Contador derails Armstrong’s Tour de France comeback dreams
July 19, 2009 —
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Well, not quite the same.
Alberto Contador staked his claim as the new strongman at the Tour de France after a stunning victory in Sunday’s 15th stage into the Swiss Alps and into the yellow jersey.
The Spanish climber dropped everyone on the 8.8km summit finish to Verbier, including seven-time winner Lance Armstrong to take the driver’s seat going into the final week of the 96th Tour.
“I take satisfaction from the stage because the climb was not very long, but I was able to make some differences to my rivals,” Contador said. “The race isn’t over, not by a long shot, but this gives me a nice margin to defend.”
He crossed the line in a dramatic double high in the Swiss Alps, taking a 43-second stage victory to Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) and pulled on the yellow jersey with a comfortable 1:37 lead to Armstrong.
“When Alberto went, he showed he was the best in the race, and clearly the best climber. That’s how you win the Tour de France,” Armstrong said. “A day like this showed who was best.”
He stayed with a group chasing behind Contador, but lost the wheel when the late-stage surges came for the leftovers, crossing the line ninth at 1:35 back.
Armstrong said any reported tension between him and Contador is overblown and he promises to ride as a “domestique” if that helps Contador and Astana win the Tour.
“Today I was definitely missing that required high-end. It would be hard for me to win at this point,” Armstrong said. “There’s been a lot of drama between Alberto and me, especially in the media, but at the end of the day, we sit around the dinner table and say the last thing we can do is lose this Tour. If we ride into Paris with the yellow jersey in the team, I’m cool with that. I’ve got seven of them at home.”
Andy Schleck bravely chased to cross the line second at 43 seconds while Frank Schleck was fourth at 1:06 back.
“Andy and Frank were excellent today and only a super-strong Contador could beat us. We had everyone else on the ropes,” said Saxo Bank boss Bjarne Riis. “We’re right there and we’re just getting into the truly hard part of this Tour. Nothing is decided yet.”
On a day that saw Tom Boonen (Quick Step) abandon the Tour, reigning Olympic time trial champion Fabian Cancellara snuck into the day’s main breakaway, taking the pressure off Saxo Bank on the early chase.
The team turned up the heat as the pack barreled toward the short but steep 8.8km Verbier climb, putting Jens Voigt, Nic ki and Chris-Anker Sorensen on the front to reel in the remnants of the day’s move. Cancellara then sat up and took a few pulls to pace the Schleck brothers up the lower part of the climb.
When Contador jumped with 5km to go, Andy Schleck was the only rider who dared chase.
“Contador was the strongest today, but it was a perfect climb for him,” Andy said. “I felt good and I decided to counter-attack. I couldn’t catch him, but I was able to take time on the others and not lose too much time to him. It was a good stage and we’re just getting into the really hard stages.”
The peloton enjoys its second rest day Monday before entering the final decisive week of the 96th Tour.
The 96th Tour continues Tuesday with the 159km=2 016th stage from Martigny, Switzerland to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, France. The route traverses Italy, crossing the towering Grand-Saint-Bernard and Petit-Saint-Bernard passes across the heart of the Alps.
Riis says there’s plenty of Tour still to come and promises to do one thing: attack.
“The next two stages are very hard. Even though they do not finish on the summit, there is enough steep roads to attack,” Riis said. “We must put Contador under pressure and make them work. We haven’t even gone into the real mountains yet in this Tour. One bad day and everything can change. The worst is yet to come and both of our captains are feeling good. Nothing will be decided until we all stand on top of Mont Ventoux.”
Like Riis said, the “real” Tour is just starting.
Former Vail Daily editor Andrew Hood now lives in Spain and covers cycling. His reports on the 96th Tour de France will appear daily on RealVail.com. Also follow him on twitter at twitter.com/eurohoody.
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