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Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) speaks to the press on the second rest day at the Tour de France.
Spaniard asserts Contador will be back in Tour's third week
The second rest day at the Tour de France is a time for reflection, going into the all-decisive final week of the race. Team Sky's Juan Antonio Flecha was no exception - looking back at the first weeks of racing the Spaniard provided his perspective as to what happened until now, and what may still be to come.
Flecha was badly hurt in the freak accident that occurred on stage nine from Issoire to Saint Flour, the stage that saw current race leader Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) take the yellow jersey. Together with Johnny Hoogerland of Vacansoleil-DCM, the Spaniard was hit by a car from French television and has been riding under great pain since then.
"I've improved a lot the last couple of days but I really had a hard week," Flecha told Cyclingnews in the lounge of Team Sky's rest day hotel. "Because of the crash, I couldn't really stretch my arm because of the impact on my elbow. Then I have a wound on my knee with a couple of stitches but it's not healing well. And because the knee is painful, I've been pedalling more with the right side of my body so this caused really tight muscles in my back and leg and everywhere..."
Still feeling slightly disappointed with the behaviour of others after the crash, Flecha said that neither France Televisions nor the driver of the car had apologised to him so far. But he was also disappointed by the attitude of one of his fellow riders - Thomas Voeckler who was with him in the escape.
"Looking at the replay of the crash, his first reaction was to go faster, he didn't even stop pedalling for half a pedal stroke. On the next day, everybody in the bunch came to see me to see how I was doing, but he didn't. It just shows how he is as a person," Flecha said bluntly.
"He only cares about himself. If you ask the other riders in the bunch, they would agree with me. He never gives anything to others."
Insisting that this was merely a personal observation, the Spaniard did not devalue Voeckler's chances for overall victory, even though the Frenchman himself rated them as poor.
"He's a good actor," Flecha said. "All of this talk that he doesn't see himself winning the Tour is just to put pressure on the others.
"It won't surprise me if he wins. After what he did on Plateau de Beille, he's capable of it. His team is looking good as well.
"He's had a fantastic season, winning more than any of the other GC contenders... that gives him a lot of tranquility, and he's got nothing to lose. Already in 2004, he showed that it was difficult to get rid of him, and now he's more mature. So why not?"
Still, the 33-year-old Spaniard believed that the battle for the yellow jersey will be hard-fought in the Alps, and that three-time Tour winner Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) will improve his form enough to become a contender once again.
"Contador will show that he's a great champion. He's already won Tours in very adverse situations, for example when he was on the same team as Lance Armstrong. I don't know what he'll be able to do, but I know one of these days we'll see the Contador we all want to see, the Contador that goes on the attack far away from the finish line to take some minutes on everybody. I think he's still capable of doing great things," Flecha said.
"In any case, there is much more pressure on the Schleck brothers than on him. He's already won the Tour three times, and he will probably still win more, but Schleck and Evans don't have this experience."
In the Spaniard's view, it could all be decided in the final time trial. "I don't see any big team on the attack halfway through a stage. For example, the stage that finishes on the Galibier: I can't see anyone attacking from far out, on the Col d'Agnel. Somebody should do that, but no one wants to take the initiative. They are all scared."