doing so while thinking about the positive effect it will have on his own person. For there will be storms ahead - and there can be no harm in strengthening one's sails.

A cynic may say that he's simply giving a former close ally good reason to keep his mouth shut - but that would be pretty churlish.

Given his on-going Clenbuterol storm, Contador would be madder than Riccardo Ricco hosting the annual Mad Hatter's shindig in Bedlam while listening to Madness, watching Loony Tunes and repetitively saying the word "wibble", if he were taking any risks with illegal products or training methods this year.

As such, we can be pretty assured that Contador is riding this race as clean as a hound's tooth. And with that in mind, we can all enjoy just what a phenomenal rider he is.

Even when the Italian fans took to booing him atop the Zoncolan, Contador replied with grace, claiming he didn't hear the boos; then, ever since, making a point of stressing how well he has been received by spectators all over Italy.

Granting Italy another stage win - their third in as many days (which now rather symbolically ties Italy and Spain to five wins apiece with two stages to go) - was yet another cunning and calculated (but nevertheless befitting) move by Contador, who is fast proving himself to be a grande campione.

Far from belittling, it was actually rather humble. He's still got to work on his handover, mind.

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