After starring on the hilltop finishes of the Tour de France’s opening week, Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) has tipped Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) for victory on the short, stiff climb to Super-Besse Sancy on stage 8.
With a Court of Arbitration verdict on his Clenbuterol case still pending, Contador was jeered by the crowds at the teams presentation in the Vendée before the Tour, and his troubles were compounded when he was caught behind a crash and lost time on stage one. Contador fought back with a late dig on the Mûr-de-Bretagne on stage 4, and Gilbert predicts more of the same from the “wounded” Spaniard on the Tour’s first day in the Massif Central.
“It’s a finish for Alberto Contador, he’s the man to beat,” Gilbert told La Dernière Heure. “He’s a real champion, with wounded pride, and that’s always dangerous. He wants to silence his doubters.”
Gilbert was more circumspect about his own chances on a stage that may provide unexpected surprises on the penultimate climb with 25km to go, the second category Col de la Croix Saint-Robert.
“I haven’t studied the road book,” he said. “I know that the last climb goes up for a kilometre at 7.6%.”
Gilbert lost the green jersey to José Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) on stage 7, and the Belgian champion admitted that it was difficult to compete with the fast men in the intermediate sprint. “I was beyond my limits in the first sprint,” he acknowledged. “I needed quite a bit of time to recover.”
In the finale, Gilbert’s brief was to help André Greipel try and best Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad). Although the German had to content himself with third place, Gilbert claimed that Omega Pharma-Lotto had succeeded in uniting behind their designated sprinter.
“Greipel thanked me just after the finish,” Gilbert said. “We’re a solid team, we’ve shown that. We always work for whoever is in the best position.”
Nonetheless, Gilbert acknowledged that his teammate would have his work cut out to beat an in-form Cavendish in the sprints still to come. “Cavendish is beatable, even though he is the quickest and has a super team to lead him out,” Gilbert said.