LE LIORAN, France (VN) — Alberto Contador is among the toughest riders in the bunch, but even the two-time Tour de France champion cannot ignore the truth.
Banged and battered from two crashes in the opening two days of the 2016 Tour, Contador ceded more time Wednesday — 33 seconds to drop to 1:21 off the top GC riders — and hinted if he cannot recover in time for the Pyrénées this weekend, he might have to switch to stage-hunting mode.
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“I lost more time, and I am still trying to recover before the Pyrénées. I know it’s going to be very difficult,” Tinkoff’s leader told reporters at the line. “I have to take on this Tour differently than we had planned. I hope to recover for the Pyrénées, if not, well, we’ll have to look for a moment in the Alps.”
Those finish-line declarations are the strongest indication yet that Contador might be ready to admit that he’s not going to be able to rebound from his crashes to start the Tour.
“The situation is not optimal, but he will get better,” said Tinkoff sport director Sean Yates. “Obviously, having this handicap is a big one. It’s not as bad as it could be. We hoped for an easier stage, but it wasn’t to be because Movistar were putting the hammer down big time, and Sky was riding hard, but not super-hard.”
Some were scratching their heads over Tinkoff’s tactics. Contador was left isolated when the late attacks came on the final climb, initiated by Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale). Rafal Majka was up the road in a counter-attack, but did not sit up when it became obvious Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) was going to win the stage. And Roman Kreuziger rode ahead of Contador in the final charge to the line.
“We hoped Greg would blow up. Alberto still had Kreuziger and followed the best he could, but Bardet attacked,” Yates said. “He was there until the very end. There is light at the end of the tunnel. You only have to see the guys coming out the back to see how hard it was.”
Tinkoff might also be giving the others the green light to ride, just in case Contador cannot make it out of the Pyrénées. Contador also said team tactics were not the problem.
“There was a little bit of disorganization, but we can’t get too carried away about that,” Contador said. “The legs are not working, that’s the main problem.”
With arch-rivals Chris Froome (Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Contador knows being on the back foot going into the Pyrénées is far from ideal.
“My morale is still good. It’s true that it’s been a terrible start to the Tour, and after spending months training and preparation for the Tour, I am not ready to give up yet,” Contador said. “Today would have been different if I had been in my normal condition, so I just had to get through it the best I could.”
“I am satisfied because I lost less time than I honestly expected,” Contador continued. “I have to be realistic, and this Tour is going to be more difficult than I would have liked, and we’ll just have to take it day by day.
“Instead of fighting for the GC, maybe we’ll have to look at other possibilities. I am always the most optimistic of anyone, and I will also fight to the end, and keep trying to do something beautiful in this Tour, but my body needs time to recover.”