GAP, France, (Reuters) – Just as the Tour de France seemed to be cruising peacefully towards the Alps, Alberto Contador rocked the peloton yesterday with an unexpected attack that revived his hopes of a fourth victory in the race.
The Spaniard, unbeaten in all the grand Tours he has entered since 2007, threw down the gauntlet on the climb to the Col de Manse in the 16th stage and, although he lost three seconds to rival Cadel Evans in the descent, he regained lost ground on the Schleck brothers and Ivan Basso.
While a big move by one of the contenders was not expected before today’s Alpine stage to Pinerolo, Contador caught most of his rivals off guard.
“He had an opportunity today and he took it. It’s what champions do,” his Saxo Bank-Sungard sports director Philippe Mauduit told reporters. The move had been planned at the morning team meeting and Contador stuck to the plan, reviving a race that had been dozing into a waiting game between the favourites.
“We planned to attack if possible. He wanted to give it a try,” said team manager Bjarne Riis, who encouraged Contador to repeat his attacks as Basso and the Schleck brothers were clearly struggling to sustain the pace.
“I told him ‘they’re all dead, you have to continue’,” he explained. Contador, who is now sixth overall 3:42 behind Thomas Voeckler of France, was satisfied that he managed to finally attack his rivals. “I was solid, my legs were good,” he said.
“A day like today, (your rivals) may think you will attack or that you will not. I was trying to surprise them. “To me, it was clear from the start that I would try my luck, even though I did not know what I would gain.”