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MONT VENTOUX, France (VN) — Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) waved the white flag Sunday after Chris Froome (Sky) dropped him midway up the Tour de France’s most famous mountain.
Seemingly revived after taking back 1:09 in echelons Friday, on Saturday Contador bowed to Froome’s dominance on Mont Ventoux.
Unable to answer Froome’s acceleration, the once-mighty Contador slunk across the line sixth at 1:40 back, and all but conceded victory to his Sky rival.
“I came to this Tour to win, but Chris Froome is too strong,” Contador said at the line. “Froome is superior to everyone else in the mountains. He showed it in the Pyrénées, and he showed it again today.”
When the dust settled atop the Ventoux, Froome tightened his grip on yellow going into the Tour’s final week.
Bauke Mollema (Belkin) held on to second at 4:14 back, while Contador remained third, now at 4:25 back.
Contador looked to be in good position when he was the only rider strong enough to stay with Richie Porte and Froome, but he was dropped as soon as the yellow jersey punched the accelerator.
How fortunes have changed for Contador, who once had the punch to leave his rivals gasping.
In 2009, Contador cemented his second yellow jersey on Mont Ventoux, and looked poised to become the major grand-tour rider of his generation.
Then a clenbuterol positive in the 2010 Tour saw him stripped of his title and subsequent results, including the 2011 Giro d’Italia, and awarded a backdated two-year ban.
Contador bounced back to win the Vuelta a España last fall, but he didn’t pack the same punch as he did before his ban.
Fast forward to Sunday’s high-speed, windy charge up the “géant de provence,” and Froome was clearly the dominant rider.
The yellow jersey dropped Contador to confirm his ascendance as cycling’s new grand-tour dominator.
“It wasn’t trying to send a message [to Contador], but I wanted to try to take as much time as possible before the final week,” Froome said. “There is still the hardest racing yet to come. I am really happy to have this advantage.”
That advantage is crushing to Contador.
Contador knows his gap to Froome is too far back to seriously expect to win this Tour.
“I did what I could. I climbed at my rhythm, but Froome is too strong,” Contador said. “I am not worried about second right now. There is still a lot of racing to come, we’ll just see what happens.”
All season long, Contador has been racing on the back foot, unable to deliver the scathing attacks and hold the speed in his old deadly manner.
He vowed that he would focus solely on the Tour, and hoped to hit top form in its final week.
But Froome has proven a formidable opponent, taking gains on Contador in the two summit finishes (Ax-3 Domaines and Mont Ventoux) and the individual time trial (Mont-Saint-Michel).
Contador only managed to take time on Froome after the peloton split into echelons across the windy central plains of France on Friday.
Once again, Team Sky elevated its game when it was crunch time on Mont Ventoux, erasing questions about the team’s weakness, at least for now.
Going into Monday’s rest day, Contador will have plenty of time to consider his options.
So far, he’s been unable to challenge Froome in the mountains. With a week still to go, there is plenty of climbing between Ventoux and Paris, but so far, it’s hard to imagine Contador mounting a serious challenge.
Of course, Froome still has to win a grand tour, and even with disqualifications in the 2010 Tour and the 2011 Giro, Contador has far more grand-tour victories than anyone in the peloton.
Whether he can use that experience, and the strength of his team, to rattle Froome in the final week will be one of the most interesting storylines going toward Paris.