PAU, France (VN) — Can Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) set a trap for Chris Froome (Sky), or is it already too late?
If the Tinkoff-Saxo captain wants a chance to win this Tour de France, Contador is fast realizing he will have to dig deep into his quiver of tactical tricks. Based on what happened Tuesday — he lost 2:51 to sink to sixth overall at 4:04 back — taking on Froome head-to-head on the climbs isn’t going to work.
“I had a terrible day. I couldn’t breath and couldn’t maintain a rhythm. Froome delivered a strong blow today,” Contador admitted. “This Tour is long, and the most important thing is to recover and reconsider our options.”
Contador is a fighter, and he won’t give up easily in his quest to become the first rider since Marco Pantani, in 1998, to win the Tour and Giro d’Italia in the same year. If he cannot take on Froome on the climbs, that means he will have to exploit other weaknesses — attack on the descents, in the crosswinds, or early in a stage.
So far through this Tour, Contador is facing a similar scenario to what he faced in 2013. Froome looks stronger in the mountains, so he’s going to have to try chip away at Froome’s rearguard. In that year’s Tour, Contador attacked on the flats, taking more than one minute out of Froome in the crosswinds in stage 13.
In that same Tour, Contador also attacked on the descents, and we could see a replay of that in an attack down the category 2 Col de Manse, featured this year in stage 16, where he crashed, and Froome was forced to lay down his bike, provoking the ire of the yellow jersey.
Froome: ‘We’ve learned our lessons’
Froome said he’s ready for shots to his flanks. He’s learned lessons from earlier battles with Contador.
“We’ve learned our lessons from the past. We’re going to be on our guard now,” Froome said. “We can expect people to attack on the descents, and in the crosswinds, or, even as a team, go early from the start. They will try to put us under pressure.
“It wouldn’t be the first time, and we can fully expect other teams to race like that,” Froome continued. “They will start attacking in other parts of the race, like we saw with Contador in 2013, really pushing the limits. I think we can expect all of the above.”
Contador has won more than a few races exploiting the weaknesses of his rivals. In fact, many of his grand tour victories came by relatively thin margins, revealing just how canny Contador can be to gain advantage, sometimes in the most unexpected of scenarios.
The most famous example came during the 2012 Vuelta a España, when Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) was on the form of his career, and Contador seemed a pedal stroke or two short of his peak fitness. In a thrilling tactical coup, Contador caught Rodríguez out on a relatively benign climbing stage up to Fuente Dé in Spain’s Picos de Europa. Contador put teammates into a breakaway, attacked with 50km to go, isolated, and then dropped Rodríguez to win the stage, and claim the leader’s jersey to secure overall victory. In one sharp shot, he turned a 28-second deficit into a 1:52 leading gap.
Yates: ‘It won’t be easy’
This Tour has a few opportunities where Contador and others could try to gap Froome.
The first chance comes as soon as Wednesday’s six-climb stage 11 over the meat of the Pyrénées, just the kind of profile Contador loves. At 188km, it’s long, hard, over rough roads, and packed with treacherous descents. It has all the makings of a classic Contador trap. If he has legs, Contador could gap Froome over the top of the Tourmalet, rail it on the long, twisting descent, and hit the final, category 3 climb to Cauterets to claw back some time.
Tinkoff-Saxo sport director Sean Yates said catching Froome out by surprise won’t be so easy.
“Now it’s a big gap, and that makes it much harder to try make up time in one shot,” Yates told VeloNews. “Maybe Froome could have a bad day, or two bad days. The way Froome dropped everyone today is very impressive.”
Yates said the team will have to reconsider its options following the walloping Froome laid down on the peloton on Tuesday.
“We’re not happy about what happened, but this Tour is not over yet,” Yates continued. “First place is a fair bit up the road now, but we can’t just go home, can we?”