News feature, July 23, 2007
All is well for Discovery Channel after stage 14, with brilliant performances by Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer and Yaroslav Popovich. Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwè talked with the team before the start and got first reactions after the stage.
After two weeks in the Tour de France the peloton hit the Pyrénées, the chain of mountains separating France and Spain, will likely separate the wheat from the chaff. Many Spaniards were aiming on success near their homeland but when the peloton hit the ultimate climb to the Plateau de Beille they were gasping for breath as a train of Rabobank and Discovery Channel riders maintained a high pace.
Michael Boogerd and Yaroslav Popovych were the last to take a pull and then a firework of attacks followed even though there were more than seven kilometres to cover before the summit. There was only man who could respond to an acceleration by Alberto Contador with six kilometres to go, and it was yellow jersey Michael Rasmussen from the Rabobank squad. The two worked their way to the top where the young Contador outsprinted Rasmussen and grabbed his first ever Tour de France stage win. It was the first win for Discovery Channel in this Tour de France and the first Spanish winner in this Tour.
The young Spaniard - Alberto Contador Velasco in full - was delighted with his victory. "It's a dream come true, a stage win in the Tour de France," Contador smiled. "This was so impressive," he continued, "with all those people along the side of the road. I want to thank everybody who supported me, my team and my family and everybody who was also there in the bad times," Contador said. The Spaniard had a huge clot in his brains after a crash in the Vuelta de Asturia back in 2004.
"It's a dream come true, a stage win in the Tour de France." -Alberto Contador is happy already, but won't mind winning the overal, either.
He overcame this life-threatening situation and returned to the scene in 2005 with a stage win in the Tour Down Under and he continued his recovery by also taking stages in the Tour of the Basque Country and the Tour de Romandie. He ended his first Tour de France in 31st position and looked forward to do better in 2006. That was impossible as Contador and his Liberty Seguros team weren't allowed to start because of the Operación Puerto.
He was a victim of speculation because soon after the Tour de France he was cleared. The Spanish climber didn't regret that missed chance too much. "It's a pleasant surprise to be in this situation now if you compare it with last year," Contador said at the post-race press conference, "but after that incident I focused on the new season and a new Tour de France." The talented climber did that in style by becoming the first Spanish winner of Paris-Nice since Miguel Indurain and by winning the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon.
The past couple of days Contador showed that he is one of the best climbers of the peloton. He confirmed that yesterday with the fastest time on the climb that featured in the time trial and today he was playing with his pedals again. "I informed the team that I was feeling good and we decided to take our responsibility with the team; 'Popo' and Leipheimer did a great job, we have a fantastic team," Contador explained.
When asked if Bruyneel gave him the sign to attack Contador denied. "I chose the moment, it wasn't communicated from behind." Cadel Evans - second in GC - was in trouble after Contador's attack and the Australian eventually finished 1'52" behind the winner. Evans and Contador switched positions, the Spaniard needs to make up 2'23" on Rasmussen. Keeping in mind that there's still a time trial coming up Contador probably hopes for the overall win in Paris.
"I hope to finish on the podium in Paris, that would be fantastic," Contador tried to play down the Spanish hopes on a successor for the legendary Miguel Indurain. "Today was an important result but there are three more hard stages left, two mountains stages and the time trial. I can still have a bad day, but the same is true for Rasmussen, of course," Contador said. In the last kilometre Rasmussen and Contador were talking and Rasmussen explained that he didn't give away the victory although the Spaniard denies that. "We talked about sharing the profits," Contador said. "I received the stage win while Rasmussen kept yellow."
Before the start of the first mountain stage in the Pyrenees the Discovery Channel team praised their young talent for his strong performances during the past couple of stages. "He can win the Tour de France," said directeur sportif Dirk Demol to Sporza, "but we can't jump to conclusions yet. They [Leipheimer and Contador] have to figure out who's taking the initiative during the race."
Team Manager Johan Bruyneel also talked about Contador at the start of the stage and he predicted a good performance from his Spanish climber. "Plateau de Beille is a hard climb but it's a very good climb for Contador and if he feels good at the bottom of the climb he will definitely try something but first we have to see how he recovered from the time trial," Bruyneel said. "It's always a difficult day after a long time trial using those big gears and then having to switch again into the climber's mood and to the small gears.
"Normally a climber has less difficulty to make that switch than a time trialist so I hope he has his advantage there and he can try something on [the] Plateau de Beille," Bruyneel explained to Cyclingnews at the start of the stage in Mazamet. Contador didn't disappoint the man who led Lance Armstrong to seven consecutive Tour de France victories. The Discovery Channel team hopes to have found a successor for Lance Armstrong while Spain will more likely see him as the successor of five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain. "I don't know if I can be the successor of Armstrong in the Tour de France," Contador tried to stay focused, "for now I'm only thinking about my hotel and tomorrow's stage."