Alberto Contador attacked once on the Col de la Colombière near the end of Wednesday’s queen stage, but it didn’t make anyone happy on the Astana Team.
Contador’s surge with about 2km to go to the Colombière didn’t gap the victorious Schleck brothers, but it popped Astana’s Andreas Klöden out of the back of the elite, four-man group.
Klöden eventually lost 2:27 to the Schlecks and opened the door for the Schlecks to slip into second and third.
Astana team boss Johan Bruyneel was none too pleased with his young pupil, suggesting that Contador’s aggression might have cost the team a chance to sweep the final podium in Paris.
“I told him you don’t have to attack to win the Tour de France today, because the difference was there to Wiggins,” Bruyneel said after the stage. “It’s a bit of a pity that Andreas couldn’t hang on, because I think we could have been first, second and third on GC, and instead, we are first, fourth and fifth.”
Bruyneel said Contador’s punch played into the hands of the Schleck brothers, upping the tempo and leaving Klöden isolated for the final two kilometers to the summit.
“I had advice not to do. He didn’t need to go,” Bruyneel said. “It was clear that the Schleck brothers would go full gas to the summit.
Klöden was immediately gapped by 20 seconds as the Schleck brothers chased down Contador. Realizing that Klöden was on the ropes, the Schlecks went even harder. At the summit, Klöden was 1:15 back and lost even more time on the descent.
Klöden, who rarely speaks with reporters, did not have anything to say at the finish line, so it’s hard to gauge his reaction. He was able to stay with the Schlecks until Contador attacked, but he was also clearly struggling on the upper reaches of the climb and the 15km descent.
After the dust settled, the Schlecks took the psychological advantage of slotting into second and third, at 2:26 and 3:25 back, respectively, while Klöden, who started fourth at 2:17, drifted back to fifth at 4:44 back.
Those two minutes will be hard to recover for Klöden, despite being a superior time trialist to the Schlecks.
Lance Armstrong — who started the day second, slipped to fourth, now 3:55 back – also wondered about Contador’s need to attack in that situation.
When asked about Contador’s attack, Armstrong said: “I really wasn’t paying attention. I wanna bite my tongue on that one.”
Armstrong made a strong surge late in the stage to narrow the gap to the Schlecks, but Contador’s accelerations seemed to spur the Luxembourg brothers along even further. Armstrong caught Klöden on the descent and they came across the line with Vicenzo Nibali (Liquigas).
“I got caught out tactically a bit. I didn’t follow the accelerations and then tactically I have to stay with other teams,” Armstrong said. “I was stuck there with Wiggins and I couldn’t go until the end when it was steeper. In hindsight, I probably should have gone with the earlier accelerations.”
Contador defended his move.
The Spanish climber said the day’s main goal was to get rid of Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream), who they considered the most dangerous GC rival.
The British rider was popped early on the final climb and was more than two minutes behind, riding with Armstrong, when Contador decided to punch the accelerator.
Contador had patiently marked the rhythm set by the Schlecks on the Romme and Colombière climbs and clearly had good legs when he made his stab.
Contador shot ahead, checked the reactions from the Schlecks and then dropped back on the wheel when he saw it was Klöden who was the main victim of the aggression.
“It was too bad (about Klöden). I spoke with Bruyneel about it, who told me to speak with Klöden, and he told me that, yes, attack if I wanted to,” Contador said. “I thought that I might be able to go alone or just with Andy, but the only one who stayed behind was Klöden. That’s why I decided to stop, to see if he could come back, but in the end, he lost a lot.”
Contador insisted that he was trying to blow away the Schlecks, and quickly sat up when he realized that Klöden was getting gapped. Contador kept looking back to check on the fading Klöden, but wisely chose to stay with the attacking Schlecks and rode it to the line.
“I wanted to do like I did on Verbier, but there weren’t the same gaps and Klöden was behind, so I decided to wait for him,” Contador said. “In the end, I went to the finish line to conclude in the best manner possible. I am not at all happy about what happened with Klöden.”
The day’s polemic clearly shows Contador’s independence streak during this Tour.
Just like he did at Arcalis and Verbier, Contador is riding his own race.
Follow Andrew Hood’s twitter at twitter.com/eurohoody.