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Alberto Contador keeps his rivals close on stage 14
Saxo Bank boss doesn't believe knee injury will be an on-going issue
Bjarne Riis stressed that the importance of today's result at Plateau de Beille could only be fully analysed at the end of the race, but there was no hiding his relief that Alberto Contador had only lost two seconds to Andy Schleck and stayed in contact with all his other Tour rivals.
The Spaniard had suffered on the climb to Luz-Ardiden conceding vital seconds to both Schleck brothers, Cadel Evans and Ivan Basso. But on stage 14 he looked marginally sharper and was able to accelerate after all but one of the Schlecks attacks. The fact that he marked moves by only those two riders a key indication of who he believes is his main rivals at present.
"Today's stage wasn't what everyone expected but what can you expect? I'm happy and pleased with the performance. Alberto is progressing and he's better today than he was two days ago, while his adversaries were on the same level from Luz-Ardiden," Riis told Cyclingnews at the finish.
Asked what the fallout from Saturday's GC standings meant and whether he and Contador had won a minor psychological battle with the Leopard, Riis played it cool:
"It's important but a victory is different. He stayed there without problems and that's a good sign for the future. The knee is okay and I don't see it as a major problem."
Contador's knee has been causing him problems since a crash earlier in the race but Riis was asked if the injury had been used in order to mask other issues with Contador's form. The Spaniard is the only rider within the current 35 on GC that rode this year's Giro d'Italia, while his rivals built their Tour de France preparation at either the Dauphine or Tour de Suisse.
"We knew coming into the Tour that he'd had a hard Giro," Riis told Cyclingnews.
"That was a risk but we took it. He had a tough first week here with crashes and the knee so it's not been optimum but he's regaining confidence in time for the Alps."
Contador is also in the midst of a CAS case in which he is trying to clear his name from a positive doping test at last year's Tour de France. At the start of this year's race the Spaniard was booed by crowd in Vendee, something that a former Astana teammate pointed to as a possible reason for his slow start in the Tour.
"You can't say it hasn't affected him. It would affect anybody but then again he's focussed on the race and he's tough, really tough."
Saxo Bank's director sportif Bradley McGee told Cyclingnews that the Spaniard was also on the mend.
"I think a bloke that's won six Grand Tours has had his fair share of challenges in his time. It's going to be tough but that's obvious."