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Alberto Contador has said that the pressure he put on close to the finish of stage two of the Tour de France was simply intended to size up his opponents, and that he didn’t have the intention of trying to take the yellow jersey.
The Tinkoff Saxo rider ramped up the pace 5.3 kilometres from the end of the stage to Sheffield, riding at the front on the fourth category Jenkin Road climb and then gradually upping the pace. He looked around continuously and didn’t appear to put in a committed dig; speaking after the stage, he said that the goal was to test his own legs and those of his rivals.
“No, no, no, no,” he stated definitively, when asked if he was trying to get the yellow jersey. “Today it was only that I was there. Okay, I wanted to look at the situation and the other guys, but if you attack there, I think it is impossible to go the finish line. It is five kilometres and the other guys are very strong. I am only there to have a good position, nothing more.”
The stage was constantly up and down and was likened by many to the parcours of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. However there were also parallels with the Amstel Gold Race; the route was twisting and narrow in places, and it was very important to be attentive to avoid running into problems.
Contador spoke of his concerns, believing that there was a chance that riders could have been injured. “I am happy [with the result] because there were thousands and thousands and thousands of people and it was really dangerous when we were going at 80, 90 kilometres [per hour] on the decent. To get through a day like today without crashes is a victory. Now it is important to recover, tomorrow is another day.”
He might not have seen it that way but the stage was also an important one in thinning out the list of riders to the fore in the general classification, and also in showing who had good legs. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) soloed in two seconds ahead of Contador’s group, with the Spaniard placing 13th; there were only 20 riders in the selection, with those present showing that they are in strong condition.
The Spaniard complemented the Italian champion plus his team, but isn’t concerned at being two seconds back at this point in time. He knows there is a lot of racing ahead, and that if his legs are good in the mountains, that he may have the chance to make gains on Nibali, Froome and his other rivals.
“He [Nibali] was there and took a good opportunity. Astana had three, four guys in the group. It is a very strong team. I think it was good for Astana and for Nibali, of course. He is a strong rider. But for the general classification I think the seconds [gained] are not a problem.”
Meanwhile his team-mate Michael Rogers has said that he has seen a clear difference in Contador compared to last season. He was below his top level then and had to make do with fourth overall in the Tour; this time round, he has finished first or second in every stage race he has done in 2014.
Rogers said that this has boosted his morale and also taken pressure off him in the Tour.
“I think he is a lot more relaxed [than last year],” he told CyclingTips. “I think it is quite obvious on TV as well. I think he is really in control of his emotions. He is really in control of his the way he is riding. I see that he is relaxed.”
Contador appeared quietly confident in the pre-race press conference, although he deliberately said that Froome was the favourite; it appeared a tactic to put pressure on Sky rather than any concession that his rival was stronger.
Rogers said that his team-mate being self-assured was not surprising. “Well, he should be, shouldn’t he? He has had spectacular results this year. He is the world’s number one. It is going to be a good race.
“Chris is very strong, we say Nibali today is very strong. There is going to be a handful of surprises still, isn’t there….”
Rogers rolled in 62nd on the stage, two minutes 34 seconds behind Nibali. Although it’s very early in the Tour, he was clear about the difficulties the riders faced. “It was a very tough stage – it was like an Amstel Gold Race, but just 20 times more people. The wind was very, very strong. It was obviously a very aggressive field, a very nervous field because everyone wants to stay at the front.
“I didn’t have my best day, but the main thing was Alberto was there. We had to do quite a lot of work to keep him protected and in the front, and that is the main thing.”
He rode the Giro d’Italia, taking two stages there. Asked by CyclingTips how he felt his recovery has been since that stage race, he said that he was satisfied.
“[It’s] quite good, quite good,” he said. “I felt great yesterday. Like I said, I didn’t have my best day today but that’s to be expected. I am here to help and I am quite happy with the way things have gone so far.”
In recent years it has proven to be difficult for riders to be in form in both the Giro and also the Tour. Does he have any concerns that his form could fade in the third week of the French race?
“I hope not,” he answered. “I tried to look after myself a little bit through this period. I had quite a good result there at the Route du Sud. I certainly hope that I don’t pay for it in that last week, but we will see.”