The Tour de France peloton faces its first summit finish at La Mauselaine on Saturday at the end of stage 8, but as far as Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) is concerned, the true climbing begins two days later on the road to La Planche des Belles Filles.
There are three climbs packed into the final 25 kilometres of Saturday’s stage, including the short, sharp haul to the finish, but Contador feels the finale is better suited to maillot jaune Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) than to him.
“The last climb is perhaps too short and explosive, and better for riders like [Alejandro] Valverde or even Nibali, but we'll be up there, waiting for Monday, which is more suitable,” Contador said.
Contador lies 16th overall, some 2:37 behind Nibali, after losing ground on the cobbled stage four to Arenberg. He suggested that his fight back could begin at La Planche des Belles Filles and in the Alps, but believes the Pyrenean stages in the third week will be decisive.
“The mountains really begin on Monday – Saturday will be an explosive finish, but better for other riders,” he said. “There is still enough terrain to recover time. The Alps will hurt but the Tour will be decided in the Pyrenees. People are going to have fun watching it on television.”
As the Tour heads into the Vosges, Contador will be relieved to leave the tense, flat stages of the opening week behind him, where the high speeds in the peloton have contributed to a spate of crashes. “You have to be in front [to avoid crashes] and I have a team that is protecting me in an incredible way. There is time to come in the mountains to show what my form is like,” he said.
Contador added that the Tour’s particularly demanding opening week is likely to exact a high toll on the peloton later in the race. “From outside it seems as if we’re riding along steadily and without tension, but the speed is amazing. We’re all together, but like in a team time trial, at 50kph. These are very tiring days.”