Tongues are wagging that Alberto Contador looks vulnerable after he couldn’t dominate the Critérium du Dauphiné, his final test before July’s Tour de France.
Contador (Astana) admitted he wasn’t at his best during the eight-day Dauphiné, but said he’s on track to be in top condition for the Tour.
Contador described his performance at the Dauphiné as “mission accomplished.”
“Last year, I was third here and didn’t win a stage. This year, I won the prologue and a mountain stage, so the balance is very positive,” Contador said after finishing second to Jani Brajkovic (RadioShack). “Janez revealed he was strongest in the time trial and my condition didn’t allow me to win, so he deserves the victory. The goal remains the Tour.”
The two-time Tour winner tried to downplay suggestions that he could be vulnerable in July because he wasn’t at his dominant best during the Dauphiné.
After winning the prologue, he lost nearly two minutes to stage-winner Brajkovic in the 49km time trial. And despite attacking several times, he couldn’t shake Brajkovic up Alpe d’Huez, though he took consolation with the stage victory.
“I haven’t raced in a long time, so I am content with my performance,” he said. “Above all, the way the team rode gives me tranquility going into the Tour. We’ll have a strong block.”
Contador said from the beginning that he didn’t want to win the Dauphiné and ceded the leader’s jersey in the stage 3, 49km individual time trial that, on paper at least, seemed perfect for his characteristics.
Strong winds and a dangerous course, however, saw Contador ease off the gas, and when he saw he was already off the best time at the top split atop the third-category climb, he rode conservatively to the finish to avoid a potentially disastrous crash.
Contador was far from his lethal best in the subsequent two summit finishes and couldn’t drop the rest of the field. At Risoul, Nicolas Vogondy attacked early to win the stage. At Alpe d’Huez, buffeting winds and a stubborn Brajkovic kept Contador on a tight leash.
Those who know Contador well say he’s right on track to hit his peak for the Tour. There’s still plenty of time to prepare for July and Contador was racing for the first time since finishing ninth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, so he never expected to try to go for the victory.
“Alberto was 80 percent and Janez was at 100 percent during this Dauphiné,” said RadioShack sport director Alain Gallopin, who directed Contador two seasons at Astana. “It’s only natural that Alberto wants to be at his best in July, not here at the Dauphiné. And only one rider could beat him in the end.”
Contador previewed some of the Alpine stages Monday before returning to Spain. He said he will train in the mountains near Madrid and prepare for July.
With the final week in the Pyrénées likely to decide everything in this year’s Tour, Contador knows what happens in mid-June won’t be nearly as important as what happens in late July.