There's a sense of bathos surrounding Alberto Contador as the Tour de France pauses for its second rest day. Here is a rider who, with the exception of his debut in 2005, has never finished outside the top five in a Grand Tour, but who has been blunted here, reduced to a bit-part role in the greatest show in cycling.
The Trek-Segafredo team still organised a rest-day press conference for their leader on Monday, but at times he spoke more like a pundit, analysing the riders and the stages that will be pivotal in the fight for the yellow jersey, but from a distance, uninvolved.
Stage 17, which goes up the Col du Galibier, will be more decisive than the Izoard summit finish the following day, we learned. Mikel Landa (Team Sky) should think carefully about his next team.
But as for Contador himself, ninth overall and nearly six minutes down on Chris Froome (Team Sky), the objectives he's setting his sights on for the moment are trying to enjoy what's left of the race, hunting a stage and hopefully capturing the imagination of the public.
"People said I would head home, but that never crossed my mind at any point. I'm going to keep trying. I'm realistic and I'm aware that there are many riders ahead of me – riders who've gained a lot of time – and at the moment my most realistic options could be other ones, like a stage victory," he said.
"The truth is I have the opportunity to do what I want, to enjoy it, to enjoy racing my bike."
It's almost sad to see a seven-time Grand Tour winner (he'd tell you nine), in what is likely his final bid for the yellow jersey, reduced to stage-hunting and "having fun".
But this isn't necessarily a case of a dying of the light. Contador feels physically capable of winning the Tour de France but, as has been the theme in recent years, crashes have thrown him off course. He lost time after crashing twice on stage 9 in the Jura mountains, but the worse ones came on the flat stage to Pau, and he lost four minutes the following day on the first outing in the Pyrenees.
"I don't believe in luck or bad luck but there are moments, with the crashes, where you're near your limit, psychologically," said Contador.
"I don't want to look back, but the truth is I'd worked so hard for this, to arrive in top shape here. Three days before coming here I broke my own record on a climb in Madrid that I've been doing my whole life. Without the crashes, I believe I'd now be fighting for the yellow jersey."
Two chances in the Alps
As he has done on a number of occasions recently, Contador professed his desire to create spectacle on the bike, to make people watching on television sit up and say 'wow', insisting he values those sorts of days more than actual victories.
He felt a twang of that when he went up the road with Landa on the hugely entertaining and finely balanced stage to Foix on Sunday, but if he manages it for real in one of the two remaining mountain stages, he'd consider this Tour at least a partial success.
"I wouldn't be here if I wasn't thinking about trying to do something or other," said Contador, explaining that, physically, he's feeling better and better each day.
"It's true, there aren't too many options, there are only two stages, but two stages where I think I can do great things."
Asked, slightly cheekily, if the final podium was still out of the question, Contador initially replied, "What do you think?" before giving his fans a slice of hope, however faint.
"A lot can happen. Sincerely, if you impose limits on yourself, you're going to slow yourself down. My objective isn't to get on the podium – my objective is to enjoy what's left of the race, chase a stage win, and if the podium comes, then great," he said.
"But if you say to me that it's impossible, I say to you, sincerely, that there are still a lot of things that can happen."
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