After a disappointing opening day in the Pyrenean mountains of the Tour de France, Alberto Contador and his Saxo Bank team rallied to give Chris Froome and Team Sky a bloodied nose on stage 9. There was no knock out punch, but the sparring from Contador and the Movistar had the race leader on the ropes, and saw his teammate Richie Porte hit the canvas and lose over ten minutes. Contador now sits 6th overall, 1’51 down on Froome.
After Saturday’s tour de force from Sky, an aggressive reaction from their rivals was always on the cards as the peloton rolled out on stage 9 to Bagneres-de-Bigorre. Ahead lay five categorised climbs, and with no summit finish, a chance to dislodge the British team from the pattern of uphill decimation they unleashed at Ax 3 Domaines.
The early aggression came from Garmin on the Portet d’Aspet, with Porte dropping out of contention. However, it was Movistar who took up the gauntlet on the Col de Peyresourde before the final assault on the Hourquette d’Anzican.
Although only Nairo Quintana attacked – several times in fact – Contador was able to follow Froome as the British rider was forced to chase.
In the end Contador finished with the main group of overall contenders with strong support from Roman Kreuziger and Michael Rogers.
"Today was a very difficult day because we started very fast and the peloton broke into a number of different parts," Contador told Cyclingnews as he munched through a sandwich after showering at the finish.
"However I’m happy because the team is very strong and I felt a lot better than yesterday, which was a very bad day for me."
"Okay, at the final there weren’t many changes, although Richie was dropped and Froome was alone in the stage. The most important thing now is that I recover well, give 100 per cent in the two time trials and then I hope that in the last week, because the last week is always the best week for me in the grand tours, that I feel better and that I’m able to ride better in the GC."
On the final climb, with Quintana jabbing away at Froome’s reserves Contador took a defence guard, gluing himself to the Sky rider’s wheel.
"I concentrated on Froome on the last climb and I think it was better to wait for another day because it was 30 kilometres to the finish from the top of the last climb. That’s a long distance and I need my power for the next time trial."
Asked if he could still come from behind and win the race, Contador responded buoyantly, clearly motivated after a stage that saw Sky on the ropes.
"The race isn’t finished. Of course Froome is very strong, and also in the time trials, but the race finishes in Paris."
Round one to Sky but round two to the rest.