The search for his first win in Trek-Segafredo colours goes on but Alberto Contador at least showed that he is an improving force in this year's Paris-Nice. The former Tour de France winner was the second strongest rider on stage 7, finishing 21 seconds down on the day's winner, Richie Porte (BMC Racing).
The result moved Contador up to third overall, just a slender second off Dan Martin's (QuickStep Floors) second place. Not a bad return considering Contador started the day outside the top five after a subdued performance on the stage to Fayence.
"Today was a hard stage. The first part was easy but on the last two climbs we went really fast. Today I felt better and felt good in the group," he said as he climbed off the rollers after a short warm-down.
It was Trek Segafredo, or rather, Jarlinson Pantano, who laid the foundations for Contador's attack. The Colombian, who joined the IAM Cycling in the winter set an electric pace at the front of the peloton with 10 kilometres remaining on the Col de la Couillole and shed the lead group of a number of Contador's top-ten rivals. Tony Gallopin, Simon Yates, and race leader Julian Alaphilippe all cracked and by the time an exhausted Pantano pulled over, the leaders were reduced to Contador, Porte, Dan Martin and soon-to-be race leader, Sergio Henao.
"Pantano ... all I can say is thanks, thanks and thanks," Contador said his teammate's efforts
"He's an incredible guy and we're really good friends. He will be crucial for me, especially in July."
July is still some way off but Contador can take heart from his ride on the Couillole. He was unable to match Porte but shed himself of Henao with relative ease in the final kilometres. Having started the race on the back foot and played catch-up most of the week the Spanish climber was finally able to find his racing legs. However, his second second place of the race, and fourth of the season, clearly rankled.
"In the final we played with some options but I wasn't sure what to do – whether to go for the stage or the GC," he said. "In the final I thought more about the GC. Now we're third and maybe it would have been better to concentrate like Richie and try to have won the stage. Anyway, it's a good that I'm getting better and this race we've always been behind because in the first stages we lost time. I'm happy that I feel good but tomorrow is going to be another tough day."
While Contador warmed-down his loyal director, Steven De Jongh stood alongside him and discussed the day's event. Not content with second place, the pair will go into the final stage eager to try and find their first elusive win of the season.
"It was a good day for us," De Jongh told Cyclingnews.
"We couldn't fight for the stage because Richie was really strong. Also tactically it wasn't good to go behind him all the time and lose energy and maybe places on GC. Alberto had to choose and he went for GC and let go of the stage win. He did a terrific job."
As for the final stage: "We saw last year on the final day that everything is possible. There's a lot of dead bodies out there."
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