Former domestique feels Saxo Bank leader not at his best in Tour de France
As the Tour de France entering the mountains, Paolo Tiralongo has told L'Equipe that he feels his former Astana team leader Alberto Contador is not in great psychological condition in the race. Tiralongo, whose only professional victory is a stage at this year's Giro d'Italia that was gifted to him by Contador, also said that he remained faithful to the Spaniard and would help him in the mountains if needed.
"Alberto is not serene," the Italian said when asked about Contador. But the 33-year-old Italian was quick to add that the reason for this was not the Tour champion's physical form but having to cope with public rejection following his alleged doping offence.
"In Puy du Fou [at the team presentation prior to the Tour start], they whistled him, and deep down inside - even if he doesn't admit it - he suffers a lot from being publicly accused of something that he hasn't committed," Tiralongo said.
Since the Grand Départ, the 2010 Tour de France winner has lost close to two minutes to his big rivals due to crashes and bad positioning in the peloton and has complaining about a painful knee. Tiralongo was adamant both could have been caused because of a very tiring Giro d'Italia, which the Saxo Bank rider won in May.
"It's true, he's crashed a bit too often. Because of bad luck? Distraction? At the Mont des Alouettes [stage one], he should have raced a bit more near the front. Maybe he's also paying for the Giro now, which was one of the hardest in its history," Tiralongo pointed out.
"Some people think he might abandon the race... He will if he's not at a hundred percent, because he's not the type to get dropped on the mountain passes. But if he feels good, I'm convinced that he will light things up in the Pyrenees."
The Italian added that he would be at the Spaniard's disposal, even if the two are not racing for the same team anymore. "I ride for Astana, and he rides for Saxo Bank, but I remain his gregario. He always says: 'With Paolo, I have a tenth man in the race.' And it's true, I always keep an eye out for him. When I can, I help him, I protect him and I pull him to the front in the peloton."