It had been, Alberto Contador admitted, a bad day, and the Saxo-Tinkoff leader duly dropped from second to fourth overall at Annecy-Semnoz, at the end of a Tour de France that has been made up of far more bad days than good.
Contador began the penultimate stage of the Tour de France 5:11 down on Chris Froome (Team Sky) yet still vowing to carry the fight for the yellow jersey right to the bitter end. However the final climb up to Semnoz dealt the same stark verdict on Contador’s condition as every other summit finish on this Tour, and it soon became apparent that the erstwhile Pistolero was not going to conjure up some of the vim of old.
A long turn on the front by his former domestique Richie Porte, now Froome’s closest aide at Team Sky, provided the first blow to Contador’s chances on the final ascent of the Tour. When Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Froome took it in turns to test one another’s strength with eight kilometres still to climb, Contador was soon distanced.
“It was a bad day but when you’ve given your all, you can’t do any more,” Contador said. “I can only congratulate the riders who were better. The goal in this Tour was to win but it was impossible because there was a rider who was better than everyone else.”
Once more, it was a leaden-legged Contador on the final climb, wholly unrecognisable from the spring-heeled figure who accelerated seemingly as he pleased at the 2009 Tour and 2011 Giro d’Italia.
Up ahead, Quintana and Rodriguez were riding their way onto the podium, while Contador – initially aided by teammate Roman Kreuziger and later joined by Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) – was simply trying to limit his losses.
Contador reached the summit 2:28 down in seventh place on the stage and he fell to four overall, 7:10 behind Froome.
“Obviously it would have been better to be second than fourth, but defending a podium place isn’t the same as defending the yellow jersey,” said Contador, who had noted presciently during his rest day press conference that he saw no difference between finishing 2nd and 10th overall.
Still only 30 years of age, Contador has time to recover from this setback, but it is equally true that he has shown a curious lack of punch since returning last summer from his belated suspension for his positive test for Clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour.
Contador has already ruled himself out of riding the Vuelta a España and instead appears to be looking already to next year’s Tour for a chance to make amends.
“I’m pretty tired both physically and mentally and the first thing I need to do is recover,” he said.
Riis succinct in his appraisal
Saxo-Tinkoff manager Bjarne Riis was succinct in his appraisal of Contador’s performance on Semnoz, accepting that the road had delivered its verdict and that there was little to be done.
“I think tactically we couldn’t make any difference today. On the last climb it’s the legs that count and obviously you need the legs to be up there with Quintana, Rodriguez and Froome but he couldn’t stay with them and that was it,” he said.
“We hoped for better with Alberto but we can’t be too disappointed with the team because we have two riders in the top five [Kreuziger is fifth overall] and won the teams competition. Of course we didn’t win, but we’ve done other nice things.”