Alberto Contador was pounding his fist on his handlebars at the end of Tuesday’s cobblestone stage, but it wasn’t because he was angry at Astana teammate Alexander Vinokourov.
Contador’s frustration over a mechanical problem poured out as he faded at the end of the stage, losing 20 seconds in the final 2km when he couldn’t stay with the six-man group powered by Vinokourov.
Some misread that Vinokourov was attacking, but Contador said he couldn’t have been more pleased with how his controversial Astana teammate rode over the cobbles.
“Vinokourov did a great job for me today. I am very pleased with how he rode and how the day transpired,” Contador said at the line after crossing 13th at 1:13 back. “My back wheel was rubbing for the final part of the race and it was simply the fatigue of the effort catching up with me. I felt pretty good on the cobbles today, so I can only be content with how things played out.”
Contador passed a major hurdle Tuesday on his road to a third Tour crown.
He limited his losses to archrivals Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans and took out important gains on such riders as Lance Armstrong, Denis Menchov and Ivan Basso.
“It’s too early to assess how this will play out in the remainder of the Tour, but what was important is that I didn’t crash or lose major time today,” Contador said. “It was a very hard day, but also a good one. The team did a great job today, especially Vinokourov.”
Vinokourov was the last man standing for Contador, who entered Tuesday’s stage with a lot of pressure to perform well.
In the weeks and months leading up to the stage, many saw the cobblestones as a weak point in Contador’s otherwise-complete skill set to battle for the Tour overall. Armstrong was among several top rivals who hoped to put Contador under pressure on the cobblestones.
Instead, it was Contador turning the tables on many of his rivals. Astana did a good job keeping him near the front of the action across the early cobblestone sectors. Vinokourov later helped drive the chasing group toward the line.
Some bad news hit the team. Favored Contador domestique Benjamin Noval crashed when Fränk Schleck went down and might have a sprained or broken hand.
Contador did better than many expected on the cobblestones and likely wouldn’t have lost 20 seconds in the final kilometers if not for a damaged rear wheel.
The Spanish captain broke a spoke when he dodged to avoid the falling Schleck with about 28km to go. Another rider slammed into his rear wheel, breaking a spoke. The wheel worsened over the final punishing cobblestones and was visibly wobbling as he crossed the line.
“The wheel started to rub against the brake, but I didn’t want to take a chance to stop and switch bikes,” Contador said. “At that point of the race, it would have been very difficult to regain contact with the group I was in.”
Contador’s solid ride must have raised some eyebrows. UCI officials insisted that his bike be scanned by the X-ray machine to look for mechanized motors inside bike frames.