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Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) sprints to the finish in Chorges for the stage 17 mountain time trial
Contador, Kreuziger now second and third on Tour de France GC
Although Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) missed out on stage 17 of the Tour de France to Chris Froome by nine seconds, team manager Bjarne Riis pointed out the positive aspects of the stage result. Saxo-Tinkoff now occupies second and third overall courtesy of Contador and Roman Kreuziger after Bauke Mollema dropped down from second to fourth.
"Of course we would have liked to have won, and it was close, but Alberto did a fantastic chrono so I think we're happy and it looks good for the future," Riis said at the finish.
Saxo-Tinkoff has continuously stressed that Contador is its principle team leader throughout this year's race, with Roman Kreuziger acting a foil for the Spaniard's attacks and a crucial domestique whenever he has faltered.
However, after today's time trial, Saxo-Tinkoff find themselves with two riders on the podium for the first time in this year's race and Riis must decide on how he will juggle attacking Froome and consolidating two valuable positions.
Asked how the team would utilise its two-pronged attack and balance riding for the win and two places on the podium, Riis remained coy.
"It's a combination. Of course we know it's difficult to beat Froome but before this Tour is over, for sure we'll try. We're in a good position.
"I'm happy with my team and both Alberto and Roman were very strong. We could match Froome I think, or we were very close and for me that's the most important thing. Of course it would have been fantastic to win but we need to be a little bit faster."
At this stage Riis may chose to sacrifice Kreuziger for Contador's ambitions. The Danish former Tour winner has made difficult choices before having put his faith in Carlos Sastre at the Tour in 2008 despite Frank Schleck holding the yellow jersey. That memorable day in 2008 could be an indication of how Riis and his team will ride on Thursday's Alpe d'Huez double header.
"We'll look at it and we've got a strong team. I think we can play our cards in a good way and in the right way so it's going to be interesting," Riis said.
Contador will quickly move on from losing today's stage and re-focus on the three stages remaining in the Alps. His form is improving with each day and Mollema's meek showing eliminates one GC rider, at least for now.
"I hope so, I think so. Yesterday looked good and today was also fine. I think today is a good performance and I'm happy with that," Riis added.
"I don't know [about Mollema]. Nothing is finished and we've still got the three hardest stages in front of us and anything can happen. We'll see and it will definitely be exciting racing.
"We don't like to be behind, we'd rather be in front, but that's the situation and that's what we have to deal."
Finally Riis was asked about Froome's assertions that Contador had taken too many risks on the final descent of stage 16. The Spaniard attacked several times in a bid to put Froome under pressure but found himself on the tarmac after overcooking one tight corner. It led to criticism of Contador from Froome in both yesterday's press conference and then later that night with the race leader taking to Twitter.
Riis did not hesitate to remind Froome of the competitiveness that runs through one of the toughest sports and warn the British rider that more was to come.
"He has brakes on his bike and he can use them if it's too fast for him. It's a bike race. Froome should use his brakes more if he is too afraid because we are going to attack everywhere, whether it's uphill or downhill."