Everything looked under control for Alberto Contador in Sunday’s explosive eighth stage, until the final kilometer. Arch-rival Andy Schleck bolted out of the elite, 13-rider group and Contador couldn’t follow the wheel.
Whether that’s a sign a weakness remains to be seen, and it will surely be played out in the coming stages, but Contador knows now who his most dangerous rival is if he wants to win his third Tour de France in four years.
“I didn’t quite have the punch in my legs to react when Andy attacked,” Contador said at the finish. “Last year, Andy put me on the ropes. Now it’s obvious that he will be my most dangerous rival this year.”
Contador tried to grab Schleck’s wheel when the Luxembourger shot clear just after passing under the “flamme rouge” of the final kilometer. Contador didn’t have the spark to stay with him and eventually crossed the line fifth at 10 seconds back.
Contador should be thankful there are no time bonuses this year. Schleck won the stage and settled into second at 20 seconds behind new leader Cadel Evans (BMC). Contador climbed to third at 1:01, but shows no sign of worry that he’s more than one minute behind the world champion.
“I am very content with today’s stage. The team did an incredible job today. We were the only team willing to take the weight of the race on our shoulders and the team responded perfectly,” Contador said. “We wanted to attack from a little further from the finish, but Schleck was all over me. We have to be content because we eliminated some important rivals.”
Astana took over the race on the Cat. 1 Col de la Ramaz with 34.5km to go, with Alexander Vinokourov, Jesús Hernández, Maxim Iglinsky and Dani Navarro setting a brutal pace that reduced the front group to about 25 riders.
Paolo Tiralongo paced the group up the lower half of the 13.6km final climb to Avoriaz before Navarro took the last pulls for Contador.
Contador didn’t seem too worried about the time differences to Evans and Schleck.
“We are just starting this Tour and I am satisfied that the team responded the way we did in the stage today,” he said. “The Pyrénées will be even more difficult. We are in a good position going into the second half of the race.”