Having safely negotiated stage 18 into Bordeaux, Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck looked and sounded confident as they looked ahead to the Tour-deciding Bordeaux-Pauillac time trial. Defending champion Contador is the favourite to take the title as he carries an eight-second advantage and a much more impressive time trial pedigree into the key test. But both men insisted that past results count for little this far into a race as tough as this Tour de France has been.
“I’m expecting the day to be very difficult as this time trial is not like any other,” said Contador. “It’s not really a day for specialists, it’s more about who is the strongest rider on the day. I know that I have to give all that I have to beat Andy. He won the Luxembourg time trial championship recently and I know already that he’s very strong and that it will be hard to beat him.”
Contador admitted after stage 17 to the summit of the Tourmalet that he has ridden conservatively during this Tour, but explained: “This is the situation I wanted to be in before the Tour. I wanted to be in the yellow jersey and starting after Andy in the time trial. Our positions are more or less the same and it’s not a normal time trial coming as it does 20 days into a grand tour.” He added: “This is the last hour after a whole year of pressure.”
Contador only looked slightly flustered when he was asked to respond to comments made in the Spanish press by Carlos Sastre, who accused the new generation of riders of acting like “spoiled brats” having been asked about the dropped chain incident on the Port de Balès. “I’m not aware of his comments as I’m not reading the press. But everyone has got a right to voice their opinion. All I can say is that I don’t agree with it,” said Contador.
The Spaniard was happier talking about his meeting with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, who are in France to promote their new movie. They followed stage 18 in a Tour organisation car and met the Tour’s two top-ranked riders behind the Bordeaux podium. Had Alberto got Cameron’s number? “No, I didn’t manage to get her mobile number. There was too much going on for that. But it would have been nice to have it!”Saxo Bank leader Schleck said he is expecting the final time trial to be “the hardest day of my life on a bike. The fact that nobody is expecting me to win makes me more relaxed. If I was three-and-a-half minutes back I would have no chance at all, but as it is just eight seconds anything could happen.”
Like Contador, Schleck said that time trialling ability will not count as much as usual in the final 52km test. “I think this final time trial of the Tour is always won more with the head than with the legs, that’s the way it’s always been. I feel good. I’ve got nothing to lose. I know that he’s in good form, but I’m doing OK too.”
And did he get any tips from Cameron? “No, I didn’t, although seeing her gave me plenty of motivation.”
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).