Alberto Contador was unable to win the stage to L'Alpe d'Huez and is unlikely for him to finish higher than fourth in this Tour de France. The Spaniard went down fighting on Friday, however, as he tried to turn his Tour de France around, attacking at the very foot of the Col du Telegraph and Galibier and then attacking again on the hairpins of the L'Alpe d'Huez.
He was caught after Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Pierre Roland (Europcar) got across to him with three kilometers to go but showed real character by going on the attack just 24 hours after losing any chance of a fourth Tour de France victory.
Rolland went on to win the stage and take the best young rider's white jersey, while Sanchez pulled on the polka-dot climber's jersey. Contador only prize was a show of pride and the vote as most aggressive rider.
"Last night when I was in my bed, I told myself: ‘Are you going to just stay in the peloton with no pain and no glory? I couldn't stand the idea of leaving this race without doing anything. So all I could think of today was attacking," Contador said.
The Saxo-SunGard team leader threw caution to the wind by attacking at the very foot of the Co du Télégraphe. His attack made a quick selection. It pushed Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) into the red and meant the plucky Frenchman would finally lose the yellow jersey and even any chance of a place on the final podium in Paris.
"It would have been easier to wait for the finale before going, but I attacked early because I had good legs," he said.
"Waiting wouldn't have been the same. I've been on the back foot for the whole Tour, with knee problems. If I hadn't attacked from the gun today I wouldn't have been happy with myself. It didn't mater to me if I finished fourth or twenty-fourth on GC. I wanted to enjoy myself and I did. It was incredible. There were a lot of people supporting me out there. If the crowd enjoyed it too, that makes me even happier."
Contador could in theory target victory in Saturday' 42.5km time trial in Grenoble. But he refused to be drawn into discussion of his chances after his two contrasting days in the mountains.
"Right now, I just want to rest up because I've had an incredible day."