Vincenzo Nibali could have been forgiven for conceding defeat in the Giro d'Italia with a week left to race.
It was quite clear after the first real mountain stage up Mount Etna that Contador was in a league of his own. So instead of trying to match him, blowing up, losing massive amounts of time and sacrificing any chance of a podium place, why not ride for second place knowing that you may actually be riding for first?
This is the farcical scenario we were left with as Contador continues to race pending the result of an appeal by both the UCI and WADA to the Court of Arbitration for Sport regarding his exoneration by the Spanish cycling federation after his positive test in the 2010 Tour de France. Now the appeal process has been delayed even further which means Contador now seems likely to be at this year's Tour. Which means if Contador is subsequently found guilty we could potentially see him stripped of a Giro and two Tour de France titles, all because of one positive...lunacy!
If I was Contador I would be trying to keep somewhat of a low profile. Although winning the Giro doesn't exactly make you inconspicuous, the way in which he shot out of the group at the end of Stage 19 to catch Paolo Tiralongo only to let him win the stage anyway was just taking the piss.
Regardless, here are some trivial oddities which no doubt will require plenty of revisionism in the future...
Since the 2007 Tour de France, Contador has now ridden six Grand Tours and has won all of them. Considering that this run includes the Tour, the Giro and the Vuelta it's an impressive achievement. However it is not the longest ever Grand Tour unbeaten run; there are two riders that can boast a longer run of uninterrupted victories.
Firstly, there is Lance Armstrong who of course won seven Tours de France in a row. However, for me, the fact that he never rode either of the other two Grand Tours during this run makes Contador's feat more impressive. Also, Contador is a mere 28; Armstrong had only won two Grand Tours when he was the same age.
And secondly, as is ususal with stats like this, there is Eddy Merckx. Between his first Tour win in 1969 and his last in 1974, the
masterful Belgian won every Grand Tour he raced; this included five Tours, four Giros and one Vuelta. If Merckx hadn't been expelled towards the end of the 1969 Giro, his run would have extended back to 1968 which would have made it 12 Grand Tours unbeaten.
By winning Stage Nine on Mount Etna in this year's Giro, Contador has joined the fairly long list of riders who have won stages in each of the three Grand Tours. The Spaniard won the Giro overall in 2008, the only previous time he has participated, but he did not win a stage that year.
David Millar also completed a hat-trick when he took over the Maglia Rosa after Stage Three. Millar is now one of only three active riders to have worn the leader's jersey in all three Grand Tours. Contador is obviously one, having won all three races. The other is Cadel Evans. The Australian has had five stints in total in a Grand Tour leader's jersey, Giro 2002, 2010, Tour 2008, 2010 and Vuelta 2009. However, from these five periods as race leader he has only managed a paltry ten days wearing one of the leader's jersey. Evans rode three Grand Tours in a row at one stage, Vuelta 2009, Giro 2010 and Tour 2010 and bizarrely, he managed a solitary day in the leader's jersey in each of them.
Mark Cavendish has embarked on his journey into the record books. He has stated that he aims to ride all three Grand Tours this year. Although he abandoned after Stage 12 in this year's Giro he had achieved his goals by taking two stage wins and wearing the Maglia Rosa. Cavendish is aiming to become only the fourth rider to win stages in all three races in the one year (Poblet, Baffi and Petacchi are the others). But he is also aiming to become the first rider to wear the leader's jersey in all three in the one year. The fact that there is a team time trial in each of the Grand Tours for the first time since 1988 will undoubtedly help his cause.
It hasn't been a good year for the Italians at the Giro. With only five stage victories it's their second most meagre stage winning haul ever (only 1989 was worse when they only managed four). And at that they were saved by a flurry of wins in the final week, up until Stage 17 they had only won two. To put this into context, every year (apart from that inexplicable 1989) from 1976 until 2001, Italians won at least ten stages of the Giro with an incredible 17 wins coming in each of the years 1980, 1981 and 1991. Just five wins this year will not leave the tifosi happy.
Much of the Italians' failure to win stages can be apportioned to the great success of the Spaniards in this year's race. They won a total of six stages which equals their previous biggest ever total in the Giro, achieved in 1974 when Jose Manuel Fuente won five of them.
There's been a serious decline in Italian stage victors at the Giro in recent years. Home wins fell from 14 in 2008 to eight the following year, to six in 2010 and now a lowly five this year. But don't take my word for it, here's a lovely graph showing stage wins by Italians and Spaniards in the Giro since World War II (even though you'll also be taking my word for it that the graph is accurate).
As the graph shows, having long played second fiddle to the Italians in their own race, this year's Giro is the first time ever that Spaniards have scored more stage wins than the Italians themselves. Add that to the fact that Contador also won the race overall and this seems like more than enough revenge for the Spaniards after Vincenzo Nibali infiltrated the Vuelta last September.
Having had his CAS hearing pushed back from its initial date in early June, Contador will now be moving on to attempt the Giro/Tour double. Marco Pantani was the last to achieve this in 1998. Before him, another Spaniard Miguel Indurain did it twice in a row in 1992 and 1993, and not even Eddy Merckx managed that. In fact, Contador will be aiming to carry on the trend that whenever a Spaniard wins the Giro, he wins another Grand Tour that same year. As besides Indurain, Contador is the only other Spaniard to have won the Giro, in 2008 when he doubled it up with victory in the Vuelta a Espana.