Alberto Contador (Astana) says third place is just where he wants to be as the Tour de France rolls out of the Alps and toward the Pyrénées.
Tongues are wagging that Contador didn’t have the legs to follow Andy Schleck’s stage-winning attack Sunday, raising speculation that the Spanish climber might be in trouble in this year’s Tour.
Contador said pundits shouldn’t read too much into Sunday’s finale. Contador is third at 1:01 behind race leader Cadel Evans (BMC) and 41 seconds behind arch-rival Schleck, whom he once again identified as his most dangerous opponent.
“What I learned from yesterday is that I cannot react to every attack. When the attacks came at the top of Avoriaz, I went with every one of them. When Andy finally attacked, I didn’t quite have the spark in my legs and finished with the chase group at 10 seconds back,” he said. “Andy got a psychological boost Sunday, but it’s a long Tour. I am not worried about the stage. What I need to do is be more selective, above all, not let Andy gain more time on me in the mountains.”
Contador also said he was riding in the wind at the front of the main group, slotting in behind Astana teammate Dani Navarro on the top half of the final Avoriaz climb.
Contador, however, expressed confidence at his ability to fend off Schleck and other challengers as he tries to win a third Tour in four years.
“I came out of this first part of the Tour better than expected. And third place is an ideal place to be, because some of the other teams will now have to carry the weight of the race,” Contador said Monday. “I made it through the cobblestones in good shape and take confidence by how my team rode in the first two days in the Alps. The balance of the first part of the Tour is positive.”
The GC is still wide open, but Contador said he will mark his opponents and attack when he has to.
“In my other Tours, I was forced to attack from the gun, whereas this year, the most important stages come late in the Tour,” he said. “I cannot give too much time to riders such as Menchov, Leipheimer and Evans, riders who are good in the time trials.”
Contador said the heat and stress of the first week will make the final romp across the Pyrénées even more difficult.
“The Tour is just beginning,” he said. “The Pyrénées will decide who wins this Tour.”