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Alberto Contador missed the move that split the field with 30km remaining.
Spanish hope stranded during stage three finale
Alberto Contador cut an anguished figure at the finish of stage three, having conceded 41 seconds to one of his main rivals for overall victory at the Tour de France - his Astana team-mate, Lance Armstrong.
While Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel, the Astana director, played down the significance of the move - which saw Astana domestiques Yaroslav Popovych and Haimar Zubeldia on the front, driving the escape - Contador was clearly unhappy. To add to his woes, he had a near miss with a rival team car, which almost squashed him against a team bus as he made his way to the Astana compound.
"I don't want to express an opinion on the tactics of the team," said Contador. "I'll let everyone draw their own conclusions. In any case, the Tour is not going to be decided by what happened today. It was just another race situation."
It's a testing time for Contador, who has been forced to deal with constant speculation that Armstrong - with six more Tour de France titles than the Spaniard and over 10 years difference in age - wants the Astana leadership in an attempt to win his eighth Tour crown.
Yesterday's move was seen by many as a not-so-subtle attempt to convey this message, although Contador refused to be drawn into publicly airing any grievances against the American's presence in the move initiated by Columbia-HTC.
"When the split occurred I was riding back to the front with a team-mate, and suddenly we were in no-man's land," explained Contador. "In front, Columbia got organised very well, as they have a super strong team. We weren't too badly represented as we had three riders there, but the responsibility was on the others."
The resulting time differences, said Contador, are "insignificant - they might give me more space to manoeuvre."