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Tour de France

Contador: ‘Sunday is the hardest stage of the Tour’

Alberto Contador wants an opportunity to attack Tour rivals in the Alps. He'll get that chance in stage 9, which he expects to be brutal.

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TROYES, France (VN) — Alberto Contador loves the Alps. Some of his sweetest Tour de France moments have come in Europe’s highest mountains.

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On Wednesday, the Trek-Segafredo veteran wasn’t quite in the frame during the short, explosive summit finale in the Vosges. He’s hoping that will change when the Tour tilts into more favorable terrain this weekend.

At 34, Contador’s hopes remain eternal.

“I believe Sunday is the hardest stage of the Tour,” Contador said at the start Thursday. “It’s a stage that is completely different, a lot of long hours climbing, with steep grades, more resistance. I hope its better for me than yesterday.”

On Wednesday, Contador admittedly wasn’t at his sharpest. On the short but steep ramps of La Planche des Belles Filles — where he crashed out in 2014 before even reaching the climb — Contador couldn’t quite follow the best. He limited the losses to just five seconds to Chris Froome (Sky) and others. It isn’t much, but perhaps it’s telling.

“It was a complicated stage, and I didn’t feel especially great, but things turned out OK,” Contador said. “The strongest were at the front of the stage. I found myself back, and I was reeling in riders. I was trying to lose as little time as possible.”

Contador — the only other starter besides Chris Froome (Sky) who’s won the Tour — is sizing up Sunday’s stage to Chambery. The veteran Spaniard believes the longer, more sustained climbs will revive his Tour hopes. He started Thursday’s long, flat stage eighth overall, 52 seconds behind Froome.

“This is the Tour de France. It’s going to be a race of resistance,” Contador said. “Froome looked pretty good. We’ll have to see how the legs go. I could stay close to them [Wednesday] and the losses were minimal.”

At 34, Contador finds himself in the unfamiliar position as a relative outsider. After dominating grand tours for much of the past decade, with seven wins (or nine, depending on how you count them), he remains the most successful active grand tour rider in the peloton.

Yet when the names of the five-star favorites were bandied about, Contador found himself a step or two below. It’s the inevitable generational change. Wednesday’s ride only seemed to confirm that status.

“I didn’t feel great Wednesday,” Contador admitted. “It was important to ‘save’ the Tour. Now we have two days to get ready for the Alps. That’s terrain I like a lot better, so let’s see if we can try something.”

Yet a strong showing this weekend could put Contador right back on the tip of everyone’s tongues. The Tour is just beginning, something Contador is counting in his favor. He is experienced at managing a race. He has a knack for creating openings and pressing an advantage.

Sunday’s 181.5km stage 9 tackles three hors-categorie climbs, including the Grand Colombiere after 91km, and the Mont du Chat after 155.5km. Although it’s not one of the Tour’s three summit finales, many expect it to prove decisive.

And if there’s anyone who can go off-script and play the role of disruptor, it’s Contador.

The keys over the next few days? That much hasn’t changed since Contador won his first Tour in 2007: Stay out of trouble. Stay hydrated, and don’t lose time. Two stages this weekend — Saturday in the Jura and Sunday along the flanks of the Alps — will reset the GC frame. Contador hopes to be front and center once again.