Alberto Contador's responsibilities as the race leader at the Criterium du Dauphine end long after he crosses the line each day. Almost 45 minutes after Jesus Herrada (Movistar) had won stage 2 to Chalmazel-Jeansagnière and Contador had finished safely in the pack in 23rd place, the Tinkoff rider was going through the motions of the daily podium protocol.
Only after the yellow jersey presentation and just before an anti-doping test was the Spaniard able to find a second, perhaps two, and catch is breath. As he leaned against a set of barriers and with his trusty press officer by his side holding the day’s Crédit Lyonnais mascot, Contador gave his take on the stage.
"It was a difficult day because from the start of the stage it was really fast. The team had to work all day for me and in the final we just continued with our plan. Other teams started to work really hard as they tried to win the stage," he told Cyclingnews.
Contador came under mounting pressure as the stage climbed the Côte de Saint-Georges-en-Couzan and the final ascent to Chalmazel-Jeansagnière. Team Sky were noticeably aggressive, firing climbers up the road in a bid to stretch the peloton and isolate Contador. It somewhat worked, as the Spaniard was left with just two teammates, but the road wasn’t tough enough and in the end Contador looked relatively comfortable. He even moved towards the front on the final climb when it looked as though Team Sky were looking to set up Chris Froome.
The British rider took 8th on the stage but gained no time on his principle rivals, leaving him still third and 13 seconds off Contador's lead.
"I just looked after the leader's jersey but that's not the objective to think about one day. The objective is to work towards July and the Tour," Contador said, repeating a mantra he has been in sync with since the start of the race.
"I'm happy but I want to have the yellow jersey on Sunday, it's not really about wearing it today," he added.
If Contador is to prevail in what many seem as 'just a Tour de France warm-up' then he will have to face Team Sky in the mountains sooner rather than later. The British team look intent on not just animating proceedings but defending their 2015 title.
"They are here with a clear objective and that's to win the GC," Contador said, offering the first glimpse of Tour de France mind games we have seen so far.
"For us it's a little different. They have four or five riders with options for this but our race is calm at the moment and we'll carry on taking it day by day and work on training all ahead of July."