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Alberto Contador (Astana) learned his lessons well from Classics ace Peter Van Petegem.
Spaniard gains time on Armstrong, loses time to Andy Schleck
Defending Tour de France champion Alberto Contador has not only survived the pavé sections of stage three to Arenberg, he is also one of the day's winners as he made some precious time up on some of his rivals for the general classification.
The Spaniard lost 1:13 on Andy Schleck at the finish in Arenberg, reversing the 40-second lead he had over the Luxembourger at the start of the stage in Wanze, Belgium. Now, Contador sits 31 seconds behind the younger of the Schleck brothers.
The gap would have been closer had Contador not suffered a broken spoke that saw him lose 20 seconds further in the final kilometre.
A puncture in the crucial stage finale on the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix made seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong lose 55 seconds on Contador, so the American is now 50 seconds adrift of his Spanish rival.
"I think I can be satisfied with how the stage went," Contador told Cyclingnews at the finish. "I made up some time on Armstrong, but not only on him. The circumstances of the race went to my favour. I'm happy."
Contrary to what had been expected, the Astana leader went over the pavé sectors without too much trouble. "At the start I didn't feel so good but as the stage unfolded I felt better," he said. "I concentrated on getting on the cobbled sectors in a good position. Then, I actually felt really comfortable on the pavé."
Contador, with the help of Alexandre Vinokourov, was able to follow a main chase group behind the only remnant of the day's breakaway in the finale, a group that included Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Denis Menchov (Rabobank). But Armstrong (RadioShack), as well as other overall contenders such as Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo) and Robert Gesink (Rabobank) lost more time, partly due to mechanicals.
Contador wasn't spared of mechanicals, either. The Spaniard rode the last 30 kilometres with a broken spoke in his front wheel. "It was a shame that this spoke was broken, as it made me lose a bit of time in the end," he said. "But I think I would have lost more time if I had changed bikes so I decided just to finish the stage like that, even if the wheel braked a bit. But I'm still happy with how the day went."
His team could be satisfied with today's performance. "We are satisfied," said Astana directeur sportif Yvon Sanquer. "The stage held its promises with a very nervous and agitated finale. Our riders did a good job. Alberto went into the pavé sectors well-placed, which was important. He then managed his ride really well. His wheel was broken in the end, which was a pity, as it made him lose a bit of time in the end. But looking at the overall outcome of the stage, we have every reason to be satisfied.
"The team lived up to the challenge. Everybody worked well - some of the climbers fell back at one point but their job was done. Then, it was up to Alberto and Alexandre to finish it up."
Sanquer added, "Lance Armstrong was unlucky. In this sort of stage, everybody can puncture at one point or another, and this is what happened to him."