Following a slightly disappointing time trial performance yesterday, Tour de France champion Alberto Contador let fire several attack’s on the final climb of today’s stage of the Dauphiné Libéré. However the efforts to get time back on race leader Janez Brajkovic came to naught, with the RadioShack rider answering each of the surges and then finishing just ahead of Contador in third.
Frenchmen Nicolas Vogondy and Romain Sicard made the most of the tactical battle to nip away and grab first and second.
Contador said afterwards that he was relatively satisfied with the performance, saying that he initially didn’t feel well and held his Astana team back, but then responded when the pressure went on. “They are very motivated,” he said of this team-mates. “They could have gone faster, but I did not encourage them because I was suffering a little with allergies. But in the end I had good sensations.”
The Spaniard is normally one of the very best climbers in the peloton and has a better track record than Brajkovic, whose career highlights to date include wearing the race leader’s jersey in the Vuelta a España and finishing second in the Giro di Lombardia. The Slovenian is undoubtedly in excellent form, though, and Contador also doesn’t appear to be at his top level. However it was hard to tell exactly how he was going because of the relatively slight gradient of the final climb of Risoul, plus the wind direction.
He said that the climb was a complicated one. “There was a lot of wind and you could ride comfortably on the wheels, but it was not so good if you were alone.”
The Astana rider stated going into the race that he was happy to use it as training and didn’t have his mind set on winning overall. He emphasised this after the stage, implying that the attacks were more to test his legs than being a flat-out effort to regain the yellow jersey.
“I continue with the same approach [as stated before],” he said. “I attacked a little to test myself, but it was not planned and I was not sure of my form.
“It was a hard, very hot and very long stage, with more than six hours on the bike. On the last climb I was watching, but the kilometres passed and no-one decided to attack.”
The race continues towards its finale on Sunday. Tomorrow’s leg features two big climbs before the drop down to the finish in Grenoble, including the hors categorie ascent of Chamrousse, while Saturday’s stage will conclude on the event’s first ever ascent of Alpe d’Huez.
Contador is undoubtedly aware that many of the winners of the Dauphiné have gone too deep and suffered in the Tour de France. While that will be part of his reason to not try too hard for the final overall victory, he is likely to try again to test his climbing legs and, ideally, to take a stage win.
“After this I shall try to recover,” he explained. “If the legs go well, great, and if not, fair enough…the [main] objective remains the Tour de France.”
There are also other targets, though; he wants to see the whole Astana squad show that it is performing well and that the riders are ready for the big appointment in July.
“The team also has to take the philosophy of the Tour,” he said. “They are in good shape and they also have to put themselves in the right position. What better test than this?,” he asked rhetorically, before adding, “but that does not mean we will take the responsibility [of controlling the race].”