Alberto Contador thought he was fighting for the stage 8 victory until the final metres of the mountaintop finish to La Mauselaine, above Gérardmer, the first stage in the Vosges mountains at the Tour de France. But despite Blel Kadri managing to hold off the Tinkoff-Saxo-led peloton for the win, Contador was still pleased with the day's racing, knowing that he and his teammates had shown they were the strongest team in this year's Tour peloton.
"It was the first day of mountains and I think we did some excellent work as a team," Contador said proudly.
"I felt good, my legs responded well. The gaps were small but it was a short stage and I couldn't really distance Nibali because we ran out of road."
If the stage was a boxing match, Contador won it on points after landing some psychological blows on his biggest rival Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and the other overall contenders.
During the three late climbs, the Tinkoff-Saxo team set a fierce tempo with first Rafal Majka, then Nicolas Roche and finally Michael Rogers. That brought a smile to team owner Oleg Tinkov, who sat in the team car next to manager Bjarne Riis. It also blew the main peloton to pieces and saw several big names lose time.
Contador tried to finalise the work of his loyal teammates by accelerating away in sight of the line. The remains of the day's break were swept up on the climb but Contador only realised that Kadri had stayed away when he looked up at the clock. However, he was happy to have gained a psychologically significant three seconds on Nibali, reducing his deficit to 2:34 and moving up to sixth place overall. The time taken on other riders was much bigger and much more significant, confirming that Contador is the biggest threat to Nibali's grip on the yellow jersey.
"Today could not have gone better. We wanted to set a hard pace to clean out the overall classification of people who could cause us problems in the future by getting into breaks," Contador explained.
"I thought I was going to win the stage, that's why I eased a little as I prepared for the sprint to the finish, but then I looked up as the line was coming and saw that it said the gap was two minutes. That's when I realised there was still someone ahead of us."
"It's not a problem, I wanted to show my form like Nibali did too. It's good because tomorrow is even harder and Monday's stage is even harder again."
Stage 9 to Mulhouse includes six climbs and a flat final 20km to the finish, while Monday's stage 10 to La Planche des Belles Filles includes six climbs and final climb to the finish. They will be the next rounds in the daily fight that is the 2014 Tour de France.