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MONTPELLIER, France (VN) — Bjarne Riis says his former pupils the Schleck brothers made a mistake by not eliminating Alberto Contador in the Pyrénées.
Contador was on the ropes in the opening mountain stages, unable to open up the searing attacks that typify his style of racing. But while he couldn’t attack, Contador was able to hang close to the Leopard-Trek tandem.
“It’s a mistake — a big one,” the Saxo Bank-Sungard boss told VeloNews on Sunday. “Yes, they missed an opportunity.”
The Contador camp is quietly growing confident that the Spanish climber will be able to recover from a rough-and-tumble first half of the 2011 Tour and use the Alps to try to ride back into contention for overall victory.
Contador is four minutes down on Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler and still more than two minutes behind Fränk Schleck. Contador was able to respond to the Schlecks’ attacks in two summit finishes at the Pyrénées, with Contador only losing 33 seconds to Fränk at Luz-Ardiden and two seconds to Andy at Plateau de Beille.
“If some of these guys sitting in that group, if they want to win this Tour, they have to attack,” Riis said without naming names. “They have to make it harder, there has to be more selection.”
Riis said the rest day comes at a good time to give Contador one more day to recover going into the Alps. Contador has vowed to go down fighting, but Riis is hopeful that his team captain will be able to have one good day and drop everyone.
“I am confident that Alberto is going to be good in the Alps,” Riis said. “We are going for the victory — nothing else.”
Riis said the Schlecks’ inability to drop Contador or BMC’s Cadel Evans in the Pyrénées bodes well for Contador.
“I think it has been good for Alberto. (Saturday) was important to see that he’s improving. If he can regain his level, he’s going to be dangerous,” Riis said. “To win, he has to attack, that’s obvious. Why should he wait for L’Alpe d’Huez? I don’t see a reason to wait.”
Cavendish lauds teammates
Mark Cavendish fended off Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) to win his fourth stage of the 2011 Tour and come closer to clinching the green jersey for the first time in his career. As always, the Manxster was quick to thank his HTC-Highroad teammates.
“It’s my name that goes into the history books, but without those guys pulling for me, I wouldn’t win anything,” Cavendish said. “Those guys ride 190km at the front. I rode 200 meters at the front. They do everything they can to put me in position to win. I owe it to them to win.”
Contador promises to attack
Alberto Contador, meanwhile, survived what he described as a “complicated” stage marked by gusts of wind hitting 70kph. Saxo Bank-Sungard kept him well protected and he made it to Montpellier looking forward to the rest day.
Contador says he’s feeling better by the day and vows to not reach Paris without at least trying to go on the attack.
“I hope the legs respond in the Alps. And the only thing I will say is that I will not arrive in Paris with the doubt of wondering what would have happened if I had tried,” Contador said Sunday.
“All the Alps stages are hard. Voeckler is incredible. He has a lot of time on me and it’s going to be hard to try to get it back. The Schlecks? We still don’t know which one is the leader, they still have both bases open.”
Hincapie: ‘It was brutal’
It’s never easy at the Tour de France, even when it looks so on paper.
A rolling stage with one fourth-category climb seemed like it should have been a respite after three hard days in the mountains. But strong winds of up to 70kph made for a hectic day of racing.
“Today was brutal,” Hincapie said. “For a transition day, it was harder than a lot of the mountain stages we’ve done. It was full on, all day, fighting for position. You couldn’t let your guard down for one second. The team did an awesome job of riding together all day.”
BMC captain Cadel Evans was happy to get through the nervous stage.
“It’s a sort of a conflict in the race where the sprinters want to be in the first position, but we have to be in the front and sometimes we have to be in their way at 10 or five kilometers to go,” Evans said. “Of course they don’t like that, but we can lose the race at five kilometers because we have to at least be at three kilometers if something happens in the peloton.”
Yellow: Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) defended his maillot jaune.
Green: Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) widened his lead with the stage win, 319 to 282, to Jose Rojas.
Polka-dot: Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) was unchallenged.
White: Rigoberto Uran (Sky) keeps the best young rider’s jersey.
Team: Leopard-Trek leads Europcar by six seconds
Most aggressive: Niki Terpstra (Quick Step).
Niki Terpstra (Quick Step), fined 100CHF for public urination
Biel Kadri (Ag2r), knee pain
Andrey Amador (Movistar)
All 170 starters finished the stage.
Forecasters are calling for rain showers, 20 to 25km southwesterly winds and cool temperatures for Tuesday’s 16th stage.