UCI denies team efforts to change time losses
LES ESSARTS, France (VN) – Alberto Contador tried to put a positive spin after a second consecutive day of time losses to his rivals at the 2011 Tour de France.
Scores of journalists crowded around the Saxo Bank-Sungard bus to catch a glimpse of Contador. For the second day in a row, the Spanish climber lost time, something rare for the rider who’s won the past six grand tours he’s started. A day after losing 1:20 in stage one, Saxo Bank-Sungard ceded yet more time in Sunday’s 23km TTT, finishing eighth at 28 seconds behind Garmin-Cervélo. Arch-rivals Leopard-Trek and BMC were just four seconds slower, meaning Contador gave his main challengers even more rope. When the dust settled, Contador slotted into 75th at 1:42 back.
Time for panic? Not yet, says team manager Bjarne Riis.
“Baaagh. OK, we lost more time than we would have liked, but the Tour is just starting. We expect things to stay the way they are until the Pyrénées, then we will see,” Riis said. “There is no reason to change our tactics. I know Alberto is strong.”
Riis says the drama of the past 48 hours could have a silver lining, meaning that the pressure to carry the race over the next week or so will fall on the other, better-placed teams. But many are wondering if Contador is perhaps too far back to make up the time, especially after racing and winning what many called the most grueling Giro d’Italia in years.
“We knew we’d lose some time today to the better teams,” Contador said. “Yesterday was certainly not in the plans. The first two days didn’t go as we would have liked, but the objective remains the same. We just have to keep calm until we reach the mountains.”
Saxo Bank-Sungard riders say they still believe that Contador can recover the lost time and fight to win the yellow jersey. Richie Porte, the lone rider who finished with Contador in Saturday’s crash-marred finale, said Contador spoke with the team Saturday evening to assure them that he’s not worried about the early losses.
“He’s calm, cool and collected,” Porte said of Contador. “He spoke to us last night. What happened (Saturday) is just bad luck. When you’re caught behind a crash and the peloton is going full-gas, there’s nothing you can do when it’s just a couple of guys against the peloton. Let’s hope he has the legs later in the race. I think he will.”
UCI shoots down bid on time difference
Saxo Bank-Sungard officials confirmed to VeloNews that they asked the UCI and Tour de France to reconsider the time differences taken in Saturday’s stage. Contador was caught behind a crash with about 8km to go and was riding with Porte and a few Euskaltel-Euskadi riders, including Samuel Sánchez, with a difference of about 35 seconds when they hit the 3km-to-go banner. A crash with just over 2km to go involving several riders who were up the road, including Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) and Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), seemed to slow the momentum of the Contador group.
Riis and sport director Bradley McGee said the team approached UCI commissaires and Tour officials after the stage on clarification of the 3km-to-go rule, that says that crashes and mechanical problems within the final three kilometers are shielded against time losses. Saxo Bank-Sungard officials said they believed Contador should be awarded the differences to the leaders when the Contador group approached the crash – around 35 seconds – not the time at the line of 1:20. The appeal fell on deaf ears.
“We dealt with it very well. First, we found out what bloody hell went wrong. We talked amongst ourselves, and then we called (Tour race director Jean-Francois) Pescheux and the jury, just to get a very fair appreciation of what happened and see what the ruling would be, to see if there was any legal angle to explore. We soon realized it was down to bad luck – maybe twice bad luck. Eat it, digest it, and move on. We had that settled by the time the riders hit the massage table.”
Riis also confirmed that they approached race officials and the UCI jury without luck, but decided they would not lodge any official appeal.
Contador admitted that the unexpected turn of events puts him in unfamiliar territory.
“Now we have to race in a different manner. Now things have to go perfect, there’s no more room for error,” Contador said. “The motivation remains the same. I have to take advantage of the terrain that favors me.”
In a Tour with a lot of mountains and few time trial kilometers, that can only mean one thing: Contador must attack and attack often if he hopes to win this Tour.