CARENTEN, France (VN) — Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) just can’t catch a break. Or least a good one.
In what appeared as his best approach to the Tour de France in years, Contador’s yellow jersey aspirations took a blow Saturday when his front wheel slipped out while riding into a traffic circle. Landing hard on his right shoulder, a tattered and torn Contador was cursing his luck barely four hours into the 2016 Tour de France.
“It’s the worst possible way to start the Tour,” said Contador, shaking his head in dismay. “After eight months of training and preparation, you crash on the first day. Mala suerte!”
Despite some nasty cuts and scrapes, it didn’t appear if Contador was seriously injured. The team didn’t take its star to a hospital for X-rays, a good sign in what was an otherwise tense day.
“I will try to recover in the next hours and days to be ready for the mountains,” Contador said. “There was a lot of tension in the group, because everyone was fighting for position to avoid the wind.”
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The crash underscored Contador’s long-running love-hate relationship with the Tour de France (see below), and reconfirmed just how dangerous the opening stages of the Tour can be for the GC favorites.
“It’s the same for all the GC guys, these first days in the Tour,” said Tinkoff sport director Stephen De Jongh. “Today it was our turn, maybe tomorrow it’s [Sky’s Chris] Froome. Everyone knows how dangerous these stages are.”
There were polemics immediately after the crash as the post-stage chaos as riders came across the line. De Jongh initially told Eurosport that he believed that BMC’s Brent Bookwalter took out Contador in the corner, but video footage captured by a fan showed Contador’s front wheel slipping out, with Bookwalter right in Contador’s slipstream, and nowhere to go. Sky’s Luke Rowe also toppled over the top of the crash, while the other GC riders steered clear of the pileup, but it did not appear as if Bookwalter caused the crash. Sky’s Geraint Thomas was also caught up behind the pileup, and later forced to change wheels when he flatted. To make matters worse, there was another crash in the final sprint, sending a few more riders to the ground.
All in all, it was a typical wild, nervous, and stressful first day of the Tour.
“It was such a hectic, stressful day,” said BMC’s Richie Porte. “I’m just happy to finish with no skin missing, to be honest. It was one of those days that are so hard. It was quite stressful and hard to keep everyone together.”
With crosswinds buffeting the peloton throughout much of the 188km opening stage, everyone was on edge. Sky, Tinkoff, Movistar and other teams were elbowing to the front to try to keep their GC captains out of trouble.
Two-time champion Froome steered clear of trouble, evading the Contador crash as well as steering clear of a finish-line pileup. Movistar was especially focused on keeping Nairo Quintana out of harm’s way, and avoiding the stage 2 losses in the 2015 Tour that haunted the Colombian climber throughout last year’s Tour.
For Tinkoff, the squad was quietly counting its blessings, knowing it could have been worse, like Contador’s nasty crash in 2014. At least the Spaniard is still in the game, and it appeared that Fabian Cancellara (Trek — Segafredo) slowed the peloton to allow Contador and others to chase back on.
“When you crash, you always get back on the bike, but it’s later when you start to feel the pain,” De Jongh. “Alberto will feel it tomorrow, and the finale Sunday is quite tricky. We hope to avoid more troubles in these days.”
Trouble can strike at any time, and Contador vows to keep fighting in what could be one of his last chances to win the Tour again.
“The Tour doesn’t end here,” Contador said defiantly.
Contador’s rough ride across the Tour
Alberto Contador and the Tour de France have been synonymous since his 2005 debut. Since then, he has never landed worse than fifth overall in a Tour he has finished. With two official wins (and one taken away), Contador is one of the top favorites for yellow this month. Here is a look at his sometimes rocky road at the Tour:
2005 — 31st: In his first Tour appearance, he was third in the young rider competition, arriving to Paris 31st overall. He rode as a helper to Roberto Heras and Joseba Beloki at Liberty Seguros, proving that he could develop into a grand tour contender.
2006 — DNS: Did not race after he was among nine riders removed from the Tour in a final-hour decision by ASO and the UCI for links between the team and the Operación Puerto doping scandal unfolding in Spain. Also removed were Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso. Initially linked to the Puerto dossier, Contador’s name was not confirmed during a hearing in Madrid last year. The cloud of doubt, however, has hung over Contador ever since.
2007 — 1st: Won his first Tour in the wake of the controversial expulsion of race-leader Michael Rasmussen. Contador won a stage in the Pyrénées, and then took yellow when Rasmussen was removed from the race by his Rabobank team.
2008 — DNS: After a move to Astana, Contador was unable to race the Tour after ASO decided to not allow the team to start the Tour following blood-doping positives from Alexander Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin the previous year. Contador won the Giro and Vuelta instead.
2009 — 1st: Contador’s Tour woes continued when he was forced to share leadership with the return of Lance Armstrong. Contador, however, rode his own race and refused to fold to Armstrong’s will, attacking him in the Pyrénées. Contador won two stages, a mountaintop finish at Verbier and a time trial at Annecy, confirming his status as the new Tour dominator.
2010 — DSQ: Contador battled Andy Schleck to the wire, winning by just 39 seconds. He later tested positive for traces of clenbuterol, which he claimed entered his system after eating steaks brought from Spain on the second rest day. Despite maintaining his innocence, he is handed a two-year ban by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
2011 — DSQ: As his lawyers battled the clenbuterol case, Contador raced and won the Giro d’Italia. After earning an unexpected window to race the Tour, he could only muster fifth, before seeing all of his results from 2011 swiped clean by the CAS ruling following a 17-month legal process.
2012 — DNS: Contador missed the Tour yet again after CAS handed down its ruling in February 2012. He returned in time to race the Vuelta, which he won in a spectacular raid in the Picos de Europa.
2013 — 4th: Back to the Tour again, Contador was out-gunned by a superior Chris Froome (Sky), who attacked him in the final mountain stage to knock Contador off the final podium.
2014 — DNF: After a spectacular run across the spring season, winning or finishing second in every stage race he started, Contador started the Tour with high hopes. He lost nearly three minutes to Nibali over the cobblestones and crashed out in stage 10 on a descent in the Vosges.
2015 — 5th: Contador won the Giro d’Italia in May, but the fight against Astana’s Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa were harder than he had hoped. A heavy crash on his left shoulder also cost him. He could never truly challenge for yellow, but fought to fifth overall in Paris at 5:25 behind Chris Froome.