As befits a man who regularly reminds his Twitter followers that “querer es poder” – a Spanish take on “If you dream it, you can achieve it” – and who declared the Giro-Tour double to be “only impossible until someone makes it possible,” Alberto Contador is hardly averse to battling the odds.
At this Tour de France, however, there is a growing sense that taking on the startling collective might of Chris Froome’s Team Sky cohort is tantamount to tilting at windmills. Even for a rider of Contador’s imagination, conjuring up victory here already seems a grand gesture too far.
Already 4:04 down on Froome after wilting – like so many others – under the weight of Sky’s forcing on the first mountaintop finish to La Pierre-Saint-Martin two days ago, Contador was decidedly on the back foot entering the Tour’s final stage in the Pyrenees to Plateau de Beille.
His response was a typically defiant one. After setting his teammates Roman Kreuzger and Rafal Majka to work on the lower slopes of the final climb, Contador unleashed an attack of his own a little over eight kilometres from the summit, as a heavy rainstorm washed over the Ariège.
The sparkle of his accelerations at the Giro d’Italia was lacking, however. With the same laboured style he showed in the 2013 Tour, Contador gained only 50 metres or so, and was quickly reeled back in by the pace-making efforts of Sky’s Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas.
“It wasn’t an attack on Froome, it was an attack the see how all of the riders were,” Contador said afterwards. “Maybe I could have waited longer, for the last three or four kilometres. There was wind on the climb and it wasn’t easy to attack.”
Further tentative attacks from Movistar’s Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde failed to splinter the yellow jersey group, and Contador crossed the line in the same time as Froome to remain in sixth place on general classification.
In his post-stage press conference, Froome gave the impression that he had barely noticed Contador’s acceleration. Assessing his rivals during his post-stage press conference, Froome hailed the Spaniard as a more explosive climber than Quintana before pulling the rug from under the compliment by adding: “We haven’t quite seen that side of Alberto yet. Maybe we’ll see it in the Alps.”
After the stage, while Froome warmed down on the rollers before clambering onto the podium to don a fresh maillot jaune, Contador was left to find a less salubrious changing room. He made straight for an unmarked car parked past the summit, where he changed in the front seat while a group of reporters waited outside in the rain. In the manner of Harry Redknapp on transfer deadline day, Contador rolled down the window five minutes later to offer his take on the day’s proceedings.
“It was a really hard day with the first part in the heat and the second part in the rain, but little by little I started to feel a little better,” Contador said. “I think the strength left between us all was more or less equal. Today I tried to make an attack, and I had my team set the pace. I hope my sensations keep improving day by day and in the final week I can try to make up some time.”
As the Tour leaves the Pyrenees, Contador not only finds himself more than four minutes down on Froome, but – remarkably – he also trails Geraint Thomas. Sky’s cobbled Classics leader is currently climbing better than most of the pre-race favourites, and with Richie Porte also performing to a very high level, the notable collective strength of Froome’s supporting cast has perhaps outstripped even their own expectations.
“There was a constant tempo so I tried to surprise people by changing the rhythm, but it wasn’t easy to get away against a team like Sky because they have so many strong riders,” Contador said.