Alberto Contador breathed life into his Tour de France challenge when he showcased the strength in depth of his Saxo-Tinkoff team with a surprise collective attack on the road to Saint-Amand-Montrond on stage 13.
Saxo-Tinkoff's clinical move saw Contador shave 1:09 off Chris Froome's overall lead and move up to 3rd place overall in the process, although he acknowledged that he still has considerable ground to try and make up in the final week.
"Being 3:57 down or 2:45 down doesn't change much overall," Contador admitted afterwards. "I still have to go on the attack in the Alps but we have cut the minute that I lost in the time trial. The Tour is tough but it's not over yet and a thousand things could still happen. For now, I just have to rest because tomorrow is another day."
Saxo-Tinkoff's move came in the closing 30 kilometres of a dramatic stage that had already seen Belkin and Omega Pharma-Quick-Step split the peloton in three in the crosswind midway through the stage. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) lost ten minutes and all hopes of a podium place in Paris when a wheel change forced him out of the leading group, and Contador said that he had been reluctant to take advantage of his fellow countryman's poor fortune.
"At first we didn't work because Alejandro Valverde had a mechanical, so we decided not to cooperate," said Contador, but once it became apparent that the Movistar would not come back on, Saxo-Tinkoff decided to put Froome and Sky under pressure.
Daniele Bennati led the charge and accelerated with Contador, Nicolas Roche, Matteo Tosatto, Roman Kreuziger and Michael Rogers lined up on his wheel. Their acceleration saw a 14-man group surge clear of the peloton and they quickly opened out a lead of one minute.
"We saw that the most important teams were weakening and we decided to go forward," Contador said. "Bennati rode like a motorcycle for a kilometre and that broke the peloton into a thousand pieces."
Nicolas Roche explained that the move had not been pre-planned, but instead dreamt-up and executed on the hoof. "We were all together and we saw the opportunity," he said. "I was eager to do something, I was a bit over-excited and I said, 'Michael, Michael, come on.' He looked around and saw Alberto, Alberto gave the nod, and we shouted at Bennati to go.
"It was something that was just decided in three seconds, we didn't sit down and plan it. If you start talking about it all of the teams see it and then it's no surprise at all."