ARENBERG, France – At just 62kg, Spaniard Alberto Contador wasn’t supposed to have enough weight to even stay on his bike during the third stage of the Tour de France.
But on Tuesday the reigning yellow jersey champion showed equal measures of determination and class, while also riding his luck, to steal some time on his rivals during a chaotic, cobblestone-riddled finale to the race.
Ultimately, Contador lost time to rivals Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, last year’s runner-up, and Australian Cadel Evans, who has twice finished in that position.
But those were losses tempered by the fact the 27-year-old climbing specialist left Lance Armstrong in his wake as the American first struggled to keep pace and then dropped back further when he suffered a puncture.
Contador is now 1min 40sec behind Swiss Fabian Cancellara, who is not a real yellow jersey contender, and is well within sight of Evans and Schleck. But now he has a 50sec lead on Armstrong.
Contador could have done even better had he not suffered a mechanical problem in the final 30km, during which his wheel, buckled after he lost a spoke, was slowing him down by rubbing off his brake pads.
“I did the last 30 km with the rear wheel absolutely braked so at the end, and despite the fact I crashed earlier, the result is not so bad,” said Contador.
“I knew that if I changed the bike would be much worse and I preferred to continue with the wheel braking. I could not stand up, but hey, we saved the day.”
Contador would make no comment on his time advantages to Armstrong because he didn’t know what it was.
But Astana team manager Yvon Sanquer put their day into perspective.
“Overall it’s a positive outcome for us,” said Sanquer.
“When you look at the result, he’s taken some time except on Andy (Schleck) and Evans.
“The main thing today was not to lose too much time on his main rivals. And after three days of difficult racing, I think Alberto’s come out of it okay.”
Heavier riders, like stage winner Thord Hushovd or Cancellara, are comparative heavyweights to Contador and usually fare much better on the cobbles.
But on this showing the slight Spaniard showed the world he can battle with the best on terrain which is known for producing cycling’s hard men.
“We had a little glimpse of Paris-Roubaix in the sunshine, and we saw that a lot of riders weren’t used to the cobbles. That’s all part of the game,” added Sanquer.
“Alberto has shown that he’s got talents for all kinds of terrain. He’s an all-round champion, especially when he’s motivated by the thought of winning the Tour.”
He added: “Armstrong had a little bit of bad luck, but that can happen to everybody. After all, when it comes to the cobblestones he’s just the same as everybody else.”
For many, the hardest stage for Contador is now over. But Sanquer is not getting carried away ahead of the first Alpine stages this weekend.
“There are more complicated stages for us to tackle, but we’re very happy to have got to this stage of the race in this position.”
Article: AFP by: Justin Davis