While some riders might become disillusioned about losing nearly two minutes to his top GC rivals in the opening two days of the Tour de France, Contador has turned the page on his early troubles and recaptured the momentum Tuesday with a blistering performance up the Mur-de-Bretagne finishing climb.
Although he came just inches short of victory, Contador proved he’s not going down without a fight. The defending champion shot up the short but steep finishing stretch to take back a few seconds on some of his most dangerous rivals and send a strong message to everyone that he’s here to win.
“It’s an important day for my morale and the morale of my team,” Contador said. “We started this race with some bad luck and today we took advantage of the opportunity. It’s only a few seconds, but any time you can take back is important. It’s never easy to take on rivals like Andy (Schleck).”
Contador crossed the line in a photo-finish to stage winner Cadel Evans (BMC), even raising his hand after apparently believing that he had won the stage. Even with second, he takes satisfaction by pressuring the group and trimming the winning selection down to 10 riders that included Frank Schleck (Leopard-Trek). The younger Schleck brother wasn’t there. The differences were taken on a course that clearly suited Contador, but the Spaniard’s accelerations didn’t go unnoticed within the bunch.
“I was riding at the front to protect Bradley (Wiggins) and Contador clearly showed that he has the legs,” said Gerraint Thomas (Sky), who defended his white jersey. “Contador put a lot of guys in the hurt-box.”
Saxo Bank-Sungard boss Bjarne Riis was quick to downplay the significance of Contador’s attack, but behind closed doors, he would be pleased to see that Contador isn’t settling into some sort of defeatism following the setbacks in the opening stages.
“It’s only a few seconds, so you cannot read too much into what happened today. I know Andy is not at his best on climbs like these,” Riis said. “We are pleased to get through the stage. The team rode superbly today.”
Schleck also shrugged off suggestions that Contador recaptured the momentum and said he rode at his own pace up the finale.
“I prefer a mountain that’s longer and harder,” Andy Schleck said. “I don’t have the same punch that some of these guys have on a finish like today. Contador had some bad luck on the first day, it’s not a surprise what he did today. He’s here to win, but for us, it’s been a good start to the Tour.”
Despite the minimal differences taken back Tuesday, Contador was pleased that he could open up a gap in such a short climb. When the dust settled, he trimmed his gap to Andy Schleck to 1:30.
“It’s not a lot of time in respect to what we lost in the first two days, but it’s positive,” Contador said. “To take eight seconds on Andy in one kilometer is something incredible, something that we didn’t manage to do in the team time trial. It was up to me to shake up the race today, so that perhaps cost me a little in my chances for the stage victory. I am a little bit angry to come so close because the team did a great job for me today and winning is always something to celebrate.”
Contador said it was too early for him to draw conclusions and said he’s now focusing on getting through the first week unscathed to arrive at the Pyrénées in position to fight for the win.
“It’s too early to say if Evans is the strongest rival, because it wasn’t that steep of a climb,” Contador continued. “I am feeling the Giro in my legs and we’ll see if I can get through this first week and then we’ll see how things stack up. My other rivals didn’t race the Giro, so they perhaps have that advantage on me.”