Alberto Contador cut an anguished figure at the finish of stage three, having conceded 41 seconds to one of his main rivals for overall victory at the Tour de France - his Astana team-mate, Lance Armstrong.
While Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel, the Astana director, played down the significance of the move - which saw Astana domestiques Yaroslav Popovych and Haimar Zubeldia on the front, driving the escape - Contador was clearly unhappy. To add to his woes, he had a near miss with a rival team car, which almost squashed him against a team bus as he made his way to the Astana compound.
"I don't want to express an opinion on the tactics of the team," said Contador. "I'll let everyone draw their own conclusions. In any case, the Tour is not going to be decided by what happened today. It was just another race situation."
It's a testing time for Contador, who has been forced to deal with constant speculation that Armstrong - with six more Tour de France titles than the Spaniard and over 10 years difference in age - wants the Astana leadership in an attempt to win his eighth Tour crown.
Yesterday's move was seen by many as a not-so-subtle attempt to convey this message, although Contador refused to be drawn into publicly airing any grievances against the American's presence in the move initiated by Columbia-HTC.
"When the split occurred I was riding back to the front with a team-mate, and suddenly we were in no-man's land," explained Contador. "In front, Columbia got organised very well, as they have a super strong team. We weren't too badly represented as we had three riders there, but the responsibility was on the others."
The resulting time differences, said Contador, are "insignificant - they might give me more space to manoeuvre."
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Richard Moore is a freelance journalist and author. His first book, In Search of Robert Millar (HarperSport), won Best Biography at the 2008 British Sports Book Awards. His second book, Heroes, Villains & Velodromes (HarperSport), was long-listed for the 2008 William Hill Sports Book of the Year.
He writes on sport, specialising in cycling, and is a regular contributor to Cyclingnews, the Guardian, skyports.com, the Scotsman and Procycling magazine.
He is also a former racing cyclist who represented Scotland at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and Great Britain at the 1998 Tour de Langkawi
His next book, Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France, will be published by Yellow Jersey in May 2011.
Another book, Sky’s the Limit: British Cycling’s Quest to Conquer the Tour de France, will also be published by HarperSport in June 2011.
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