Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) got the better of Chris Froome and moved into the overall lead on the penultimate day of the Critérium du Dauphiné at Finhaut-Emosson, but the Spaniard reiterated that his primary concern is beating the Sky rider at the Tour de France next month.
Contador had withstood Froome’s offensive on the summit finish at the Col du Béal earlier in the week, but hadn’t managed to launch an attack of his own on that occasion. He sensed his opportunity in the finale of stage 7, however.
After Froome’s Sky teammates had set the tempo all the way up the final hors categorie climb, Contador unfurled a rasping acceleration with a shade under two kilometres to go and immediately opened a gap over Froome.
Richie Porte’s pace-setting was unable to bring Froome back on terms, but even when the yellow jersey took over the reins of the pursuit himself underneath the red kite, he could not make inroads into Contador’s advantage and finished 20 seconds down on the Spaniard.
“It will be more important to beat him in the month of July,” Contador said afterwards, according to L’Équipe. “It’s always good to take a result like this but the most important is yet to come. Sky were very strong on the last climb, they had five riders in the first 20. Froome finished behind me but there’s a very hard stage to come tomorrow. I came here in a good state of form but I wasn’t thinking about the win.
“It was really hard today and I didn’t really know how my legs were going to respond. I decided to attack in the finale, it would have been stupid not to have a go. When I turned around, the gap was bigger than I expected. And at the finish, the result was better than I imagined.”
In the overall standings, Contador is now eight seconds ahead of Froome with one stage remaining – another tough summit finish at Courchevel. Regardless of how it pans out, however, Contador stressed that his mind was fixed firmly on July.
“The Dauphiné is a preparation race for the month of July,” he said. “It’s very good for my confidence and it proves that I’m going in the right direction. I’m happy with this yellow jersey but it doesn’t change anything. I’m 100 per cent focused on July 5. I’ve got 20 days of preparation left and I’m going to be able to work calmly.”
Winner of the Tour de France in 2007 and 2009 – the 2010 title was revoked after he tested positive for clenbuterol – Contador has altered his preparation this season, and has been followed closely by directeur sportif Steven de Jongh, formerly of Team Sky.
Among the alterations made to Contador’s schedule has been an increased emphasis on training camps at altitude, which appear to have been a pivotal part of Sky’s preparation over the past number of seasons.
“I was able to get good results without doing training camps at altitude, and when it was suggested, I used to say that there was no need to change a recipe that was working,” Contador said. “But this year, I’ve gone to altitude and things are working very well. I hope that’s going to continue.”