I didn’t get seeing much of the stage but when I did turn on I thought for a moment I had traveled back to somewhere around 2009. For there was Alberto Contador, dancing on the pedals and putting everyone into trouble.
Once last hurrah on his slide into retirement, or a second coming? If it’s the later he is leaving it late, but not too late to claw his way back into contention. He lost a fair bit of time a few days ago, but this was a chance to take some back. Chris Froome knew it, and stuck to him like glue. Froome had 3 minutes to play with over Contador, but you don’t want to give a man like the Spaniard so much as a sniff.
Contador had attacked on the final climb. It was a move of instinct I suspect rather than any plan. He had a teammate not far up the road and that must have felt appealing. Sky had kept the break tight by driving on the front all day. The result meant that fatigue had crept in and when Contador jumped, Froome was isolated. And everyone else was dropped.
The catch was the distance, which made me think this wasn’t part of a greater team plan. There was still some 30km to go after the summit, albeit with the majority downhill. And while he got away, the fractured remnants of the peloton were never far behind. Contador pushed on anyway, whereas Froome hung tight. He took a few pulls on the front, but there was no incentive for the Sky man to burn his matches here. He knew there was a chance that those behind might make the catch and if they did they might begin to work him over. Contdaor, with Pantano along side him, felt it was worth the risk.
In the end though the majority of those behind regrouped on the descent and soon pulled Contador and Froome back. A few names were missing, and the days early break was down to three. Tomasz Marczynski took the stage win for Lotto Soudal. Off the back of the red jersey group were names like Simon Yates (losing 17 seconds), Tejay van Garderen (losing 20 seconds), and Romain Bardet (losing 6 minutes 26 seconds).
It was Van Garderen who was the most unlucky though. He crashed while with Contador and Froome on that vicisious attack and crashed again on the run in to the finish. He did well to limit his losses as he did, and remains in contention tonight. He is 4th, half a minute behind Froome.
The move by El Pistolero may not have worked but it sent a shot across everyone’s bows as to his form. Everyone had to work harder than they might have wanted. This wasn’t the hilly stage tailor made for a break but one in which the favourites would do their best to hide. There was no hiding thanks to Contador. He remains in 23rd over 3 minutes back, but if he rides like this, he will leap up the standings in a hurry.
Contador ignited today’s stage. Tomorrow is another testing day followed by a brutal summit finish on Saturday. Today’s stage may not have netted the time gaps that Contador’s move may have deserved, but what toll it takes on everyone we will wait to see. Contador himself will be hoping for a fast recovery. He might be at it again tomorrow.