Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) survived a late mechanical scare on stage 3 of the Criterium du Dauphine to retain his overall lead and used his post-stage press conference to praise stage winner and potential Tour de France rival Fabio Aru (Astana).
The Italian attacked on the descent of the Côte de Sécheras and thwarted the sprinters to take his victory since claiming the overall title in the 2015 Vuelta a Espana.
Contador had no thoughts of winning the stage after suffering a mechanical at the base of the final descent. He was forced to swap bikes with teammate Roman Kreuziger before a frantic chase back to the peloton.
"The change happened very quickly," Contador said after the stage. "At first I didn't want to change but the back wheel was broken and I had no choice.
Contador tried to distance himself from the pressure of leading the race – a theme of all his press conferences so far - by adding that he would not have been angered if he had shed time and the race lead.
"There was no panic and I was quickly back in the bunch. Also there's not as much pressure here as there is in some races. If I had lost time today it would not have mattered that much."
When asked about Aru though, Contador gave a glowing assessment. Perhaps it was because the Italian was sitting just a few feed away and enjoying a post-stage recovery snack or perhaps it was a subtle move from the race leader to draw more attention towards Astana as the Tour pressure cooker builds.
"Of course Aru is candidate for the Tour de France," he said as Aru barely looked up. "He knows how to win a Grand Tour, having won the Vuelta last year and was very competitive at the Giro. He'll be a rider we have to watch at the Tour."
"Today, the way he won says a lot. He's a spectacular rider and one that cycling needs."
Tinkoff miss chase to lose race lead
Contador had hinted at the start of the stage that he would be willing to lose the race lead during the day. A break did go clear but the sprinters' teams ensured that it was reeled in before the finish and that Contador would eventually retain his lead.
"Other teams had their agendas today and that helped to make us keep the jersey," Contador's director Sean Yates told Cyclingnews.
Yates, a former pro who can still read a race with more knowledge than most, added that Aru winning could help Contador and Tinkoff save energy on stage 4.
"When you've got the jersey you need to ride on the front and sometimes that's hard, especially with what's coming up. For us it's good that Aru won and Kristoff was second. He's not won a stage so they might work again. Tomorrow suits him more than say Bouhanni."
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.